The National Council of Churches ("NCC") has released a statement on the heels of the release of The Da Vinci Code movie that has raised concerns. It isn't what the statement says that causes concern since it says all of the right things, but simply the focus of the statement that seems wrong-headed.
First, let's recall what the church at large has seen as the main objections to The Da Vinci Code: it portrays Jesus Christ as a man who was not God, but who was deified by the Council of Nicea in 350 A.D. As noted in Stand to Reason's fine essay "The Da Vinci Code Cracks", available through STR's newsletter, Solid Ground, The Da Vinci Code claims through historian Sir Teabring that:
. . . these records [i.e., the true accounts of the life of Jesus that existed prior to the Council of Nicea] were tampered with by Constantine at the Council of Nicea. To advance his own political agenda, the Roman emperor rewrote history, destroying the true records that cast Jesus as a mere mortal and replacing them with documents that advanced the man of Nazareth as the divine Son of God.
Now it seems to me that if the orthodox Christian viewpoint is to worship Jesus as the divine, true and only Son of God, then a story that claims that the early church did not see Him that way, but only clothed him in godhood to meet the purposes of a Roman emporer, ought to be soundly criticized. Apparently, the NCC agrees that the movie misrepresents the life of Jesus since it says:
In the midst of the media frenzy, let us not forget that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction that does not accurately depict the life and ministry of Jesus or the traditions of the Church. We pray that those who see this movie will want to know more about Jesus Christ.
I agree with that statement 100% -- the movie does inaccurately depict Jesus' life and ministry as well as the traditions of the church. So, what's my problem? Well, I have two problems: it doesn't go far enough, and the statement, in its entirety, treats this part of the issue in passing.
First, did you note that it doesn't say that Jesus was the divine, true and only Son of God? Not only doesn't it say it in those words, it doesn't say it at all. It says that the movie does not accurately depict His life, but that language could be interpreted to refer to any number of things mentioned in the movie -- Jesus' sexual relations to Mary Magdalene, as an example. The NCC could be merely saying that Jesus didn't really have a baby with Mary Magdalene when it says that the movie doesn't accurately depict Jesus' life.
You may ask, what about the claim that it doesn't accurately depict his ministry? After all, the ministry of Jesus on earth was to die to save humanity from its sins, correct? Yes, it could mean that, but given the second issue that I discuss below, it certainly doesn't necessarily include that issue. In other words, the statement that the movie inaccurately depicts his ministry is vague and is not a strong statement against the harmful lies of the movie at their most basic level. It's like saying about a dead man, "he isn't healthy." Yes, its true that a person who is dead isn't very healthy, but such a statement actually conceals the true state of the problem -- he's dead! In this case the problem is that the movie says Jesus wasn't divine but was made divine by the council of Nicea 300 years later. That's a lie that needs to be directly countered, and saying that the movie "inaccurately depicts his ministry" misses the mark.
Second, the main focus of the statement from the NCC is not an objection to the claims that Jesus wasn't divine, but rather to the film's failure to portray Jesus as a person very involved in social ministry. Here's a fuller portion of the text from the statement omitting only the introductory comments.
Real-life scenarios are present daily that contradict the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Too often it is those issues that have far-reaching affects on people’s lives, and their faith, but they go without any word of protest or rebuttal—issues like war, poverty, racial and economic injustice, the devastation experienced after hurricanes and tsunamis and the negative impact of global climate change, to name a few. Yet in his life and ministry, Jesus cared about and met the needs of the people: He fed the hungry. He healed the sick and preached good news to the poor (Luke 4:18-19). He cared for creation and called us to stand up for peace and justice in the world.
In the midst of the media frenzy, let us not forget that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction that does not accurately depict the life and ministry of Jesus or the traditions of the Church. We pray that those who see this movie will want to know more about Jesus Christ. And, we call on our Christian brothers and sisters to uncover distortions of biblical truths not only in entertainment but in policies and actions perpetuated in our society every day. Neither The Da Vinci Code, nor any other work of fiction, will alter the beliefs, mission or work of individual churches or the National Council of Churches. We will not be diverted from the gospel imperative to care for creation, do justice and work for peace regardless of what the distractions of current culture may offer.
Here's is the problem with this statement: it misses the mark of the problem with the movie. It is my understanding that the movie doesn't say anything at all about Jesus' social ministry. I have not seen a review yet which discusses any failure of the movie to accurately depict the social ministry of Jesus. I doubt if it is mentioned at all since it certainly appears to be irrelevant to the question of Jesus' person and whether he would have had a child with Mary Magdalene. Yet, the NCC chooses to focus on the question of social justice, peace and poverty when discussing this movie. Why?
I am going to make a suggestion, and in doing so, I caution everyone to read the disclaimer that the CADRE posts on the blog: each author is responsible for his or her own work and does not speak for the CADRE. This is one of those issues since what I am about to say would certainly not be agreeable to everyone in the CADRE. My suggestion (and mine alone) is this: The NCC has had little good to say about conservative concerns, and with the exception of its statement of faith, its website reads like the website of any humanist organization that believes that all paths lead to God and the most important thing is that we contend for any number of the usual liberal causes. Thus, when I see a statement released that is so vague in the basis for its criticism of The Da Vinci Code which is dominated instead by a subtle statement that social justice is more important than the understanding of the identity of Jesus as God, I think that the NCC has lost the real connection to the Gospel. It is so concerned with not offending the other faiths with which it is seeking to dialogue, it can no longer say anything meaningful about the historic person of Jesus.
Thus, while I applaud the NCC for going as far as it did, I am very disappointed with its failure to go further and issue a strong statement defending the historic identity of the person of Jesus Christ as God. Its criticism of The Da Vinci Code reads more like a polemic against the failure of the evangelicals to adopt their viewpoint on social issues than a criticism of the lies about the deity of Jesus found in the movie. Too bad.