Area Churches Passionate About 'The Passion'

For 23 years, Carolyn Gaffney has managed the Singing River Theaters. In all that time she says she has never seen a movie attract as much attention as Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ.'

"We've sold out movies at the ticket box before, but we've never sold as many tickets in advance as we have for 'The Passion'," Gaffney said.

The theater has already sold more than 3,000 tickets. That means every show during the film's opening week is sold out, and tickets are still going for other showings within the first two weeks of release. The majority of those tickets are being purchased by area churches.

"They're buying the whole auditorium, two or three shows at a time," says Gaffney. "Some of them are buying three or four shows at a time so they can make sure their congregation and all their youth have seen the movie."

Escatawpa Baptist Church was one of the first to buy tickets in advance. They bought 360 tickets which members of the congregation bought out immediately.

"I bought these tickets thinking, 'well, we'll have three weeks to sell them,' but we sold out the first day," Pastor Greg Johnston said.

Like many church leaders, Johnston says he plans to use the film as a tool to draw people to Christianity.

"I believe this is going to show the people to what great extent God went to pay for their sins on the cross at calvary," Johnston said.

The movie received an 'R' rating because it contains scenes of graphic violence in which Jesus is beaten. Some feel the violent depiction is necessary to deliver a clear understanding of Christ's suffering as described in the Bible.

"If you go ahead and sugar coat it, sometimes people don't really see how he really suffered," Julian Richard, a member of the Escatawpa Baptist Church, said. "I think a graphic display of that is the best way to let people know just what he did for us."

The movie opens at theaters on Wednesday February 25.

by Josh Ridgdell