Fri, Feb 24, 2006 - Page 16 News List

How do you know Jesus was single?

Although the days of burning heretics at the stake are long gone, 'The Da Vinci Code' has many Christians up in arms

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

At a time when conservative Christian groups have been particularly quick to strike back at Hollywood fare they find offensive, Sony Pictures faced a predicament with its coming film The Da Vinci Code.

Should the studio try to mollify the critics who say the Code is blasphemy, with its plot describing a church conspiracy to cover up the truth that Jesus married and never rose from the dead? Or should it ignore the complainers, sit back and watch the controversy boost ticket sales?

Instead, Sony has decided to hand a big bullhorn to the detractors of The Da Vinci Code.

The company has put up a Web site that will give a platform to some of the fiercest critics of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, the book that is the movie's source.

The site, thedavincichallenge.com, posts essays by Christian writers, scholars and leaders of evangelical organizations who pick apart the book's theological and historical claims about Christianity.

Among the writers are Gordon Robertson, the son of the tele-vision evangelist Pat Robertson and co-host of their television show, The 700 Club, who is writing about how early Christianity survived, and Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Pasadena, California.

Mouw, who contributed an essay on, Why Christians Ought to See the Movie, said: "It's going to be water cooler conversation, so Christians need to take a deep breath, buy the book and shell out the money for the movie. Then we need to educate Christians about what all this means. We need to help them answer someone who says, `So how do you know Jesus didn't get married?"'

The idea for the site originated with Jonathan Bock at Grace Hill Media, a company that helps studios market movies to religious audiences. The site will provide links to online discussions. The writers will not be paid.

"We believe this is unique and perhaps can set a tone for others," said Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for Sony Pictures. "We've all seen how some movies can evoke great consternation in society in the past, and I think many people want to move towards a more educational and uplifting dialogue."

Among those who will write for the Web site are Hugh Hewitt, host of a conservative radio talk show; Darrell Bock, a professor of New Testament studies and the author of Breaking the Da Vinci Code; and George Barna, founder of a polling and research firm that focuses on evangelicals.

Barna said it was a "hard call" for him to agree to Sony's offer. But, as he wrote in his essay, "Heresy rightfully gets Christians upset, and responding is necessary."

Although Roman Catholics in particular have objected to the Code book, which refers repeatedly to "the Vatican" as the source of the conspiracy, few Catholic writers are on the Web site's lineup, though more are being asked to join. Grace Hill Media talked with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic group depicted in the book as a murderous force, about their participation, but as the list stands now, they are not included. Charles Colson, the convicted Watergate figure and now a leading evangelical voice, is expected to write about Catholicism.

Despite the fact that it is based on a best-seller, Sony and the movie's producers have been unusually secretive about The Da Vinci Code, allowing no journalists on the set during filming last summer, keeping all script copies under close supervision and declining to comment about the film in detail.

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