Christian leaders in Asia fear the debut today of the movie The Da Vinci Code, based on the premise that Jesus married and fathered children, may sour the image of their religion in the region, where Christianity is overshadowed by Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
Christians in India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand have either protested against the film or expressed concern.
India is temporarily putting the film's release on hold after a flood of complaints. Groups in Thailand persuaded local censors to release an edited version of the film, but the censors later reversed their position. Australian Christians have gone on the offensive, launching ads that challenge the movie's plot in movie theaters. Hong Kong's Catholic church has organized forums to "clarify the facts."
Christians around the world have criticized The Da Vinci Code, the largely faithful adaptation of the best-selling novel by the same name by Dan Brown.
One of the premises of the movie is that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and fathered children and that his descendants are still alive.
It's considered blasphemy by many Christians, but those in Asia are especially worried, fearful that the movie may spread misinformation about their religion, which is a minority faith in many countries in the region.
"If Jesus Christ had a child and a wife, then Christianity would be destroyed," said Thongchai Pradabchananurat, of the Thailand Protestant Churches Coordinating Committee.
After lobbying by Christian groups, Thailand's censorship board agreed to snip the last 10 minutes of the film, but the movie's maker, Columbia Pictures, appealed successfully yesterday.
In India, Joseph Dias, head of the Catholic Secular Forum, is on a hunger strike in downtown Bombay to protest the movie's planned release in his country, where most of the 1 billion population is Hindu.
After receiving more than 200 complaints, India's Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi said he is going to see the movie for himself, which may delay its scheduled release in the country tomorrow by a day or two.
Authorities in India, Singapore and South Korea have rejected calls to ban the film, saying audiences understand it is fictional.
Philippine movie censor Marissa Laguardia said it was important to preserve free speech in her country.
"Thirty-six countries have already reviewed this film and they have not banned it. So are we just out of the Stone Age?" Laguardia said.
Malaysian Bishop Lim Cheng Ean said the strength of Christian faith alone will counter the movie.
Meanwhile, critics at the Cannes film festival panned the film yesterday, describing it variously as a "dud," "unwieldy" and "plodding."