If you’re not a follower of celebrity scandals, you may not have heard of Mel Gibson’s latest debacle.
The actor and director’s ex-girlfriend, who is in a custody battle with him over their infant daughter, recently released audio tapes on which Gibson is allegedly hurling vicious racial invectives at her. She has also accused him of punching and threatening her, charges that are being investigated by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. This after his 2006 DUI arrest, during which he launched into an anti-Semitic tirade.
Clearly this is a troubled guy, at best. The trouble for Christians is that as of 2004, many of us were hailing him as a Hollywood hero.
That was the year of “The Passion of the Christ,” the Gibson-directed account of Jesus’ final hours. Against all odds, the picture conquered the box office and made movie going a religious event. Here was a Christian loudly proclaiming his faith - in Hollywood of all places! - and being vindicated for his spiritual bravery.
No one claimed that Gibson was a saint (indeed, some believers, including myself, had trouble with the obsession with violence in his film). Yet he became, by virtue of the movie’s success, a spokesperson for the Christian faith. Then the arrest of 2006, and now this.
So is Mel Gibson still “ours?”
The question isn’t unique to his situation, of course. What happens when any prominent figure of faith trips and falls? I suppose you could ask the same of a pastor involved in an extramarital affair, or possibly even a priest accused of sexual abuse. These are touchy, painful instances where questions of Christian identity, morality and forgiveness uncomfortably mix.
When something like this happens, should Christians follow that old adage of “hating the sin but not the sinner?” Or should believers create more of a distance between “us” and “them”?