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Code Turkey

The Da Vinci Code is not liberal enough, the National Council of Churches complains.

By 5.22.06

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Roman Catholics and Evangelicals have challenged The Da Vinci Code for proposing that Christianity is a hoax perpetrated on the world for nearly 2000 years. The liberal National Council of Churches (NCC) is also concerned about the new movie, because it overlooks Jesus' supposed endorsement of its left-leaning political themes.

"Real-life scenarios are present daily that contradict the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the NCC announced in a special Da Vinci news release. "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."

The real Jesus "cared for creation and called us to stand up for peace and justice in the world," just like the NCC, according to the NCC. Its latest causes include opposing the U.S. military presence in Iraq, demanding an increased minimum wage, opposing U.S. "torture" of war on terror detainees, and demanding U.S. compliance with the Kyoto accord. Apparently Da Vinci fails because it neglects to include Jesus' stance on these issues.

Of course, most Christian objections to The Da Vinci Code focus on its central thesis that the early church, coerced by the Emperor Constantine, took Jesus the man and turned him into Jesus the God. At the same time, according to Da Vinci, the church imposed the canon of Scripture, suppressing all the Gnostic gospels in favor of Matthew-Mark-Luke and John. The real Jesus, we are told, married and had children with Mary Magdalene. But the male-led church denied the existence of Mrs. Jesus, not wanting to acknowledge her mystical feminine powers and dilute its own preferred patriarchal emphasis.

According to Da Vinci, the church has kept all of this under wraps for centuries through coercion, blackmail, and murder, until Da Vinci's hero unravels it all.

Da Vinci denies Christianity's understanding of the deity of Christ, salvation, the church, and the Bible. But none of that apparently distresses the NCC all that much, or at least to enough to merit specific mention in its special Da Vinci news release. "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," the NCC notes. But the distortions that concern to distress the NCC are that Da Vinci leaves out Jesus' supposed social justice advocacy.

"We pray that those who see this movie will want to know more about Jesus Christ," the NCC declares. "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."

For the NCC, that is the real work of Jesus: lobbying, protesting, and organizing on behalf of the NCC's political agenda of the Left. Proclaiming the Lordship of Christ as the Son of God is not a major agenda item for the NCC. Indeed, it goes unmentioned in the NCC's Da Vinci news release. The NCC does note with hope that Da Vinci will provide "an opportunity for all Christians to share their faith when friends ask what they think about the movie." But one suspects that "sharing their faith," from the NCC perspective, entails talking about Global Warming and complaining about the Bush Administration's failures in post-Katrina New Orleans.

"The story of Jesus as told throughout the centuries is compelling," the NCC concludes, with all of the enthusiasm typically found in a perfunctory Christmas message from a member of the British royal family. The NCC cites "true biblical teachings," but does not explain them as anything more than the latest crusade to expand the welfare and regulatory state.

It is hard fully to understand what exactly the NC really finds so objectionable about Da Vinci. Deconstructing core Christian theology would not distress the NCC all that much. The NCC is lead by old-line Protestant churches whose seminaries and prelates led the way a century ago in denying Christ's literal deity, virgin birth, bodily resurrection and miracles, not to mention the authority of the Scriptures. The resulting "Social Gospel," which focused on political and economic justice from an exclusively left-of-center perspective, became the rallying cry of the NCC, which was founded after World War II by liberal Protestants who had discarded the old "fundamentalism."

Unfortunately for the NCC, the Social Gospel ran out of steam after the 1960s, and the NCC's pillar denominations have been losing members continuously for 40 years. Meanwhile, the old "fundamentalism" morphed into a new evangelical movement that has displaced and surpassed the old Protestant establishment.

A typical American Protestant today is more likely to be sitting in a mega-church auditorium than an old Episcopal gothic sanctuary. And that mega-church Protestant is far likelier to hear a critique of Da Vinci that is more theologically substantive than the NCC's regret that Da Vinci's version of Jesus is not sufficiently politically outspoken.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.