TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE `DA VINCI CODE' SOME CHRISTIANS URGE BOYCOTT; OTHERS SPY A `TOOL FOR EVANGELISM'.
With ``The Da Vinci Code'' opening in theaters Friday, Christians are at odds over how to respond to an anticipated blockbuster that portrays a Catholic sect as the murderous protector of Jesus' dark secret.
Seeing the film, which stars Tom Hanks, as a gateway for sharing the Gospel, many evangelical pastors are encouraging their flock to see the flick.
``We know everyone is going to be talking about it, so it gives us an opportunity to take advantage of the discussions at work and at the ball fields and the mom-and-me clubs,'' said Rob Denton, associate pastor of West Valley Christian Church in West Hills, who has read the book and plans to see the movie. ``It's a good tool for evangelism.''
Others are calling for boycotts, and some are asking Christians to participate in an ``other-cott'' -- not skipping the cineplex altogether but paying to see something more wholesome.
The controversy began three years ago when Dan Brown's religious thriller began its ongoing run on the New York Times' best-sellers list.
The novel is about two academics who resurrect Christianity's true origins. It claims Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and the early church employed a shadowy Catholic organization to murder those who discovered the truth.
Brown makes no case for the authenticity of his story's characters. But at the beginning of the book is a note that includes this line: ``All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.''
Brown's Web site now emphasizes that his book is a work of fiction and that the artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals all ``exist.''
Though scholars have poked holes in Brown's research, ``The Da Vinci Code'' has caused plenty of Christians and non-Christians alike to question whether the Catholic Church has been involved in a 2,000-year-old coverup.
About 53 percent of people who read ``The Da Vinci Code'' said it affected their spiritual life, according to The Barna Group, a Christian-polling organization in Ventura.
``It's like it confirmed people's worst suspicion about the church,'' said Dale Johnsen, senior pastor at Heart of the Valley Community Church in Reseda. ``A lot of people who are looking for a good excuse to turn their back on traditional Christian faith can blindly believe his speculation.''
On Sunday, Johnsen will try to answer questions that members of his congregation might ask after seeing the movie. Who was Jesus? Who was Mary Magdalene? How was the Bible compiled?
Church bulletins will include tracts adapted from ``Breaking The Da Vinci Code,'' one of countless books on the market rebutting Brown's work.
``I want to clarify historical truth and allow people to enjoy the movie without being led astray by false statements,'' Johnsen said.
Compared to the protests generated in 1988 by Martin Scorcese's ``The Last Temptation of Christ,'' such a reaction to ``The Da Vinci Code'' is like turning the other cheek.
``I think we are a little bit smarter, more reflective, and we have learned boycotting isn't a great strategy,'' said Craig Detweiler, a professor of culture and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena who helped created www.thedavincichallenge.com.
Still, many Christians don't want to reward Sony Pictures by paying to see a film they feel denigrates their faith. Last month, the No. 2 official in the Vatican's doctrinal office told Catholics in Rome to boycott.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is waiting to review the movie before advising America's 67 million Catholics and recently launched www.jesusdecoded.com to help people discern fact from fiction.
``Beyond referencing people to that site, we don't have any plans at the archdiocese other than to go see it, which I'm going to do,'' said Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Barbara Nicolosi, a former nun who runs the Act One mentoring program for Christians working in Hollywood, is promoting the ``other-cott.''
On the campaign's Web site, www.othercott.com, Nicolosi scoffs at the suggestion that Christians should see ``The Da Vinci Code'' so they can debate its merit with non-Christians.
``You don't need to see the movie or read the book,'' she said, ``to talk about all the issues that it raises.''
(color) Richard Pruitt and his wife, Myra, visit Rosslyn Chapel in Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland, after reading about the medieval church featured in Dan Brown's novel, ``The Da Vinci Code.'' The church had 117,000 visitors in 2005.
Scott Heppell/Associated Press