Christian lawmakers shrug off 'Da Vinci' hype

Vatican officials are calling for its boycott, and conservative groups are blasting it as a dangerous attack on the Bible, but Christian members of Congress appear unfazed by the international sensation of “The Da Vinci Code.”

The House chaplain held a discussion yesterday on religious questions raised by the No. 1 movie in America, based on the best-selling book that portrays a church cover-up of a fictional romantic affair between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. While sharing a range of personal opinions about the film, Catholic lawmakers said few constituents have voiced concern about the movie.

“The hype is out of control,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a practicing Catholic. King noted that a church in his district is taking the same route as the House chaplain, “not an anti- or protest approach, but ‘Here is an opportunity to get people involved in the church.’ … Movies are silly to get bent out of shape about.”

King said he has not read the book and does not plan to see the film, as did Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), a Methodist who welcomed the film as an impetus for dialogue but said he has “paid very little attention” to the brouhaha.

“Anytime we have a good discussion about religion is good,” Terry said, adding that he welcomes the “faith groups” that have sought to counter the “Da Vinci” movie’s $77 million opening-weekend gross with their own educational offerings. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has produced a documentary, “Jesus Decoded,” that addresses some of Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown’s theories, and Focus on the Family screened a simulcast answering the film at thousands of churches over the weekend.

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), a Methodist, dismissed the movie’s allure, referring to reports of early departures from screenings and jeers at the Cannes Film Festival.

“It may not be that popular if people are walking out of it,” Johnson said. “From what I understand, it’s pure fiction, so I don’t have to go see it to figure that out.”

Rep. Steven Lynch (D-Mass.), whose state has one of the nation’s three highest percentages of Catholic residents, said he read the book but would not see the film until it leaves theaters, if at all.

“It really is fiction, a made-up story,” Lynch said. “You have to be secure enough in your faith that you’re not bothered by it.”

Since his conversion to Catholicism in 2002, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has weathered rumors about an alleged association with Opus Dei, a religious order whose adherents are depicted as murderous villains in the novel and movie. Media reports that Brownback embraced the Vatican with the help of an Opus Dei priest helped fuel speculation, but spokesman Brian Hart said: “Senator Brownback is not affiliated with Opus Dei in any way. [He] is not and has never been a member of Opus Dei.” Brownback’s office declined to comment on his opinion of or plans to see the “Da Vinci” movie.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), another devoutly Catholic lawmaker, also has no ties to Opus Dei, has not read Brown’s book and will not be seeing the film, according to his spokesman.

Catholic Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Science Committee, said he has read the book and “has every intention” of seeing the movie.
“I don’t put any stock in anyone who tries to stifle exposure to another point of view that is clearly labeled as fiction but has as its basis factual content,” Boehlert said.

The pastor at Boehlert’s local parish convened a community forum on “Da Vinci” similar to that in King’s district, “and I’m told it was a sellout,” he said. “I wish I had been there.”

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), also Catholic, said he was disappointed by the church’s inability to accept the film as an alternative perspective on organized religion.

“There’s something wrong with the psyche of America when we can’t be open to free and fair discussion,” Clay said. “Why wouldn’t you want to go see it?” He compared those who are intolerant of other points of view on religion to individuals unwilling to condone criticism of the war in Iraq.

Still, Clay said he has not read the book and does not plan to buy a ticket to “Da Vinci.”

“I don’t even know what it’s about,” he added jokingly.