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Mel Gibson’s ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ puts Seventh-day Adventists in spotlight

Left to right, Sam Worthington, director Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn on the set of "Hacksaw Ridge." Photo by Mark Rogers, courtesy of Lionsgate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (USA Today Network) As moviegoers file into theaters for Mel Gibson’s bloody World War II biopic, members of Nashville First Seventh-day Adventist Church will be outside sharing the story of the man who inspired the film.

Andrew Garfield stars as ‘Desmond Doss’ in Hacksaw Ridge. Photo by Mark Rogers, courtesy of Lionsgate

Andrew Garfield stars as Desmond Doss in “Hacksaw Ridge.” Photo by Mark Rogers, courtesy of Lionsgate

Hacksaw Ridge” tells the extraordinary true story of the late Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh-day Adventist who refused to carry a weapon due to religious beliefs while serving as a combat medic. He became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor after rescuing at least 75 soldiers during the violent battle for Okinawa in 1945.

The Hillsboro-West End congregation expects “Hacksaw Ridge” to spur questions for those unfamiliar with their Christian denomination and Doss, and they want to help answer them, said Melvin Santos, the church’s pastor.

That’s why a group of them will be handing out small booklets about the World War II hero and Adventism at Nashville-area theaters as well as at their church.

“We just wanted to share a little bit more insight because of his faith, his commitment, his dedication not only to serve his God but also his country,” Santos said. “We’re in the heart of Nashville so if people are coming we also have an opportunity to field questions or invite them to know more about the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the church Desmond Doss was faithfully committed to.”

Doss died in 2006 and is buried at Chattanooga National Cemetery. His story is well known within the church, but less so outside of it. That’s all about to change since talk of “Hacksaw Ridge” as an awards-season contender has already started, and some critics are calling it Gibson’s comeback film after the director’s 2006 anti-Semitic outburst during a drunken-driving arrest.

RELATED: Adventist WWII Vet, Conscientious Objector, Medal Winner, Reflects at Memorial

The expected popularity of the Hollywood depiction of one of Adventism’s inspirational members will be felt inside the church, too. Members likely will be the most affected by the film, said Daniel Weber, the director of communication for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.

“People will go see the film and then say, ‘Hey, Desmond was a Seventh-day Adventist.’ That was talked about in the film. That was talked about in all the reviews you read,” Weber said. “And if they know a Seventh-day Adventist, they may say, ‘Hey, tell me about this. What do you know about Desmond Doss? What’s this belief of the Sabbath that you have? Or are all of you vegetarian like Desmond was?’”

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has about 18 million members worldwide, including more than 278,000 in eight Southern states. The North America division of the church put together a series of talking points on the film, Weber said. The Desmond Doss Council, the group committed to protecting Doss’ story, helped compile that information.

While the denomination does proselytize, the church views the movie not as an evangelism tool, but as an outreach opportunity, he said.

“I think it’s going to be a good awareness piece for us,” Weber said.

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  • Definitely good publicity for the church. The last celebrity was Ben Carson. The Adventists were born of the movement starting in the 1800s revolving around the second coming and getting back to the bible’s roots. I never could understand why christians have a sunday sabbath when the jews, who originated it, observe Saturday.

  • Mel Gibson for all of his personal faults is a decent enough director. Especially when it comes to war films so far. Braveheart and We Were Soldiers were well made, The reviews of this one are emphasizing that it is one of the bloodiest war films since Saving Private Ryan.

    I find it funny how Gibson has found the way to get Christian audiences to watch gore films en masse. A crowd notorious for protesting movies with excessive gore.

  • Christians hold church on Sunday because that was the day that Christ found raised from the dead.

  • He died on Friday afternoon and arose on Sunday morning? Not three days and nights as Jesus said when he likened his death to Jonah. What gives?

  • Because at the time period in question, Jews considered a partial day to count as a “day” for “accounting” purposes, at least that is how a number of expositors have explained it in their commentaries. It is at least a plausible explanation. Though it seems to foreshorten the event by one night. This is not a deal breaker for me.

  • I will watch gore if the point is to illustrate the horrors and realities of war, at the same time projecting a deeper and more telling point. Beyond that, phantasmagorical gore is an insult to my sensibilities.

  • After a bit more research, I discovered that some expositors contend that Jesus may have been crucified on Thursday, or even Wednesday, the bible is not explicit on the day of the week. And oddly, that particular Passover week contained two types of Sabbath of different character, which was not that unusual with respect to certain periodic events in the Jewish calendar. So there certainly is a, once again, no lack of plausibility with respect to 3 days and 3 nights. If you are curious enough to pursue a more scholarly and more complete explanation I would suggest, “got questions .org.”

  • What about gore to illustrate the physical suffering of your personal Savior? Mel Gibson made a mint out of biblical “torture porn”.

  • I think that example speaks to the very point I was trying to make. The historical facts of the crucifixion are plainly evident, and the effort to illustrate such a painful reality exercised on our behalf has resonated for over 20 centuries.

  • If it were a movie showing any other adult male being tortured and killed slowly in such a graphic fashion, you would probably protest the film as gratuitous.

    But Mel was such a crafty person he got people to go out of their way to see a gore film. The Cecil B DeMille gambit. If you make it a Biblical film, you can get away with any kind of prurient stuff onscreen. As long as the righteous (but usually dull) characters win in the end.

  • There may be something to what you say, the Last Temptation of Christ being a prime example, though it was not a showcase for the orthodox point of view. I disagree with you about the “usually dull” characters, villains or heroes I find most biblical characters quite compelling and complex.

  • The dull characters was a reference to the protagonists of a DeMille picture. As in most horror movies, they tend to run on the dull side when compared to the colorful villains of the films. That is a function of casting and screenwriting.

  • Understood. Though wouldn’t you consider Heston’s Moses somewhat compelling, though I’m not certain that was a DeMille picture.

  • It was DeMille. Heston was good. He also had some of the most eccentric performances to bouncing off him.

    What kind of debts did DeMille owe to Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson which would explain how either of them showed up in a biblical epic?

  • I’ll have to view it again (I must be getting old) the Price character doesn’t stand out; was he a slave master? As to Eddie G., I thought he did well in the film.