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

NASHVILLE — Hacksaw Ridge tells the extraordinary true story of the late Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist who refused to carry a weapon due to religious beliefs while serving as a combat medic.

Left to right, Sam Worthington, director Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn on the set of

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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