Critics fear Mel Gibson's upcoming film, The Passion of the Christ, could be a too-bloody retelling of Jesus' final hours, and potentially could stoke the fires of anti-Semitism.
But Gibson tells Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview — airing Monday at 10 p.m. ET on ABCNEWS' Primetime — that those who accuse him, or the film he directed, of sparking anti-Semitism avoid the central point he hoped to make.
"I don't want people to make it about the blame game," Gibson says. "It's about faith, hope, love and forgiveness. That's what this film is about. It's about Christ's sacrifice."
‘Height of Spiritual Bankruptcy’
Gibson tells Sawyer that ultimately he was moved to depict Jesus' sacrifice on film after reaching "the height of spiritual bankruptcy" himself more than a decade ago. Things got so bad that he says he once contemplated hurling himself out a window.
Instead, he turned to the Bible.
"I think I just hit my knees," Gibson says. "I just said, 'Help.' You know? And then, I began to meditate on it, and that's in the Gospel. I read all those again. I remember reading bits of them when I was younger."
"Pain is the precursor to change, which is great," Gibson says. "That's the good news."
Gibson's renewed faith will be on display for moviegoers to see starting Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday, when The Passion, his Aramaic- and Latin-language film depicting the final 12 hours of Jesus' life, debuts in theaters.
Gibson insists on Primetime he is no anti-Semite, and that anti-Semitism is "un-Christian" and a sin that "goes against the tenets of my faith."
When asked who killed Jesus, Gibson says, "The big answer is, we all did. I'll be the first in the culpability stakes here."
Critics have worried the movie's depiction of the Jewish role in the death of Jesus could encourage anti-Semitism. But Gibson tells Sawyer he simply tried his best to interpret the Gospels in The Passion of the Christ.
"Critics who have a problem with me don't really have a problem with me in this film," Gibson says. "They have a problem with the four Gospels. That's where their problem is."
‘Potential to Fuel Anti-Semitism’
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, tells Sawyer in remarks to be broadcast with Gibson's interview that he doesn't believe Gibson is anti-Semitic. But Foxman still has concerns about The Passion of the Christ.
"I do not believe it's an anti-Semitic movie," Foxman says. "I believe that this movie has the potential to fuel anti-Semitism, to reinforce it."
"This is his vision, his faith; he's a true believer, and I respect that," Foxman says. "But there are times that there are unintended consequences."
Gibson also raised hackles recently with published statements in which he noted Holocaust victims were among many victims of World War II. He tells Sawyer he doesn't mean to deny either that the Holocaust occurred or that millions died.
"Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely," he says. "It was an atrocity of monumental proportion."
Asked if the Holocaust represented a "particular kind of evil," he tells Sawyer it did, but adds, "Why do you need me to tell you? It's like, it's obvious. They're killed because of who and what they are. Is that not evil enough?"