Beliefnet
Idol Chatter

First, there is the news that religious groups are feeling pressure about not pulling their support for “The Nativity Story” based on lead actress Keisha Castle-Hughes being pregnant out of wedlock. Then comes the news that Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Life” and pastor of Saddleback Community Church, is receiving complaints from evangelicals for inviting Sen. Barack Obama to speak at his church.

There used to be a time when the spiritual journey and politics weren’t inexorably linked. And there was a time when acting was just acting, and actors had their own personal lives separate from their work.

I miss the clarity.

If a young woman gets the high honor of playing the part of Mary–and if the movie tells the wonderful story of “The Birth”–I don’t see why a church or religious groups should need to boycott the story of Jesus because of activities in the personal life of Castle-Hughes. Christian groups didn’t support the movie or pick the cast, but they sure should be allowed to support the story!

As for Rick Warren’s issue, I think evangelicals and others in the Christian Church should be careful: When they start criticizing the author of the best-selling religious book (aside from the Bible) in all of history for inviting a probable presidential candidate to discuss solutions to AIDS, they run the risk of becoming the very pharisees that missed the story of Jesus the first time around.

“Our goal has been to put people together who normally won’t even speak to each other,” said Saddleback in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “We do not expect all participants in the summit discussion to agree with all of our evangelical beliefs … the HIV/AIDS pandemic cannot be fought by evangelicals alone [and] will take the cooperation of all–government, business, NGOs and the church.”

I’m going to order tapes of Obama, and I’m going to take my kids to see “The Nativity Story,” and hope that doesn’t get me in trouble with my church friends!

“The Nativity Story,” director Catherine Hardwicke’s film version of the Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, had its world premiere on Sunday at the Vatican. (It opens in the U.S. this week.) Some 7,000 people, including Hardwicke and several high-ranking cardinals, attended the showing–but not Pope Benedict XVI or Keisha Castle-Hughes, the 16-year-old Australian actress who plays Jesus’ mother, Mary.

As it turns out, Keisha, like Mary in the Gospels, is pregnant out of wedlock. But unlike Jesus, who was conceived by divine power while Mary remained a virgin, Keisha’s unborn baby has an all-too-human father, her 19-year-old boyfriend, Bradley Hull. So the reports started flying that the spectacle of a high-school-age, obviously non-virgin Mary had proved too much for the pope.

The U.K. Guardian reported that a disapproving Benedict had boycotted the Vatican premiere. The Detroit Free Press reported rumors that Keisha had been dropped from the invitation list by offended Vatican officials. There were even suggestions that scandalized Catholics and evangelical Christians planned to stay home from the movie after the news of Keisha’s pregnancy broke in October.

At this point, Bill Donohue, the never-word-mincing president of the Catholic League for Religious, jumped into the fray, accusing the media of cooking up the stories that Benedict had refused to see the movie and Keisha had been shunned. “Despite what some think, Christians do not turn their backs on unwed mothers: They provide services for them,” an inflamed Donohue wrote in a press release.

Donohue was undoubtedly right about the pope’s reasons for his no-show. The Nov. 26 premier of “The Nativity Story” took place less than 48 hours before Benedict’s highly publicized trip to Turkey, which was fraught with uncertainty until the last minute because of security concerns. As for whether Keisha Castle-Hughes was dropped from the Vatican’s invitation list on account of her pregnancy (or told it would be a good idea not to appear), we’ll probably never know what really happened.

The New York Times, however, reported a statement by Keisha’s publicist that she was busy working on another movie–and who doesn’t trust the New York Times? Furthermore, both the Catholic and the evangelical media remain positive about the movie, as does the secular press. Consider this Nov. 29 headline in Australia’s Herald Sun: “Pregnant Actor ‘Great Virgin.”

— Charlotte Allen

Ever dreamed of spending Saturday night with two rabbis? Who hasn’t? Rabbi Irwin Kula and Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of the National Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership are launching “Intelligent Talk Radio,” in Portland, Oregon this week The rabbis will spend a midnight hour each week tackling compelling and engaging topics about the American spiritual, cultural, and political landscape.

Going beyond religion, the radio rabbis use their own unique perspectives to provide an alternative to the medium’s usual banter between the left- and the right-wing population. The rabbis, both seasoned media personalities who have appeared on everything from our own Beliefnet.com to Bridges TV to Frontline and The Today Show, will try and uncover the hidden agendas buried deep on both sides of the right/left divide. Topics are said to span from reinstating the draft, to God on the political ropes, to the shootings over PlayStation 3.

Perhaps one of their future shows will be broadcast from a pub, just so Idol Chatter can use the line: “Two rabbis and a radio walk into a bar…”

Former “Seinfeld” actor Michael Richards has barely finished trying to convince the public–as well as the entertainment community–that the racial slurs he uttered at a nightclub do not mean he is racist. But now he is facing new allegetions regarding anti-Semitic remarks he made several months ago.

Richards newly-hired crisis expert, Howard Rubenstein, has admitted that Richards shouted anti-Semitic comments during a performance last April. But he blames Richards’ tirade not on his obvious anger management issues, but rather on the fact that he was only “role playing” while on stage.

And while Jewish leaders may not be expressing the same outrage over Richards’ remarks as they did over Mel Gibson’s road rage a few months ago, they are taking Richards to task over something else: Richards claims that he can’t be anti-Semitic because he is Jewish. Jewish organizations have refuted Richards ties to Judaism by pointing out that his family is not Jewish (Richards was actually raised Catholic), and that Richards has not formally converted to the religion.

Rubenstein, however, has continued to defend Richards claim to be a Jew by saying that Richards has had two significant Jewish mentors in his life and agrees with the beliefs and customs of Judaism. Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, responded by saying “You can’t feel Jewish. It’s not a matter of feeling.”

Seems to me like no one–from Jesse Jackson to the Anti-Defamation League–is feeling the love for someone who was once one of the most beloved sitocm stars of the ’90s.