Idol Chatter

The long-anticipated FoxFaith Movies, a division of 20th Century Fox, officially came into being this week, a great triumph for whoever is putting out the new division’s stationery, with little relevance for the rest of us. Fox has been in the Christian movie business for some years, mostly in distributing DVDs of films as big as “The Passion” and as insignificant as “Love Comes Softly,” the Hallmark-channel-flavored film of the Christian bestseller by Jeanette Oke.

The FoxFaith moniker will allow Fox to bolster its already-thriving marketing efforts for biblical films like “One Night With the King,” (left) through churches; according to The New York Times, some 90,000 churches get regular information about Fox films. Perhaps more importantly, it will extend Fox’s power to flack faith-free but family-friendly movies such as the animated baseball fantasy “Everybody’s Hero” and an upcoming remake of “Flicka.” A Fox official told the Times, “It’s a Good Housekeeping seal, a marketing umbrella for these pictures, so that people can have confidence the movies won’t violate their core beliefs.”

The key here is that FoxFaith films are as much about what they don’t show as what they do. “Love Comes Softly,” the first Oke novel released as a Fox movie two years ago, is a simple romance and is faith-based only in the sense that faithful Christians don’t have to worry that a torrid bedroom scene is just around the corner.

The Russian Space Agency recently turned down Madonna’s bid to get a spot on an upcoming mission. This must come as a disappointment to those Christians who would love to see the pop diva shot into space, once and for all.

Barely recovered from her latest U.S. concert tour–which includes the spectacle of the star posing on an enormous glittering cross and is now making waves internationally–some American clergy have been upset anew by NBC’s plan to show the disco-crucifix footage on “Access Hollywood.”

“By sponsoring Madonna’s mockery of Christ, NBC will insult the majority of Americans and millions more around the globe,” says Reverend Rob Schenck, who is president of an ecumenical group called the National Clergy Council.

Rev. Schenck, of course, begs the question as to whether Madonna is mocking Christ. Artists–and as glitzy and overwrought as Madonna can be, she still appears on the Arts page–have long availed themselves of the cross to express their religious views. Mel Gibson did as much, and perhaps offended as manywith his ecstatically gushing “Passion of the Christ.” The fact that Rev. Schenck may like one and not the other doesn’t mean Madonna is dissing Jesus.

Instead, in her ham handed way, Madonna appears to be calling those who espouse Christian principles to account. Here is the account of a Russian journalist who attended Madonna’s concert there last week (over the objections of the Orthodox Church):

What I–and, I assume, most casual observers–did not know was what the song would be and what the point would be. The song was “Live to Tell,” her 1986 hit, and the point was not subtle. Flashing behind her on a giant video screen were the faces of children and some statistics: the number of children orphaned by AIDS in Africa and the fact that without help they will all die before the age of 2. And then there was a long quote from “The Sheep and the Goats” story from the New Testament.”

At the end of the song, she makes a pitch for donations for these orphans.

Not coincidentally–and, okay, perhaps cynically–Madonna announced this week that she would work to raise $3 million to improve the water supply in the African nation of Malawi, where she’s already sponsoring a home for orphans. If she’s mocking Christ, she’s found a nice way to assuage her guilt.

Idol Chatter readers may remember a post I wrote back in January on my love for Duane “Dog” Chapman, the unlikely star of the A & E series “Dog: The Bounty Hunter” and a deeply faithful Christian.

The long-haired, leather-wearing, born-again Dog (God spelled backwards, of course)–along with his wife/business partner Beth, son Leland, and “blood brother” Tim Chapman (no relation)–track fugitives who have jumped bail after being bonded by Dog and Beth’s agency “Da Kine Bail Bonds.” They’re also hired by outside bond agencies to track their bail jumpers.

Now, Dog, who is known for showing compassion to those he captures, is facing legal troubles of his own. On September 14, he was arrested by federal marshals at his home in Honolulu for jumping bail in Mexico after a 2003 arrest there, related to his capture of Andrew Luster, heir to the Max Factor fortune and a convicted rapist.

Last night, A&E aired a special episode of Dog’s show entitled “The Family Speaks,” explaining the case that started it all and why Dog was arrested.

In 1996, 1997, and 2000, Luster raped three women after giving them the “date-rape drug” GHB. He even videotaped the assaults. In 2003, while on trial, Luster jumped bail and fled to Mexico. He was convicted in absentia of 86 of the 87 charges against him and sentenced to 124 years in jail.

When a then-unknown Dog heard about the case, it hit home for him as the father of four daughters and six sons, and he dedicated his own time and money to finding Luster. After following a lead to Mexico, Dog, along with Leland and Tim, spotted Luster at a bar. In last night’s special, Dog recounts the capture and says that when he found the felon, he said, “Freeze, Andrew Luster, in the name of the United States of America. Your days of raping are over.”

Dog claims that when they tried to bring Luster back over the border, Mexican police arrested all parties. Initially, Dog thought he was being “Punk’d,” set-up by the popular MTV hidden-camera show.

Because bounty hunting is illegal in Mexico, Dog, Leland, and Tim were charged with “unlawful depravation of individuals” and “illegal seizure,” and faced six months to four years in jail. Luster was handed over to U.S. authorities to begin his jail sentence. After spending a week in jail, the bounty-hunting gang was set free on bail and returned to the U.S. Lawyers told them that their crimes are misdemeanors under American law, and so as long as they didn’t return to Mexico, they would never need to go back to court or do jail time. They all returned home and hadn’t heard anything further about the case–until now. Suddenly, Mexican authorities are fighting to extradite the three bounty hunters.

Many of Dog’s fans–myself included–are upset and appalled at his arrest. Although he may have broken Mexican law by capturing Luster, he has saved countless women from this sick sexual predator. We shouldn’t be concerned about the civil rights of a monster like Luster, and we should instead focus on the good that has come of his capture–namely, that women can sleep a little easier at night. We should reward Dog for his efforts, not punish him.

One of Luster’s victims, Tonja “Doe,” is trying to do just that. After Luster fled the country, his apartment was searched, and among videotapes and a supply of GHB, a “hit list” was found, documenting all of the people who were testifying against him. “Doe” was on this list and credits Dog with saving her life. Since Dog’s arrest, she has set up a website to solicit donations to help with his legal expenses: A Myspace page, has also been created, which includes a petitions to drop all charges against him, Leland, and Tim.

Dog’s family is comforted by their faith, and last night’s special showed Beth, her children, and other family members standing in a circle, praying for the release of the rest of the team. On September 16, the group was released on bail, but forced to wear electronic monitoring devices. Although the family is still concerned he will be extradited, they are trying to remain optimistic.

“[Dog] walked the walk, and showed mercy to so many people, that surely mercy will be shown on him,” said Beth.