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CULTURE DIGEST: Mel Gibson ‘flawed messenger of Gospel,’ pastor says; tow truck driver witnesses to Darth Vader

Updated Aug. 9, 2006

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As much of the nation reacts to actor Mel Gibson’s recent arrest on drunken driving charges and subsequent derogatory comments about Jews, a Southern Baptist pastor says Gibson’s behavior should not taint the message of the major motion picture he produced two years ago, “The Passion of The Christ.”

“Only the Savior is perfect, and every messenger of the Gospel is flawed,” Jerry Johnston, pastor of First Family Church in Overland Park, Kan., told USA Today, “and Gibson certainly illustrated that to the worst degree. It was unwarranted, and a great shame has been attached to the maker of the movie.”

Gibson was pulled over July 28 for driving well over the speed limit on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif., and was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the Associated Press. He posted $5,000 bail several hours later.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s original report about the arrest did not mention Gibson’s remarks, but a law enforcement official quoted Gibson as saying, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” and asking the officer, who is a Jew, “Are you a Jew?” The anti-Semitic remarks were accompanied by expletives, the officer said.

In a statement released soon after his release, Gibson said, “I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said.

“I have battled the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse,” Gibson added. “I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health.”

And in a second statement released Aug. 1, Gibson elaborated on his regret and his plans for recovery, saying he is a public person and therefore must assume personal responsibility for words he utters, whether they are prepared statements or “blurted out in a moment of insanity.”

“The tenets of what I profess to believe necessitate that I exercise charity and tolerance as a way of life,” Gibson said. “Every human being is God’s child, and if I wish to honor my God I have to honor His children. But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.”

Gibson also expressed a desire to meet with leaders of the Jewish community to explore ways their relationship might be rebuilt.

William Donahue, president of the Catholic League, welcomed Gibson’s apology and said it differs from most that come from public figures.

“Mel Gibson’s apology is a model of contrition, and it reflects the genuineness of his faith,” Donahue said in a statement Aug. 1. “Indeed, it stands in stark contrast to the ‘If you were offended’ type of apology that we are so accustomed to at the Catholic League. We trust that most Jewish leaders will now do the honorable thing and work with Mel so that all wounds can heal.

“There will always be those who refuse to forgive,” Donahue added. “They are a tragic lot. Worse, they are the only losers.”

TOW TRUCK DRIVER WITNESSES TO DARTH VADER — For Steve Burdick, a tow truck driver in Syracuse, N.Y., the only thing out of the ordinary on a tow request July 22 was that the car was a $125,000 Ferrari — something he had never towed before and didn’t even know how to hook up to his truck.

But Burdick would soon learn he was towing Darth Vader, or at least the man who played Anakin Skywalker in the last two “Star Wars” movies.

Hayden Christensen, a 25-year-old actor, was driving the Ferrari in Bullrun 2006, an elite cross-country tour from New York to Los Angeles, when the transmission broke down on Interstate 81 in Syracuse.

“I just thought he had a rich daddy,” Burdick told The Syracuse Post-Standard. “I asked him what he does for a living and he said he was studying to become an actor, so I didn’t think much of it. I asked him if he knows Tom Cruise and he said he did.”

During the 240-mile drive to Christensen’s hometown of Toronto, Canada, Burdick, a Christian, asked Christensen if he had given his life to the Lord. The actor told the driver he believed “people came from monkeys,” according to The Post-Standard.

The two listened to cassettes by Christian motivational speaker Zig Ziglar called “A View from the Top,” and it wasn’t until they arrived at the border crossing that Burdick realized who Christensen was.

“The girls at the border knew him,” he said. “Two of them got his autograph…. That’s when he told me about ‘Star Wars.’”

Burdick told The Post-Standard he plans to send the actor a Zig Ziglar disc set.

CHURCHES MAY PUT TOWN OUT OF BUSINESS — City officials in Houston-area Stafford, Texas, say their town of 19,000 people simply can’t afford for any more churches to move in.

Stafford is the largest city in Texas without a property tax, so it depends on sales taxes and business fees for revenue, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times July 31. But since the town has 51 churches and other religious institutions within its 7 square miles, too many tax-exempt groups are hurting the economy.

“We respect the Constitution, but 51 of anything is too much,” Leonard Scarcella, the town’s mayor, said.

Nonprofit organizations are attracted to Stafford by its rapid growth and minimal deed restrictions, the Times said, but it has come to the point where someone has to pay for the local police, fire department and schools.

Stafford has religious facilities for Buddhists, Muslims, Chinese Baptists, Filipino Baptists, Spanish-speaking Baptists, and “every other variety of Christian you can imagine,” Scarcella told the Times. In fact, one quarter-mile section of the city is home to 17 churches.

A city council member told the Times that most people who attend the churches don’t even live in Stafford but drive from Houston and other places. The city recently passed an ordinance making it much more difficult for churches to build in the area, hoping that will stem the tide of growth.

“It hurts the city when you don’t have enough businesses paying taxes,” Nilda Martinez, a flower shop owner in Stafford, told the Times.

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  • Erin Roach