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‘Nativity Story’ actress should not be shunned, leaders say

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Amid reports that the teenage actress who plays Mary in the new movie “The Nativity Story” is pregnant out of wedlock, some Christians are wondering how to respond to a lead character’s personal life in a movie they have enthusiastically embraced.

The 16-year-old actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes, plays the role of the Virgin Mary in the Hollywood rendition of the story surrounding Jesus’ birth, which opens in theaters Dec. 1. In October, the agency that represents her confirmed she is expecting a baby in the spring and the father is her boyfriend of three years.

Knowing that Christians might have a problem with the news, Phil Boatwright, editor and film reviewer for previewonline.org, asked the movie’s producers, Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, about the situation.

“They made no judgment call but were proud that this young girl thought more of the baby within than her own career,” Boatwright told Baptist Press. “I thought of that too. There are a lot of 16-year-old girls who get pregnant. But this girl is not only young, she’s an up-and-coming actress, yet she felt this life was more important than herself.”

The Australian-born Castle-Hughes was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in “Whale Rider,” and she played the Queen of Naboo in last year’s “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.”

Boatwright said he hopes that although Christians don’t want to condone sex outside marriage they also don’t want to be too judgmental.

“This young woman played Mary, the mother of Jesus,” Boatwright said. “I’m praying that if she doesn’t already have a relationship with our Savior that she soon will. And I’m praying that little unborn child will someday proclaim Jesus as Messiah.”

Richard Ross, co-founder of the national abstinence movement True Love Waits, took a similar approach, advising Christians not to react to Castle-Hughes the way the world expects them to react.

“In the early moments of True Love Waits, I was invited to appear on the ‘Jerry Springer Show.’ They already had enlisted three teenage girls pregnant before marriage to appear as well,” Ross recounted to BP. “One of the producers called to say, ‘Rev. Ross, I am sure you’re infuriated by these girls that have been so immoral. I’m guessing you will want to call them sluts and other things on the broadcast.’

“I answered, ‘No, I would never say such things. I love those young ladies even now. I will want to be gentle with them and tell them that God loves them and is ready to walk with them through what they are facing,’” Ross said.

“The mood of the producer quickly changed and he mumbled something about having to drop me from the show,” Ross added. “The secular world expects Christians to be mean to Keisha Castle-Hughes and all the young [people] who make grave mistakes with their lives. But to do so is to ignore the model Christ set for His followers. With gentleness and grace we are to point those who stumble toward redemption, forgiveness and a God of second chances.”

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said the secular media was deprived of the juicy story they were betting on when the Vatican and Catholic and Protestant groups throughout the world did not withdraw their support of The Nativity Story based on the lead character’s personal choices.

“On Nov. 24, UPI wrote that ‘Some Christian groups in the United States and Canada reportedly have been questioning Castle-Hughes’s ‘suitability’ to play the role of Mary,’” Donahue said in a Nov. 29 news release. “On the same day, the Times of London implied that the pope had subsequently refused to see the film (this was picked up by some U.S. media sources). On Nov. 26, the Detroit Free Press said that ‘Vatican officials’ were allegedly ‘not thrilled to have the issue cloud their enjoyment of the movie. So Castle-Hughes was dropped from the invitation list for the Vatican’s world premiere of the movie today.’

“As it turns out, none of this is true, as both USA Today and The New York Times accurately reported: The pope was embarking on his trip to Turkey and the girl was in Australia doing a movie,” Donahue said. “Despite what some think, Christians do not turn their backs on unwed mothers; they provide services for them.”

Jimmy Hester, who founded True Love Waits with Ross, voiced concern that Christians will miss an opportunity to explain to teenagers why Castle-Hughes’ situation is not ideal.

“This is just another illustration that our society does not truly value the biblical plan for sexuality,” Hester told BP. “Platforming this actress in this movie only serves as justification for sexually active teenagers and others who support such behavior, and makes it more difficult for young believers to hold up God’s plan for sexual abstinence until marriage.”

An additional controversy surrounding the film is news that the city of Chicago has opted to ban advertisements for The Nativity Story at Christkindlmarket, a Christmas festival held in Daley Plaza for more than 10 years.

Officials are allowing a nativity display along with an Islamic crescent and a Jewish menorah, but they decided that clips from the film were too commercial and didn’t appeal to all faiths, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“This particular incident is about a movie studio aggressively marketing a movie and trying to sell tickets to that movie,” Veronica Resa, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office of special events, said.

But Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, said the decision amounted to a declaration of war on Christianity.

“This is an outrageous, despicable decision,” Baehr said in a Nov. 28 news release. “I’m absolutely shocked that at a Christmas festival they would not allow commercials people could see tonight on TV. It is just more hypocritical, leftwing political correctness where everything is OK except Christianity.”

Baehr added that Chicago officials would not show similar intolerance to minority groups or homosexual groups.

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  • Erin Roach