Jane Fonda has become a born-again Christian, enthusiastic in her newly found faith, and her conversion is making waves from Atlanta to Hollywood.
She’s regularly attending church services and Bible studies in Atlanta, and one friend calls her faith “very real, very deep.”
News of her conversion one of her longtime critics calls it a conversion “right up there with Saul of Tarsus” leaped from Internet gossip to mainstream newspapers following the disclosure last week that she and her husband, Ted Turner, have separated.
Miss Fonda has so far declined to talk to reporters about it, and her spokesman, Steven Bennett, Thursday told The Times: “We do not comment on her personal life.”
She had said in an interview two years ago, on the eve of her 60th birthday, that she had asked herself, “Where do I want to go with the last third of my life?”
Friends say Mr. Turner’s unhappiness with his wife’s enthusiasm for her new faith in Christ contributed to the split-up. The couple said they hope to work out a reconciliation.
Her friends in Atlanta and Hollywood are rallying around her.
“I am extremely impressed with the genuineness and sincerity in [her] search for spirituality and wholeness,” the Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta where Miss Fonda has attended services, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I think she’s found a certain sense of peace among people who’ve found peace with Christianity.”
Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission in Los Angeles, who worries that news of Miss Fonda’s conversion will put the actress-activist under pressure as a “celebrity Christian,” urges Christians to pray for her.
“We should be kind and gracious and thoughtful and respectful,” says Mr. Baehr, who said he had been aware of Miss Fonda’s journey toward faith for more than a year.
Joseph Farah, whose Internet site WorldNetDaily.com first reported Miss Fonda’s conversion, said he had heard “rumblings” about her search for faith for two years.
“Then, last summer, I started hearing again from people who were close to Jane, that this was real, that she was really attending church and Bible study and had made a sincere commitment to Christianity. It resurfaced recently with the separation between Ted and Jane. I heard from one of my sources that the real reason was spiritual,” he said.
Mr. Turner, who turned a bankrupt Atlanta advertising company into a media empire that grew even larger this week with the merger of Time-Warner and America Online, has been an outspoken critic of Christianity, calling it a “religion for losers.”
At a meeting of population control groups last year, Mr. Turner ridiculed the Ten Commandments and told a Polish joke about Pope John Paul II, who was born in Poland.
But later he appeared chastened and told the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., an Atlanta suburb: “From the bottom of my heart, I apologize for the things I said about Christians.”
Mr. Turner has told friends that he had accepted Christ as a young man at a Billy Graham crusade, but lost his faith after the death of his sister.
Among those involved in Miss Fonda’s path to Christ are several Christian friends in Atlanta. These are said to include Ginny Millner, wife of Georgia Republican leader Guy Millner, and Nancy McGuirk, whose husband is an executive in Turner Broadcasting Co.
The key figure in Miss Fonda’s search, however, may have been her chauffeur, who shared his faith with her, Mr. Baehr said. When her husband became upset when she began attending Atlanta’s fashionable Peachtree Presbyterian Church, Miss Fonda “asked her chauffeur where should she go.” The chauffeur invited her to attend his church, the predominantly black Providence Missionary Baptist Church.
She accepted the invitation, and became a regular parishioner there, though she apparently has not joined the church. Miss Fonda, who founded the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, helped Providence Church establish its Fathers Resource Center, which educates young men about the emotional and social responsibilities of fatherhood.
She has not publicly talked about her political views, or whether she has changed any of them, but she is said to have declined to participate in a meditation ceremony at an environmental conference not long ago with an admonition that “it would be better to pray to Jesus Christ.”
A member of Providence Church, who has worked closely with Miss Fonda, said telephone calls from reporters have flooded the church since the news broke of Miss Fonda’s attendance at Providence Missionary. “It’s been a zoo here… . It’s been absolutely incredible,” she said.
That kind of media frenzy worries Robert H. Knight, senior director of cultural studies at the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy organization.
“I would hope, if her conversion is genuine, that Miss Fonda will not come under undue pressure before she is able to handle it,” he says. “She probably needs time to grow in the faith and experience the joys of knowing Christ, before undergoing trials on His behalf.”
Spiritual growth may be difficult for Miss Fonda because of her Hollywood background. The Academy Award-winning actress, who was called “Hanoi Jane” after her 1971 trip to North Vietnam, where she was photographed posing on an anti-aircraft battery, “has been in a cultural universe that is utterly hostile to Christianity,” Mr. Knight says.
Speculation has grown in Atlanta that Mr. Turner might soon follow his wife in a search for his own discarded faith.
“Nobody is beyond the grace of God,” says Mr. Baehr. “That’s why Jesus died for the sinners, not for the righteous… . Nobody is beyond God’s grace whom God decides to call into His kingdom.”