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Jewish World Review Jan. 19, 2000 / 12 Shevat, 5760

Cal Thomas

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'Hanoi Jane' no more --
WHEN I FIRST HEARD reports of Jane Fonda's conversion to Christ, I dismissed them as one more in a long line of erroneous rumors that begin in gossip and take on certain credence from repetition. Then I started hearing reports from people not usually given to hearsay and called people in a position to know. Yes, it appears to be true, they said. Oh me of little faith. Oh doubting Thomas.

The news will come as a bigger shock to those who have turned their denunciation of Jane Fonda into an industry than it will to many of her longtime friends, who are also on a journey of self-examination. Many of her peers are finding their lifelong beliefs have not brought the peace and fulfillment for which they are searching.

If press reports are true, Fonda's chauffeur and a woman married to a Turner Broadcasting System executive were instrumental in bringing her to faith. No prominent clergyman was involved. Just a chauffeur and a faithful friend. How like God.

Fonda has declined to speak with reporters. That's good. She should also decline for a while to speak publicly and to the religious establishment. One recalls Eldridge Cleaver, the late former Black Panther, who shortly after testifying to his own conversion was possessed by many whites and turned into a black trophy for their churches. Cleaver went public before his faith was properly grounded. He soon abandoned it and pursued other religions and New Age philosophies.

Before G-d could use Moses, He sent him to wander in the desert for 40 years to cleanse him of self-reliance. After the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (and his name change to Paul), the apostle was privately instructed by his new friends, those he once persecuted, before he spoke publicly.

Religious hucksters would love to have Jane Fonda in their pulpits and on their television shows. How many would say with a straight face, ''I prayed for you all the time,'' and it would be true? Not many, I'll wager.

There is a lesson here for those who would learn it. Right after the verse many Christians love to quote (John 3:16) is verse 17, which says: ''God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.'' Most conservative Christians cannot honestly say we are sinless when it comes to Jane Fonda. How many of our hands and hearts are clean of the stain of denunciation and criticism of her? As of now, we know two: her chauffeur and a faithful friend.

Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the chauffeur attends, said he has seen Fonda at his services and ''I am extremely impressed with
Fonda (L) and her former friends
the genuineness and sincerity of (her) search for spirituality and wholeness ... I think she has found a certain sense of peace among those who've found peace with Christianity.''

Every conversion is a miracle, whether the converted is a homeless person or a well-known figure like Jane Fonda. Some like to see a celebrity transformed because it allows them to walk by sight and not by faith. And it validates a need to see their faith paraded publicly on the back of a celebrity, rather than emulate the One whose chosen mode of transportation were his feet and a humble donkey.

No power on Earth, and certainly no power of denunciation, could have changed the life of Jane Fonda. More than seeing how her life has changed, it will be interesting to see how she changes the lives of those who have hated her and have put ''Hanoi Jane'' bumper stickers on their cars, referring to an ill-considered visit to North Vietnam during that divisive war.

The power of love to change a life is far greater than the power of criticism and harsh judgment. Without speaking a public word, Jane Fonda may have already exuded a force more powerful than any other political idea or philosophy she may have promoted in the past.

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