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Following society-page disclosures this month that Jane Fonda and media mogul Ted Turner had separated just days after their eighth anniversary, another report surfaced on the Internet and in several newspapers: Miss Fonda had become a Christian, and her faith may have added to the strains in her marriage. (Both have been married three times before, and both have children by the other marriages.)
Some reports mistakenly credited Miss Fonda's chauffeur for pointing her to Christ and a predominantly black church, Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, where she supposedly was receiving spiritual care. The reports suggested she had attended the large Peachtree Presbyterian Church in northwest Atlanta, but switched to Providence because Mr. Turner, long an outspoken critic of Christianity, objected to attention she was receiving at Peachtree.
WORLD first learned of Miss Fonda's newfound faith and involvement in a women's Bible study group about a year and a half ago. Most editors, including WORLD's, like to be first to report a story, but WORLD decided that turning the spotlight on Miss Fonda prematurely could be harmful to her spiritual welfare. Premature publicity about the reported conversions of former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, singer Bob Dylan, and other celebrities had negative effects on them.
Her weekly Bible study group was founded about 10 years ago by Nancy McGuirk, wife of an executive of Turner Broadcasting System and a member at 12,000-member Peachtree Presbyterian Church. From its initial dozen participants, it now attracts some 375 women, with 48 group leaders, from many backgrounds and churches. It convenes Wednesday mornings in the Peachtree chapel; participants then fan out to 18 classrooms for group study.
WORLD spoke with the woman who says she led Miss Fonda to Christ "in a
one-on-one setting," and who continues to meet with her privately in a program of "discipleship." She asked not to be identified, citing confidentiality and explaining that "this is Jane's story of faith, and how and when she decides to tell it is up to her." She declined to divulge any details, but insisted: "Her faith is real.... God is at work in her life in a magnificent way." Someday, she predicted, people will see that "a real miracle" has occurred in her life. Meanwhile, she added, Christians ought to pray for her.
The "media frenzy" over the separation and reported conversion has kept Miss Fonda away from the Bible study and in private sessions with Christian friends, the source said. She said she and Miss Fonda "have no idea" where the report about the chauffeur originated. She said it appears to have been based entirely on speculation. Miss Fonda, 62, has not yet attended any church regularly, not even Peachtree, she said. The connection with Providence Baptist came through a teen anti-pregnancy organization Miss Fonda founded. Providence's pastor, who heads a black clergy group, serves on the organization's board. Miss Fonda attended several services at the church as a result of these ties.
Once denounced as "Hanoi Jane" for her propaganda trip to North Vietnam in 1971 as an anti-war activist, the Oscar-winning actress spent much of her life in a culture hostile to Christianity. There are signs her worldview may be changing. Once an outspoken proponent of abortion on demand, she prefers these days to emphasize prevention of unwanted pregnancies. She reportedly declined to "meditate" at a recent environmental conference, suggesting everyone would be better advised to "pray to Jesus Christ." She apparently has spoken with her husband about matters of faith; he recently told a California audience: "Jane wants me to become a saint."
However, until she goes on the record herself, the public won't know how far Miss Fonda really has come.
Mr. Turner seems to have journeyed in the opposite direction. He reportedly has told friends he had accepted Christ as a young man at a Billy Graham crusade. At a banquet in 1990 where he was honored as "Humanist of the Year," he said he began to lose his faith when his sister died after a lengthy illness, despite his prayers. The farther from the faith he strayed, "the better I felt," he said. At a meeting of population-control groups last year, he criticized the Ten Commandments and spoke disparagingly about Christians. After an outcry, he apologized "from the bottom of my heart" for "the things I said about Christians."
A statement released by the couple said they remain "committed to the long-term success of our marriage" but both feel they need to take some personal time for themselves apart from each other.