(Above) Patricia Heaton leaves her hand prints on the Main Street sidewalk in Amory, Mississippi, during a recent fund-raising visit.

Lights! Camera! Action! To many, the red carpet only rolls out to the rich and famous who hold true to their liberal beliefs and fill the news with their extravagant escapades and racy rendezvous. But Hollywood outsiders fail to realize that occasionally the personalities who grace the dazzling red rug are involved in a valid intimate relationship that never reaches the tabloids.

There are producers, writers, agents, actors and actresses in Hollywood who profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and are not ashamed to share it. In fact, their relationships with Jesus are their motivation to make a positive difference in an industry darkened by worldliness.

This month the AFA Journal begins the Christians in Hollywood series with Emmy-winning actress Patricia Heaton of Everybody Loves Raymond. Upcoming stories will feature:

Actor Kirk Cameron and his wife, actress Chelsea Noble, both of the hit sitcom Growing Pains and the more recent Left Behind movies;

Writer and producer Brian Bird of Touched By An Angel;

Writer and producer Barbara Nicolosi, executive director of Act One, Inc.;

Sam Haskell, executive vice president and world-wide head of television for the William Morris Agency, Inc.;

Ted Baehr, head of the Christian Film and Television Commission.

These people will share their stories in future issues, as the AFA Journal takes an in-depth look into the personal side of the entertainment industry.

After all, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. these people are some of the few who were willing to speak out about the call God has placed on their lives to be shining stars on hollywood’s walk of fame.

By REBECCA GRACE | AFA Journal Staff Writer

The red carpet is nothing new to two-time Emmy-winning actress Patricia Heaton, commonly known as Debra Barone on the CBS comedy Everybody Loves Raymond.

"She’s the backbone of the show," Brad Garrett said of his co-star during a recent visit to Mississippi.

Heaton and Garrett, who plays the role of Debra’s brother-in-law Robert, were elevated to a familiar level of star status as they were welcomed by cheering crowds to the 12th biannual Stars Over Mississippi education endowment event.

Every other year stars of varied notoriety are invited to Amory, Mississippi, by entertainment agent Sam Haskell as a means of raising money for education.

For Heaton, this was her first time to attend the event, but once again, she was no stranger to her surroundings. Small-town Mississippi brought back childhood memories of her growing up in a rural environment where she walked on weathered downtown sidewalks rather than a glamorous red carpet.

"I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, and it reminds me very much of Amory – very friendly, family-oriented, everybody knows each other," Heaton said.

Beyond Hollywood
And everybody certainly knew Heaton as she and her husband, producer David Hunt, made themselves at home in Mississippi for the weekend. But what many more are coming to find out is that Heaton has a strong belief in the redeeming power of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and is not ashamed of her beliefs and values – not even in Hollywood.

"I think the bottom line is that God reached down in time and provided us with a way of reaching Him, which is through Himself in the person of Christ, and that the act of the crucifixion and the resurrection was something that was necessary for the whole world to be able to be reconciled to God," Heaton explained.

"I know personally that my only hope for living in eternity with God is the work that was done on the cross," she added.

Heaton was raised in a devout Catholic family, and her oldest sister is a nun. Catholicism was instilled in her as a child, and she grew up believing in the Trinity. But she admits that her beliefs became more solidified when her mother died.

"I was just 12 so that sort of makes you have to really examine your faith," Heaton said.

Although Heaton’s spiritual upbringing is rooted in the Catholic Church, later in life she began gravitating toward the Presbyterian Church.

"I…found that I liked the way the Scriptures were taught in the Presbyterian Church, and I didn’t get as much of that when I was growing up in the Catholic Church," she explained.

"I go to First Presbyterian [Church] of Hollywood now and have a wonderful family there," Heaton added.

It is this concept of community that Heaton credits as being the key to living a Christian life in Hollywood.

"I think the most important thing is community," she explained. "When I first moved to L. A., the first thing I did was look for a church community and that made the transition to L. A. pretty seamless because you find that bond with people right away."

Standing firm
However, finding others in Hollywood who share a common bond with Heaton when it comes to her pro-life stance is more like patchwork, rather than seamless. Heaton is in the Hollywood minority as far as valuing the sanctity of human life, but that doesn’t stop her from standing for what she believes.

"Women have been sold up the river, a bit, as far as abortion goes – and a message about empowerment has been twisted," Heaton said.

"The more we develop our technology the clearer it becomes to everyone that this is a human being, and I think we have to be very careful about becoming a utilitarian society where we’re trying to be economical about things," she explained.

"I don’t think you can put a cost or a price on the value of human life…. Ultimately, if we don’t have a real respect and an awe and feeling of sacredness toward human beings, then we don’t have anything, then civilization is lost," Heaton added.

As a means of keeping society civil, Heaton believes it is very important to provide for women who find themselves with unexpected pregnancies.

"There are so many people who are not willing to go to bat for women in these situations, and they would just rather sort of write them off, abort their children, and get them out of the way," she said.

Therefore, Heaton takes great pride in serving as honorary co-chairman of a group called Feminists for Life of America (FFL) because she believes that women with unplanned pregnancies deserve to have unexpected joy in their lives.

FFL is an organization "dedicated to systematically eliminating the root causes that drive women to abortion – primarily the lack of practical resources and support – through holistic, woman-centered solutions" (www.feministsforlife.org).

"We feel that the original movement of the feminists has been high-jacked by some groups today who want to proclaim that abortion means freedom for women," Heaton said. "But the early suffragettes were fighting for the freedom to vote, to be able to own property, and to be treated not as property of their husbands but as human beings."

Therefore, Heaton explained that it doesn’t make sense for women to treat their own children as property that they can dispose of as they see fit.

"It really goes against all feminist ideals," she said.

Roe v. Wade
Heaton also views abortion as a means of further oppressing women who are already treated as sexual objects by society and the media.

Heaton noted a fact many don’t realize about the initial push for the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s. She explained how Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy, was instrumental in funding what led to Roe v. Wade, when the U. S. Supreme Court legalized unrestricted abortion. "In the 1950s and ’60s, there were still states that outlawed birth control, so I started funding court cases to challenge that," Hefner told Esquire magazine in 2002.

"At the same time, I helped sponsor the lower-court cases that eventually led to Roe v. Wade. We were the amicus curiae [friend of the court] in Roe v. Wade," he explained.

"…You can see the mentality here…. They [men] want to be able to use women and not have to be responsible," Heaton said.

January marks the thirty-second anniversary of Roe v. Wade. From 1973 to 1996, there were approximately 36.5 million abortions performed (www.roevwade.org).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 857,475 legally induced abortions were reported in 2000 (www.cdc.gov).

"I think you have to look at the picture of what does nine months out of your life compare to giving life to another human being who will go on for hopefully 80 years," Heaton reasoned.

"It’s a small sacrifice, and I think it’s a way for people to learn about responsibility and consequences," she added, although she believes the needed resources and support should be provided for women with unplanned pregnancies.

Shunning exploitation
Just as Heaton and FFL are challenging society to embrace these women, the actress is also standing up against the exploitation and vulgarity so readily fashioned by Hollywood.

In 2003, Heaton, who was scheduled to present a video package at the televised 30th Annual American Music Awards, left prior to her presentation because of the vulgar language and sexual innuendoes being used.

Her abrupt departure caught the attention of many in days to follow.

"What I object to in Hollywood is not necessarily vulgarity. It’s vulgarity with no purpose. It’s vulgarity with no message. It’s vulgarity for the sake of exploiting vulgarity…. Most of the time, it’s purely an exploitive thing," Heaton said.

"Jesus was really against all kinds of exploitation," she added.

It is such exploitation Heaton seeks to keep out of her life and her home as she strives to balance her career as an actress and her responsibilities as a mother.

In fact, Heaton is considering taking some time off in the future and being a full-time mom to her four sons since Everybody Loves Raymond is in it’s ninth and final season. "I’m thrilled people really loved the show and [that] I got an opportunity to do it," she said. "I love to laugh. I love doing comedy."

But she is also excited about the possibility of spending more time with her sons and further instilling in them the faith and values that mean so much to her.