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RELIGION / JOHN DART : Fame Less Important Than Faith for Christian Crooner Pat Boone

When singer Pat Boone helped evangelist Luis Palau launch the San Fernando Valley Crusade this week in Van Nuys, he told the crowd:

“I couldn’t think of any better way to spend my birthday than being here with you, worshiping the Lord and trying to help our city find the way back.”

It was typical of Boone, who since his days as a white-bucks pop singer in the 1950s, has Put his religion before his career--to his detriment in show business, he believes.

A trim 60-year-old Boone is currently in a production of “Will Rogers Follies” in the country music entertainment mecca of Branson, Mo., playing the cowboy humorist six days a week, twice a day.

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Boone had told the musical’s producers, however, that he would honor previous commitments to be at the crusade’s opener Wednesday as well as at a Beverly Hills dinner where State of Israel bonds were promoted to invited Christians.

And thus it has been for Boone, an elder at Van Nuys’ Church on the Way--lending his celebrity name to religious causes despite the occasional harm to his career over the last quarter century.

“To be an outspoken Christian in any business is difficult, but in show business you are really a pariah,” Boone said in an interview.

“I have had P.R. people who abandoned me, saying that the industry is going to think of me as a preacher,” he said.

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Not that his record, film and television work, delimited by his squeaky clean image in the 1950s and 1960s, would have necessarily flourished through the changing tastes of later years.

But his religious transformation in 1970 made it all the more problematic for Boone to keep quiet about his faith. Before then, he was a Church of Christ member. He was known as an actor who wouldn’t kiss a woman on screen other than his wife, but he was hardly an active spokesman for faith and conservative morality.

That changed when he became an outgoing charismatic believer, baptizing converts in his back yard swimming pool and making personal appearances at religious rallies.

He described in a 1970 book his experience of speaking in tongues and other charismatic “gifts,” which led the next year to his “disfellowshipping,” or ouster, by the Inglewood Church of Christ.

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That agonizing period was recalled by Boone during his recent appearance at the Luis Palau Crusade at Birmingham High School.

The Churches of Christ that Boone had been raised in, he said, took to heart a biblical verse in the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians which says that worship should be decent and orderly. “That was the only verse we paid attention to because the rest of the chapter had to do with the gifts of the (Holy) Spirit,” he said.

The Churches of Christ, a nationwide association of autonomous congregations which founded Pepperdine University, among other colleges, has traditionally opposed speaking in tongues and other purported signs of supernatural influence as manifestations that were authentic only in New Testament times.

“I’m grateful for my roots . . . for my parents’ faith, and for the Church of Christ’s emphasis on this book,” Boone said, waving a Bible over his head. “The Church of Christ believes this is the only answer, and so do Luis and you all,” referring to the evangelist behind him on the platform and the 8,200 who attended the crusade on Wednesday.

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But Church of Christ pastors and members he knew were convinced that “God was listening to us and not to the others,” Boone said.

At the same time, he said, “I knew there were folks who went to other churches who seemed to be enjoying their worship and their supposed relationship to God more than we were.”

After he was kicked out of the Church of Christ, Boone and his family were wooed enthusiastically by Mormon missionaries and given an offer of ordination by an Assemblies of God leader. But the Boones started going to the First Foursquare Church of Van Nuys, later to be known as the Church on the Way, when the pastor, the Rev. Jack Hayford, had only 40 or 50 members.

Boone said in an interview that his wife, Shirley, and their four daughters liked the excitement in the congregation that today has more than 8,000 members. “There was never any service there where I wasn’t moved to tears,” he said.

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In a period of nearly four years in the early 1970s, when a movement of young worshipers was emboldening adult charismatic Christians to express their beliefs more openly, Boone was letting groups use the swimming pool at his Beverly Hills home to baptize new converts. “More than 300 people were probably baptized in that time,” said Boone, who led some rites himself.

The entertainer said he has had no regrets over his years of publicly backing religious causes, including antiabortion campaigns and Christian political candidates.

He compared himself, with a qualification, to Jane Fonda in earlier years and actor Ed Asner in more recent years. “We’re all willing to take whatever hits to our career are involved, but those people were in stride with the majority of views in the entertainment business.”

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It could be argued, in fact, that Boone sometimes has benefited professionally from his religious associations.

He was hired by Israel to promote tourism among conservative Christians, who have been supportive of Israel’s political positions. This week he helped State of Israel Bonds officials win over some Christian investors. “I pledged to buy $50,000 in bonds, and I will buy some more,” Boone said.

Nevertheless, expressing religious views in public risks alienating great numbers of people.

In that vein, Boone said he has learned from his stage role as Will Rogers.

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“Will could make comments about politics and morality without condemning people, and that’s an admirable trait,” he said.


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