Hayes, who has played the ladies' man/school cook in the animated Comedy Central satire since 1997, said in a statement Monday that he feels a line has been crossed.Is Hayes religious? Yep. He’s a self-avowed Scientologist. (Check out his quote about the religion on Blogcritics.org.)
"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins . . . Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honored," he continued. "As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."
South Park’s co-creator Matt Stone doesn’t mince words in his sharp response to Hayes’ statement: "This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology... He has no problem — and he's cashed plenty of checks — with our show making fun of Christians."
So, what triggered Hayes change of heart? Stone connects it to a South Park episode last fall that targeted Scientology. Stone says he "never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin."
Ouch. Stone has a point - or does he?
Last year, when all the hoopla developed over Tom Cruise’s evangelistic efforts on behalf of Scientology, I actually sympathized with him. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating Scientology. In fact, I think it's directly opposed to Jesus and his teachings. But how many times have Christians been called weird, not taken seriously or harshly criticized because we publicly advocate our beliefs? The caustic and harsh comments surrounding Cruise’s evangelism are a sober reminder of how hostile our culture is towards any religion that seeks to persuade others into its ranks.
I also feel somewhat akin to Hayes, but for a different reason. If Hayes really felt that strongly about respecting and honoring religious beliefs, he made a questionable decision when he originally joined the South Park cast. But, according to Hayes, he’s had a change of heart. Even if Stone’s right and Hayes quit because of the Scientology episode, it seems his experience has given him sympathy with people of other faiths whose religious beliefs have been insulted as well. And that is a process I periodically find myself going through - Cruise, a case in point.
Hayes' predicament is a good reminder to Christians to watch our step and think through the implications of our choices in how we live our lives and what we allow into them. People are watching us, and it doesn’t take much to hear the same kind of remark that Stone made about Hayes directed towards us.
But if Hayes has really had a change of heart, that's something we can learn from as well.
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