As I was reading today’s NY Post an article caught my eye. Turns out Stephen Baldwin of the Baldwin Brothers filed for bankruptcy earlier this summer and his friends have launched a website called The Restoration of Stephen Baldwin to help him pay off his debts. The gist of site is that Steve’s conversion to born again Christianity has cost him lucrative Hollywood gigs and now he needs donations from the public to keep him afloat. And while Steve readily admits he owes people money, I couldn’t find anything on the Restore website that shows he owes the taxman quite a bit of loot – “$749,974 owed to the IRS on taxes as far back as 1999 and a $139,288 debt for unpaid withholding taxes, as well as $194,527 in unpaid state income taxes.” All this and $70,000 worth of credit card debt to boot.

Comparing Steve’s travails to those of Job (Who really lost everything – health, wealth, family, friends etc) the slick video on the website contends that he needs the money to continue using his Hollywood status to preach the Gospel. “Hollywood worships money,” the site read. “And without it you are seen as a loser.” The site goes onto say “Our vision is to see Stephen Baldwin publicly restored in front of millions. Stephen’s platform will increase allowing him to reach even more people with the Gospel and God will get all of the glory. Publicly.” Somehow I think Jesus would be happier if all that money went to feed and clothe people in Haiti. Publicly.

Of course people, including many Christians, have piled on Steve’s use of the Internet to castigate him to the max. The site has latched onto this saying that people are “persecuting” Steve and that their commentary on his troubles, some of it quite vicious, “mock God.” Personally I think the Restore site’s a load of malarkey. If Steve needs money he should’ve just said, “Listen I’m broke. Can you all spare me some change?” Hey, Willie Nelson did it with the IRS Tapes in 1992. (But at least that was a piece of work you could buy.)

But as I read people’s reactions to Steve’s plight I got annoyed at some of the shit being tossed around. The first thing that bugged me were people saying that Steve made tons of money showing his bare ass on celluloid before his 2002 conversion and that they’re sick of his proselytizing now that he’s found Jesus. Uh, anyone hear of St. Augustine? Good old Augustine was quite the whoremonger before he slowly converted to Christianity back in 386 AD. And after his baptism he became a big time proselytizer – eventually becoming a bishop and one of the great theologians of the early church. And his social set wasn’t too thrilled with him either. Of course Steve’s probably not going to be a Father of the Church anytime soon.

Despite my ex-seminarian status, I’m not much of a church going man myself. But if Steve wants to follow a certain religious path that’s his right. (Freedom of religion and all that.) You may not agree with his beliefs, but he has every right to have them.

Here’s a case in point. The New York St. Patrick Day’s Parade put on by The Ancient Order of Hibernians excludes gays, much to the consternation of many people. Now the Catholic Church says that homosexual acts are a sin (An opinion I do not hold) therefore gay organizations have no place in a Catholic parade. And they’re absolutely right. Catholics who feel that way have every right to conduct a parade that celebrates their beliefs even if we don’t agree with them. And if gay people or Catholics who support gay rights/marriage want to have their own parade well, there’s nothing stopping them. But we live in a country where many celebrate the First Amendment – just as long as it hews to what they believe. If you’re anti gay you’re painted as a fascist intolerant closeted homosexual and if you’re pro-gay you’re a violator of natural law, a pederast and headed for eternal hellfire. Sigh. The vast majority of people I know, conservative (Even Dick Cheney!) or liberal don’t give two shits how two or three consenting adults do the horizontal mambo.

Of course, much has been made about Steve’s crusade to keep a porn shop from opening a mile from his home. Personally I don’t think Steve went about it the right way, saying he’d photograph patron’s license plates and “identify the store’s customers and pay for a one-page newspaper ad each month to publish their names.” “I won’t stop until it shuts down,” Baldwin told the Westchester Journal News. “I don’t want it this close to my house. I’m personally not OK with pornography. I definitely think that it adds to the moral decay or our culture.”

First off, lots of people feel way Steve does. Secondly, millions of American’s consume pornography on a daily basis and think there’s nothing wrong with it. But I don’t think most of those consumers want an adult novelty shop near where they live. I don’t want a porn shop by my house either! Now I’m not offering an opinion on pornography either way and I’d be a hypocrite if I said I’ve never leafed though a girlie mag, but this is kind of like “I love meat but I don’t want to meet the cow.” People love watching dirty movies in private but God forbid someone opens an adult shop near their home. It might lower property values! So both religious people and quite a few wank addicts are united in this common cause. They don’t want it in their face (No pun intended) and I can’t blame them.

The other thing that really got my goat was a blogger who wrote “Now, what does the Bible say about not paying your debts? Isn’t that the same thing as stealing?” Now if you’re a hard cold tax evader I can understand that reasoning. But what about the millions of Americans who are up to their eyeballs in debt because of the recession? Sure, people make stupid decisions that result in bankruptcy – but those that mean people who can’t pay their debts because of illness, job loss or other factors beyond their control are thieves?  I think not. And I seem to remember a line in Scripture that reads “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Thank God we got rid of debtor’s prisons long ago, but Steve’s probably not in danger of living on the streets.

I waited on Steve many times. I don’t know him very well but whenever he came into my restaurant he was polite, tipped well and didn’t put on any Hollywood airs. And I personally know he gave room and board to some people who were down on their luck. I can’t say the same thing, however, about some of the megalomaniacal Rotarians, lawyers and orthodontists I had the displeasure of serving. (And while we’re at it, why don’t minsters blast their congregants about the BAD tips the after church crowd leaves waiters on Sunday!) In fact Alec, Bill and Steve were all really great customers. Now I’m not an apologist for the Baldwin family. They’re in the public eye, they know it and getting slammed in the press comes with the territory. But lets not lose sight of the fact that Steve’s a human being like everyone else.

Like Willie, I hope Steve gets out from under his troubles. Over the years friends and family (Dad) have lent me money when I was in a jam. And I’ve tried my best to help out a friend or two when they’ve been short of funds. How many of us have been in desperate circumstances or helped people out? Many of us have.

Some wags have said, “Why doesn’t God bail Steve out?” That’s just stupid. The only way God has ever helped people is through other people. God didn’t come down in a cloud to help people in New Orleans. People came down from the clouds to rescue their fellow man. Snarky appeals to divinity have never fed a hungry child. So I’m not surprised Steve’s asking for help. I just wish his friends went about it a different way. Whenever a kid in my area’s stricken with some horrible disease they pass around the hat. Maybe the Hollywood set should pass one around too.

So pile on Steve all you want. I’m sure he’ll be okay somehow. And while I won’t be donating to “Restore Steve” I won’t be joining the chorus slamming him either. Now I’ve made fun of celebrity’s foibles, I’m no saint, and people have made legitimate and well thought out objections to Steve’s fundraising efforts. But when you know a person in the flesh, when you’ve seen both the good, bad and ridiculous, it’s kind of tough to cast them into the darkness. But de-humanizing people has always been an Internet pastime. And it’s dangerous.

Besides, The Usual Suspects was a great movie.

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