For almost a decade, Melissa Joan Hart played a witch on television, which drew the ire of some Christians. Now that she is portraying a very different role, that of a devout Christian teacher in the film "God's Not Dead 2," people still have something to complain about, says the 39-year-old actress. This time, however, her critics seem to be the opposite crowd.
"For the longest time, while I played a witch on television [on 'Sabrina, The Teenage Witch'], the Christian community attacked me for popularizing the magic aspects on that secular TV show," Hart told the Chicago Sun Times. "Now it's the opposite. I'm getting grief for playing the good Christian woman who is being persecuted by the outside world!"
In the film that is currently in theaters, Hart portrays a Christian teacher name Grace Wesley whose career is on the line after her decision to answer one student's question about the teachings of Jesus Christ sounding similar to those of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
"What makes nonviolence so radical is its unwavering commitment to a non violent approach," Wesley tells a classroom full of students.
After a student questioned if this was similar to Jesus preaching to love our enemies, the teacher agreed.
"You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy," Hart told her classroom, repeating Matthew 5:43. "But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
The exchange prompted a student to text his parents, which resulted in Wesley being reprimanded by her principal and co-workers. However the stakes are raised higher when an anti-God civil liberties group tries to make her an example in an attempt to remove people's religious liberties by convincing the student's parents to sue the teacher.
Hart explained why she felt called to the film.
"Today, there are a lot of Christians being persecuted for their faith far beyond the freedoms this country was founded on," Hart told the Sun Times. "In the past, mainstream Christians were members of what we could call the big powerhouse religion at the time — and may have been doing a fair amount of persecuting minority religions. But now those Christians feel their faith is something that is trampled on or ignored. Now the tables have turned."
In a CBN Europe report, the actress admitted that she struggled with the idea of doing the film.
"[I] felt a little bit of resistance to go and do this movie away from my family. I promised them I would be home," she said. "I had just finished six years of Melissa and Joey. This was my time to be home and be a mom. Now, I was feeling like I was picking up and leaving again."
Still, Hart enjoyed taking on the controversial role.
"I'm not someone to shy away from controversy. I actually enjoy taking it head on," she told CBN. "What we are trying to do here is to break down any boundaries and really show Christ's mission of bringing love and tolerance to the world."