Melissa Joan Hart, star of the hugely successful faith-based film "God's Not Dead 2," has expressed heartbreak over the reality that that many in today's society feel "uncomfortable" when they hear the name Jesus.
"In the past few years, I've been taking my religion seriously, taking Bible study and praying," the 40-year-old actress told Metro in a recent interview. "I find that if you say 'Jesus,' it makes people feel uncomfortable instead of feeling love and peace. It's very unfortunate.
She added, "The idea with the movie is that Jesus shouldn't be an uncomfortable name to say... Whether or not you believe he is the Messiah, Jesus started a huge movement that changed our world. Why is it not OK to talk about that?"
In "God's Not Dead 2", which hit theaters in April, Hart plays Grace Wesley, a high school teacher who finds herself in legal trouble for answering a student's question about the similarities between Jesus' teachings to those of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.
As the religious freedom battle between Hart and the school escalates, the help of the ACLU is enlisted, whose representative decides to "prove that once and for all, God is dead."
In its opening weekend, the film earned an estimated $8 million, going toe-to-toe with major Hollywood movies and taking the fourth spot at the box office, according to boxofficemojo.com.
Despite receiving high praise from faith-based groups, "God's Not Dead 2" received its fair share of mockery from the secular media, with some critics accusing filmmakers of pandering to a "heavy persecution complex" and "stoking a sense of paranoia."
In an earlier interview with ABC's Paula Faris, Hart, who formerly starred in "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," admitted that the role was incredibly "challenging," as she has received a great deal of "grief" from Hollywood for playing a Christian woman who stands up for her faith.
"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 said during a March interview with 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!"
"There shouldn't be any one religion represented in anything. But at the same time, we need to be tolerant of all religions," Hart answered.
Paul Kwo, who starred alongside Hart in the film, echoed her sentiment regarding Christians in Hollywood during a recent interview with The Gospel Herald.
"We live in a diverse era, so we have to be very careful about the things that we say," he said. "But at the same time, we want to be aware that just because we're in this kind of a world, that doesn't mean we should throw away our own beliefs and not stand up for what we really believe in. This film really touches on that the idea that we can find a good balance in this diverse world to share what we believe, but do so in a very loving and supportive way. This film gets that message across and inspires others to share their faith with the world. It's very important for us in this day and age to do so."