The Adventures of Kirk Cameron, Evangelical Rebel, Part One…

When a friend of mine found out I would be interviewing Kirk Cameron, he dashed off a text to me and asked, “You’re not going to bash Kirk, are you? I’m getting tired of hipster Christians making him an easy target.”

I understand my friend’s concern. Cameron makes himself a target for a lot of people. In fact, I must confess, I’ve had my own issues with Kirk, mainly in the apologetic realm. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I hung out a lot with atheists. Still do, as a matter of fact.  And, atheists don’t like Kirk, or his buddy Ray Comfort, all that much. Okay, they despise them both.

On one hand, I understood the hatred. I really dislike Ray Comfort’s brand of evangelism. It’s confrontational, over simplifies many complex issues, and seems like a “seek and destroy mission” rather than introducing people to Our Lord. Comfort, while a nice guy in person, is a light weight pseudo intellectual whose arguments convince no one. He pretends to be an expert in science and history when he is neither. Plus, Comfort tried to pull of a stunt of publishing Darwin’s Origin of the Species, put a “critical” forward at the beginning and distribute them on college campuses (I have a copy). While some individual Campus Crusade chapters helped Comfort, the national office refused. Why? Because most felt this event smacked of “bait and switch” evangelism.

Still, atheists, especially Online Atheist Trolls or OATS (trademark pending) tend to be especially vicious to Kirk. People can speculate on why this is the case, but Cameron makes for good troll bait. He’s a former teen heartthrob (who once considered himself an atheist) who is now a very outspoken Christian. In fact, as a kid growing up, I remember Kirk’s picture being on every teen magazine known to mankind. (And maybe to alien-kind too, who knows?)

People are interested in what he does and Cameron invites intense media interest. Lately, from what I’ve seen, most of the media  interest tends towards the negative. People understood Kirk the heartthrob. People understood Kirk the party animal.  But Kirk the Christian? That seems a bit too much, and they respond by bashing what they don’t understand. Despite my own issues with Cameron’s theological work, I’ve been annoyed with some of the blatantly unfair coverage from certain atheist and media sources.

Hipster Christians hitch their ride to those critiques without doing much thoughtful engagement. For me, no, I don’t agree with some of Kirk’s theology or approach to Christianity. I believe much of his theology is underdeveloped. I think he is wrong to bash evolution the way he does (God could have used evolutionary processes in creation), and Cameron is way too much of a culture warrior for my taste. Further, I completely disagree with his views that homosexuals are destructive towards society.  So, I admit to my own baggage coming into this interview, and viewing his new movie,  Unstoppable.

I’ll admit, I was entirely skeptical of this movie. As a writer and artist who considers himself a follower of “The Way,” I’ve been annoyed with some of the artistic choices made by Kirk because they seemed to make art subordinate to “the message” in a way that didn’t feel natural, faithful to the Gospel, or faithful to the call of being a filmmaker.

From the trailer, I knew that Unstoppable would address the most perplexing question of all: why does God allow evil and suffering in the world? Given Cameron’s  history with Ray Comfort’s apologetics, I prepared myself for a lot of cringe worthy moments.  I grabbed a beer to watch the film while the rest of the public will have to WAIT on the one time Fathom event on September 24

I’m laying these issues out for the sake of honesty and so everyone will understand the importance of what went on in our conversation.  Friends of mine can tell you how much I struggled with doing the interview because I wanted to be fair while dealing with my own issues in regards to Cameron’s career choices.  I didn’t want to be “hipster” Christian bashing Kirk just because it’s what the cool kids are doing. Many of these things I shared with Kirk in our talk, so I didn’t sugarcoat what I felt. Kirk’s response, “I’m an open book, man, nothing is off the record with me”.

I believe this honesty is what led to our deep, interesting, and transformational conversation between two followers of Christ.

So, on the day I was supposed to take his call, a thunderstorm decided to make its way through Columbus. Since AT&T is my service provider, I knew cell phone reception would be awful. Thankfully, Kirk called right on time and we got started with the interview.

What struck me right off the bat is Cameron’s genuine graciousness. As someone who worked in the religious world, (and now dabbling in Hollywood) I know when people are full of crap and when they’re real. Kirk isn’t full of it; he is a genuine and considerate person. Indeed, in all my issues with some of Kirk’s work, I’ve never got the sense that it was all a “show.” No matter what the OAT’s say, Kirk believes in what he is doing, and he’s nice about it.

My first question to him started with a concern I had about the content of the film. Unstoppable starts with a deeply moving personal story from Cameron about a friend’s son who died from cancer. Kirk relays the following:

“My friend’s son, the day before he died, looked up at his dad and said, “Daddy, I don’t think I’m going to make it this time. Can you fix me?” 

The dad said, “Son, God is the only one who can now.” 

My friend relayed that his son looked down, nodded, and seemed to accept that God wasn’t going to fix him this time. 

That particular moment is where I sat up straight in my chair and realized Kirk was going in a different direction with this film. He wouldn’t pull any punches and would gaze at these difficult questions without “pulling the camera away.”

With such a powerful moment, I wanted to hear more about this little boy during the film (to be more accurate, this is more of a personal confession, not a full on movie), but we only got glimpses of the funeral of the little boy toward the end. Further, Kirk mentions the atheists he knows who lost their faith because of a moment of terrible suffering in their life. I hoped Kirk would give us those atheists, and let them tell their story. We aren’t shown those stories, and I couldn’t understand why. It seemed that some powerful moments were lost. Indeed, considering Kirk and his wife started Camp Firefly for terminally ill kids (a very worthy project), I wanted to hear more stories from their campers.

So, I asked him, “Why did you choose to just follow your story going through the problem of evil rather than showing us others who deal with this pain? Why not give us more of your friend’s son’s story?”

Kirk answered, “To be honest, I wanted people to see in the film that the questions presented in Unstoppable are mine, and that this film isn’t just a philosophical or artistic exercise for me. I question God a lot when bad things happen and children die like this. My wife and I have a camp for kids with terminal illnesses, so I face these sorts of stories on day to day basis. This is part of the reason I made the film.”

Further, he elaborated, more interviews with others would be on the DVD, and I accepted that explanation. From there, I moved on to his artistic choices in the film.

To my surprise, he chuckled and said, “Yeah, those got me in trouble with a lot of my fellow believers.”

(Part Two of this interview can be found here.)



About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out in April 2015

  • Nancy Franson

    Brothers in Christ having a conversation comprised of genuine graciousness. Good stuff. Look forward to reading more.

    OATS–Love. It.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Thanks, Nancy, much appreciated.

  • Thin-ice

    As an atheist (but a former evangelical for 46 years, Bachelor of Theology and several years as a missionary in Europe), let me clear one thing up. We don’t hate Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. I think a healthy disrespect for their pseudo-intellectual arguments, would be a better way to put it. Neither of them understands how evolution works, so they construct an evolutionary straw man, and then easily knock it down. The crock-a-duck and banana clips, as embarrassingly ignorant as they are, are just the tip of the iceberg, and completely representative of their understanding of evolution. If Kirk is willing to go public with these laughable apologetics, then he must be willing to be mocked in public as well.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Sorry, Thin Ice, but some do. I’ve seen it expressed in a number of different forums. It almost borders on the pathological. Yes, Kirk must put his big boy pants on if he is going to talk about these issues. But, that doesn’t mean a degradation of his character.

      • Thin-ice

        The hatred expressed towards those two by a minority of atheists absolutely pales in comparison to the morbid and intense hatred that christians direct towards (insert name of ANY well-known atheist). It’s not an excuse, but I’m simply setting the record straight: it includes desire for their deaths, and the vilest language imaginable, all from people who purport to be Christ’s followers. I’ve never seen anything that comes anywhere close from the atheist side, if you want to compare both sides. Which is strange, because we atheists are supposed to be the a-moral and immoral ones, who have no ethical foundation! But I agree, there is no excuse for either side to engage in character assassination.

        • Author Jonathan Ryan

          My reply wasn’t “Christians are perfect little cherubims who do nothing wrong on the Internet”. Since you don’t know the battles I’ve fought with fellow Christians over this very issues, I’ll let it go. But, trust me, much “blood” spilt by me in fighting for atheists. Plus, this is a sort of “you do it too” logical fallacy. Of course Christians act terribly. Trust me, I’m the last person in the world to say otherwise. My original comment is directed towards their hatred of Kirk. Nothing mean was meant by it, but rather, stating simple facts, you know?

    • Alan Atchison

      Thin-ice, impressive credentials! May I ask what led to your disbelief in God after all of that? I’m asking out of sheer curiosity, nothing more.

      • Thin-ice

        And I will oblige: I was having more and more difficulty believing the entire creation narrative and other OT stories, but the single thing that pushed me to abandon my faith was the concept and doctrine of Hell. To inflict an infinite (imagine trillions of years, because “infinity” is too vague a concept) punishment – emotional torment, real fire, separation from God, however you want to define hell – on the majority of humanity because they did not have a correct belief system, was beyond credibility. Most people live pretty decent lives and are kind and generous to others. To say that committing one “sin” separates you from God eternally, and that a supernatural being had to kill his “son” as a bloody sacrifice to atone for even a single sin, now seems positively primitive and unworthy of enlightened civilizations. In other words, there was NO equivalency between the crime and the punishment. Regardless of how evangelicals twist and contort the English language in order to let God off the hook for this most unjust system of “justice”. Once the concept of Hell dissipated, the whole edifice of christian belief tumbled like a house of cards. I was a most reluctant de-convert – I hated leaving my loving church family – but following my rational mind and being an honest seeker of truth was much more important to me. And to twist around what I used to proclaim as a Christian, and has now taken on a completely new meaning: The truth has set me free, and I am free indeed! (And I know that my above “testimony” will make plenty of Christians very angry!)

        • Agni Ashwin

          Hell is real, my friend:

        • Author Jonathan Ryan

          Thanks for sharing this, Thin. Some great discussion points there.

        • Alan Atchison

          Yes, I appreciate the very thorough and thoughtful answer. There’s so much that truly is confusing. It really is hard as hell, no pun intended. Ok, a little pun intended. Also, as a Christian myself, I’ll say those Christians who might get angry and lash out at you for what you wrote above are speaking out of pride, rather than genuine love. Shame on them.

          • Mark

            Thanks, Thin-Ice, for sharing your thoughts on a profound topic. I surprised you were put over the edge toward atheism by this particular topic. I don’t mean to provoke, since you were open and honest in responding to a question. The conundrum of Hell and who gets sent there is one of the more easily reconcilable philosophical points, in my view.. After all, the God making the final choice is intimate with every thought and action for every individual. It’s not a matter of breaking some flimsy rule. A perfect God with perfect knowledge of every intent will have the final say. I find that pretty easy to accept. One has to accept a boatload of conundrums associated with atheism. I am inclined to think that acceptance of final judgement and accountability would not be the tipping point.

        • 013090

          Why jump straight to atheism though? I similarly came from an environment of fundamentalism, and didn’t accept evolution, believed in a literal OT, etc… Then when I began studying things myself, I realized how much of a straw-man all of the popular anti-evolution and pro-literalist arguments were, and how truly overwhelming the scientific evidence is that says otherwise.

          But once again, why jump to atheism? Your post gives reason to leave your prior beliefs, but not to support your current beliefs.

          • Thin-ice

            And I would ask, why not jump to atheism? A liberal form of Christianity (where I paused for a few months) proved unsatisfying. And please keep in mind, most atheists will not say “God” is impossible, just unlikely, and certainly not a being that has an afterlife prepared for humans. For me right now, agnosticism/atheism is the most rationally satisfying position.

          • Alan Atchison

            What was it about “liberal Christianity” that proved unsatisfying? Did you consider yourself in line with conservative Christianity in the years before?

    • Donalbain

      As another data point, I am an atheist and I hate him. He is a liar and a homophobe, two things that tend to make me hate people.

      • Author Jonathan Ryan

        I can see your point about homophobia, but a liar? The proof of this is where? If he presents the truth as he sees it, that hardly makes him a liar.

        • Donalbain

          The photo that illustrates this article is just one example of his many many lies. As well his lies about how persecuted he is, he lies about gay people and atheists.

          • Author Jonathan Ryan

            The photo illustrates a misunderstanding. Again, I’m not sure how he lies about gay people and atheists. If you’re going to make claims around here, we’re going to ask you to provide proof. I’m not saying there is none, I’m just saying, if you’re going to say those sort of things, feel free to post them.

          • Donalbain

            He claimed that he was censored because Facebook persecutes Christians. This is obviously untrue, given the thousands upon thousands of Christian sites hosted on Facebook. He made an accusation against that company based on no evidence at all. That is a lie.

            He claims that atheists have to hate god. That is obviously untrue given that an atheist is someone who does not even believe that a god exists. That is a lie.

            He claims that homosexual activity is unnatural. There is plenty of evidence that it occurs in nature, and so by definition cannot be unnatural. Thus, he lied.

            Kirk Cameron is a bigot and a liar.

          • Author Jonathan Ryan

            Let’s define lie. Lie is an intentional deception on the part of someone. I think you have to work very hard to say that Kirk is a liar in that sort of sense.

            Is he wrong on a number of things? Of course. But, once again, I get no sense he is intentionally trying to deceive. If you have proof of those claims other than what you just proposed, then by all means, present them. Otherwise, you just presented me his point of view and opinions on the above subjects. Not really the same thing.

            I realize this is a deeply personal issue for you, but you CANNOT let it color your perception of people. It’s not right or is it fair.

            Bigot is a little more nebulous. A bigot is someone who thinks that someone else is less of a human being because of a certain belief or who they are as people. Again, you would be hard pressed to prove it.

            And, proving means you provide actual links, documentation, and quotes, not just asserting something over and over again.

          • Donalbain

            If he didn’t lie, then he is so fucking stupid that he would be unable to tie his own shoelaces. I don’t think he is that stupid.
            And yes, when someone lies (and Kirk Cameron lies), I can and indeed, DO allow it to colour my perception of them.

            And as for a bigot, yes, he is a bigot. He believes that gay people are “detrimental to society”. If someone said that about Jewish people, you would have no problem at all with calling them a bigot. And I have no problem with calling someone who says that about gay people a bigot. Kirk Cameron is a bigot.

          • Author Jonathan Ryan

            Assertion, assertion and assertion. Links and proof please.

            You’re arguments are chock full of logical fallacies and false choices. Here is the thing, I’m not even saying you’re wrong. But, you’re arguments are poor and lack any sort of substantial dialogue. Essentially, everyone is stupid if they don’t agree with you. Hardly very convincing. I’m challenging you to make the case.

          • Donalbain
          • Author Jonathan Ryan

            LOL, thank you for posting. And, once again, I’m not defending anyone, I’m asking you to support your assertions. If you bothered reading my posts, you might see that. But, thanks for dropping in….

          • Thin-ice

            Thanks Jonathan, for being patient with “donald”. I guess he’s one of your “Kirk-hating” atheists. I’m not, and I respect the approach you take as a Christian journalist. Reasonable dialogue will always be preferable to using loaded perforative terms like he did.

          • Jonathan Ryan

            No problem, Thin-Ice. This interview was not the easiest for me, as I don’t agree with much of Cameron’s approach. Really appreciate you being here.

          • Author Jonathan Ryan

            Further, I don’t’ agree with many of his views on homosexuality. But, as a journalist, that isn’t really my job, now is it?

          • Nemo

            I wouldn’t say Kirk is a liar. I have no doubt that he believes his own claims to be true, and if he doesn’t, his expressed views aren’t all that far off from what more legit people DO believe.

  • Agni Ashwin

    Is Kirk related to Alex P. Keaton?

  • MumbleMumble

    I have to agree with Donalbain that if Kirk Cameron is not actually trying to deliberately mislead people, then he is so stupid that he should not be allowed around sharp objects. However, I tend to think that he really is that stupid; that he is so deluded by his religious beliefs that he literally does not have the brain power to understand why thinking that atheists hate God is ridiculous.

    Cameron has stated that he thinks homosexuality is unnatural, that it is harmful to society, and that there should be no gay marriage. I guess we could argue semantically about whether that crosses the line into bigotry, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that he is intolerant of others.

    Most importantly, I do not believe that Cameron should be given a pass on his intolerant beliefs simply because they stem from his religious ideology. I would like to say that I appreciate your respect for him as an artist, but I can’t even do that. To me, that is like saying you respect the Westboro Baptist Church for their adherence to their own dogma.

    Kirk Cameron spreads a message of hate and disguises it by pleading religion. However faithfully he adheres to this message, it does not make him deserving of respect.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      I would hardly compare Cameron to the Westboro wack jobs. But, as you will.

      Let me put it this way. If I wrote, in my article, everything you’re asserting without hard core facts, I could be sued for liable. Not that he would actually do it, but it’s possible. I gave a fair and balanced view while still holding to my own problems with Kirk.

      So, you both can assert all day long about what you think you know. That’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion. People like me don’t have that luxury, as we must be fair and balanced as possible. I’m not asking anyone to like or even respect Kirk as a person. Indeed, I don’t think he cares either way.

      • Author Jonathan Ryan

        Further, no one is giving him a “pass” on his intolerant beliefs. This article is about him as an artist, nothing more. I hate to tell you this, but many artists held terrible, intolerant beliefs. That’s the way it is….

      • MumbleMumble

        I don’t understand. What did I assert that is untrue? There are VIDEO clips of him stating that atheists hate God, that homosexuality is unnatural and detrimental to society. He said these things – I am not putting words in his mouth.

        • MumbleMumble

          I see your updated post, but I would really like to know what you think in my previous post constituted as libel.

          Edit: And thank you for keeping the discussion going. Comment boards are always more interesting when the original author is involved – I appreciate the engagement.

          • Author Jonathan Ryan

            Oh, you’re welcome! I try to answer all legit questions.

            Hmm, maybe libel is too strong. But, us writers are always in a precarious position when we do these sort of articles. Besides, it really was not an article about those views. Your comments made me add a disclaimer there, so thanks. Links to Kirk’s comments are always appreciated, but again, this article is more about him as an artist, not Kirk the Culture Warrior. That, my friend, is an entirely different subject. I think that comes out more in part two…

          • MumbleMumble

            Well, apologies for derailing the original message. I really was interested in reading the article (both parts), since it highlights something which I find really interesting about religion – how people of the same belief system view their religion differently from one another.

          • Author Jonathan Ryan

            Thanks! I really tried to stay away from the other controversies around him to focus on the man, my perception of him and his work as an artist. The other stuff just opens up for millions of bits of info, you know? I would say Kirk and I agree on the basic idea of Christ, which makes us not much different in that respect. I just don’t agree with how he applies that, which is where the fundamental discussion begins…

          • James

            Kirk’s at best a mediocre talent who acts in sub-par films (I’ve seen several of them, so I’m not just assuming here).
            In my opinion, the only reason he’s controversial and hence blog-worthy is 1) he used to be famous and 2) he’s extremely in-your-face about sharing his half-baked theology. If not for both of these reasons together, then this article never would have been written – unless you’re doing a “where are they now” series on 80′s sitcom stars and this just happens to be the first in the series. What I’m saying is one cannot focus on Kirk’s art alone when what makes him famous is not his art.

          • Jonathan Ryan

            Fair enough. But then that raises the question, does that go for every artist?

  • Author Jonathan Ryan

    Before the discussion below degenerates further, I would like everyone to note this article IS NOT meant to be a defense of all things Kirk Cameron. It was a discussion about him as an artist and his latest project. You can talk about his intolerance of gays or his radical right political views if you wish. I will no longer address those comments. Let’s try to keep the discussion centered on the actual article.

    Thank you, The Management.

  • James

    “Despise” is a rather strong word; I think too strong. The atheists I know echo the liberal theists on this one – Kirk is a dishonest huckster who is frankly too ignorant to know he’s ignorant. He’s not worthy of respect, but I submit that few atheists “despise” him, particuarly not merely for his faith and the fact that he openly shares his. Atheists believe that theists are simply wrong about one particular thing because they fail to follow the evidence, something they do in all other walks of life. Theists are not dumb; they’re just inconsistent. Theists chose to believe comforting myths. But to the extent that they don’t impose their beliefs on others, their beliefs are harmless enough.
    Fundamentalist theology, conversely, proclaims without evidence that all those who don’t believe, regardless of their reasons, regardless of whether they are a good person, are going to burn for all eternity. The theist, on the other hand, imagines himself having a get-out-of-hell free card for all those who believe, even if they’ve spent much of their life causing harm. The atheist worldview is far more magnanimous than the theist worldview. The atheist worldview is doubly more magnanimous than one receives in return from the sort of ignorance & fear based theology of the likes of Kirk Cameron.

  • brigin

    Repent and believe has never been a popular message. It cost the apostle Paul and countless others their lives.