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.)



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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