By Andrew Thompson, Christianity Today
Actor defends his comments to CNN about gays while talking up his new documentary.
Kirk Cameron, 41, is far from his days as TV teenage heartthrob Mike Seaver in Growing Pains. But he has not left the media world behind, nor has he been idle. Cameron starred in several of the Left Behind movies, and more recently in the Christian film Fireproof. He is also co-host (with Ray Comfort) of the TV-and-radio ministry The Way of the Master, and is the father—with his wife of 21 years, Chelsey Noble—of six kids.
Busy guy. But not too busy to make a new documentary—or to make the news, as he did recently with his comments about homosexuality on CNN.
Cameron's new documentary, Monumental, traces America's founding back to the Pilgrims. It released Tuesday (March 27) as a live event in more than 550 U.S. theaters, and due to demand, more screenings being lined up for the weekend.
Cameron came under fire for comments in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, where he defended traditional marriage and said homosexuality was "unnatural" and "destructive" to society. Cameron has since clarified his views on the Today Show, saying he's not a bully and that he loves "all people."
CT spoke with Cameron about the release of Monumental, the history (and current state) of America, and the firestorm surrounding his comments on CNN.
What got you started on the Monumental project?
I approached this film not as an actor or a politician, but just as a dad with six children. The world they're growing up in is rapidly changing, and it's heading in a direction that is not good. Financially, we're $16 trillion in debt. Morally, spiritually we're spiraling downward. We're in the vortex and we're about to get flushed down the drain. I turn on the news and say, "What can we do about this?"
Everyone's playing the blame game. The church blames the media for all of the wickedness that gets pumped into our homes, and the media blames the church and religion for all of the wars. I say, wait a second. Maybe we've simply forgotten what made this country the freest, richest, most prosperous nation in the world. And if only I could go back and talk to the men and women who built this place. Who are they? Why did they do what they did? Where did they get their ideas from? How did this whole thing come together? That's why I went to Europe and began retracing the escape route of the Pilgrims to understand who they are and why they came here. The film is like going on a journey, and it's taking you with me. It's telling you the stories and putting you in the shoes of the Pilgrims.
What do you hope to accomplish with Monumental?
I learned that the problems that we have are not solved by blaming somebody else, and that our hope is not in who governs us as a nation. It's not in Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or Ron Paul. Our hope is in the power of God and his gospel working in the hearts of people. But that gospel is not limited to just getting you and me out of hell. It is all-inclusive and permeates every aspect of God's world. That means when I live out his principles, my marriage begins to be reconciled to God and it begins to reflect beautiful, godly things. And then my family is being reconciled to one another and to God. The Pilgrims believed it would work itself out right through your church, your business, your society, your nation, and the world, so that ultimately you would have filled the land with the glory of God.
Why did you focus on Plymouth instead of Jamestown as the true roots of America?
The true roots of America go all the way back to the ancient Hebrew republic. You can trace those roots at Jamestown back to Europe as well. This is the trail of freedom that leads us all the way back to the ancient Hebrews under Moses where he first delivered those laws of liberty—when he told them to elect leaders, men of character that you willingly submit yourself to, to self-govern rather than have a king. To me, the most inspiring demonstration of those principles was found in the Pilgrims. That's why Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address to the nation "Remember the Pilgrims. Never forget the Pilgrims."
The documentary mentions that the founding fathers were Christians, even implying that Jefferson was a Christian. But most scholarship would say he was a deist who hardly held evangelical views.
For that, I would direct you to other people who have studied his life and his faith for thirty years—like Stephen McDowell [author of America's Providential History], who's at the end of the film. We've all heard about The Jefferson Bible that Jefferson edited by taking scissors and cutting out the parts didn't like—removing the miracles, and only keeping the moral teachings of Jesus. Well, that actually is not true. The story is that Jefferson was so enamored with the teachings of Jesus that he wanted to have a personal devotional book. And he cut those sections out of several of his Bibles and glued them into a personal handbook that he could keep in his back pocket for his own devotional reading. He was opposed to the idea of calling it a Jefferson Bible.
Jefferson one wrote that "the whole history of [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it," and that "we have a right . . . to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine." He wrote that in the New Testament, some parts "proceeded from an extraordinary man" while others come from "very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills." Sounds like a pretty low view of Scripture, doesn't it?
Yeah, it sure does. I'm not running around waving the Thomas Jefferson flag. Even if Jefferson is a complete infidel—and I'm not saying that he is—he certainly promoted the basic principles of Christianity and funded major Christian efforts to get the principles of Christianity deep into the hearts and minds of people. He understood that it was only those principles that could provide the basis and foundation for a free and just society.
You homeschool your kids, and Monumental takes a subtle jab at public schools—which, by the way, were Jefferson's idea. How do you feel about public education?
The public education system back then was as different from today's public education structure as the idea of government. Today we talk about separation of church and state, and by that it largely means to keep God out of government. That couldn't be further from what Jefferson meant about a separation of church and state. He was assuring the Baptist Association that government wouldn't stick its hand into the church and control it. There's a wall of separation. Congress published the very first Bible printed in the United States in English, for distribution in public schools. We've gotten so far away from that. It's just a totally different system now.
Should the U.S. be governed as a Christian nation? And what would that mean for people of other faiths who live here?
The reason so many people of other faiths love America is because of the Christian principles that are the basis for freedom of religion. The Pilgrims came out of a world where it was a top-down, church-run system, a state-governed theocracy. That's not what the Pilgrims wanted; that's what they were getting away from. This is not about a Christian theocracy. The Pilgrims believed that if they would live out what they knew in their hearts and in God's Word to be true, then it would produce such sweet fruit that others would be attracted. You're not cramming religion down people's throat. You're simply teaching your children what you found to be true, and you raise them in these values. And other people want to be part of your society because they see the blessing that it produces.
What's the biggest problem in America today?
Apathy in the church. The rest is just the result of that, and a symptom of the root problem. If you've got rotten apples hanging on your tree, you have to go down and examine the roots. Someone once said the only thing necessary for evil to advance is for good men to do nothing. And while we believe in the sovereignty of God, we understand also that God uses human beings—preachers, pastors, moms, dads, businessmen, scientists, artists, writers—as his agents of transformation. So if we want to "heavenize" the world, we need to get busy.
What did you make of the backlash after your comments about homosexuality on CNN?
What surprised me was that people were surprised by my response. Everyone knows I'm a born-again, Bible-believing Christian. How else would I have answered any of those questions? What I would have thought would have been newsworthy would have been if I had answered those questions in a way that was contradictory to the Word of God. Television programs, particularly those that survive on ratings, have a vested interest in asking the most provocative questions they can, producing answers for four-second sound bites, and tossing them like firebombs into the culture through the press. Once you do that, your ratings go through the roof and I find that heartless and insensitive to the very communities of people that he [Piers Morgan] says he's trying to protect.
Do you think this controversy will help or hurt what you're trying to do with Monumental?
I don't know. I don't concern myself with that kind of thing. My strategy is to do the right thing over the long haul and speak the truth in love the best I can. I don't know what portion it has to do with the success of Monumental, but I do know we have many theaters already sold out. Ticket sales are going through the roof so much that the theater chains are actually asking us to expand the release of the movie into more theaters and more dates because everybody wants to see it.
Any plans past Monumental?
Oh yeah, lots. I have more plans for other adventure documentaries into other countries, into other centuries of the past. And homeschool curriculum, educational materials, and family films.