The Cameron Effect
Kirk Cameron is a deeply committed Christian seeking to turn our culture back to God. Don’t be dismissive of this former TV sitcom star’s lofty goal. He’s a man following His Master’s plan.
Actor Kirk Cameron isn’t at home waiting for a phone call from Steven Spielberg or watching for a delivery truck in hopes it will drop off a Hollywood movie script. He isn’t looking for a ticket back to stardom. Instead, Kirk is plotting to capture hearts around the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 2010, he established CamFam Studios, which has released four movies so far. Family-friendly films are only the beginning, though. His goals are much more ambitious.
There’s excitement in Kirk’s voice as he talks about developing his family’s business. He envisions a day when the company’s movies will compete against big-screen blockbusters. The business will also publish books, sell its own clothing label and operate a chain of CamFam coffeehouses offering its brew by the cup or by the bag, ground and whole.
“Would you agree that Starbucks has influenced the culture? Well, that’s what the Cameron family wants to do,” Kirk says. “We want to expand into as many creative areas as we can and use each part of the business to shape culture in accordance with the Gospel.”
How Kirk got to this point is rooted back in the 1980s when his mother’s friend suggested that such good-looking, engaging children as Kirk and his sister Candace could build college funds working in TV. It wasn’t long before Kirk began a seven-season run as amusing, adolescent schemer Mike Seaver on TV’s Growing Pains and Candace was chosen to portray young D.J. Tanner for eight seasons on Full House.
Then, when Kirk was at the top of the TV world in 1987, everything changed.
The Lamb of God
In 1987, Kirk was a young man caught in a storm of worldly success. He was a bonafide teenage heartthrob, and his dreamy smile adorned covers of Tiger Beat, Teen Beat, 16 and other checkout-stand magazines aimed at teens. There were trips to Europe, celebrity parties, pretty girls and the financial benefits that came with stardom. He was treated like a king.
There was also a set decorator who eagerly shared her New Age philosophy with Kirk. Her sales pitch was mesmerizing, as she told him, “God is within you. You are actually a god—you just need to embrace that.”
“Well, that was great for a self-centered guy and his ego to hear,” Kirk says, “Suddenly, I’m not just a celebrity, I am a god!” He wasn’t so sure, though.
Around that time, another friend invited him to church. He connected with the pastor, which led to long talks about faith and Jesus. This was a different message than he expected. It wasn’t about self, but selflessness. Not about gaining, but giving. Not only about the here and now, but about a heavenly future.
One day sitting in his sports car on Van Nuys Boulevard in L.A., 17-year-old Kirk began to surrender to the Gospel message.
“I cried out to God,” he says. “I said, ‘God, if You’re there, please show me. Show me that You exist.’”
God answered and soon Kirk was embraced by grace and reborn. Overjoyed, he wanted to tell others. His first mission field was his family.
“My parents were going through hard times,” Kirk says. “But God saved all my family, and put my parents back together. They’ve been together ever since."
A Family Thing
When Kirk met actress Chelsea Noble on the set of Growing Pains, it didn’t take long for the two to become a couple. Married 23 years ago at a small chapel in Buffalo, New York, they have six children, ranging in age from 11 to 17. The oldest four—Jack, Isabella, Anna and Luke—were adopted and were followed by the Camerons’ biological children, Olivia and James.
“My wife is an adopted child, so adopting kids was close to her heart,” Kirk says. “And it’s close to the heart of God because in Christ we are adopted into the family of Abraham by faith.”
He describes his household as a church-going family that takes worship seriously. Recently, they’ve been part of a Southern California church plant, though Kirk must often miss services when he travels for speaking engagements and ministry opportunities. Chelsea accompanies Kirk whenever she can.
The family is also committed to homeschooling or, as they call it, life-schooling. For the last four years, it’s been the education approach for all the Cameron kids.
The best and most challenging part of life-schooling for Kirk has been the adoption of an all-day, every-day approach to education. There’s no dropping the children off at school and letting someone else take responsibility for teaching and training.
Homeschooling reflects what the Pilgrims faced when they decided to sail off to a new land to rebuild their lives, Kirk says. He imagines a Pilgrim father saying to his wife, “I don’t know if we are going to get there, but let’s get on this boat and bring the kids. We may not make it to dry land again, but the promise of what could be is better than staying here in England or in Holland, so let’s go and trust God.”
“I can’t even imagine having that kind of crazy courage,” Kirk says. “In a small way, my wife and I feel like crazy parents because we homeschool. It’s quite a step to go outside the system. You ask yourselves, ‘Can we do this?’ Absolutely. I believe that there is something here that is irreplaceable for our family and we’d be fools not to try.”
For all the children, their life-schooling involvement in CamFam Studios has increased with each passing year. The oldest of the siblings, a high school senior, has been the most involved.
“Jack loves movie and music production,” his father says. “So he has been working fast and furiously on all our films.”
Getting the family business off the ground is just one endeavor for this hardworking clan. The Camerons are also involved in such ministries as:
• Camp Firefly. During the Growing Pains years, the Make-A-Wish Foundation arranged for many children with extreme medical needs to visit the fictional Seaver family on set. Kirk and Chelsea were so moved by these encounters, they decided they wanted to do more.
More than 20 years ago, they established Camp Firefly for families with terminally and seriously ill children. Each summer these families are invited to weeklong retreats at a lake outside Atlanta. All costs are covered, including airfare, lodging and activities. Families enjoy horseback riding and themed dinners, and fatigued parents are treated to special candlelight dinners.
Families do not apply to attend. Instead, they are chosen with assistance from several hospitals, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. In this way, no family is ever turned down after getting its hopes up.
“The people we meet at Camp Firefly have had such a huge impact on our family,” Kirk says. “Our kids have been involved since they were itty-bitty. It puts life into perspective for all of us—and we thank God for letting us be involved.” For more information about the camp, go to www.campfirefly.com.
• Love Worth Fighting For. After Kirk starred in the movie Fireproof as a firefighter whose marriage is in trouble, the couple launched the Love Worth Fighting For marriage ministry. “We translated the 90-minute movie into a three-hour live event, and we do about 30 of those a year at churches around the country,” he says.
Kirk views this work as a way to resuscitate marriages by getting couples to view their unions as precious to God.
“We see couples come to the conference struggling, sitting two feet apart, not speaking, not holding hands,” he says. “But after listening and singing and praying together for a few hours, they leave with tears running down their faces and a new desire to fight for their marriages. It’s incredibly encouraging to watch the change that takes place.”
Kirk has become something of a cultural warrior over the last few years. There have been some hard knocks along the way when he publicly discussed such topics as Jesus, the Bible, homosexuality, evolution and atheism, but no one can say that he has compromised or shied away from controversy. In fact, he seems to have gleefully enjoyed many of his media dustups.
How did he go from wisecracking teen to culture warrior? A major influence has been an older, experienced ministry partner, Ray Comfort. Formerly a pastor in his native New Zealand, Ray transplanted to Orange County, California. By the time he met Kirk in the mid-1990s, he had become an evangelist with unusual edge, wit and passion.
Ray and Kirk launched an evangelistic ministry called Way of the Master, which has produced books, a television show, a radio program and podcasts. There have also been a series of provocative YouTube videos, including “180,” about abortion and prolife issues; “Evolution vs. God” and “Noah—and the Last Days.”
Typcially, videos feature Ray or Kirk doing man-on-the-street interviews about topics not generally addressed at the beaches, parks or even universities where the films are made.
In the last couple of years, the two men have done less work together. Kirk says this isn’t a separation, but a divide-and-conquer strategy. “You could say he discipled me. I have nothing but great things to say about Ray and I have profited from my time with him,” Kirk says. “He is one of the most sincere Christians I know and he has such a genuine love for the lost.”
One thing Kirk has gained is incisive phrasing. When asked why he’s a Christian, he says, “I’m a Christian because I’d be a fool not to be a Christian.”
He has also gained a no-compromise attitude that stirs national controversy at times. A prime example is Kirk’s 2012 statement that homosexuality is “unnatural … detrimental and destructive to so many foundations of civilization,” which he said on CNN’s Piers Morgan Live. Kirk has been pummeled ever since online and in other media venues.
He also told Morgan, “I believe that marriage was defined by God a long time ago. Marriage is almost as old as dirt and it was defined in the Garden as between Adam and Eve—one man and one woman for life—till death do you part … So, do I support the idea of gay marriage? No, I don’t.”
So why is he sending out such a countercultural opinion?
“Look, I’m not angling to be the new sheriff in town,” Kirk says. “I don’t want to be that guy. What I do want to be is wise. I don’t want to be seen as some cavalier desperado that is just out there making waves. I want to be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. I’m not intentionally stirring up trouble—but sometimes you have to.
“I’m trying to get the Gospel out there and remind our people that, hey, our Lord is on the throne. We don’t need to be fearful because He has already promised that if we are faithful to Him, we win. I want Christian people to come out of the closet and say, ‘My allegiance is to the Lord Jesus and that’s all.’”
The Big Screen
Scanning filmography listings for Kirk Cameron, you can tell he was a man slowly walking away from secular TV and movies in the late 1990s. After his Mike Seaver days on Growing Pains ended in 1992, a TV series titled Kirk only lasted one season. At the same time, he was growing in the faith.
In 2000, he starred in his first Christian movie, Left Behind. After few more faith movies, he made some waves in 2008 with starring in Fireproof. As fireman Caleb Holt, he gave a solid performance as a man struggling with his marriage and obedience to God. Things started to click.
His own company, CamFam, made two documentaries related to faith, then he returned to acting with Mercy Rule in early 2014—a modest family movie about baseball and life. He starred alongside Chelsea. The next CamFam movie was Saving Christmas, which was released in November. Kirk plays a character who is passionate about Christ and launches a campaign to make Jesus the focal point of Christmas once again.
Kirk’s intentions for the years ahead are to grow as a Christian entrepreneur and as a filmmaker. Expect his movies to get bigger, better and more sophisticated. The only thing that won’t change is the message. “The Gospel doesn’t change. That was settled 2,000 years ago,” he says.
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