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Kirk Cameron: The Wrong Kind of World Changer

Thousands of onlookers gave Joni Eareckson Tada a standing ovation as she wept during her induction into the Society of World Changers in 2009. That was my freshman year at Indiana Wesleyan University. My sophomore year, Bill and Gloria Gaither fought back tears at the unveiling of their joint bronze bust. And just two weeks after his 90th birthday, a feeble S. Truett Cathy accepted the same award in 2011, my junior year, for his lifetime of work as a world-changing businessman.

But my senior year, in the spring of 2012, I will be the one crying throughout the entire induction ceremony.

You see, IWU officials decided to select actor Kirk Cameron as the next influential evangelical to place, quite literally, on a pedestal. Cameron will receive his honor April 11, 2012, less than one month before I graduate in the same auditorium with a Bachelor of Science degree in media communication. Given my studies and interest in the film industry, IWU’s choice to honor Cameron’s work (before that of any other Christian film professional) is frustrating, to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong. Kirk Cameron is no Fred Phelps. I have never seen him incite hatred, and he always seems to speak eloquently with good intent. Regardless, behind his carefully chosen words, Cameron’s logic is flawed. More than a few times this has led his behavior to stray from the ideal I was taught to expect from Christians in media.

Cameron converted from atheism to evangelical Christianity at the height of his acting career while playing Mike Seaver on the television series “Growing Pains” which ended in 1992. Cameron, in his late teens, began pushing the show’s producers to align their content more with his developing conservative beliefs.

Had a lesser-known actor demanded the things Cameron did on the “Growing Pains” set, that actor would likely have been replaced. As a former intern for a West Hollywood-based casting company, I learned that there are more than a sufficient number of actors vying for each role.

But Cameron’s fame waned with the sitcom’s decline. While he won several awards early in his career, he hasn’t won a major acting award since 1990.

Members of the selection committee for IWU’s Society of World Changers require recipients to be “individuals who have risen to the top of their profession,” something Cameron’s acting resume does not even come close to attaining.

Previous inductees have received honorary doctorates from the school. Induction does not, however, guarantee this added honor. Under Dr. Henry Smith, president of IWU since 2006, the school’s administration established an independent committee to decide who would receive the university’s highest honor.

“The committee felt that we were too generous at one point in terms of the offering of the honorary doctorate,” said Dr. Larry Lindsay, chief of staff to President Smith.

In an email on Sept. 7, Lindsay said the IWU president’s office was not prepared to announce whether Cameron would receive an honorary doctorate or not. According to the email, “The Honorary Doctorate Committee makes decisions regarding these matters closer to the time of considering the appropriate honors to bestow.”

Lindsay said the selection committee considered more than Cameron’s work as an actor. The former child star has promoted healthy marriages with the film “Fireproof” and the spinoff book “The Love Dare” by Stephen and Alex Kendrick. Cameron has spoken at numerous marriage seminars and launched Camp Firefly, a not-for-profit retreat center in Agoura Hills, Calif., committed to providing free vacation get-aways to terminally ill children and their families.

I cannot complain about the honorable work Cameron and his wife have accomplished with their resources and status. I can complain, however, about Cameron’s approach to media (my field of study) and his reasons for supporting certain causes.

Even those with degrees from IWU unrelated to media or the Division of Communication will face interrogation about the compatibility between their Christian beliefs and nonreligious vocations. Consider Cameron’s “contribution” to the debate between creation and evolution:

“The existence of God can be proven 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of
faith,” said Cameron on ABC’s “Nightline Face-Off” in May 2007. I’m sure I’m not the only person of faith who takes issue with that claim.

Cameron attempted to defend young earth creationism on “Nightline” by calling evolutionary theory “a fairy tale for grownups.” He then presented “the crocoduck” (a digitally manipulated image of a half-crocodile half-duck) as evidence that there are no “transitional forms” in nature. Cameron said evolutionists must be wrong because hybrid animals, such as his fabricated example, do not exist.

Members of the “Rational Response Squad,” an atheist group, countered Cameron’s argument on “Nightline,” claiming that all life forms are transitional.

Cameron committed a classic straw man fallacy. He may understand evolutionary theory, but the use of an example inconsistent with the theory’s tenets could lead astray those unfamiliar with Darwin’s work. Needless to say, this is unacceptable.

Furthermore, Cameron distributed as many as 170,000 abridged versions of Charles Darwin’s book “The Origin of Species” to students at 100 American universities in 2009, just before the 150-year anniversary of the book’s original publication.

The altered version of Darwin’s text initially excluded four of the book’s original chapters to save in printing costs. After a bout of harsh criticism, Cameron and his evangelical friend and co-worker Ray Comfort published a second edition that included all of Darwin’s chapters. Both versions include a 50-page “special introduction”, written by Comfort, to provide background information on Darwin’s life and an argument against the existence of “transitional forms.”

Dr. Lindsay said Cameron’s participation in the book distribution “was probably not as reasoned a work” as that by more thoughtful evangelical Christians such as Francis Collins, the current director of the National Institutes of Health and author of “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.”

Given IWU’s aspirations to launch a medical school within the next ten years, honoring Cameron is a curious choice that could invite unneeded criticism.

Mark A. Noll, a professor from Wheaton College, wrote “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” in 1994 to discuss anti-intellectualism among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.

“One great tragedy of modern creationism is that its noisy alarums have made it much more difficult to hear careful Christian thinkers … whose work could carry evangelicals beyond the sterile impasse of earlier decades,” wrote Noll.

Conservative Christianity needs a role model to promote a carefully reasoned, intellectual approach to science and life in general.

Considering the conservative family values pervasive in “Fireproof,” it should come as no surprise that Kirk Cameron used faulty logic to unequally yoke his religious conviction with political thought.

In 2008, Cameron appeared on an episode of FOX News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” to discuss the potential legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States.

“We can make laws in our country based on what the majority of people say, and the majority of people in our country say that marriage is worth fighting for. And they did, and the definition of it stays,” said Cameron on O’Reilly’s show.

But now that AP-National and The Washington Post have published survey results showing that a narrow majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, Cameron will have to find a stronger argument if he wants to continue defending legislation that limits marriage to heterosexual couples.

In the future, when the Society of World Changers selection committee decides to find a new film professional to honor, I feel members should consider evangelicals who have reputations that include both strong Christian belief and quality vocational work.

Scott Derrickson wrote about the need for quality filmmaking in a manner directed toward Christians who, like me, aspire to work in the film industry. Derrickson, best known as the writer and director of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” has earned respect among Hollywood power players and Christians alike.

Likewise, Ralph Winter was a producer for Christian films like “House,” adapted from a novel by Frank Peretti, a previous inductee into the Society of World Changers. In addition to Christian cinema, Winter has produced major Hollywood blockbusters including the “X-Men” franchise.

Clearly, we must recognize that World Changers are not perfect. They don’t have all the answers and don’t always fit the predetermined molds handed to them by the world and the Church. But their work should speak for itself.

I think we can agree that true World Changers acknowledge their mistakes, promote Christian values and earn the respect of their peers regardless of whether their vocations are secular or religious.

This post was written by:

- who has written 50 posts on The Sojourn.

News Editor. Steven joined The Sojourn in the fall of 2010 and is News Editor for the 2011-2012 school year. He will graduate in the spring of 2012 with a B.S. in Media Communication, a minor in Journalism, and membership in IWU’s Mary C. Dodd Honors Program. Follow him: @stevenp1329.

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10 Responses to “Kirk Cameron: The Wrong Kind of World Changer”

  1. Seth Conley says:

    First of all, this is a well-written and thought out piece. However, I have to take some issue with some of the arguments used in this piece. First, Kirk may not have won numerous awards of late, but you must realize that he was incredibly famous in his young career in the late 1980s, likely long before you were born. Just because he isn’t big now, doesn’t mean he isn’t famous or a world changer. In fact, you likely ONLY know him as a radical apologist.

    You seem to pick at his efforts and methods. While I also don’t adopt his somewhat kamikaze tactics in sharing the gospel, I feel far too often we (evangelicals) take a back seat on the timid train. At least he is passionate about his faith and willing to accept ridicule and criticism for it, something we at evangelical universities often don’t have to deal with.

    Lastly, I would simply point out some irony in your push for Ralph Winter. While I agree he may also be a good candidate for this honor, he too has been a part of these types of religious (and sometimes cheesy) Christian films. In fact he produced the Left Behind movie starring who else? Kirk Cameron.

  2. Jake says:

    It sounds to me like you (the author) are taking aim at Cameron’s Christianity, which makes no sense at all. Cameron believes that homosexuality is unnatural, that creationism is true, and that we should preach the Truth with love whenever we get a chance. Is this not what 95% or more of IWU students believe? It seems to me like you are embarrassed that IWU is inducting an outspoken Evangelical Christian because it will look bad to the secular world. It sounds to me like you have bought into the idea that Christians should always DO but never SAY. Being a world changer doesn’t mean that everything you say and do is perfect. Has he made some questionable statements? Sure. But who hasn’t? Your tactic of attacking him based on a few quotes, rather than assessing his actual positions and the majority of comments he has made about various issues throughout his lifetime, is nothing short of shameful, and is reminiscent of the horrible reporting we get from the secularist mainstream media. So, Congratulations. You seem to be on your way to being a successful journalist for CNN, and the good thing is, they agree with you when it comes to Kirk Cameron. And your point that he hasn’t been famous (won any major acting awards) since 1990 is a ridiculous attempt to support your position. Isn’t it ironic that he stopped receiving accolades from the WORLD the more and more he pursued a career that was pleasing to the Lord? Why must he receive a Golden Globe or Emmy or whatever from the secular acting world to be more qualified as changing the world for Christ? I am ashamed, not of IWU for choosing a man that uses his fame to stand up for Jesus Christ and the Church, but of the students who are criticizing Kirk Cameron for his bold Christianity.

    • Rachel says:

      Thank you!! I was beginning to think I was more alone in my theology than I had originally thought, as so many have gone on to highly esteem this article as well as sign the petition. I don’t care how loving and Christ-like someone is, they can be made to look bad by taking their words out of context, or without hearing the expansion on their ideals. Furthermore, we as Christians have become so hyper-sensitive to our culture’s manta of tolerance, we not only try to speak the truth in love, but rather have become almost entirely silent on these current issues.
      Some of the voiced objections could have also been said about other World Changer inductees. I don’t know of too many people outside the body of Christ that have been influenced by Dr. James Dobson or Joni Ericson Tada. Jake, I also agree with your idea of the “timid train.” I think we’d be hard-pressed to find someone in our own midst that has won as many people to Christ as Kirk Cameron has. If you want to say his evangelism is combative, then fine. But his methods work, so I don’t see the problem.

    • Dan Patrone says:

      I don’t think that Steven is out of line by any means by voicing his educated opinion in regards to Kirk Cameron. And the accusations you are making are a bit over the top.
      Are Christians called to spread the gospel? Yes, they are. But if you are claiming that he is a very famous person he is then held to a higher standard. Meaning those “questionable statements” are brought to light, and those are not what I would like associated with IWU. Indiana Wesleyan is a University first, and a Church second. Student come here to get and education integrated with faith, not a faith integrated with education. Therefore, if appointing someone as a World Changer results in a negative view of the school, thus hindering our employment options, that person should not be selected.

  3. Jake says:

    By the way, I am an alum of IWU. 2009.

  4. I have been surfing on-line greater than three
    hours lately, but I never discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours.

    It’s pretty price enough for me. In my view, if all web owners and
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  5. Bonner Davis says:

    Steven, I’m wondering if you would like to revise this article after having heard Kirk speak at the graduation?

  6. Keith says:

    So your problems with Kirk Cameron as a “world changer” are:
    1. He believes in biblical creation.
    2. He believes in biblical marriage.
    3. He believes as the bible says, “creation reveals God” and “true wisdom cannot deny god.”
    4. He believes people without Jesus are lost forever in hell.

    And he uses his fame, power & position to promote these beliefs every chance he gets so others will be convinced of the same.

    I don’t know sounds like he is all about changing his world to be more Christlike and less worldly. What do you think a world changer should be working toward? Working to get folks to believe in antigod evolution, homosexual marriage, and that God cannot be known by looking at creation or wisdom and is only a fairy tale?

    I don’t know, sounds like what the world already is! Changing it is what Kirk is all about. May God bless him!

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