My wife is probably going to kill me for this one, but I’m going to offer a critique of teenage heartthrob, Kirk Cameron. It’s true, he is no longer a teen idol, and I think my wife’s pubescent crush has mostly worn off. But it’s still tough to take the edge off that sitcom smile of this evangelical firebrand. Very aware that I might get a stern lecture from Alan Thicke when he gets home for work, I’m going to humbly suggest that Cameron is totally wrong when it comes to his ideas about homosexuality.
First, I should give a little context for those that don’t watch Stephen Baldwin’s twitter feed or GLAAD’s media stunts. On March 2nd, Kirk Cameron appeared on Piers Morgan’s CNN show, and was asked directly about his views on homosexuality. One of Morgan’s great gifts is to be able to brashly cut to the most personal moments, and asked Mike Seaver, I mean Kirk Cameron, what he would tell his kids about homosexuality and gay marriage. With some initial hesitation, but no shame or doubt, Cameron said exactly what he thought.
Unsurprisingly, he didn’t embrace gay-icity. Not even close. But we shouldn’t be shocked by his stance. He and his wonderfully named evangelistic co-star, Ray Comfort—a prime Movember candidate since the 70s—have been engaging in debates and sharing faith all across America. With a history of starring in the fan-acclaimed sitcom and 80s beacon of teenage American life, Growing Pains, Cameron carries his strong stage presence and teen idol authenticity into every opportunity he has to share his Christian beliefs.
And despite the fact that he starred in three—yes, three!—of the worst films ever, the Left Behind series produced by Cloud Ten Pictures, he was invited to share the stage with Piers Morgan.
Perhaps he wished he didn’t accept the invitation.
What aw-shucks good looks Kirk Cameron said has now gone viral and has drawn the ire of LGBTQ activists and social commentators alike. You can see the video with his key comments, but here is the headlining quotation:
“homosexuality is unnatural, detrimental and ultimately destructive to foundations of civilization.”
Cameron’s sound bite comes in response to the question, “Is homosexuality a sin.” The bit is telling of the great divide between Cameron’s conservative Christian views and the CNN normal of American culture.
Piers Morgan does a great job pushing Cameron and challenging him to clarify his position, but is also respectful of what he calls “antiquated views.” Cameron’s critique wasn’t that homosexuality was specifically more sinful than anything else, but that homosexuality and gay marriage are the kind of things that decay a great civilization. And, as Cameron argues in his new documentary, Monumental, America is a great civilization and should go back to its conservative Christian foundations.
I could spend my time critiquing Kirk Cameron’s biblical understanding of homosexuality. He is a Bible-believing Christian, so that is where he desires to draw all his beliefs from. And while the Bible does address homo-erotic activity, and probably critiques the ancient equivalent of the Man-Boy Love association, pederasty, it does not address homosexuality. It hadn’t been invented yet, as a society construct—at least in the cultures out of which the Bible emerges. There is research about how those with a biological proclivity to same-sex relationships navigated their ancient worlds, but in the modern sense, “homosexuality” was not yet a reality.
But my critique today is not so much that he reads the Bible wrong or that he completely misunderstands the contemporary conversation; my critique is that the Bible isn’t really the foundation of his beliefs. While Cameron thinks he is a Christian, he is really an American.
Now, before I get repeated clicks of the “dislike” button or angry emails accusing me of saying that Americans can’t be Christians—or vice versa—let me clarify. I believe that any cultural group, even Americans, can be Christian. It will be harder for some cultures to integrate their national worldview with the biblical one, but there are authentic, Bible-believing, socially-engaged Christians all over the world. There are even some in Canada, I am told.
I’m also not saying that this beguiled heartthrob and father of six isn’t a believer. He absolutely is, and I’m sure it is the desire of his heart to please God. No, what I’m saying is that while he aims to be biblical, the very foundation of Cameron’s belief system is not biblical, but American. While Cameron thinks he is sold out to Christ, he is actually sold out to Empire. He said so himself when asked what the core of his critique of homosexuality was:
CNN British Pretentious Guy: Is homosexuality a sin?
American 80s Teen Idol: Homosexuality is unnatural, detrimental and ultimately destructive to foundations of civilization.
What does he really mean? More of Cameron’s views are open to public scrutiny in his speech to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he played the trailer to Monumental. At the heart of Cameron’s understanding of the world is his experience of the American Empire. His views of politics, history, sexuality, public morality, evolution, and apologetics are essentially American—filtered through the lens of life, liberty, the American way, and football on the weekends. It is utterly foreign to someone not engaged in the historic conversations of Americanism, but homosexuality is viewed, in this lens, not as an orientation—or even a proclivity practiced in the sight of a God who can see the whole picture—but a threat of some kind not just to the individual but to the society as a whole.
This claim that homosexuality is a threat, or that gay marriage somehow ruins marriage seems very strange to most North Americans today. After all, how could my sexual interests or the commitments I make in the privacy of my bedroom be so threatening? When one is committed to the Empire, though, it makes sense. Not only does a lack of children prevent capitalistic economic inertia from tumbling forward—and Kirk really delivers on his 80s star quality by providing six star-spangled economic units of his own—but it cuts to the heart of the founding values of the Empire. From Cameron’s point of view, America was founded through the blood and courage and industry of families. It is the institution of family that houses the moral courage for America to be great, and it is that institution that is under threat today.
Reading this title, I’m sure many thought that I’d be rebuking Cameron and calling him to practice that unconditional love that C.S. Lewis talks about in his Four Loves. But that’s not Cameron’s problem. Our Actor-slash-Evangelist-slash-Social Commentator is not unloving in anything he says on Morgan’s show. I know, the media response to his “antiquated beliefs” suggests otherwise. The best example of this ridiculous accusation comes in the conversation between Piers Morgan and Lewis Black. Since I wasn’t beaten up by “science nerds,” I think Black’s critique of fundamentalist Christianity as a whole is interesting. But it isn’t true that Cameron was unloving. I would argue that true, unconditional agape love is entirely about loving in the face of disagreement. And true love will drive us to say hard things to the people we love. I simply don’t buy the idea that civil legislation is a demonstration of love, one way or the other. It’s true that much of North American evangelical Christianity’s approach to the LGBTQ community is unloving—and anti-biblical in approach if not in content—but that’s not my issue with brother Kirk.
No, my critique of Cameron is on a much deeper level. Cameron’s ideas are founded upon his love for his nation, a kind of love that Lewis critiques in his books. In The Screwtape Letters, the demons are content to draw the Christian into either patriotism or its opposite—either one will do in a pinch—simply because it is a kind of extremism that can be used to make the believer commit to something other than God. Screwtape recognizes how easily one’s patriotic love can become the real thing, and his or her religion is there to support that love. As the demon captures it so sublimely:
“Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism…. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours” (Letter VII).
Substitute “British” for “American” and “pamphlets” for “web-based TV programming” and it captures the American evangelical crisis well.
Lewis’ warning of patriotic danger is even more reflective and incisive in The Four Loves. His warnings against false remembering of national pasts should be considered by every history textbook writer, but I will focus on his warning about thinking that one’s own nation is “markedly superior.” If our nation is better than others, Lewis warns, we will begin to imagine we have a Duty to make other places more like ours—a democratic imperative, so to speak, the rampant use of the sword to finally bring peace. Though as a teenager he admired Rudyard Kipling, this poet’s White Man’s Burden is a poignant example.
“What we called natives were our wards and we their self-appointed guardians. This was not all hypocrisy. We did do them some good. But our habit of talking as if England’s motives for acquiring an empire (or any youngster’s motives for seeking a job in the Indian Civil Service) had been mainly altruistic nauseated the world” (45).
Lewis notes that other countries felt the right to exterminate the inferior—certainly a stark reality in the Americas. The aboriginal genocide remains a shadow that darkens our cultural memories and the reservations alike. In Canada, we took this burden to the level of cultural rape, tearing families apart, hoping to “kill the Indian” so we could “save the child.” For Lewis, empire-building and this oppressive guardianship have something in common:
“both have about them this sure mark of evil: only by being terrible do they avoid being comic. If there were no broken treaties with Redskins, no extermination of the Tasmanians, no gas-chambers and no Belsen, no Amritsar, Black and Tans or Apartheid, the pomposity of both would be a roaring farce” (46).
I don’t even think Lewis knows the half of it.
The sad reality is that this latest victim of the American media’s narrowing lens of who is in and who is out—CNN`s sadly hilarious response to exclusivistic non-includers like our chap, Kirk Cameron—is that he is so invested in the American project, he can’t even see its effect. While evangelical youth leaders are warning their kids to be in the world but not of the world by watching how they dress are what they do as the lights dim, the reality is that evangelical leaders like Kirk Cameron or Ray Comfort are highly invested in world systems, particularly the underlying worldview of Americanism.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. This is not a generic liberal critique of some kind, a launching of verbal scud missiles from one camp to another. No, this is self-critique, one evangelical asking another to look at the real foundations of his worldview. I would like us to have a discussion about politics, history, sexuality, public morality, evolution, and apologetics from our shared biblical foundation, but we don’t actually share that foundation. At his core, Kirk Cameron is not a Christian, but an American. And when he stuck his neck out to say counter-cultural things about homosexuality, his reasons for rejecting homosexuality–and the essential tone of his self-defense–were primarily about the destruction of an Empire.
Listen, I love that he has the courage to stand up for what he believes in the face of priggish, narrow-minded broadcasters who don`t know a thing about love. And I really like that his Camp Firefly provides a great program for sick kids. Cameron`s a great guy, I’m sure, to share a caffeine-free Diet Coke with. It’s so easy, though, to confuse Conservative with Christian, to confuse Empire with Kingdom.
Now, it’s true that I might be a little ticked off that this forty-something still has dimples, a boyish hairdo, and a jaw-line that I’d bribe airport security officials for. And it’s true I probably hold a grudge against the 80s in general, so I’m inclined to disagree with one of its progeny. But the core of my critique is not personal, it’s foundational. If American evangelicals intend to engage in credible biblical critique, they first have to understand the labyrinthine effects of their American worldview. Because, man-crush aside, and outside of the glare of television cameras, it doesn’t look very much like biblical Christianity to me.