Converting Kirk Cameron"I was rich, I was young, I was famous, I could do anything I wanted with whomever I wanted." - Kirk Cameron By KEVIN SITES, TUE MAY 29, 1:47 PM PDT
He had more than just legions of fanatic fans. He also had stalkers and kidnapping threats, and was sometimes driven to the set in a bulletproof car. It got him thinking about his own mortality. He had it all, but still felt empty.
"I was raised not going to church. We never prayed — didn't know how. Are you supposed to close your eyes, keep them open? Look up? Look down? Get on my knees? What do I do?"
Cameron started reading the bible and going to church. He became a Christian, but says his transition had some growing pains of its own.
On the set of his hit show, the easy-going prankster became detached and sullen. Once close to the other cast members, he pulled away from them all — except his co-star and fellow Christian, Chelsea Noble, whom he married in 1991.
He also started taking issue with some of the show's writing. One script called for his TV mom to have a nightmare in which Cameron's character, Mike Seaver, wakes up next to a beautiful girl and says, "Hey, babe. Good morning. By the way, what's your name again?"
Cameron balked, pushing for the writers to change the scene. They refused. Cameron says he wasn't trying to push his religious views on the show. He just didn't want to compromise his newfound moral principles.
When the series was cancelled after a long and successful run, he continued acting, but began taking roles on low-budget Christian films, most notably the rapture-based "Left Behind" series based on the best-selling books.
A few years later, after reading one of his books, he met New Zealander Ray Comfort, a former surf shop owner-turned-roving preacher.
They teamed up to form Way of the Master Ministries.
Comfort says his ministry was already taking off, but the partnership with Cameron was like putting it on steroids.
Cameron says his priorities are very clear: "God, family, career — in that order."
"Both Kirk and myself are amazed at his celebrity," says Comfort. "How powerful it is when you call an organization and say 'Hello, this is Kirk Cameron.' They say, 'Oh Kirk, I loved "Growing Pains."' It's such a wonderful door."
They have harnessed Comfort's writing and Cameron's celebrity to create a small multimedia empire that is in service of a hardcore fundamentalist message: Accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior or you will not get to heaven.
They get their message out through books, pamphlets, radio programming an award-winning TV show seen in 70 different countries — and a slick Internet site wayofthemaster.com.
Cameron is 36 now and still has the boyish good looks of his TV character — but with a few of the wrinkles and creases that go along with self-reflection and fatherhood. He and his wife have six children, four adopted and two of their own.
He says he is more comfortable in his Christian skin today, his convictions just as strong, but without the isolating air of self-righteousness. He has reconciled with former "Growing Pains" cast members and even was part of a reunion show in 2000.
But Cameron says his priorities are very clear: God, family, career — in that order.
He says those decisions have had negative consequences for his career.
"I had one producer in a meeting discussing a movie say, 'So I hear you've got content issues.' You know, absolutely I've got content issues," Cameron says. "What I would say is I've got convictions. I've got priorities. If someone was asking me to do something that would compromise my relationship with my wife I wouldn't do that; if that's going to hurt my marriage, I'm not going to do that. If it's going to hurt my kids, I'm not going to do that and I take it a step further and say if this is going to hurt someone else's kids, I don't want to be a part of that."
"It's about personal integrity," he says, "that's all."
Cameron says he'd love to do non-religious films and TV again, but at times it's difficult to convince producers that while he has found Jesus, he hasn't lost his sense of humor.
-Producer: Jamie Rubin
-Video Editor: Tommy Morquecho
-Motion Graphics: Chris Strimbu
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