Kirk Cameron doesn't speak in sound bites. He's in New York on Monday afternoon to promote his new documentary, Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure, except his flight was delayed and he missed almost all of his interviews. He's sitting in a plush leather sofa in a Times Square hotel, looking tired as he sips a Starbucks coffee (his hoodie, which says "Do Justice," makes him look much younger than his age, which is 41).
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When you ask what prompted him to make the film, his answer is a macro sermon that touches on, among other things, his children, our national debt, the church blaming the media, drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancies, suicide, and how "America is a beacon of hope for the world. And yet we are in so much trouble." Then—wham!—he gets to his point. "The root of the deal is this," he says. "I joke around and say I wish my name was Marty McFly, and I had a DeLorean and I could zoom back there and talk to these people."
By these people, he means the pilgrims.
If you're lost, that's OK, because the truth of the matter is you're not here to read about Cameron's documentary. You're here to read about the time he put his foot in his mouth. Two weeks ago, Cameron—the former teenage heartthrob of Growing Pains who became a born-again Christian, married his TV co-star, had six kids and quit Hollywood for the religious Left Behind films—was asked about his views on homosexuality on Piers Morgan Tonight. This question, Cameron admits, caught him off guard. Nonetheless, his answer was repugnant: "I think that it's unnatural. I think that it's detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization."
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That response created such a firestorm that Cameron has to travel throughout New York with a bodyguard—he needs the protection. His Growing Pains costars Alan Thicke and Tracey Gold publicly denounced his statement, along with GLAAD and every celebrity on Twitter from Roseanne to Jesse Tyler Ferguson. So is it crazy, brilliant, or completely accidental that, for Cameron's first substantial interview since the Morgan debacle, he's sitting face to face with an openly gay journalist? Excerpts:
After you said what you did on Piers Morgan's show, were you surprised by the reaction?
I was surprised on a couple of levels, yes. [Pauses.] I was surprised that people acted surprised by what I said. They didn't hear everything I said: the interview was 10 minutes longer than what you saw, because it was edited down.
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Did they misrepresent what you said?
They didn't misrepresent what I said, but what I said isn't a full representation of how I feel about the topic as a whole. All five topics. He asked me about gay marriage, homosexuality, abortion, the Catholic Church being forced to pay for contraception against their religious conscience, and who would make the best president over the next four years. All, during an interview that was supposed to be about this new film, Monumental. I was surprised at that, for sure—particularly the way he did it. I didn't appreciate the way he did it. I thought it was insensitive. I thought it was heartless, to tell you the truth, to take a few subjects, which are very important, he crammed it into a rapid-fire, machine-gun format where my ideas got reduced to four-second soundbites. In my opinion, those subjects can only be properly addressed in the context of a relationship, with the person who is asking me those questions. When my friend who came to me and said you're the first person I'm telling this to, I've known you for 10 years, I'm gay. I could tell how difficult it was. It's personal. It's sensitive. It's difficult. He was nervous what my reaction would be. I said, "Dude, you know me. I love you. There's nothing you could ever tell me that would make me not love you and care about you." If Piers had asked me that: what do you think about homosexuals? What do you think about the gay community?
Would you say that being straight is a sin?
No. I don't think being straight is a sin.
And yet you said being gay is a sin?
That's how he asked the question. What I'm saying is, when we turn off the tape recorder and you and I want to sit down and have a meal together and we want to have a talk, I'd welcome that. That would be cool, two people sitting down, having a respectful conversation about important issues.
Are you homophobic?
I'm not homophobic.
I have to tell you, as a gay person, what you said was very hateful. I'm sure it was painful for a lot of people to see it on TV.
That pains me in my heart to think that someone who is gay would think that I don't love them and care about them. Like I told you with my buddy, there's nothing you could do or say—you're my friend and I care about you. But I'm a man of convictions. If you press me about how I feel about an issue, you're going to see my convictions. My convictions run deep, as I'm sure yours do. What I love is to sit down and have conversations about our convictions without calling people names. I'm assuming you're not a heterophobe. Neither am I a homophobe. We have different convictions on an issue, and we could learn from each other. I think that's awesome. I think that's healthy.
Your tone seems a lot different now than it did when you were on TV.
It does grieve me to think there are people misunderstanding my heart on an issue. If my kids came to me and said I'm gay, I'd say, "Son, I love you." That's never at stake. Never, never, never at stake. We'll talk and we'll go through life together and we'll work through our thoughts and feelings and we'll come to what's healthy. You'll make your decisions and I'll make mine.
Do you think you could ever change your mind about gay marriage?
Publicist: I don't mean to interrupt. I think we've gone enough into it. The gay marriage, I just want to stay away from it. It's just so polarizing.
Cameron: He knows jujitsu. I didn't think we'd even talk this much about it, but you're really cool about the way you're asking all these questions.
I'm trying to give you a chance to explain it, because a lot of people were really upset by what you said.
What I can tell you, what I said to Piers Morgan about gay marriage—that's my conviction. If you and I could talk later over a steak, that would be cool.
OK, we can take a break from this topic. Have you watched Growing Pains recently?
I haven't. I haven't watched in a long time. I have the boxed set of the first season in the barn somewhere.
Is it still on TV?
I don't know. I haven't gotten residuals in a while.
Have your kids watched it?
My kids haven't watched one episode of Growing Pains. I'll tell you why. When our kids were little, we never wanted Mommy or Daddy to be the celebrity mom or dad to our kids. And then as the kids got older, we never watched a lot of TV. We got DVDs of Finding Nemo and Little House on the Prairie. They think Fred Mertz is far funnier than Mike Seaver.
Do you still talk to the cast?
Tracey [Gold, who played his on-air sister] called me a week ago, when all the stuff broke with the CNN interview. I haven't seen the graphics of Mike and Carol Seaver fighting. What's so funny, Tracey called me and said, "Hey it's me, all these people are calling me. You know how I feel about gay marriage. I totally respect your perspective and you have mine. I just want to make sure we're fine. "I said, "Yeah, Tracey." Alan [Thicke, his on-screen dad] was the same thing, he was like, Kirk, this thing is heating up a lot. I'm just trying to give them some comedic relief with my tweets. But he said nothing comes between family.
You've often told the story about how you were an atheist until you found your faith at the age of 17. Were you sinful before?
Sinful in what definition?
What definition would you use? Did you drink lots of alcohol?
Was I a wild animal? No, I never was.
Were you promiscuous?
No. I think God was saving me from a lot of trouble, without me even knowing it, which was really cool. It was like helping someone who doesn't even acknowledge your existence. I think my biggest problem was as a celebrity on a TV show, you get an inflated ego and you think you're the center of the universe.
So were you a diva?
Kind of in my own mind. But a diva who had a touch of humility and charm, so it wasn't obnoxious.
Your new movie, Monumental, has the thesis that America is going down the wrong path, so you trace the origins of the pilgrims' voyage here as a way of getting back to our roots. What gave you the idea for it?
I've got six kids. Raising kids, I see how fast they grow up, how quickly they grow up. My kids are 15 down to 9. We have six, three boys and three girls. So pray for us. We have a full house there.
And you had a sister [Candace Cameron] who was on Full House.
Do you think our politicians are failing us?
Do I think are politicians are failing us?
It's interesting that you are hesitating. Most people would say yes.
I want to give you a more thoughtful answer than a yes or no. Let me take a second to answer. [He pauses for a considerable time.] Here's a great phrase, it would be good to quote this one: culture is convictions externalized. So you see what I'm getting at. Culture, society, the way we are put in place and structured by laws and those things are built and informed by the convictions that are going to begin in somebody's heart.
What do you think about Occupy Wall Street?
Everybody taking things in their own hands? I don't want that. I don't want to take everything in my own hands. I want a good and loving God who made the world to show us the way for everybody.