A Conversation With Kirk Cameron on Media Discernment (Part I)

kirk cameron

Have you ever experienced a “chance” meeting with someone that, looking back, you’re certain was a divine appointment? I had one earlier this year. I had received an email about a Fathoms Event film called Connect, which will be getting two encore presentations on March 20 and March 24—a movie all about the influence of entertainment and the importance of discernment, a subject that’s near and dear to all of us here with Plugged In. As I read through the email, I thought, “Well, this movie sounds very Plugged In-esque. I wonder how we could work together?”

And then it occurred to me that I had the personal contact information for the person behind the film—none other than Fireproof star Kirk Cameron. So I fire off a few texts and emails, trying to track him down.

A couple hours later, Kirk emails me.

“Hey, Bob,” he said, “I’m at Focus on the Family today. Let’s get together.”

So we did, and that meeting led to this interview with Kirk on media, porn, technology and his upcoming film, Connect. Kirk has thought long and hard about this subject and speaks from the heart when it comes to discernment and media issues. I think you’ll enjoy the discussion, part one of which you’ll read today.


Bob Waliszewski: Of all the topics that could possibly be covered in a documentary–discipleship, how to read your Bible more effectively, how to share your faith, why you should go on foreign missions–you chose media discernment and technology. What drove you to that decision?

Kirk Cameron: As a parent of six children, my wife and I share the intense concern that millions of parents have that is unique to our generation, and that is the effect that social media and technology’s having on our kids. It shapes everything, from their view about themselves, their friends, their family and even God. Kids are spending an average of ten hours a day on their phone or device. So, the impact of that cannot be overemphasized. We don’t want to be damage control parents. We want to get on the offense and help our kids be champions, not victims.

Waliszewski: What are you hoping will happen in the life of those who see Connect when it releases later this month and early March?

Cameron: I’m hoping that people will watch Connect and realize that their concerns and the burden they feel is shared and carried by every parent today. And I think that they will leave feeling hopeful, educated and empowered to stay connected with their kids as they learn to navigate these social media and technology waters.

Waliszewski: What type of content concerns you the most these days in popular entertainment? Is it language? Violence? Sexuality? Spirituality?

Cameron: That’s a great question and you know I so appreciate Plugged In and all of the great work that you do. Every time my kids go see a movie and they say, “Hey, Dad. Can we go see this?” I tell them “hold on” and I pull up my Plugged In app and I go type it in and see what you had to say.

By the way, if we can just talk about Plugged In for a while … I so appreciate just the way that your reviews are written. Your team does such a good job. There are other review sites that I find less helpful and I find sometimes people are straining at gnats and swallowing camels. I like the way that you appreciate the power of stories to shape worldview and the way that you put the responsibility on the parents to use wisdom and discernment with regard to whether their kids should see something even if it’s not communicating the right worldview. That’s a tricky thing because ultimately we want our kids to know how to handle and process those things—not just shelter them from them forever.

With regard to content, when I look at content on your reviews or any review, I’ll be honest with you: I haven’t even thought through whether this is a good thing or not. I think the first section I go to is things that are dealing with sexual content. If my kids are going to hear the f-bomb and they’re going to hear some language or they’re going to see some violence, sure I’m interested in knowing what that is and I’m concerned about the levels of those things. But, when it comes to sexual content, to me that just steps up to the next level. That’s where now we’re getting into the areas that are going to affect their relationships with how they view their spouse, how they view the intimacy of the marriage relationship and the exclusivity of that kind of intimacy.

There’s so many factors that play into that whole category that I think are extremely important. Those are images that should not be in our kids’ minds, or in anyone’s minds for that matter. Those are things that [are] reserved for the exclusivity of marriage. That’s a big red flag issue for me.

Like I said, all of [these content issues] are important. Worldview is important. Language and the use of words are extremely important. You can shape an entire culture by controlling the words. We see that in our generation right now. What is love? What is equality? What is freedom? What is justice? What is tolerance? If you can control words you can control ideas and the way people think. So, all of it’s important, but I think that’s my go-to with my kids in terms of the category and then I make my way through the list of the others.

Waliszewski: I actually have been seeing something lately that I’ve been calling “the abandonment timeline.” Maybe a Christian is exposed to something in media that is sexual—risqué dialogue, explicit scenes, nudity, something like that. Then they make some kind of sexual compromise in their life. The next step in the timeline is that person gets into pornography, or they start sleeping with someone, or they start having an affair. And then they’ll come face-to-face with a decision. They realize they’re being a hypocrite. They have to repent—which Jesus will easily offer forgiveness—but it’s easier not to repent. It’s easier just to say, “Forget this. I’m being a hypocrite. I’m not living this out right. I think I’ll just abandon it. It’s probably not working for me.” and then they abandon their faith.

We think that people often walk away from faith because that core faith structure was challenged in some way: Maybe they took a challenging philosophy class as a college freshman or something. But if you get down the root of the whole matter and ask, “Who are you sleeping with?,” it’s like, “Uh, how do you know?” Well, we know because you’re struggling with your spiritual faith.” Personally, I often think it has little to do with that young person’s philosophy class. It has a great deal to do with, “Who are you sleeping with?” But it goes back further than that. It began way back when as a 14 year old when they were looking at something they shouldn’t have looked at on the phone.

Cameron: You know, Bob. You’re right. That’s very insightful. Very, very insightful and I want to remember that. I’ve found that on the streets you go talk to people and they’re bitter toward God and they’re angry toward God and [then you] find out that they had a Christian upbringing. You’re saying, wow, you got parents who are praying for you. They just want to get off the topic and you ask them why. Ultimately if they’re honest, they usually come back to some kind of an issue [like you mentioned], or they were hurt and they didn’t deal with it. They just sort of went AWOL because God didn’t treat them the way that they think they should have, or it’s some kind of sin involved in their life that they just don’t want to give up. … They’ve decided to latch onto that and they know it’s incompatible with their faith, so they chuck their faith.

Be sure to check out part 2 of our conversation with Kirk Cameron. Also, thanks to strong demand, Fathom Events is adding two encore presentations of Connect: Tuesday, March 20 and Saturday, March 24, both at 7 p.m. (local time). Tickets will go on sale March 14 and can be purchased at participating theaters or by visiting www.ConnectMovie.com.


Who wrote this?

Bob Waliszewski is the director of the Plugged In department. His syndicated "Plugged In Movie Review" feature is heard by approximately 9 million people each week on more than 1,500 radio stations and other outlets and has been nominated for a National Religious Broadcaster's award. Waliszewski is the author of the book Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. You can follow him on Twitter @PluggedInBob.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very thought provoking article. I appreciate Kirk and Bob’s discussion on this topic that is near and dear to my heart. For me it depends who is going to be watching the movie. For my young son everything is a factor - language, violence and sex. For me I consider it all but will avoid disturbing, gratuitous sex and gory violence. I’m so grateful for Plugged In as a resource. I’ve been referring to it for nearly 20 years. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You ever realize that Kirk Cameron and Will Wheaton look alike?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm curious about the rest of you: what are areas you're ok with in a movie and what areas are in the zero-tolerance zone? (For me, the oks are violence that advances the storyline, kissing without anything after that, and 4 letter words that don't start with an s or f.) What about you, fellow commentators?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I read a review I go straight to the sexual content and language content. I will skim the violence section to see how much gore I am getting into, but I love how Pluggedin breaks down how many swear words in each film and discusses the sexual content. This aspect of the review really helps me decide whether I want to see a movie. 
With that said, I think I am strictest personally against sexuality than anything. Personally I think that a war movie should have strong language. It is just not realistic for it to be otherwise.The same goes for violence. Therefore my tolerance of these two categories is strictly on a film to film basis. I don't approve of junk movies or action flicks that think they are edgy by including gore and 50 f-words. When it comes to sexuality, however, I often will not see a movie if it has a sex scene in it, or most any scene that contains a skimpy bar or weird dance sequence. I try to avoid those scenes and virtual 'eye-candy' as much as possible. 
I do sometimes skim over the drug/alcohol content just to get an idea of what I am getting into, but it has never concerned me. The types of movies that joke about drugs and that feature a lot of smoking drugs and taking drugs are generally not in my taste anyway, so I often won't be reading the review if I think that it is that kind of movie. 
I hope this makes sense!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That's pretty much the same for me, too. That's a good point you made about war movies and language, as long as it's not excessive.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For me, content is subjective to context. However, I have some general rules: No sex scenes. No f words or egregious abuse of the Lord's name. No extremely gruesome violence. In other words, I don't watch many R-rated films! 

There are some exceptions, all of which revolve around context: In a movie whose overall message(s) I approve of, I might tolerate sexual content as long as it does not contain nudity (examples might include something like 'Groundhog Day' which has some implied sexual activity but no nudity or other explicit elements). In a movie whose overall message(s) I approve of, I might tolerate f-words (examples might include war movies like 'Black Hawk Down' or the more restrained 'Dunkirk' where the seriously intense circumstances make the characters' use of foul language understandable. Still not okay, but understandable). In a movie whose overall message(s) I approve of, I might tolerate gruesome violence (examples include movies like 'The Passion of the Christ' or 'Hacksaw Ridge' where the film is overwhelmingly positive but also inseparable from its violent context). 

Basically, if I think a movie will lead me near an occasion of sin or make me so uncomfortable that it is inappropriate and wrong, I avoid it. If I think that it will ultimately be edifying and lead me closer to God or encourage moral development, I'm willing to watch it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm OK with any content, as long as it serves the story and isn't gratuitous or shocking just for the sake of shock value. It's all on a sliding scale.

For example, I can watch The Exorcist over and over because its violent and sexual imagery are there to illustrate the depravity of evil. However, I've walked out on big-budget action movies where the violence is much less graphic than in The Exorcist but it doesn't do anything to enhance a compelling story or well-drawn characters. Same goes for all those cookie-cutter Saw movies, which are just gore for gore's sake.

Another example of the justifiable use of violence is Hitchcock's Psycho. The violence was shocking for its time, but it's pretty tame by our standards. The reason people still watch and enjoy the movie today is because the violence is all part of a supremely stylish and well-executed package. If the violence was just there for shock value, that shock value would have faded over time and the movie wouldn't be anything more than a historical curiosity. What are the chances that people will still be watching Saw sequels in 50 years?

Same thing with profanity: Movies like Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski, Magnolia and The Departed can get away with wall-to-wall profanity because they're well-made, and because the dialogue is witty and true to the characters. But if the screenwriters are just using it as a crutch because they don't have a good ear for the way the characters would really talk, I'm not interested.

Same thing with sex: If it's essential to the story, great. If it's just there to titillate, spare me.

-- The Kenosha Kid