In the decades since actor Kirk Cameron last played the dashing and daffy Mike Seaver on Growing Pains, the former Tiger Beat heartthrob has transformed into a steadfast troubadour of the conservative values he’s adopted since becoming a born-again Christian at age 17.
On Friday he appeared at the 2012 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., speaking alongside some of the nation’s most polarizing political figures—Michele Bachmann, Laura Ingraham, Jan Brewer, and Paul Ryan among them. Cameron proved as controversial and outspoken as his comrades on the dais, making headlines for proclaiming his desire for the U.S. to go “back in time” so that Democrats would realize the need to reclaim the alleged values of the Founding Fathers. “According to our forefathers,” he said, “God is the platform.”
The blogosphere quickly seized on Cameron’s remarks, which invoked, among other things, the plot of Back to the Future. “If only my name was Marty McFly and I had a DeLorean!” he said. “And I could go back to [the Founding Fathers] and ask them, ‘What are we doing wrong?’” His 20-minute speech also took on abortion: “We change only two letters in the word abortion, and we get the word adoption.”
Those not familiar with Cameron’s later-in-life role as a conservative button pusher may be surprised to find the ’80s sitcom star as a marquee speaker at a summit featuring such conversation-starting politicos. But the truth is, He Who Played Mike Seaver has been no stranger to controversy in recent years.
For example, Friday was not the first time he expressed his desire to be Marty McFly. Cameron spoke with The Daily Beast’s Ramin Setoodeh in March following statements he made about the gay community on Piers Morgan’s CNN talk show. Asked about his views on homosexuality, Cameron told Morgan, “I think that it’s unnatural. I think that it’s detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.” The response included denouncements from his Growing Pains costars Tracey Gold and Alan Thicke.
He’s since accused Morgan of twisting his words. But the loud reaction speaks to how popular and influential Cameron has become as a right-wing figure. He was speaking with Setoodeh to promote the documentary he produced and narrated, Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure. Much like his Values Voter speech, the film explored the need to return to the Founding Fathers’ ideals. “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,” he told The Daily Beast.
It was his second consecutive film that catered to conservative audiences. In 2008 he starred in Fireproof, a critically derided movie about a firefighter trying to save his marriage from divorce. Shot on a shoestring budget and staffed mostly by church volunteers, it went on to gross $33 million, almost entirely through word of mouth within the religious community.
But Cameron’s post–Growing Pains profile has been building for a long time. The actor, 41, says he was an atheist in his early teens, but had a crisis-of-faith moment at age 17 after a fellow actor invited him to a sermon by Pastor Chuck Swindoll. Insatiable study of the Scriptures followed as Cameron began to identify as a born-again Christian.
He began clashing with the cast and crew of Growing Pains, demanding that racy or immoral storylines be scrapped. But not everyone was turned off by his new beliefs. Cameron ended up marrying his on-screen love interest, Chelsea Noble, and the two have been trumpeting their values together ever since—including in a kissing scene in Fireproof in which Noble stepped in for an actress playing Cameron’s wife because he thought it would be immoral to smooch her.
In 2007 Cameron participated in a debate, titled Does God Exist?, that aired on ABC’s Nightline. “Proving the existence of God is actually a lot easier than you think,” said Cameron, who debated atheists. Two years later he stirred the pot when he helped organize the distribution of an alternate version of The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin’s landmark work explaining evolutionary theory, at universities around the country. His version contained a 50-page introduction picking apart Darwin’s arguments and had key chapters missing.
It’s only recently that Cameron has become more outspokenly political. After Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape,” Cameron came to his defense. “This is a man who is advocating the sanctity of life through and through,” Cameron said. “He said he misspoke, and he apologized for it.” He also recently endorsed Roy Moore, “the Ten Commandments judge” who erected a monument to the biblical rules in Alabama’s state judicial building in 2003 and is now running for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Nostalgic Growing Pains fans may be surprised by Cameron’s recent activism and perhaps wish for their own DeLorean to go back to the simpler times of Mike Seaver. But during the past few years the actor has been nobly adhering to the advice he gave to the crowd gathered Friday at the Values Voter Summit: “Vote your conscience and values.”