Chicago Catholics, have you heard that the film Unstoppable debuted in “select theaters” this week? If you’re like me, you may be thinking of the 2010 adventure/thriller of the same name, starring Chris Pine and Denzel Washington. However, this Unstoppable is something quite different. It’s a self-described “Christian film” that is created, hosted, and narrated by actor Kirk Cameron, and jointly produced with Liberty University (the nation’s largest Evangelical Protestant university). It seeks to answer the age-old question, “Where is God in the midst of tragedy and suffering?” and it sounds intriguing. So should Chicago area Catholics starting ponying up money to see the film?
To put it bluntly, I would argue we shouldn’t.
Of course, this doesn’t mean Unstoppable is a “bad” film or there’s anything inherently wrong with its message. It certainly sounds like it might be worth a viewing, and if I have an opportunity to see it for free, I’d likely screen the film myself. The subject matter doesn’t sound as though its anything exclusive to the Evangelical protestant viewpoint, either. Even if it were, there are numerous “Christian” films about protestant subjects that would be excellent and enlightening material for Catholics to watch and learn from: everything from the film Amazing Grace (about a British slave owner who converted to Anglicanism and embarked on a moral crusade to end slavery in the UK) to the film Billy: The Early Years (a biographical story about the famous Southern Baptist preacher Billy Graham). So what makes Unstoppable different?
The biggest issue a Catholic would take with Unstoppable lies not with its message, but its messenger. Although the film is aimed at “Christians”, according to its creator, if you’re not an Evangelical protestant, you don’t “count” as a Christian. Sadly, this the viewpoint of Kirk Cameron, and pastor Ray Comfort, who co-founded “The Way of the Master” ministry program together. Comfort has bluntly stated “Catholics aren’t Christians”. Trying to get non-believers to accept Jesus Christ as their savior is one thing, but Cameron and Comfort believe the only way a person can be “saved” is for the person to become an evangelical protestant like them. Worse, “The Way of the Master” ministry program actively encourages Catholics to leave the Catholic Church and advises its members on “How to Witness to a Catholic” and “turn them away from the erroneous doctrines of Catholicism” so they can be “saved”. On his website, the program compares Catholic veneration of Mary to the pagan worship of idols, and shows the statue of the Blessed Mother along side images of Buddha and Hindu gods. Comfort has vocally attacked the Pope in the past, and argued that the “Vatican encourages atheism”. It also wouldn’t be fair to say that “The Way of the Master” ministry program only targets Catholics (although the focus seems to be heavily on Catholics due to Catholics being the largest Christian church in the world). Comfort stresses the idea that only “born again” Evangelicals are Christians, and believes that his fellow protestants, such as “Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc.” also “cling to their denominations” and haven’t been “saved” by joining his. In short, it seems that their definition of “Christian” would exclude about 90% of the practicing Christians in the world today, including all faithful Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and non-evangelical or mainline Protestants.
Those who defend these tactics point out that all Christian organizations claim their way is the only “true” church, including Catholics, and that other Christian denominations are filled with errors and their members would be best suited by leaving that denomination and joining theirs. This is true, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church certainly does not claim that only Catholics can experience salvation, nor would it make an argument that Evangelical protestants are not Christians. If any Catholic were producing a “Christian-themed film” that welcomed only Catholics, and ran a ministry program telling southern baptists that they had to “turn away from the false prophet Billy Graham and accept the Pope in order to be saved”, it would be rather embarrassing for Catholics and I wouldn’t blame any faithful Protestant who was wary of the idea of financially supporting such a film. Denouncing other Christians as doomed is about as unChristlike as you can get.
On the other hand, by rejecting Cameron’s ministry, we should not reject the man himself. There is much to be said about turning the other cheek, and what lesson would it serve if Catholics were to treat Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron the same way they treat us? Cameron, however misguided his methods may be, sincerely believes he is doing it to save souls and bring people to Christ. Aside from his anti-Catholic efforts, there is much to admire about Kirk Cameron. He is perhaps best known for his starring role on the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains, but he has since used his talents for numerous other high profile projects. Cameron was raised an atheist, but came to know Jesus and developed a belief in God as a teenager, and converted to Christianity by age 17. Cameron then refocused his acting career in order to appear exclusively in family-friendly and positive films and television shows that focus on traditional moral values, and has been a staunch supporter of the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.
He has not been shy about articulating these beliefs in hostile environments either, and even the liberal news anchor Piers Morgan said he admired Cameron’s “courage and honesty” on those subjects. Liberal critics have claimed Cameron is “homophobic” and “bigoted” against gays, and confronted him with the question of how he would react if his son told him he was gay. He gave exactly the right kind of answer and responded in a manner that would make most faithful Catholics proud. Cameron answered that he would tell his son that he loved him and would always be proud of him and welcome him to his home, but as a good father he can’t celebrate his son having a gay relationship because it is morally wrong. Cameron also practices what he preaches: he and his wife Chelsea have been married since 1991, and they now have six children, four of whom were adopted.
Like all Christians, Cameron is a sincere man who unfortunately errs in judgment sometimes because he is a fallible human being. The promotion of “Unstoppable” is an example of this. The recently released and acclaimed Catholic-themed movie For Greater Glory has a storyline that was specific to Catholicism, but its message about religious freedom was embraced by all people of faith, and those who were curious about the movie were welcome to screen it for free at numerous church events. Unstoppable presents us with the opposite approach: it has a storyline specific to all people of faith, but the message behind the movie is to convert to Evangelical protestantism, and in order to see the movie for yourself, you can only buy tickets online through Cameron’s website. Then, you must screen it in “select theaters” authorized by him, and come to a live screening hosted by him via online broadcast (the closest to me was in New Lenox, IL). The price of a single ticket can cost upwards of $17 for an IMAX screening (though the usually price is around $12.50). Cameron’s opening night premiere on September 24th earned around $2 million in revenue, through more than 150,000 tickets sold and more than 700 “select theaters” around the country hosting the live screening simultaneously. I sincerely wish most of that money was going to a good cause. It’s unfortunate that Cameron’s ministry program has focused its efforts on convincing Catholics to leave the Church and reject Pope Francis.
In short, Catholics simply aren’t welcome at a “Christian” event run by someone who rejects Catholicism as Christian. Unstoppable is a worthy concept, but it is a terrible execution. It may make a nice profit, but profit means nothing if the money is used to divide and conquer Christianity rather than unite it in these troubled times when we need to put aside our differences and work together. As Catholics, let’s focus on other projects and partner with Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort when they go about things the right way. With the help of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, maybe one day they’ll realize we’re on the same team.