I know I’m a bit late in commenting on this news, but I’ve been taking the time to think before I write. Think really hard. Because this is the kind of thing that once you announce your opinion about it, it’s going to isolate you from some people and push you closer to others. I generally try to stay away from criticizing people that I disagree with on spiritual matters. After all, we’re all wrong about something. But this time, I feel like I really have something to say. In fact, I feel like I owe some people an apology. Non-believers.
For starters, and just for a little context, I’m a Christian. I believe that Jesus died for our sins. I don’t really want to get into anything else doctrinally. So just know that I try to be a follower of Christ and I’m not ashamed about it in any way. I fail often. If you’re human, you probably do to. But my loyalty lies with Jesus, who I believe is the son of God. Faith is becoming an extremely political thing. Actually, I guess it always has been and always will be, across all faiths.
The “Restore Stephen Baldwin” campaign is, on it’s surface, a seemingly “nice” thing to do. A bunch of people who share Stephen’s faith attempting to band together to do something nice for him. Pay off his debts. But in our increasingly political and show-boating ego-driven world, the people running and endorsing the campaign have taken a nice idea, and effectively, blown in out of the water into La La Land.
First things first, an explanation of the campaign. The website, www. Restorestephenbaldwin.org is the place to go if you want to research this yourself. The website likens Mr. Baldwin to the biblical figure of Job. This, in my opinion, is their first mistake. Job has everything taken away from him by Satan. God himself opened Job to loss and destruction because he believed that Job was so faithful a man, that no matter what suffering Job endured, he would not turn his heart away from God.
But Stephen Baldwin is nothing like Job. He has not lost his family members, his cattle, his belongings, his health. He is not in mourning in a desert, crying out to the heavens for answers and suffering through the worst torture a man could endure. He’s broke. Kind of like the rest of America right now.
Here is what the website has to say about why they are running this campaign. “In 2002, he (Baldwin) had an experience that changed his life forever. He became a Born Again Christian, giving his life to Jesus Christ. Over the next few years, he became very vocal about his faith, using his spotlight to boldly preach the gospel. However, because of his convictions it has caused him the loss of many jobs and the most recently, a highly publicized bankruptcy.
He has been publicly ridiculed and insulted by people who think that he has been abandoned by God. A simple search through the internet will reveal that people not only mock Stephen, but mock God.In response to this (with the permission of Stephen’s ministry President Daniel Southern) we have established RestoreStephenBaldwin.org. A privately funded and managed website. Our vision is to see Stephen Baldwin publicly restored in front of millions. Stephen’s platform will increase allowing him to reach even more people with the Gospel and God will get all of the glory. Publicly.”
My next question would be, does the Restore Stephen Baldwin campaign have complete access to Baldwin’s financial records? Is he actually broke because he’s being persecuted, or are there other reasons? Mismanagement of money, bad financial decisions on his or one of his people’s part, or even a choice on his own part not to work? The theory is that Stephen doesn’t get work anymore because he’s a Christian. This isn’t true. He simply refuses to take roles that he feels would contrast with his faith.
I wonder about this decision. After all, Denzel Washington is a Christian and an actor and he is fully comfortable taking roles playing the scum of the Earth (Training Day). Washington even once said in an interview that he felt like he was fulfilling his faith obligations by playing that role and that he kept one Bible verse in mind while playing the villain. “The wages of sin is death.”
This begs the age-old (and I guess unsolvable in one little column) question, if you are a Christian artist, are you restricted to portraying only good things, an unrealistic world where nobody misbehaves and there is no sin? My conclusion is “no”, because it’s not truthful. But if Baldwin was honestly convicted of this decision to turn down roles with certain types of content, as I honestly believe he could have been, then why can’t he do another type of work? More importantly, why isn’t he trusting the Lord to provide for him as he transitions to whatever God has next for him? We all go through tough times, we should all be able to lean on our church family, but I believe that this movement is actually trying to step in for God instead of letting him act and work something out in Baldwin’s life.
Like the rest of America after the recent financial crisis, can Baldwin not downgrade his standard of living to something he can afford? Can he get work that isn’t acting? Maybe he can sling hash, start a radio show, work at a gas station, get an office job, anything other than accepting money from strangers that could be going to better causes. Where is his humility? If he had any sense, he would refuse every dime and tell people to donate to other worthy causes while he puts his efforts and trust in God to move forward in his own life.
As Christians, we’re supposed to feed orphans, give shelter to widows, and care for the elderly. I don’t care what you think about this, Jesus said he would know those who loved him by how they feed his sheep. So I’m not arguing against the very ACTS like act of giving to those who need it. But does Baldwin need it? What about the children of Haiti? Those sick in our own country, cities, and neighborhoods? Why has this movement, something so radical it could actually work, not been started for the ordinary John and Jane Doe that this has surely happened to in the past? Why now? Why for him?
My final question is, what is the ultimate point of the Restore Stephen Baldwin campaign? They say that it is to give glory to God, to shame the non-believers into seeing the power of the body of Christ, to act and demonstrate the power of God. To which I say, you can’t do that! There was one man who changed the world forever by displaying the grace of God, and it was Jesus. No matter what kind of great showy act you commit, you can’t do what he did. Bottom line.
Do they honestly believe that they are going to help non-believers (or whatever you want to call people who aren’t Christians, the phrase “non-believers” feels kind of icky to me for some reason, but you get what I’m getting at…) understand the sacrifice of Jesus by making Stephen Baldwin financially solvent? I smell a rat. Something stinks of ego and effort.
After all, if these people felt convicted to help Baldwin, why wouldn’t they do it behind closed doors privately and secretly, giving the way God tells his believers to give. Not for attention. Not for God’s glory…I mean really, do we think he needs us to bring him glory? I think we certainly can, in grace and humility, but movements like this, I believe serve some purpose other than God’s. Or are, at the very least, innocuous and unconvincing. Damaging the credibility of other believers and politicizing something that just isn’t an issue of faith. Even though they want it to be so badly. They want to show the people who “mock God” who’s boss. But those who don’t know the Lord don’t even know they’re mocking God. Why this childish need to get people to agree with you vs. being an actual witness through loving grace and a humble attitude?
Even though I can’t put my finger on it exactly, I think this has something to do with the need for vindication. Maybe the church gets sick of being made fun of, to which I say, join the rest of the world. Ridicule is part of daily life. Take your weariness and you embarrassment to God in prayer. Not to the internet in an attempt to “show off”, effectively shaking a finger in the face of non-believers to antagonize them into agreeing with you. It won’t work. Never has, never will. The loose parallels and pained connection to Job don’t work. It feels forced. It feels…embarrassing.
I’m not being loving enough in my criticism, I know that. But I’m angry. I’m angry that there are pastors and people in positions of leadership in the faith community that can’t see how this doesn’t help anyone but themselves…and well, Stephen Baldwin. I’m sorry to all the non-believers out there struggling to pay their bills and feed their children that have to read about this movement to restore a mildly successful movie star to his life of luxury. Even if he lives like the rest of us struggling mid-westerners, it’s a luxury compared to how almost everyone else on this planet has to live. Without clean water, without health care, and without knowing how they will survive. I’m really really from the bottom of my heart sorry. We don’t all feel this way about matters of faith and money.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that this happens, that Baldwin becomes solvent, and thousands of people who never believed in the power of the Lord before will totally get it and fall in love with Jesus. I don’t wish any personal ill or debt on Baldwin or the organizers of this campaign, I just think they’re missing the larger point. But I think this will go the way of the buffalo, it will dissolve like so many other acts of man that are trying to commit some great act for God. When really, all God asks of us is to love him and love people, and pray for others. To give and sacrifice from a place of humility, and to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”.