Actor not hiding faith under bushel basket

DALLAS–Stephen Baldwin had just told a packed auditorium of students gathered at The Criswell College for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Youth Evangelism Conference (YEC) about his conversion to Christ following the 9/11 attacks.

In the hallway adjacent to the stage, a purple-haired teen, probably 12 or 13 with eyes full of tears, bent Baldwin’s ears for several minutes before the veteran actor whisked him downstairs to the hospitality room to do more serious spiritual business.

After a 15-20 minute conversation, Baldwin gathered several others around and prayed with the student

“Good luck, man,” the teen told Baldwin as he stood to leave.

“I don’t need luck, dude,” Baldwin said grinning. “I’ve got Jesus.”

That Baldwin has Jesus is curious to some.

He’s the youngest of the Baldwin acting clan–with Alec, Billy and Daniel–and a veteran of more than 60 movies (“The Usual Suspects,” “8 Seconds,”) and television shows “The Young Riders” (1989-92), ‘Celebrity Mole” and “Fear Factor.”

His conversion and his work in producing an “extreme sports” DVD to reach kids in the skateboarding and biking culture has been reported in places like USA Today, the New York Times, salon.com, Fox News Channel and CNN. Lately he’s been a regular at Christian rock festivals and similar evangelical events–even advocating that Christians turn out for the November elections.

Baldwin said he’s not concerned with potential negative consequences of being a vocal Christian in the entertainment business.

“In my position, I just don’t think I’m supposed to keep my faith to myself,” Baldwin told the TEXAN.

“I’m just doing what the Lord’s telling me to do. You know, if the Lord’s not telling anybody else (in Hollywood) to (talk publicly about their faith), well, then God bless ’em. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are a lot of people who don’t put their faith before everything else, you know. And that’s a big problem. I’m just doing what the Lord’s calling me to do. Period.”

Baldwin told the 2,000 YEC students and sponsors how he came to Christ through the witness of his wife, Kennya, a believer of 10 years, and the 9/11 tragedy, which he called an “impossible” event.

” ‘If the impossible is now possible,’ ” he recalled thinking, ” ‘anything’s possible. And if anything’s possible–my wife’s a born-again Christian, I’ve been reading the Bible and I’ve been praying to the Lord to like, tell me what this is all about–then Jesus could come back tomorrow.’ That’s what I thought. ‘Well if Jesus could come back tomorrow, I’ve got a lot of work to do, because I ain’t the guy that I want to be when Jesus comes back.’ “

Baldwin said he made a covenant with God and was baptized at the evangelical church he and his wife attend in upstate New York.

His YEC appearance included a plug for the DVD he co-produced with the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, which he directed and hosts–aimed at the extreme or “core” sports culture of skateboarding and BMX biking, an $8 billion a year consumer segment with its own counterculture music and often hard-edged lifestyle.

The “Livin’ It” DVD was released this spring, the brainchild of Baldwin and Luis Palau’s son, Kevin; they conceived the idea last year after Baldwin attended a Palau organization event in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., featuring leading skateboarders who shared their Christian beliefs with youth attracted to the “core sports” subculture.

The 40-minute documentary (www.livinit.org) features extreme sports action, footage of engaging street outreach and stories from 11 top “core sports” athletes.

The Palau organization planned 10,000 copies for a 24-month distribution; in five months 40,000 DVDs have sold, Baldwin said.

A Long Island, N.Y., native, Baldwin, 38, told the YEC students the nanny he and his wife hired for their first child was Brazilian–like his wife–and was a devout Christian. She told the couple she believed God sent her to them to help lead them to Jesus; she even predicted they would become Christians and have a ministry, Baldwin said.

After Baldwin moved his family to upstate New York, Kennya began attending Bible studies and became a Christian. By September 2001, her faithful witness had moved Baldwin close to conversion, he said.

Baldwin told the TEXAN he sees how God, years earlier, was orchestrating his conversion. Raised a nominal Roman Catholic who didn’t attend church much after about age 10, Baldwin said his experience in his mid-20s in a 12-step recovery program awakened his senses to God, but it took no concrete form.

“In reality, there’s just no comparison to the experience I’m having now,” he said.

Baldwin said Jesus Christ has given him peace and has helped him be a better father and husband. “And I couldn’t do that unless I had some understanding of what God’s will was for me. And again, I only have that understanding because I know what it’s based on, which is the Bible, and I read it every day.”

Baldwin said since his conversion he’s had numerous discussions with his brothers about his experience. Baldwin’s brother Alec made news in 2000 after he said he’d leave the country if George W. Bush, a professed Christian, won the election.

“The Lord, very early in my walk, was very clear and just said, ‘I’ll deal with them.’ He said, ‘I need Stephen to focus on Stephen’s relationship with Jesus Christ.’ So I’ve just been walking my walk and I’ve been really busy with everything the Lord’s had me doing.”

Baldwin said Alec, for instance, has questioned him lately about his speaking schedule, which includes many Christian venues. They talk frequently and their kids play together, he said.

“Now with this election coming up, you know, people know that I’m a Christian, so people he interacts with are like, ‘Oh, so, what’s your brother doing?’ And what he explained to me most recently is—probably two to three times a week he walks down the street in New York and probably folks who are visiting New York City from the South and this and that … will go, “Oh, my, Alec Baldwin.’ And he’ll go, ‘Oh, how are you. Nice to meet you.’ And they’ll go, ‘Please tell your brother Stephen, God bless him for everything he’s doing for Jesus.’”

“He said he can’t get away from it,” Baldwin said, laughing.

“I just talk to people and I let them know that I act on what I believe, and that belief is based on the Bible. And I’ll tell anybody, ‘If you’re reading the Bible every day, and you share in that same understanding, then we can talk. And if you don’t agree with me, then you’re not agreeing with me based on your understanding.’ That’s what I like to tell people.”

During his YEC appearance, Baldwin lamented the number of Christians who didn’t vote in the 2000 presidential election and said the upcoming vote might be the most important in the nation’s history.

He stopped short of an endorsement, but said he would vote “for the guy who I think has the most faith.”

Baldwin said plans are being made to organize a “Livin’ It” bus tour for 2005 that would bring some of the top Christian “core sports” athletes to malls in cities across the country.

 

TEXAN Correspondent
Jerry Pierce
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