She’s the star of “This Is Our Time.” She played Kirk Cameron’s wife in the surprise blockbuster “Fireproof.” But she grew up as the pastor’s kid at a megachurch. Was Erin Bethea the stereotypical fast-driving, hard-drinking, boy-teasing, cigar-smoking preacher’s daughter? After all, in “Fireproof,” she played an angry, bitter wife looking for the drama of an illicit affair. Is that the sort of teen she was back at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia?
Erin Bethea and Kirk Cameron in “Fireproof”
“I hate to disappoint you,” she says with a laugh. “For a while I dated a boy that my parents didn’t like, but I think everybody kind of goes through a little bit of that. For me it was different than many preacher’s daughters. I didn’t feel resentful or neglected because my dad was out there caring about everybody else. He was my best friend.”
But so many preachers’ kids live in a sort of Twilight Zone in which they are viewed by the gawking congregation as either very, very good little examples for the other children – or else awful little hellions suspected of shocking naughtiness behind the baptistry. There’s no in-between.
Erin says her parents helped her avoid that. She never felt like she was growing up in a fishbowl.
“I never had to put on a show of being the perfect child. My parents were brilliant about that. They just let me be a child. Somehow, they guided me so that I didn’t have anything to be extremely rebellious about. I just felt better doing what was right, so that’s what I did. I never felt driven to find the bad crowd to hang out with. I had a great group of friends and we were all really involved in church. It sounds a little bit goody, goody, cookie-cutter, but you know, we had a lot of fun.
“But most of it was because I have such a great family and we’re really close.”
Can she identify a time where she began to feel like her faith really wasn’t hers – just her parents’?
“I think it happened for me at the same age that it happens for a lot of people,” recalls Bethea. “At college, I realized that for the first time I wasn’t living under my parents’ roof. So who is going to know if you aren’t doing right? That’s where I had to decide who I was going to be
– and what I really believed. That was when I had to decide how I wanted to exercise my faith out there in the real world.”
Erin and friends
So, how many times as a college freshman did she skip going to church?
Bethea laughs. “A few weeks. You know, I skipped church more in college than I ever had in my younger life. It was like ‘Hey, I can sleep in. This is amazing,’ but I also found that I missed it. I found an incredible group of Christian friends who were just encouraging and we all sort of kept each other accountable. I was really, really blessed in that way. I think that was definitely part of God’s plan for me.”
A divine plan for each of us is the theme of Bethea’s new film, “This Is Our Time.”
Erin Bethea in “This Is Our Time”
“The takeaway is that God’s plan for everybody is different,” she says. “He had a unique plan for you when he created you. He created you as a unique individual. The Apostle Paul talks about that – you know, ‘I don’t have this gift and I don’t have that gift you know, but this is who God created me to be.’
“That’s a lot of what ‘This Is Our Time’ speaks to. I may not have this calling or that calling, but that doesn’t mean that my life has any less value – or that I can be any less used by God.
“He has called you to be something that He has not called anybody else to be.”
And that’s the story of Bethea’s life. She knows she hasn’t been called into ministry as a pastor or an evangelist or a missionary to Burma. Instead, she’s been given a unique set of talents which she uses on screen.
“Film is a wonderful medium for expressing truth,” she says.
How does she explain that to Christians who say we have no business having anything to do with Hollywood and its corrupting evil?
“First of all,” she responds, “God has not called us to enter a life of isolation away from the world. He has called us to be in it and to be a light. It is so fulfilling to serve our Creator through our creativity and to do it with excellence. I would hope that eventually people begin to see the movie industry for what it is, an incredible opportunity for
ministry and evangelism and an inspirational way to get the message out.”
Getting out the message is exactly why Bethea wanted to do this movie.
“In this film, there’s such a great message about ‘community’ – about how important it is to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth and who will challenge you and lift you up and encourage you. We all need friends who will confront us and be honest with us.
“Today, too many people live in isolation. God intends for us to grow and be uplifted and encouraged and learn from each other. We need our Christian friends.”
But there are those who would say that this movie is not a good career move for Bethea. For example, Pat Boone back in the 1960s took on several gritty movie roles that offended some of his Christian fans. Shouldn’t Bathea be taking on something a little more risky? Bad girl roles?
“Well, in ‘Fireproof,’ I was the angry, bitter, cheating wife who had given up in a struggling marriage! Is that ‘bad girl’ enough for you? I usually get cast as the mean girl – so in this new film, this is actually my first time playing somebody who is really sweet and genuine and lovely!”
Speaking of “genuine,” what about that rumor in ‘Fireproof’ that she didn’t actually get to kiss Kirk Cameron? That every time the script called for Bethea and him to embrace, they brought in his real wife for the close-up. Is there any truth to that?
Erin and Kirk Cameron
“There is,” she admits. “Actually, there’s only one kiss in the film and it’s right toward the end – a sort of epic moment for the two characters. Kirk has a policy about not kissing any actresses out of respect to his wife. So, it turned out it was a wonderful coincidence that Chelsea, his beautiful wife, was my exact same height and size
– so she made a perfect double in that romantic silhouette scene as they kissed.
No, that’s not Erin kissing Kirk Cameron!
“I think it’s actually nice when you’re watching the movie to know that you’re watching an actual married couple – who are madly in love with each other – kiss each other on the screen. It gives you a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling.”
With that in mind, what advice does she offer all those other preachers’ daughters out there who are trying to feel good about themselves?
“I would definitely say they need to know it only gets better,” says Bethea. “I have found that as I get older, my father is is my first and foremost source of advice. He’s so encouraging and he’s so supportive. Hopefully all of the PKs [preacher’s kids] out there have parents who are the same as mine. It’s really a blessing to have parents who have been called to serve hurting people.
“Over the years, that has given me a deep respect for my parents that I didn’t have when I was a teenager. Today, I’m really inspired by how hard they work.
“I marvel at the sacrifices they make to help hurting people.
“My parents are the sort of person I want to be.”