|Copyright (c) 2002
This month Irizarry creates a new role off-camera as the driving force behind an ambitious yearlong walk through the Bible for Christians in his hometown. "God kept putting it on my heart" to help people become more Bible-literate, he notes. He expected about 30 or so sign-ups. Instead, after a personal drive by Irizarry, nearly 200 people from seven churches committed to the program. Irizarry spoke with Beliefnet producer Wendy Schuman about his faith, his struggles with playing bad-guy roles, and whether there's any hope for Dr. David Hayward.
Do you ever feel it's hard to retain your faith and do what you do?
No, my faith informs pretty much everything I do. [Acting] is a very liberal vocation, and there have been times when I've questioned whether this is where I should be in my life as a Christian, whether I should be in the entertainment industry. But then I come up with the answer that I don't believe that God is telling Christians to pull out of the entertainment industry and abandon it to darkness. God has used me in many significant ways in my industry, even on just a personal level, one on one with some of the people I work with.
God has even used me through fans who have come together to form a group called "Friends of Vincent Irizarry." These are fans who've met on the Internet and started meeting each other at personal appearances I was doing. They came to me a year and a half ago and asked if I'd like to have a fan club. I said it's never really been an interest of mine, and I don't want to be in a situation where people are exalting me, coming together for me. They came up with this wonderful idea-a lot of them are women of faith-they asked, what if we used this as a means to make people aware of some charitable organizations that you're involved in? We had an online auction on Ebay with memorabilia from "All My Children," lunches with people from the cast, a tour of our show-we've raised $25,000 for a group called Hope for New York. In a year and a half we've raised $50,000. Right now we're sponsoring a home for Habitat for Humanity in Pittsburgh.
And this is because I know that God is using me in my industry.
But soap opera plots-with things like infidelity and murder-seem to show the worst of life.
I sometimes hear this from other Christians, how can you be an actor in soap operas and be a Christian? Well, our faith informs us that there's only one perfect human being who ever walked the earth, and all the others we're representing as actors are fallen man. I ask people, what movies are you seeing, what books are you reading that don't have antagonists and protagonists? Every story, when you boil it down to its bare essence, is the story of the battle between good and evil. And every story has a message, that usually good prevails. And that is our experience in life-that good does prevail and that there are consequences from evil. Because of man's fallen nature, people put themselves into situations that have consequences. It's cause and effect.
I could say, OK, I won't play this character on a soap opera, but why don't I play King David, who the Bible says was a man after God's own heart. But King David lusted after another person's wife, committed adultery, killed her husband, and covered it up. So God is showing us that even the best of the people in the Bible had their faults and committed heinous crimes.
[Laughs.] Not now, that's for sure. But the one thing I like about Dr. Hayward-he's a villain, by the way, I don't know if you knew that. He's an antagonist, definitely-but the great thing about him is that there's room for redemption. And there have been moments in the years I've been playing him that he's been humbled and he's had to make choices. Unfortunately, oftentimes he'll depend on his own strength and his old habits to pull himself up. But it's exciting because you never know-the day may come with this character where he may be completely transformed. It's happened to the worst of us.
Do you know many actors who are active Christians?
I'm on the board of Intermission, a ministry that brings together Christians in the entertainment industry-actors, writers, directors, producers, singers, dancers, everything. We have events, speakers, and even a theater company in L.A. There are 2000 members in L.A. alone. The whole purpose is to equip Christians to have an impact on the industry. We do Bible studies, and we just finished a fantastic one called Experiencing God, by Henry Blackaby. Before that we did a study of Philip Yancy's What's So Amazing About Grace? In the Experiencing God, the whole premise is that God is always working and that God desires to have an intimate personal love relationship with his children. He's equipped each of us for certain acts of service-He communicates to us through His word, through prayer, through communion with others, and even through events that take place in our lives.
Can you think of an instance in which God communicated with you?
This [Bible literacy program] is a perfect instance of this coming about. When I felt called to start it, I could easily have just ignored it, and in time it would have disappeared. But I prayed and said, OK, God, I'll take one step forward. If this is what you want, show me. And every time I took that step forward there was something encouraging that moved me to the next step. Even when I got out of my comfort zone, God moved me to the next level and opened it up greater than I ever could have imagined.
As an actor, I get the opportunity to worship a lot around the country, sometimes for extended periods of time because I may be doing a movie somewhere. When I was making Lying Eyes in Northern California, I was doing another study, Bible Study Fellowship, an intensive 7-year course. That was an amazing study. They have BSF meetings all over the world. I was able to do my BSF with gatherings in Los Gatos, in San Antonio, Denver, Vancouver when I was filming The Sentinel-all over the place. You can be studying anywhere in the world, and they'll literally all be doing the same lessons that we'd be doing in New York or L.A.
Because I got the opportunity to do that, I spent time with people from different churches and got a sense of how knowledgeable they are about the Bible. I knew that many people in my community who are Christians are not very knowledgeable about their faith. It's not a criticism, it's an observation, because I personally know that the Bible can be very intimidating. And people aren't aware of how relevant it is to us in our everyday lives. There are lessons to be gained everyday. And I felt like God was putting it on my heart to extend an invitation to people to read the Bible together, to help them in any way I can to become more Bible-literate. So I wrote a letter of introduction to about 15 churches, pastors of different churches, and seven committed to it. They're from six different denominations-Congregational, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, nondenominational, and two Presbyterian churches.
How is it set up?
We're using the Daily Walk Bible, New International Version, from Tyndale. We'll be meeting every other Tuesday in one of the churches to gain a teaching from these pastors, reverends or monsignors on what we've read for the two weeks prior and some insight into what we'll be reading for the next two weeks. We'll break into small groups that will stay together for at least six months, so people will get to know each other personally. One of the purposes is to become more attuned to where God is working in our community and to get to know the needs of the other believers. We're not there to proselytize or lead anybody from one denomination to another. Where there are denominational differences in teachings and interpretations, we'll consider those hot spots and not delve into them. We're going to respectfully agree to disagree and move on.
Why give yourselves a time limit?
I myself am very goal-oriented. If I don't have goal in sight, it's very difficult for me not to lose my focus; and I think a lot of people are like this. So this offers a daily discipline-you have five to fifteen minutes a day to read. I was appealing to several categories of people who would be right for this study. The first were people who had never read the Bible in its entirety; the second were people who had read the Bible but who had gotten to a place where they were either dry in their faith or they were having difficulty finding the discipline to be in the Word on a daily basis. Another category are people who are new believers and look at the Bible as intimidating, who don't know how to approach the reading. And another category are people who don't have a faith, who are curious about what it means to be a Christian, who don't understand why their spouse is perhaps forcing them to come to church every Sunday. We're hoping that in time some answers might be given and also that they might understand why our faith is so significant to us.