Listening in With Stephen Baldwin, John Wells & Alec Baldwin
- CCM Magazine
- 2004 5 Apr
When we heard that Stephen Baldwin ("The Usual Suspects", “Celebrity Mole”) was teaming up with Luis Palau’s ministry to create "Living It," a faith-based DVD featuring skaters and BMXers, the Hollywood actor had our attention. And when we discovered he and Cross Movement’s John Wells were good friends, we knew it was time to eavesdrop on a conversation.
But when they met for the interview in a New York restaurant, who should show up but Stephen’s older brother, Alec ("The Hunt For Red October", "The Cooler"), who was there for a press conference. We wish we could share the entire conversation (all two hours), but, alas, space wouldn’t allow. However, you can catch more of their discussion at CCMmagazine.com.
Alec: Did you guys just meet, or do you know each other?
Stephen: We met at a Christian hip-hop thing in Harlem that I just showed up at.
John: The Bronx. Rap-Fest in the Bronx.
Stephen: I only went there to see these guys.
John: Which was crazy.
Stephen: A big part of my whole freaky-deaky kind of tip early on in my salvation was that there wasn’t anything cool for me to watch or listen to. So one day I found a CD by the Cross Movement, a record called "Human Emergency." It was … as slammin’ as anything else I heard by Puffy or this or that guy. When I first heard Kirk Franklin, I said to myself, “OK, well, maybe this whole Christian content thing in relation to film, TV, music isn’t there yet; but it’s coming.” And one of the confirmations of that, for me, was your record.
Alec: What are you eating?
Stephen: I ordered the steak things on a stick. What do you call that?
Alec: You feel that slicing up and scorching the flesh of a cow is not any kind of impediment into the gates of heaven? But rolling the leaf of the tobacco plant and smoking that in your mouth – that is, of course, forbidden.
Stephen: Your body is a temple.
Alec: Your body is a temple, but to inject into the body the scorched, seared cow flesh is not an impediment?
Stephen: No. All things have been made clean. When Jesus came He made all things clean.
Alec: Jesus said, “I put the cows here for you to burn them and to consume them, to eat them”?
Stephen: Absolutely. (laughs)
Stephen: So what I was saying was that one of the things that was a push for me was "Human Emergency." And I was sitting there going, ‘I’ve gotta get in touch with Kirk Franklin; I’ve gotta get in touch with these guys, The Cross Movement and say: “Hey man, what can I do to help? How do we get together?’ It’s just very interesting for me to know that on the Hollywood side of things, whatever I could do to stitch it up or to be a part of creating new content that is not completely of the world would be cool.
John: I know that’s got to be a hard road. Being a Hollywood Christian is almost similar to what people would say about being a Christian hip-hop artist: It seems like an oxymoron. How is it possible for that to exist?
Stephen: Cross Movement is a hip-hop group of believers. You’re already in that genre, world, etc. Stephen Baldwin is a guy who the world sees as this crazy rebel guy, and now the Lord’s done snatched me up. I’m still in the transitional period where I know what’s going on with me, and I’ve completely submitted to it; but that world don’t know yet what’s going on with me.
John: Has it affected the scripts you take?
Stephen: Totally. I’ve got a wife who’s such a hardcore believer, and she came to the Lord before I did. She prayed for me, and the Lord has kind of set it all up for Stephen Baldwin. So now that I’m in this transitional phase. I’m having to turn down a lot of opportunities, which, obviously, translates into money. One year before Sept. 11 there was a potential actors strike happening, so the work process slowed down in Hollywood. Then after Sept. 11, everybody’s work slowed down. So I was kind of put into a little bit of financial stress. It got me thinking, “Lord why are You doing all of this? What is going on?” Not just for me but for the world, especially after Sept. 11. So I quickly figured out the less I focused on the worries of the world, the more I trusted Him. And part of that trusting process was not only the Lord testing me but me testing the Lord.
John: The Lord has been really using that same principle to really encourage my heart as I look at the obstacles we face in being hip-hop artists. There’s no radio railroad for us; there’s no video railroad. And then we don’t get that much support from the Christian industry. But when I think about the Lord continuing to meet me. ...
Stephen: My experience is that God has created a sequence of events so that all I would do was get the idea and the wonder of what it was God was doing. But I want to ask you a question because I’m really a tremendous admirer of the Cross Movement. What is the goal long term, and what is “holy culture”?
John: We were reading the Scriptures one day and just came across that part where Jesus was preparing His disciples; He’s going to the cross… . He was just laying down some stuff for them, you know, in light of the fact that He has to leave them. And He says, “I’m going to pray to the Father for you.” There’s one part of that where He says “Lord, I pray that You not take them out of the world.” And that is profound because a lot of times in Christendom, in a ministry period, or just in the Christian life, we isolate ourselves. As Christians, the Lord doesn’t want us to be isolated; what He wants is for us to be insulated. We’re still here to be in the mix, but we are to be separated in the sense that the Word of God ought to separate us; we ought to be separate. That’s what “holy culture” is.
Stephen: And that’s what’s inside the sleeve of the CD right – that Scripture?
John: As far as our mission, our goal, we feel like we’re sort of geared toward the hip-hop culture. Hip-hop has been pirated, man. Hip-hop was the mouthpiece for a community, the inner city. And you would have cats come out and spin records in the park not too far from where we are now in New York. And people would just come out – whether it was good times or dancing or whatever, it was expressed in that music. But today hip-hop is about sex, violence and immorality. It’s about everything that is anti-God. And here we come, part of the hip-hop culture that grew up in it but, at the same time, now that the Lord has come into our lives we’re very different. But the Lord didn’t tell us to separate ourselves. He didn’t take hip-hop out of us. Hip-hop still courses through our veins. But what God looks to do is take culture and show what He originally intended for it. God has a way of showing you, if you surrender, what He intended those things to really look like. That’s what our goal is — to show the world what a hip-hopper can look like when surrendered to the Kingdom agenda of Christ.
Stephen: That’s where I want to interject because it’s very interesting to see what the Lord has allowed for so long. And now it just feels like He wants to show the world what He can do when He wants.
John: How did you get saved?
Stephen: At one point, when I knew I was going to give my life to the Lord but hadn’t done it yet, my wife came up to me and said, “Honey, I love you. I just want you to know I’ve given my life to Jesus, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life serving the Lord. And I don’t know what you’re going to do, but I believe that we’re supposed to be together forever; but if you don’t kind of start thinking about what direction you’re headed, I can’t promise you we’ll be together forever.” If you think about that, that was my wife telling me, “I love you, but. …” Wow. She wasn’t saying it threateningly or giving me an ultimatum, she was just saying, “This is how convicted I am about my faith.” And it was in those words, in that exchange, that I wondered, “What is that thing she’s experiencing?” That was the hook for me. And then I started going to church and reading the Word. He [pointing to Alec] was at my baptism.
Alec: When they threw him in the giant aquarium.
Alec: In that giant fish tank, in that big thing with the thing. [Looking at John] In your own words, how long have you been saved?
John: Since around ‘89 or ‘90.
Alec: So, a long time.
John: Yeah, it’s been a minute. I’ve had an interesting little walk.
Alec: What precipitated that?
John: I just grew up trying to understand what life was all about. I came through high school and got an inkling of popularity and ended up playing basketball. Basketball answered the popularity issues for me in my life. I had the women, had the fame and all of that. During my senior year I didn’t get the scholarship like everybody else in prior years.
This is at South Jersey, Edgewood High School. I wanted to go away to college. I felt I was good enough to try out. So I go to a school in Atlanta. I did really well, but then I found out that it doesn’t matter how good I am because they’d already settled on what the team is going to be. Then I ended up going to another school in Virginia. They didn’t even give me a chance ... the guy said, ‘I already have the team.’ So I just said, ‘Forget basketball,’ and suddenly my life just had a great void in it because that was my life. So I started filling up my life with a lot of other stuff — a lot of weed smoking, drinking, a lot of parties, the ladies and all of that.
My dad never got a chance to go to college nor did any his brothers and sisters, so it was a big thing to go to college. He ended up quitting smoking and drinking at the same time, same day, just cold turkey. And every day he would put the change that he spent on cigarettes and booze in a jar. When the jar filled up, he’d take it to the bank, and when that got big enough he’d get a CD [certificate of deposit]. By the time I turned 18, he had enough money to pay for my college tuition. So here I am at college wasting the money that this guy worked for and put aside. …
Alec: In a special way. …
John: Right. And I felt guilty about that finally and said, ‘I’m just going to go home and have this good time.” I got with a friend of mine, we went home and got jobs at the post office; so we’re doing pretty well. All of the sudden, this guy messes my whole life up and comes to the job and says “Yo, I got saved.” And I said, “I’m saved too; I believe in Jesus.” So I went to church, and, because it was such a small and intimate setting, I swore they told the pastor something intimate about me because when he started preaching. And I got really upset because I’m like, “How dare they tell this guy about my life, and he doesn’t even know me?”’ I didn’t come back. And I don’t know how they got me there but about a month later, I went back; and it happened again. And it was so intimate; I knew he was talking about me. But this time it was stuff that nobody knew about. It was about deep issues of my heart, and it was who God was; and finally I understood what life was all about. I understood that there was a God who created all of this stuff; I understood that I was created and that Jesus Christ was God’s Son who came to Earth to solve these issues of why man and God aren’t connected anymore. This answer solved it for me. I heard about Christ being the one who died to pay the penalty for our sins because God is holy. I accepted that. And from there my life just started changing. It didn’t happen over night. I was in the church, you know, drunk and singing in the choir. It took time for God to take certain things from me. But the one thing I did know, I finally understood who God was and what His plan was, and I haven’t been the same ever since then.
Alec: How old are you now?
John: I’m 37, the same age as Stephen.
Alec: Is your wife a Christian?
John: My wife’s a Christian.
Alec: That makes a lot of difference in your life to have a Christian woman?
John: It’s a blessing to have a Christian wife, someone who understands what God intended. It’s not like people make it today. It’s so easy to get married, and then you’re divorced or whatever. But the idea is that when we come together, it’s supposed to last. You go through the good times, the bad times, for better, for worse — all of those things. But the other ingredient that the Christian has is that God is involved in that process.
Alec: It’s funny because the thing I think people move toward as they mature, as they age, as they have their experiences, is a kind of life that they begin to recognize and then actively seek, which, without knowing it, is the Christian life.
John: It’s interesting you say that.
Alec: A life that is more simplified. Less substandard. More devotion toward helping other people with their experiences on earth.
John: You know the reason for that? Life doesn’t make sense outside of how God created it to be lived. How many people do we know who base their lives on something else and don’t seem to be able to find fulfillment? That’s because fulfillment can’t be found in this life without coming to know the One who created you. It doesn’t make sense. What would life really mean? It’s interesting you say that because I agree with you. As I’m getting older and realizing that as you get closer to that part where, you hope to live a long life, but ultimately we still have to die.
Stephen: And I just think that part of why I want to do what I want to do in the future is because there just isn’t content out there on a street level within the Christian marketplace that these kids can relate to. That cheesy Christian thing, that’s gotta change.
John: Everybody wants to be relevant. But the second half of that was that we need be insulated, or Christ said to be sanctified, set apart. But how is it that you’re going to be relevant because sometimes when people over-emphasize the relevant part, you end up losing the distinction part? Ultimately, how do you [Stephen] plan to do that in movies and TV without being corny or considered …
Stephen: If the secular marketplace is cool, and God created everything, then God is cool. So why isn’t anybody saying that? But what it took was for you to get to a place so that God motivated you to go ahead and take that leap of faith — and me, too.
Stephen: There’s a whole world of Christian kids out there, Christian youth screaming to worship a certain way and that way doesn’t exist yet.
John: You’re talking to a man who knows that — who got kicked out of church. When they said early on the Christian hip-hop was of the devil, I got kicked out of the church!
Stephen: That’s why you’re doing "Holy Culture." That’s why I’m doing "Living It." And let me tell you man, "Living It" is blowing up.
John: I know it is.
Stephen: I went to Kevin Palau and said, “At Beach Fest in Ft. Lauderdale and at Luis Palau’s two-day concert with tobyMac, Third Day and all these wonderful artists, you set up a skate park; and I watched little kids watching Christian skateboarders, skate, do tricks and speak the gospel. You’ve got to take that footage and use it as an extension of your ministry.” And that’s how "Living It" was born. It’s the idea of trying to create some type of product that showed these cool skaters and BMXers are down for skating and BMXing and the Lord.
We’re going to be starting a Living It skate demo team. Actually, the requests we’ve already gotten for the "Living It" skate demo team are bigger than the number of athletes that are in "Living It." We’re going to "Boarders for Christ" out of Seattle, Washington. We’re going to "King of Kings" out of Long Beach, California. We’re going to these other skate ministries and saying, “Hey, we need your help.” So the Lord’s movement of the Holy Spirit within core sports is rolling; it’s happening. I was very excited about talking with you because I believe that this hip-hop and this core sports thing is going to cross over between one another. And when that day happens, that’s when that thing we were talking about, which is that thing that the kids are looking for, is going to happen.
John: I think it already actually has happened in that culture. But nobody’s done it yet, and that’s what I think is so amazing about this "Living It" project. Finally, somebody is bringing these different things together. I may not totally understand what you’re pulling together, but when I think about the skater culture, the BMX culture, the X games and as I listen to the music that they’re playing while they’re skating, there’s a lot of hip-hop in there, man. A lot of those kids are hip-hop fans. I think it’s already there; it just hasn’t been done well. It hasn’t been done that I know of in the Christian perspective.
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