Hercules to Superman: Five ‘90s TV stars who became Christian right celebrities
US culture warriors have long targeted the media. If you watch Netflix instead of Pureflix, you may be surprised to find out who they’ve hired.
Hercules, Superman, Sabrina the Teenage Witch: If you watched TV in the 1990s, the faces who portrayed these characters will be familiar to you. But where are they now? If you watch Netflix instead of Pureflix – the Christian right alternative to the streaming platform – you may not know the answer.
Four years ago, undercover at the ultra-conservative World Congress of Families (WCF) summit in Budapest, I was surprised to learn that today’s threats to women’s and LGBTIQ rights involve internationally-connected and organised movements – that also target media and entertainment industries.
The WCF’s partners include Movieguide – a group that gives out annual ‘Christian Oscars’ awards. Pureflix is meanwhile allied to the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL), which aims to “effectively accelerate the advancement of the Kingdom of God into every where of society.”
After a six-month openDemocracy investigation, major aid donors and NGOs have said they will investigate anti-LGBT ‘conversion therapy’ at health facilities run by groups they fund.
But unlike the other aid donors, US aid agency PEPFAR has not responded at all.
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US culture warriors have long targeted the media. They have campaigned for example against depictions of non-heterosexual relationships’. They have sought to influence what we see on screens – and have also created their own media to erase sexual and reproductive rights from viewers’ screens.
But you may be surprised to find out who they’ve hired. Here are five ‘90s TV stars who have since become celebrities in this Christian right media world.
1. Kevin Sorbo (aka Hercules, on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, 1995–1999)
The lead actor on this ‘90s TV series, based on the classical Greek stories – about the son of a pagan god (Zeus) and a human woman – has become a superstar in the world of ultra-conservative US entertainment. He’s called abortion “the definition of evil” – and his Facebook page was removed “for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines”.
Last year, he and his wife Sam Sorbo starred in an anti-abortion documetary (Leaders for Life) that endorsed Donald Trump. His other recent credits include Let There Be Light (2017, about an atheist who becomes a Christian) and God's Not Dead (2014, about a Christian college student challenged by his atheist professor – produced and distributed by Pure Flix Entertainment).
2. Dean Cain (aka Superman on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, 1993–1997)
In the 1990s, he played reporter Clark Kent/Superman on TV alongside Teri Hatcher (later one of the Desperate Housewives). More recently, his credits as a Christian right celebrity include God’s Not Dead (2014) with Sorbo, and Faith Under Fire (2020), which Movieguide praised for its “very strong Christian, moral worldview advising viewers to let God work through them”.
He also co-starred in the anti-abortion film Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer (2018) – which was criticised as “purposefully misleading” and an example of how ultra-conservative propaganda gets into US cinemas. He’s also supported real-life restrictions on access to abortion in the US; spoken at an anti-LGBT group’s conference; and sits on the board of directors of the infamous gun lobby the National Rifle Association.
3. Chuck Norris (aka Sergeant Cordell Walker, on Walker, Texas Ranger, 1993 – 2001)
This actor, martial artist and internet meme is also vocally against expanding access to abortion – and claimed that gay people have no place in the boy scouts. In 2017, he spoke on an automated robocall message to voters endorsing an Alabama senate candidate who opposed same-sex marriage.
On screen, he’s also starred in Christan films including Bells of Innocence (2003) about a man who gives up, and then regains his faith. Behind the screen, Norris is also a businessman who has a bottled water company – CForce Water – which is an official listed sponsor of Movieguide’s awards.
4. Candace Cameron Bure (aka DJ Tanner on Full House, 1987–1995)
As an adult, this child star – who played the eldest child in the ‘Full House’ family – has also become a celebrity within Christian conservative circles. As a co-host of the talk show The View from 2015–2016, she supported a bill to defund the safe abortion provider Planned Parenthood in Ohio state – and also defended a baker in Oregon who had refused to make a cake for a lesbian wedding, saying “I don’t think this is discrimination at all”.
She’s been a Movieguide awards co-host (in 2019) and appeared in the 2015 Pure Flix film Faith of Our Fathers, which Movieguide celebrated for its “strong Christocentric, evangelistic message”. Her brother, Kirk Cameron – also a child actor on Growing Pains in the 1980s and early ‘90s – is now a televangelist who’s opposed gay marriage as “unnatural”, and COVID-19 restrictions as “communism...disguised in the costumes of public health.”
5. Melissa Joan Hart (aka Sabrina, on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, 1996–2003)
This former 90s TV star plays the lead character – Grace, an evangelical Christian teacher – in God’s Not Dead 2 (2016), produced by Pure Flix. She told the Christian Broadcasting Network: “It started out more like filmmaking and then it did turn into a bit of a Bible study. It was really cool to have discussions on set and have people praying over me for my performance.”
Off-screen, Hart also went into business opening a candy shop in California. It closed temporarily in 2011 amidst a lawsuit from a former employee who alleged wrongful termination and racial discrimination. (It closed permanently in 2015). She also hit headlines in 2019 for telling her son to be cautious of people who aren’t Christian as they may not be “good people.”
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