Way back in the early months of 1999 I pitched a quirky story to the editors at Sports Illustrated. Word had it that Cameron Mills, one of the recent heroes on Rick Pitino’s fantastic University of Kentucky basketball teams, was (at age 23) now serving as the team’s chaplain. Before long, I found myself driving throughout Tennessee and Kentucky alongside Mills and his spiritual co-hort, Johnny Pittman, talking hamburgers and Jesus and Satan and all things religion. It was a gay ol’ time, and while Cameron and I probably live on the opposite ends of most topics, he is a man I’ve always respected. I believe the resulting story made that clear.
Now 36, Cameron—a certifiable Wildcat legend—continues to head Cameron Mills Ministries, traveling the nation in an effort to share The Word. He also seemed to put a great deal of thought and time into these questions, which I certainly appreciate. Here, Cameron talks faith in God, faith in Coach Cal, how he wound up a Wildcat and how he’d take Emmanuel Lewis over fish. His website is here, and he Tweets here.
Cameron, welcome to the pearly gates … of the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So Cameron, the last time we spoke at length was (oh, my) 1999, when you were a recently graduated Kentucky basketball player starting up his own ministry (Cameron Mills Ministries) and I was a young writer at Sports Illustrated. We drove around the south, debating God and Jesus and, as I recall, having a really enjoyable time. Hence, I’m going to continue this where I left off: You have devoted yourself to teaching and preaching The Word. On your website, you make it very clear that every passage in the Bible is without error. That it’s God’s word—period.
I say this with all respect (and that respect is genuine), but I just don’t see it. Is there really any proof that an all-knowing, all-powerful God exists, or has ever existed? Not faith—but absolute proof. Hell, maybe the earth is pure accident, and the things we find so miraculous are just, well, things. Example: The religious preach of the splendor and perfection of God’s creations. Well, people get cancer, heart disease, ALS. Poop smells terrible, caviar is disgusting, Jerry Sandusky was allowed to ruin the lives of kids, Hitler killed 6 million Jews. And yet, you and your ilk preach, “Have faith! Have faith!” When something good happens, it’s God’s will. When something bad happens, we need to have faith. I’ve never found a true reason to believe. In fact, it seems there are a million more reasons not to. Why am I wrong?
CAMERON MILLS: I will say that I understand your perspective and why you believe what you believe. There do seem to be a lot of reasons to not believe in God but I think there are as many reasons to believe. Is there proof? No, I don’t think there is proof but I do think there is evidence. I would simply say that as the Bible promises if you search for God with all your heart you will find Him. I also believe that you will find evidence from science that God exists. It honestly takes as much more faith to believe that we are here by accident as it does to believe that we are here by God’s plan.
As far as the evidence how about the many, many different prophesies regarding the life of the messiah in the OT and the fulfillment of those in the person of Jesus Christ in the NT. A great read on this entire issue is the book by Lee Strobel entitled “A Case for Christ”. Mr. Strobel, who at the time was an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune started his book as an attempt to prove that Christianity was false and nothing that anyone should believe in. In doing his research he eventually became convinced that Jesus was the Son of God. He has also written “A Case for Faith” which is similarly details the reasons for believe in God.
As far as why bad things happen, we live in a fallen world where evil is alive but I believe that whether good things or bad things happen it’s all part of God’s will. His will may not make sense to us all the time but it’s still his will. God is in control.
J.P.: Along those lines, I’m guessing you believe prayer works. How do you explain that to the family members of 9.11 victims who prayed every day? To those facing ethnic cleansing and tribal warfare? It seems to me the people preaching prayer are, generally speaking, either those who have enjoyed great fortunes or has-been celebrities freshly removed from the ninth stay at Betty Ford.
C.M.: If your only relationship with Christians has been based on Christians in America then I can certainly see why you would think that those who preach that “prayer works” are the ones with the money or the ones in desperate circumstances. However in many countries around the world there are Christians who have nothing. They aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from and yet these peoples prayer life are among the most powerful. They truly rely on God for everything because of the dire circumstances they are in and yet many of these people that I have met live in the greatest peace that I have known. I think part of the problem is that we tend to think the majority of prayer consists of us begging God for things. When in reality prayer is a two-way conversation. Prayer is supposed to be us listening to God more than us talking to God. With that in mind I find that in moments of desperation when I find myself praying I need to learn to listen.
As far as the pain that is in this world, the Bible teaches that from the beginning of human life on earth that evil has been let loose as a result of humans turning away from God. We brought evil into this world with our sin and as a result of that sin we have things like 9-11 or Katrina or any personal tragedy that we all deal with in our personal lives. John 10:10 says, speaking of Satan that “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy”.
J.P.: Your father Terry was a Kentucky basketball player from 1968-71. Coming out of Paul Laurence Dunbar High, you were offered a full scholarship to Georgia by Hugh Durham … and turned it down to walk on at Kentucky to play for Rick. That strikes me as the sort of risk a basketball-loving kid doesn’t take. So why’d you take it? And in the early years, when you were on the bench, did you ever fear you made the wrong decision?
C.M.: …or a basketball-loving kid might want to be a part of the greatest college basketball tradition there is. But I actually agree with you from the standpoint that if I truly loved basketball wouldn’t I love to go somewhere with more guaranteed playing time. I knew that there was a possibility that I would never see significant playing time at Kentucky but my childhood dream was do play for UK. I would certainly never fulfill that dream if I wasn’t even on the team.
I actually never regretted my decision. It was amazing to simply be on the team and I could not have asked for things to have gone any better. I was a part of the 1996 National Championship team and I eventually got playing time and actually helped my team get to two more Final Fours in 1997 and 1998 and of course we won it all again in 1998.
J.P.: In an interview with aseaofblue.com from last year, you praised the job John Calipari has done at Kentucky. I was a little surprised by this, because—to be honest—I feel like something has been lost in college basketball, and men like Coach Cal are a big part of the reason. When you and I were in college, most players were there for three years, if not four. The players were part of the college; part of the community; part of the culture. This is just a guess, but I’m assuming John Wall has spent as much time in Kentucky as I have. It was a business move for him, nothing more, and had nothing to do with education. I know this isn’t all Cal’s fault, that he’s simply playing the system. But how can someone like you root for players who are merely rentals? Can the same sense of passion still exist?
C.M.: It is hard to develop the same love for these players when they are only here for one year. And yes, I wish the rules would be changed to keep the kids in school for at least two years but the bottom line is that college basketball has been a farm system for the NBA for many, many years. These kids all dream of playing in the NBA, I did as well (though my dream turned out to be not very realistic), and to keep them in college one minute longer than they need to be is dangerous to their careers. On one hand I know that is not what colleges and universities are ultimately all about but on the other hand it is. We encourage our kids to go to college not so that they can get an education but so that they can get a good job once they get their degree and most often a “good” job means a high paying job. What is better than a job where you play a game and get paid millions of dollars to do so. That seems like a pretty good job. The hope though is that these kids are smart with their money and once their career ends they become a productive member of society.
The flip side is that Coach Calipari not recruit the players that have the potential to jump to the NBA quickly. I’m not sure any college basketball coach has had sustained success by not going after the best talent. Coach Calipari is not doing anything that every other Coach is doing. He’s just been successful in landing many of these kids.
J.P.: What was your absolute greatest moment as a college basketball player? Your absolute lowest?
C.M.: Easy, winning the National Championship in 1998. The best part was celebrating with my teammates for the next few months.
J.P.: On your website it says, “Since the age of 7, Mills had steadfastly followed a divine path. It began with his initial profession of faith, which he made in response to a televangelist’s call to repentance, and was confirmed over the years through FCA, his local church, his family’s love, and Mills’ own God-given gift to connect with people.” I have two kids, both of whom attend Hebrew school on Sunday mornings. I’m VERY torn over this, because I sorta feel like religion should be treated similarly to sports teams pursuing free agents. Maybe people should hold off on religion until, oh, 21, when they’re mature enough to consider all the options. I mean, you’re Christian, in large part, because you were raised Christian. Had you been adopted by a Jewish family at 6 months, you’d probably be sitting alongside me, bored out of his skull at Yom Kippur services. Don’t you think it’s sort of weird to preach a lifelong belief system to a kid who can’t tell the difference between CAT and CAR?
C.M.: I understand what you’re saying but you are also assuming that the decision I made had more to do with an “education” or “indoctrination” than an actual encounter with God. It’s true I was raised in a Christian home in the buckle of the Bible-belt. But the being or becoming a Christian is a very personal decision, not one your parents make for you. There are many people all over the world who have had the exact same experience I have had with God and yet they were born in Jewish homes, Iraqi homes, Chinese homes, New York homes, Russian homes. At some point all Christians have come to the conclusion that they are sinners in need of salvation and they call on the name Jesus. This simple act changes you fundamentally as a person.
As far as my making that decision as a seven year old, I made my decision when I felt the compulsion from deep down in my gut. This was something that I had to do.
J.P.: I have a theory—tell me what you think. I believe the only reason homosexuality is considered sinful is because of religion and, specifically, Christianity. When people mock gays or damn gays to an eternity of hell or insist that homosexuality is an abomination, they always—always—cite biblical versus (They also call it “unnatural”—often while sipping soda out of a plastic cup). Hence, I sort of blame religion on the homophobia that has poisoned this country. I mean, why is it so bad to be gay? Why is it so wrong If gays marry? Why can Kim Kardashian marry some dude she’s known for five months, but Jim and Steve—life partners for 20 years—are immoral sinners?
C.M.: In part I think you’re right—the Bible is very clear that homosexuality is a sin and Christians will quote from scripture those verses dealing with this issue. The idea of some people “damning gays to hell” is somewhat absurd to me because though I do find that Scripture speaks to the sin of homosexuality I don’t see where it says it’s any worse than lying, stealing or adultery. I think many Christians have gone overboard on their combativeness of this issue and can border on or come across has hate, for some people it does turns in to hate.
To your other points, America isn’t the only country that has many people who believe that homosexuality is wrong so I don’t think you can blame homophobia only on American Christians. Also if you are a person that doesn’t hold to the Bible as being the Word of God then I can understand why you wouldn’t think there is anything wrong with homosexuality. I do hold to the Bible as being true and so all I can say is that though there is no difference in between the sin of homosexuality and the sins that I struggle with, they are all sins.
C.M.: The belief in the idea of a God who loves you so much that he died for your mistakes so that you could enjoy eternity with Him transforms a person’s life. As a result of His love for you, you are encouraged to love others to live a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I will admit that many people who call themselves Christians or are Christians don’t always showcase these attributes but many do. I would argue that a life in which you are moved to acquire and live within these characteristics makes your life better and makes everyone else around you life’s better. So no.
Part of Christianity is a call for us to live as Christ did, even if there is no salvation, no God, no heaven and no eternity how can living as Jesus did be a bad thing for you or our world.
J.P.: After you graduated from Kentucky you immediately entered the ministry. You could have played overseas, I’m guessing, but didn’t. Those opportunities don’t come often, and they don’t last long. Did you ever regret it? Ever think back and say, “It would have been cool balling in Slovenia?”
C.M.: I felt called to ministry since I was twelve years old. I have been blown away by the forgiveness of my mistakes by Jesus and I want everyone to know about the Gospel. I couldn’t wait to try to show others the difference he can make. Basketball was a big part of my life but not nearly as big as Christ was. I will say this though, my brother, who was a better basketball player than I was, did have an opportunity to play professional basketball in Italy. I wasn’t happy when he turned that down, but for selfish reasons. I would have loved to live off of his dime for weeks on end in Italy.
J.P.: Do you believe that ministers should involve themselves in politics? For example, if you don’t believe a Mormon should be president, is it your obligation to speak out against Mitt Romney? If you think Barack Obama isn’t godly enough, do you tell your followers such? And, along those lines, could you vote for a non-Christian political candidate? Say, a gangly Jewish writer from up north?
C.M.: My voting tends to hinge on a very specific issue. I’m not smart enough to know if big government or small government is better. Do the Democrats or the Republicans have the best ideas on the econom?. I do know this—the political party that is out of power will say anything, ANYTHING to try to convince people that they should be in power.
Democrats and Republicans will both say something completely opposite from what they said a year ago if they think they can use it to convince the electorate that they should be elected. But one thing I am very passionate about and something that will turn my vote is the abortion issue. I am utterly convinced that life, from conception on needs to be protected.
No, I wouldn’t speak out against Romney and I have no problem voting for someone that doesn’t share my faith. Nor do I involve my ministry in political events or candidates. I believe Christians should vote as I believe all Americans should vote. But I ultimately believe that God is in control of all things.
• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details …: I was flying from Memphis to Lexington last year and we had to fly through a line of storms. Not only was in incredible bumpy but our initial approach to Lexington was very scary. High banks, quick falls and we even missed the runway twice. It took three approaches to get on the ground. My stomach was in knots and was very relieved to feel the tires touch down. Not fun.
• This is one of my all-time favorite TV clips. What’s your take?: My immediate reactions were these: 1. Anybody can sound intelligent and clever when a script is written for them; 2. Does he not know any of the New Testament? Or can he only argue in Old Testament. The New Testament speaks to homosexuality as well; 3. Regardless of what your personal thoughts, the President is the President and it seems to me that she was simply trying to be obstinate for attention; 4. I think Dr. Laura was mean most of the time.
• Rank in order: Hot chocolate, Tupac, Wayne Newton, The Wonder Years, Emmanuel Lewis, Celine Dion, fish sticks: 1. Hot chocolate; 2. Wayne Newton; 3. Emmanuel Lewis; 4. Celine Dion; 5. The Wonder Years; 6. Tupac; 7. Fish sticks.
• What do you fear more—death or aging? And why?: I think aging. Though our country does significantly better than most in dealing with the needs of our elderly I think it can be a very depressive time of life for many. Skilled Nursing Facilities, though necessary are among the most depressive places we have. Growing old his so difficult for may reasons.
• Why didn’t Ron Mercer become an NBA star?: I don’t really know. Maybe that’s a question for him—@rmercer33.
• Tomorrow night, you start for Kentucky at shooting guard. What’s your stat line?: In my current conditioning I play 35 seconds and have to be taken out of the game. I bet I do foul somebody in that 35 seconds, though.
• Do we need more of Jesus’ teachings in public school?: We already teach many of His teachings. The only thing we don’t teach is that he was the Son Of God and salvation can be found in Him. So that would be good to add.
• My dog Norma keeps peeing on the carpet. What should I do?: Reward her when she pees outside. Or I guess you could get cats but who wants that?
• Tony Delk and you, 10 rounds of boxing. What happens?: It’s declared a forfeit when I don’t show up. Have you seen his arms? They’re 10 feet long and made only of muscle.