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An Egalitarian Examination of “Courageous” the Movie

(Movie spoiler alert!)

First off, Courageous (the most recent movie release from Sherwood Baptist Church, the makers of Fireproof) is far from a terrible movie. There are very funny scenes. The characters wrestle with real life struggles. It resists the hyper-sexualization of females that runs rampant in Hollywood movies. It touts important values like integrity, deep faith, sacrifice, and, yes, courage. So how could we have anything negative to say about this, a Christian movie? I’ve had people ask me. But, as a wise CBE member shared recently, the fact that it is a Christian movie is precisely why we must hold it to a higher standard. This movie is meant to reflect Christ, and to demonstrate how those in Christ’s kingdom are to live. So it begs our careful exploration of its subtle and not so subtle messages, weighing them against what we know to be true in the Bible. As Courageous is a movie focusing on the role of fathers, I can’t wait to read your thoughts on its messages about gender. Here are a few of my ideas and those of my brilliant co-worker, Liz Beyer, to get the discussion going (and also be sure to check out Jenny Rae Armstrong’s excellent take on the movie in the upcoming Winter issue of Mutuality!):

The Question of Responsibility

There stood police officer and main character, Adam, grieving the excruciating loss of his daughter, his princess, to a drunk driving accident. He was in his hallway between the bedroom of his son, who sat inside, emotionally distant and zoned out on a video game, and the bedroom of his late daughter, where his wife was sobbing on the bed after just moments earlier tearfully pleading with him to “make sense of this for her.” As he leaned against the wall in his grief, it was obvious: he was alone, and he didn’t know how to fix his family. What was less obvious, but still present: it was his job to fix it. And his job alone.

Responsibility is a huge theme in Courageous. The scene just described was a poignant example of the movie’s message that fathers carry heavy responsibility, even beyond what their wives carry. We see it in both obvious and less obvious ways:

  • The main characters challenge themselves to “step it up” as fathers, and sign a resolution that begins with: “I do solemnly resolve before God to take full responsibility for myself, my wife, and my children.”
  • The resolution is presented as outlining the Bible’s intentions for fathers. After signing it, the men tell one another that they are “doubly responsible” (a somewhat strange concept that is never really fleshed out in the movie) to hold to the resolution’s principles.
  • The women characters are overall very passive, and we see the fathers often in the role of decision-makers (i.e., one father decides if his daughter can go to a birthday party, another one insists he alone can decide who his daughter may date).
  • One of the fathers, Javier, views it as his sole responsibility to provide financially for his family. He tells the other fathers that he knew he was a man when his own father charged him with taking care of Javier’s mother and siblings.

Now I have no problem with the movie’s encouragement to fathers to embrace responsibility and be more engaged in their families. I find it lacking, however, in two big ways:

  • The movie implies (and explicitly states in at least one instance) that the Bible teaches fathers are to take full responsibility for their wives and children, but they do little  to show where and how the Bible teaches it (actually nothing that I can remember, but correct me if I’m wrong) As egalitarians agree, there simply isn’t biblical justification for a view like this, and it is unfair to both men and women to place this extra burden on fathers alone.
  • In encouraging men to be responsible, why does it have to be at the expense of women’s responsibility? Does the Bible not also call godly women to be engaged with their families, and to be prayerful, respectful, kind, and integrity-filled—all prominent ideas in the resolution the men sign? To me, these challenges seem to highlight the way all who follow Christ are to live—both female and male.

So what do you think: does the Bible teach that men are fully responsible for their children and wives? Is it fair, or healthy, or biblical to put this heavy weight on men alone? In its definition of masculinity and fatherhood, where does Courageous get it right and wrong?

Megan
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53 Comments

  1. Comment #94798 posted October 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Megan,

    Here is the link to my posts. My husband and I are both working on doctorate degrees – he in English lit and my research is in rhetoric. So, I took the opportunity to critique/watch Courageous and he wrote a couple posts about what Christian art should be. Both go along nicely with the CBE review of the film.

    http://freemethodistfeminist.com/category/courageous-the-movie/

  2. Michelle
    Comment #94829 posted October 27, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Don: “I see the movie as an attempt to get husbands to step up (good) and get them to sign the movie’s pledge (not so good in all it says). This movie’s pledge in turn is used as an entryway to gender hierarchy teaching from the sponsoring church.

    They could not just make a movie about gender hierarchy, as few would watch; but about challenging men to step up, people would watch that and then like a master magician they slip in the pledge and I fear many will sign it not even realizing it has some questionable things in it.”

    Of course! This is the way that men’s groups like the Promise Keepers and the Wellspring Group work, as well. I’ll paste a comment I wrote elsewhere…”To me, groups like this aren’t any better than any other group. In fact, in ways, Promise Keepers, Wellspring Group, etc. are worse: They’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. They sound innocuous–beneficial, even–but what they sell is the ‘improvement’ of men, men keeping promises, men sharing their feelings, men being responsible, men being better husbands and fathers. So long as their wife knows and keeps her proper place: less than. Under his authority.

    It is indeed poison, and it irritates me that they hide behind euphemistic language like “leadership”…Wouldn’t it be much easier to fight this type of thing (nowadays) if it were like I hear things used to be? When some churches just outright said that women, as created by God, were inferior to men? And even hierarchical complementarians recognize that there’s something wrong with the quiverfull movement: They just refuse to see their beliefs lie on the same continuum, and the only right thing to do is to leave the continuum to follow Christ. I am NOT questioning anyone’s salvation or sincerity of practice. Not meaning to, anyway.”

    It sounds like this movie does something similar.

  3. sdd
    Comment #94834 posted October 28, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I see the movie as a marketing strategy.

    I remember hearing a CBMW podcast in 2009 in which the speaker acknowledged that complementarian views were losing ground in the culture and that complementarian leaders would therefore be releasing multiple types of media around 2012 to reinvigorate complementarianism in the culture.

    This movie seems to be one of those steps. In the early days of CBMW, they openly called the husband’s role “authority.” They’ve decided the idea of a husband’s “leadership” is more palatable than the idea of a husband’s authority. The movie attempts to make the idea of a husband assuming unilateral “leadership” in the family look appealing. They’ve softened complementarianism in the movie to the point that it looks appealing rather than offensive.

    People who like what they see in the movie may be inspired to sign a similar resolution. They also may be inspired to buy materials and products related to the ideas about family that were promoted in the movie, which promotes complementariansim. In this way, products will get sold and complementarianism will be perpetuated more within the culture.

  4. Michelle
    Comment #94837 posted October 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Wow, SDD, that is interesting and disturbing information about CBMW. I believe it.

    We cannot accept this film or the Promise Keepers or Wellspring Group or another marketing effort because it is “not *that* bad” or “has some good”. That’s what is being counted on. We stand to lose not only the ground women have gained in the church, but also the ground that has been gained in US society/culture in general (where sexism still does exist, but greater strides have been made).

    Do not buy into the lie.

  5. Don
    Comment #94842 posted October 29, 2011 at 10:28 am

    The terminology can be very Orwellian.

    Some former members of CBMW have left as CBMW chose not to be plainspeaking. Those former members say they are promoting patriarchy, at least they are plainspeaking if wrong.

    Here are 2 partially true statements in “The Resolution”

    I do solomnly resolve before God to take full responsibility for myself, my wife and my children.

    I will love them, protect them, serve them and teach them the Word of God as the spiritual leader of my home.

  6. Comment #94843 posted October 29, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Agreed about CBMW not being plainspeaking. The founders of CBMW were all patriarchalists who were looking for a softer form of patriarchy and a way to promote it more easily, thus the term complementary became their new word for a new type of patriarchy. The elements of patriarchy are still there in the concepts of men being responsible for women in both home and church. In such a view women are not on equal footing with men and not allowed to mature to such a place. In God’s view both men and women are to mature to the full maturity of the perfect human, Christ Jesus.

  7. mike
    Comment #94854 posted October 31, 2011 at 12:19 am

    Lots of sad comments on this website. Many people have issues here that are obvious. God is real and true. Men are to be the head of the household. Men should help guide their daughters to choose wisely. Lots of weirdos, but egalitarians basically choose to make themselves popes or to characterize God like he is a pet. God does not need you to take His side. Rather…you need to. Chaz Bono is a sick example of a woman who tried to be the head of her household and messed things up so badly, a demented child places blame on her for their own demise and choices. Egalitarian? God is not egalitarian, except in salvation. He is a good judge.

  8. Comment #94859 posted October 31, 2011 at 4:55 am

    Hi Mike,

    No one has a problem here with God being real and true. Sorry that you have such a bad take on egalitarians. Yes, God is a good judge and knows full well what it is in life that has shaped us to believe the things that we do. Put simply Mike, we believe that male domination is a result of the fall. In Christ we believe we are freed to become truly ‘one flesh’ and experience mutual submission . No one, in a God honouring marriage, needs to dominate, or assume absolute leadership in the home. There is no need for there to be a tie-breaker, because both husband and wife can defer to Christ.

    It is our belief that we are representing God more accurately and helping people to consider that it was never God’s intention to encourage male supremacy or patriarchy. We certainly don’t believe there to be a hierarchy within the Godhead, because that is a heretical notion. So, for us it follows that there need not be a hierarchy within marriage. Having said that I am aware that many men are not being responsible parents or considerate husbands and in that sense the movie may encourage men to step up and be more accountable. That part is good.

  9. Don
    Comment #94863 posted October 31, 2011 at 7:10 am

    Mike,

    It might surprise you that the Bible never ever says the man is to be “the head of the household”, this is a commonly taught myth among some teachers, but it simply is not there.

    When the Reformation started the charge from the Catholics was that each would now be their own pope. I do not claim to be an infallible interpreter, I just try to do my best, so I reject the charge. But I do accept responsibility for my own faith, after all, it is mine.

  10. Megan Megan
    Comment #94867 posted October 31, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Christy–thanks for the great reviews! I realized I read them but then forgot to tell you–oops!

    Thanks for the good discussion, all!

  11. Comment #94868 posted October 31, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Yes, Christy, I loved reading your blog too.

    This movie will be out in Australia in 9 days’ time and already we have had national emails from a group concerned for family values telling us how wonderful it is. In our state of western australia, it is only showing at one venue but before long I guess it will be out on DVD and then folks will start discussing it.

    I looked up the church which made the movie and read that they adhere to the Baptist faith and message so I looked that up and read the section pertaining to family. This is what I understand as Southern Baptist. Would ‘regular’ baptists adhere to this statement or is it just a Southern Baptist statement ?

    I noticed that the statement re family had been changed/updated since the original to include the wives submitting joyfully to their husbands’ loving leadership section.

  12. Don
    Comment #94870 posted October 31, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    It is just the SBC BFM, but others might use it as a model. Baptists are almost like non-denoms where each church is independent and then they form voluntary groups with other Baptist churches.

  13. Comment #94871 posted October 31, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Interesting observation, Don re some independent churches. Haven’t thought of that before but I guess it is to be expected. Here in Australia, we have ‘regular’ Baptists and some ‘Independent Baptist’ usually with pastors from America so I imagine they would be the more conservative. However, as you say, even though local churches are independent, they are influenced by others, particularly through the internet.

  14. Comment #94905 posted November 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    I didn’t like fireproof, haven’t seen courageous, don’t intend to see it–passive female characters is only one of the things that drive me nuts about christian movies (secular movies 2)—I HATED facing the giants—it was hokey, preachy, and TOTALLY unrealistic—bleah,, I’ll just stick w/ diners, drive-ins and dives

  15. Maureen
    Comment #94912 posted November 4, 2011 at 4:04 am

    I haven’t seen this movie and don’t intend to, as I’m not really part of it’s target audience. I have seen other movies made by the same crowd though. One being Fireproof, which was much better than I expected, especially the end part where the main guy finds out that all the crazy stuff he thought his father did to save his marriage was actually done by his mother! That was pretty cool, I thought. The other one I saw was Facing the Giants, which was pretty lame, stereotypical and very badly acted.

    The thing I find most annoying about all Christian movies is that women are never, ever cast in the lead role, as the one with the dream, calling or dilemma even! The story is never about God at work in a woman’s life. Christian films are always centred around a man, and his family is usually just there in a supporting role. I have yet to see a Christian film move away from this theme. Hence, they are predictable, one dimensional and fail to capture the miraculous and amazing grace of God at work in all our lives.

    Oh, I have seen one other movie made by the Sherwood mob – Flywheel. I quite liked this one actually, but once again, it was all about ‘the man’ :-(

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