(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?