Home » Gender Equality » An Egalitarian Examination of “Courageous” the Movie

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. Michelle
    Comment #94916 posted November 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    There are many Baptist deonominations/groups:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Baptist_denominations

    The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a moderate one that left in part because of the centralization of power in the SBC (which included the disfellowship of churches that chose women pastors).

    Down here in the U.S. south, though, I usually have to explain that not all Baptists are Southern Baptists. ;-)

  2. RED
    Comment #94919 posted November 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Maureen, this isn’t just a problem in Christian movies. Although secular movies do have some stories that revolve around women having dreams, the vast majority are 1. Women wanting a boyfriend or 2. Men having dreams.

    Women having dreams, feeling a call, going up against all obstacles, is still under-represented in the movies.

  3. Comment #94926 posted November 5, 2011 at 5:06 am

    Some time back, Mimi recommended “Iron Jawed Angels” about the suffragettes.

    Pretty graphic in parts but the main actors are strong women.

  4. Comment #94927 posted November 5, 2011 at 5:07 am

    Thanks Michelle for the info. about the Baptists groups.

  5. DON W.
    Comment #95003 posted November 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Some stories are simply more to do with one sex than the other. That aside, I seem to recall a part of the film’s back story that included a young woman who had decided to forego an abortion and took it upon herself to raise her little girl. I didn’t see her falling all over herself with joy and passivity when the young sheriff came to his senses and made the effort to be a part of his daughter’s life. That is a strong, young woman in any film, in spite of her not having a speaking role. When you compare this film, overall, to the predominance of shallow, material fare coming out of moviedom, there is simply no comparison. I am grateful, and have put my nit-picking aside.

  6. Megan Megan
    Comment #95004 posted November 11, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Don W. thanks for the reminder about the woman in the movie who was raising her daughter. Very small part, but a good one all the same.

    Maureen, have you seen the Christian movie “Soul Surfer”? I haven’t seen it, but I know it to be about the young woman surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack but continued to surf. This is maybe a bit off topic, but your comment, Maureen, made me curious if anyone here has seen it and if it portrays a strong Christian woman well or not.

  7. Comment #95005 posted November 11, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Soul Surfer is fan…tastic! Read the book when it was first published, 8 years ago and have looked at Bethany’s blog from time to time. The movie is made by a secular group but is more ‘Christian’ than some other films which go by that name. Everyone who worked on the film has a story and the interviews are great.

    We watched the movie on DVD which meant there was so much more than just the movie. There is a home-made documentary and lots of interviews. Bethany does all the main surfing stuff and for anyone who loves surfing, there is heaps of action. We loved it!!

    Carrie Underwood plays the part of Bethany’s youth leader and does it well. We saw Carrie win American Idol some time back and have been delighted to see how God has used her since then. She was a country girl with a strong, simple faith and it showed on screen. She is still lovely to watch.

  8. Comment #95006 posted November 11, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    And yes Megan, to answer your question, it does portray a strong Christian woman, even though she was 13 at the time of the attack. She is now 21 and still going strong for God and surfing. The family are delightful……read the book! The book was co- written by Bethany at 14 and her pastor and another author whose name I can’t recall. Just lent the book to someone this week so I can’t check it out.

  9. Maureen
    Comment #95069 posted November 18, 2011 at 3:10 am

    Hi Megan, sorry haven’t been on the scroll for a while. In answer to your question, I haven’t seen the Hollywood version of Soul Surfer, but I did watch a documentary about Bethany several years ago, and yes it is a wonderful story about a strong and courageous Christian woman.

    Unfortunately, the fact that it was left to secular movie makers to bring this story to the world’s attention, only makes my point about Christian movie makers’ refusal to centre a story around a female, stronger. And this is even a real story, not fantasy!

    Also, Red, I agree that women are under-represented as strong lead characters, even in secular movies, but this has been gradually changing over time. At least there is some leeway, where there is none in the Christian movie making world. I’ll fly around the room if a female is ever cast as the main character, with a vision, in a Christian film lol.

  10. Comment #95087 posted November 19, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    In Australia right now the Labour Party, influenced strongly by the Greens, are intending to change the definition of marriage to include homosexual marriage.

    There is a nationwide push to get petitions signed and letters written to politicians etc. and this is organised by a pro-marriage Christian group. All very well promoted and with peaceful protests etc. However……their last email included advertising of this film as an excellent resource for promoting marriage and urging people to write to get the movie in more cities. It has only been showing in one venue in western australia but has had rave revues in Christian publications.

  11. tim
    Comment #95198 posted December 7, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    It’s funny to me to read so many comments (authoritative at that) from so many people who start off by saying: “I have not seen the movie, but . . .” and then proceed to be an expert on the movie and its meaning. Maybe you should take the time to go see it and understand that there are a lot of men who are not filling the bill as the husbands and fathers that God is calling them to be. Might I suggest not trying to take such a top shelf view of the subject and simply view it what it is for. Yes, God wants men to lead their homes (don’t try to pick at the way it was shown). I have found most of these messages actually lacking in substance – I Corinthians talks about the love between couples, and if a movie like this helps a man to do that better and to be a better dad – then why pick at it?

  12. Don
    Comment #95202 posted December 8, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Tim,

    The reason to pick at it is because while parts of the message are Christian and Biblical, not all parts of the message are. The parts that are not need to be repudiated.

  13. RED
    Comment #95206 posted December 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Tim,

    I guess what we take issue with is the idea that God wants men (and only men) to lead their homes (over and above the responsibility their wives have to lead their homes). We were picking because the movie promotes an idea as scriptural which is not scriptural; the idea that men are somehow responsible for the family in a way that women aren’t.

    Nowhere in scripture does it tell a husband to “lead” his wife. It tells him to sacrifice for her, and says nothing to ban a woman from being a “leader” in her family. The scriptures in Ephesians 5 that are normally used to support the idea of a man leading his entire family, are actually talking about the unique way that a *husband and wife* relate to each other within the privacy of marriage–NOT the way that a man leads the entire family, by himself.

    I completely agree that men should step up, but so should women. To imply that men have this responsibility in a way that women don’t, simply isn’t scriptural. So we’re not picking at the WAY in which this concept was presented. We’re picking at the fact that it was presented at all.

    RED

  14. TBarry
    Comment #95336 posted January 5, 2012 at 6:19 am

    I believe the Bible is very clear on the roles that have been laid out for us as a Christian Family. I am not a “men only” man. My wife is very involved in everything that goes on in our home. A wife needs a husband that is willing to take full responsibility for his family, and as husbands we should want to have that role. Not saying that we are the “law” and “don’t cross me” but saying that “I love my family enough to be responsible for their well-being in every area of life.
    The Bible in Eph. 5:22 – 6:4

    22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

    25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

    Ephesians 6

    1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

    4 Fathers,do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

    This is very clear. It is not unfair. God made man to be the head of his family as Christ is the head of the church. We men are to love our wives and children and this resolution, if followed, I believe is an awesome way to show that love.

    TBarry

  15. Comment #95337 posted January 5, 2012 at 7:50 am

    TBarry, thank you for your response to this post. I think that you will gather from the sum of the other comments that favour an egalitarian approach to marriage that none of us are advocating that men/fathers should not behave responsibly within and for the family. What we object to is that men should have a more dominant role within the family than that of women.

    The verses that you quote, from Ephesians 5 and 6, within their context and cultural setting are quite radical when you consider that a wife of that era was considered to be a mere chattel. To take the Apostle Paul’s instruction to that social setting and apply it, just as it reads, to our own is a huge leap. For example, to read it this way exclusively means that one is expected to assume that head there means the person in charge and therefore that any instruction and direction for the family should come from the one in charge.

    If it is to be presumed that this is God’s order then it would follow that God would always speak to the family through the man. If that were the case then there would be no instance in Scripture where women have received instruction or direction without the mediation of a man/husband. The facts are that this isn’t the case. There are numerous, notable occasions when the woman/wife was informed of God’s intention without the man/husband being present. Perhaps the most notable NT example is the announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah. There are several OT instances as well.

    In those instances it is presumed by God that the women concerned would be responsible hearers and willing servants in carrying out God’s promises to them. In some cases they were encouraged to instruct their incredulous husbands. For me, that is one of the major reasons why I cannot accept the presumption that the husband’s role is defined by God and permanently fixed in time as the one with the sole responsibility of directing the affairs of the family.

    Before Adam and Eve sinned they lived in non-competitive harmony and shared the task that God had given them. As a direct result of the fall things changed drastically. The woman would desire the man, in other words, she could not live without him and in turn the man would rule over her. History proves the reality of this descriptive, prophetic statement by God in the garden. Women have been maligned, mistreated and subjugated ever since that time; some cultures treating women far more abominably than others, even today. But always women have been the social underdogs often living in virtual slavery and profound misery at the hands of dominant male societies.

    All of this cursed order is overturned through the finished work of Christ on the cross. Women are no longer captives to culture and the traditions of men. Jesus, while on the earth, treated women far differently than what was the cultural and religious expectation. He paid no heed to the patriarchy of his day and welcomed women as fellow disciples along with the men, counting their testimony as valid. In that respect the church should be leading the way in the full emancipation of women, not condemning them to the result of the fall.

    Interpreted correctly this does not negate the instruction of Ephesians 5 and 6. These verses still have authority but not in the way that you have enunciated, especially in your assumption that head means boss, or the one in charge. Isn’t it just possible that Paul was suggesting that as husbands these men should rather empower their wives because they, in their culture, automatically have the power? Could it be that they are to use this universal, cultural entitlement to go way beyond what was normally expected of a patriarch and actually love their wives?

    Paul’s instruction to wives was that they not take advantage of this new freedom but still live within their cultural boundaries and respect their husbands. Let us not forget that the submission that is encouraged of wives by Paul is first spoken of as something desirable for all christians, husbands and wives included. I say again that these instructions to the emerging church in Ephesus are radical with respect to the times and they need to be interpreted in such a way as to understand and apply the principles espoused, not necessarily a rigid legalism.

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