Friday, September 25, 2009

Fireproof: Part 1, the Faulty Premise

I watched the movie “Fireproof” again, and the difficulty I had with it before has increased, along with the conviction that if I had tried it on my husband, it may have “worked” and “saved our marriage,” but it would not have provoked my husband to love or respect me, and would have destroyed me. Indeed, his abuse would have increased, as it already had in the years I tried to do all the loving things church leaders recommend that wives do for their husbands. The only way it would have worked in our marriage, is if my husband had committed to loving me with a genuine love. As it is, every time he behaved the least bit loving, I responded with the same. Often the loving behavior was a set up to get me to trust him enough so he could jerk the rug from under my feet and totally humiliate me. As Mrs. Caleb in “Fireproof” did, I also learned to treat any nice behavior from my husband with suspicion. Not once has that suspicion been unwarranted.

But now a closer look at the movie:

First, the premise of the movie is that either spouse can save their marriage by using the Love Dare as a tool. This spouse must commit to loving their spouse unconditionally, no matter what their partner does.

This is just plain bad theology based on a half truth. While it is true that God loves us unconditionally, it is not true that He protects us from the consequences of our behavior. The Bible speaks of God divorcing his wife, Israel because of her continual rejection and whoring after other Gods. The Bible is also clear that even though He loves us unconditionally, continued rejection or advantage-taking or sin will be rewarded with Hell fire. Yet the Love Dare requires that a spouse refuse to confront his or her husband or wife for any behavior—including sinful, selfish, or evil behavior against the spouse—and be all “loving” and nicey-nice instead. If the book and movie limited that to 40 to 80 days, that would be one thing. But the whole idea is that this unconditional love is to go on until one of the spouses dies, regardless of whether the recipient of that “love” chooses to respond with loving behaviors in return or finally grows to “deserve” it.

Because of the abuse scene in the movie, where Caleb screams in his wife’s face and denigrates her, the premise of the movie also implies that a person who is abused should try the “Love Dare,” and implies that they would be successful at “saving” the marriage. However, the “Love Dare” is sold as an ideal that a person should continue to implement even though the initial 40 days did not bring about positive change. This is VERY DANGEROUS for abused spouses. Not only does it ignore the fact that one of the characteristics of abusers is that they see loving behavior as a weakness, and when they see weakness, they mount an attack to totally destroy the “weak” person. In other words, if the selfish spouse is also an abuser, his wife would be quickly damaged by even TRYING the “Love Dare.” And if her belief in the rightness of the “Love Dare” is strong enough to convince her to stick with it, there is a very high likelihood that she would be destroyed through illness—often a mental illness like anxiety or depression, both known for shortening lives and/or being extremely debilitating--or through violent death at the hands of her husband. And the resulting destruction to the children would continue generation after generation, resulting in more abuse and/or murder, or more depression/anxiety/nightmares.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit


  1. I know this is only part one, but I would like to add some other things.

    1. The problem is presented as the husband not really being "saved." Once he gets "saved," that is the beginning of real change. So what does one do if one's husband is already saved? There's nowhere to go! It doesn't even consider the possibility that someone could really be saved and behave abusively. But I have seen that in repeated relationships. (Now of course no one really knows if another person is truly saved, of course only God knows that. I'm talking about people otherwise very devout yet are still abusers. And yes, I have seen that in more than one relationship.)

    2. I watched that movie and felt such an anticlimax. That incident in the kitchen was the worst of it? And she was ready to divorce over that? I have taken way, way more than that. (Not that that is a good thing.) And my husband is one of the lesser abusers out there. He is not as bad as many I hear about. On the criteria of the movie, I have had thousands of "worthy of divorce" moments. It's like struggling with cancer and then seeing a movie about how someone deals with the trauma of a hangnail.

  2. I could not agree more with your analysis. Let us try the love dare with everyone. Including Obama, pedophiles, murderes, etc.

    Sound crazy? Yes it does.

    Why is it that when it comes to marriage, bullies and abusers get a pass?

  3. Thanks for your courage in speaking out.


  4. I think we are reading way too much into the movie. First of all it is just a movie and I believe the whole idea is to give us to tool to put in our all to try to save our marriage. This is just a tool to get us to make sure we really want to get divorce before we jump to that conclusion because a lot of times we decide to divorce out of anger or hurt without trying to overcome that and think things through.

    Ofcourse every situation will be different so we have to keep that in mind but the point is to make sure we exhaust all options before we makethe final decison to divorce.

  5. I disagree with Anonymous@ 7:44am. This movie has been shoved in my face waaaay to many times as a "Christian solution to abuse." It deserves a refutation. Is it a nice Christian movie? Yes. Is it some sort of inspired solution to abuse? NO and NO.

  6. Thanks everyone for your input! I appreciate your comments. I want to respond to Anonymous 1 (Sept 26) and Anonymous 3 (Sept 28, 8:12 AM). Concerning the comment about a "saved" abuser, I have more about that in Part 4, which isn't posted yet.

    About Fireproof being a movie, that is true, yet it is being used as a heavy pressure advertisement for "The Love Dare," and it seems the majority of church folks are "buying" the message. As Anonymous 4 points out, "This movie has been shoved in my face waaaay to many times as a "Christian solution to abuse.""

    I am so sorry you are dealing with abuse from your husband, Anonymous 1. He is the man who vowed to love and cherish you, but is treating you like trash or even worse. Trash you merely throw away, you don't beat it and try to humiliate it, too. I want to remind you that you do not deserve that kind of treatment, even if you aren't perfect. Like as not, the abuse you suffer is worse than even you realize because you aren't paying attention to the small, hangnail-like stuff." The hangnail-like stuff is still effecting your view of yourself and is very damaging--much more damaging than a hangnail. It ends up being more like cancer.

    Concerning the "minor" (hangnail) abuse that Caleb does, since this is a family movie, they really cannot show more violent abuse. I dealt with the difficulties of writing abuse fiction for a Christian audience in my novel "Behind the Hedge." (Yeah, yeah, here I end up plugging my novel on my own blog! If you want more info, check it out at For lack of space, an author has to allow one incident to imply that there were many more. Except in my novel, I try to make it clear that when he shakes her, that is his first physical (nons*xual) assault, since scenes preceeding that one get increasingly more threatening. Also, if you watch Fireproof closely and pick up all the little details. you'll find that Caleb has been increasingly more selfish/abusive before the movie opens, which means there likely were many more scenes of him screaming in her face, and etc.

    As the story opens, she has pretty much decided the marriage is over. She has a husband who works one day and plays the next two, who refuses to help with any tasks except his job and caring for the cars (nothing is mentioned about who mows the lawn), and his tight wad ways force his wife to work full time to pay for decent upkeep and arrangement of their home in addition to all the other bills she is covering. Caleb says she agreed to pay all the other bills, but nothing is said of what he did to coerce her. The fact that he has been able to save $24,000 for a boat to play with on his 2 days off, while his wife can't even come up with $3,000 to buy her mom a hospital bed and wheelchair, says the abuse has been going on for a long time--probably at least 5.5 years, assuming he was slightly loving in the first 6 months of marriage. What else can she not afford? For example, was the orange plaid and floral furniture her choice? I doubt it. Was she allowed adequate clothing? I doubt that, too. Although I'll have to watch again to see if she has more than 2 work outfits. In addition, it's clear Caleb still expected her to deal with his dry cleaning--after he had spent 2 days playing while she was working at home and at work. He expects her to do the food shopping and cooking and clean up, too. He is obviously very used to treating her as his personal valet and servant while he acts like a wealthy socialite. I took it that the yell-in-her-face scene was just the last straw. It was not an isolated incident.

    I hope this helps. Perhaps you'll watch the movie again to catch all these details, and in the process recognize more ways your husband is abusing you.

  7. This was a good article about Fire Proof. Christians that have a "luke warm" marriage can be challenged to become "hot" or "cold" by watching and applying the principles in the movie. Yet, for those of us that have endured abusive marriage relationships, this movie rarely moves the "cold hearted abuser" to repent and turn from his controlling behaviours. My abusive husband showed very little remorse nor did he seem to care about the story line while watching it with my 11 year old daughter and I while he was visiting with us (I supervised the visitation). I have been seperated for 9 1/2 years now, and I do not see a "heart change" in him. He doesn't care. He truly does not care. I am in the process of getting a divorce now. I did care to have the LORD break me and mold me to be changed in my heart so that I NOW understand what is healthy from that which is NOT healthy within a marriage relationship (based upon the Bible's correct teaching). True love cares to "serve one another" in love. The abusive spouse cares about TAKING rather than GIVING and being sacrificial like JESUS. Abusers need to be held accountable by those that WILL not tolerate abuse in any way. Sadly, there are few that care to help due to apathy or ignorance about the dynamics of abuse. Many well meaning Christians will say things that are more harmful than helpful. Jesus cared and confronted abuse. He exposed it. That is why the Pharisees and Scribes hated him and desired to kill him. Abusers kill with their words and actions. True Christians will build up and edify others with their words and actions. It is nice to be around people that are nice and kind hearted. Those kind of people truly do care.

  8. I'm happy to inform you that you miss the point of the movie.

    Nowhere in it does it imply that Christianity demands submission to abuse.

    It was the ABUSER who decided, when Christ changed his heart,to prove HIS new love to HIS wife, in contrition and Christ-fueled love. As many times as she rejected his efforts at restoration, he met her with love. THAT was the message. LOVE, the pure, powerful love of CHRIST, changed both of their hearts. If one is not truly filled with the power of HIS love, then don't expect changes. It's fake, if it's not the power of God's love.

    An abusive marriage was not the point. It was about an abuser seeing the light, and becoming capable of loving his wife despite her rejection of him on good grounds. It no longer mattered what she gave in return; it only mattered to him that she know his love would not quit. THAT is real love, and finally she was able to trust it. He would continue to prove his trustworthiness; that was key.

    If you are in an abusive marriage, you have every right to get out of it. Preferably by calling the police, getting a restraining order, and retaining occupancy of your home and children, as well as financial support until things are resolved through counseling or divorce.

    The Bible is written as an instruction manual for those who DO love Christ and ARE striving to live in HIS WAYS. It has been misinterpreted, misconstrued, to cause great harm. Please don't fall for that. If your husband does not believe and follow Christ, you can't plan by the same rules. Tough love is often the only choice. It's one thing to married to a nice, kind, non-believer. It's another to be married to a pseudo-believer who is abusive behind closed doors. This one should be exposed in church. March up front, tell everyone, and plead for help. This is a Biblical model.

    Common sense is an important, God-given tool, and I wish more women would use it!

  9. Lisa,
    Thank-you for your comment!
    I am so sorry you are going through such a rough time! It is so hard to get your mind around the fact that your husband, who vowed to love and cherish you, doesn't care about you. If you are like most women, you went through a time of trying to figure out how you could be a better wife. This is where it is so tempting for abused wives to try the Love Dare.

    I want to remind you that your husband is not treating you badly because of who YOU are, he is doing it because of who HE IS.

    The premise of the movie and commentary is that we should love as Christ loved, for what we can give, not for what we can get. This premise should be true across the board, but it is actually dangerous for abused wives to apply it. I am glad you don't say you were planning to try the Love Dare before concluding your marriage is unsaveable, Lisa.

    Thank you for your comment.
    Although the movie does not say or imply that one should submit to abuse, the commentary does imply that. According to the authors of Fireproof, Catherine should have forgiven her husband daily instead of getting angry and "bitter." It is implied that if she had forgiven him, she would have continued to trust him, too. According to their comments, Catherine shut Caleb out of her bed, and Caleb turned to porn after that. (Yet, many christian husbands turn to porn although their wives have never turned them away.) If you follow through with their logic, Catherine had reason to mistrust Caleb because of his porn use, which occurred BECAUSE she turned him away. They do not seem to recognize that Caleb's previous behavior brought about Catherine's mistrust and her subsequent shutting him out of her bed, although they do mention it as "trampling on her" at one point.

    You said:
    An abusive marriage was not the point. It was about an abuser seeing the light, and becoming capable of loving his wife despite her rejection of him on good grounds. It no longer mattered what she gave in return; it only mattered to him that she know his love would not quit. THAT is real love, and finally she was able to trust it. He would continue to prove his trustworthiness; that was key."

    This is true. The movie IS about an abuser turning to God and loving his wife unconditionally with Agape love. The problem is that Christians often pressure the ABUSED spouse to apply the Love Dare, loving her abuser "unconditionally" and thereby not confronting him about his sin. The result is that she rewards him for his sin and encourages him to sin even more.

    When used in this way, it is not biblical. In fact, unconditional love requires confrontation at times. The abuser has been wrongfully confronting his wife for years; Fireproof is correct in not showing Caleb confronting his wife while he is applying the Love Dare. But when church folk apply the principle backward, you end up with something that is not biblical. It is the interpretation of church folk and how they apply the principles in the movie that make it end up having a faulty premise. See my part 6 post:

  10. I noted a few very disappointing parts in the Love Dare that seem to support the deadly paradigm that a wife can submit/love her man to repentance.

    At the end the father confessed to the main character that is was HIS WIFE who put the Love Dare into practice, wooing him to the Lord.

    That is just implying again that if a woman loves unconditionally, her man will come to Christ (not necessarily). And also it is implying that when a man comes to Christ, he will be loving and sweet and good just because he is now "saved".

    As another poster pointed out, both scenarios are fairy tales that are not substantiated by reality.

    In reality, many abusive men are Christians and even use scripture as one more excuse to lord it over their wives and treat them as lesser beings.

    And secondly, no amount of love or submission on a woman's part will change a man. It just won't happen. The only way a woman can HELP a man recognize HIS NEED to change is to confront him with his need to change. Just sucking up abuse and praying for him does neither one of them any good whatsoever.

    The other thing I hated about Fireproof was the stupid scene where the father-in-law is correcting the mother-in-law in a patronizing "man knows best" way. Ew.

    Wisdom is not a gender issue, but they were implying that the little lady needs her man to guide her in this life. Uh, no.

    BOTH man and woman need the HOLY SPIRIT to illuminate GODS WORD to guide them in their individual lives.

  11. Shadowspring,
    you are 100% correct! I didn't like that male corrects wife scene either. I don't think the writers realized how telling that scene is. It shows where Caleb got his disrespect and contempt toward his Mom. Even a "saved" dad, concludes his wife can't get it right--and in front of their son, too. You are absolutely right; ew! Or should I say eewwwww!