Monday, September 28, 2009

Fireproof: part 3, The Minimization of Sin

I am also troubled by the fact that Caleb’s behavior was labeled “selfishness” thus minimizing (making an action or thing appear very small and inconsequential compared to what they actually are) his abuse of his wife. This is troubling to me because so many pastors avoid the use of the word “abuse” unless it is a physical assault. With a popular movie like “Fireproof” actually SHOWING what John Piper calls “verbal unkindness,” I am troubled by the minimizing that both Piper and Fireproof use when referring to domestic abuse. This minimization results in wives not realizing they are being abused and that they are in danger. The common knowledge I had 20 years ago, was if my husband hit me, that was abuse. The real truth is that shoving me up against the wall and pinning me there while he screamed in my face was physical abuse, too. And all the nasty stuff my husband did was abuse as well and was made more powerful because of his previous physical attack. Piper, the authors of Fireproof, and others, fail to realize that ONE physical attack makes it clear to the abuser’s target that ANY “verbal unkindness” is a threat that the abuser may repeat the physical attack. Abuse does not need to be “regular” to be devastating. Giving her “the look” which reminds her that he will hurt her if she doesn’t please him, can be just as abusive and traumatic as his actually doing it.

Caleb admits to being selfish and to trampling all over his wife, but doesn’t mention that he also abused her economically and emotionally, that he isolated her by limiting her access to money and what it can buy, he intimidated and threatened her and tried to coerce her into being his slave. He also minimized his own behavior, denying that any of the fault was his, while he blamed her for everything. He also lusted after the women on the porn sites, (and probably in real life) which is another form of adultery, which is also abuse and implies that his wife is not good enough. All of these are abusive behaviors that are aimed at coercing or dominating his wife, at using or discarding her for his own ends, at disregarding her personhood and her humanity.

The writers of Fireproof did a good job of showing a textbook abuser in action. However, their choice of an abusive character, their minimization of Caleb’s abusive behavior together with their statement at the end that a wife can implement the Love Dare and save the (abusive) marriage, suggests to abused wives who view the movie, that they, too, should deny and minimize their husband’s abusive behavior, and if they use the Love Dare, their abusive husbands will start treating them right. As stated in Part 1, this is extremely dangerous. By using an abusive character, it suggests that divorce for abuse is totally unnecessary (possibly sinful) and that the failure of the marriage is the abused wife's fault because she refused to love and sacrifice enough.

Additionally, this movie tells anyone an abused wife goes to for help, that if she would just do the Love Dare and stick with it, no matter how long it takes, her whole problem would go away. Even worse, they may PRESSURE her to do the love dare and stick with it. If she refuses, they are likely to hold her at arms length, shun her, or even drive her out of their church.

Frankly, if the writers had not made Caleb an abuser, the story and its use of the Love Dare may have validity. But as it is, the story appears to claim that if the victim will minimize her husband’s sin and apply the Love Dare, she will likely save her marriage. Therefore, many will likely pick up the implication that if she refuses to apply the Love Dare, she is in rebellion to God, to her husband, and to church leaders as well. Thus, instead of holding the abusive sinner accountable, they contort the truth in order to hold the woman he targets for his bullying and abuse accountable. This makes the church a conspirator in her abusive husband's sin.

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. '''Additionally, this movie tells anyone an abused wife goes to for help, that if she would just do the Love Dare and stick with it, no matter how long it takes, her whole problem would go away. Even worse, they may PRESSURE her to do the love dare and stick with it. If she refuses, they are likely to hold her at arms length, shun her, or even drive her out of their church.'''

    I have seen this suggested Waneta as well. Their concentration of WHO should do the love dare is completely off.

    Even if we can assume if you do this challenge, and it works 100% of the time due to whatever conditions they place before you...

    He was the one that did the love dare due to his hardened heart, and selfish nature. He was the one that needed the changed heart due to the personal rejection (in action and deed) to his marriage covenant. God would wish his changed heart even if she rejected him forever 100%. The way some churches approach this? That point seems to escape them completely.

    Can we say her heart had changed? Sure. Her heart was broken over the hardness and selfish nature of her husband towards her and the marriage. She pulled away due to his actions basically telling her she was not welcome. In the human realm it was due to self protection. People can reject that human aspect all they want, but we all do this even if NOT in our marriages.

    In simplistic terms the love dare should be encouraged by the selfish natured one doing it. The one that spent most of the marriage pushing the spouse away, and leaving her feel rejected. The person who was told no matter what you do, and how you do this I will do what I want, how I want, and when I want. She will be heart broken, and may still be in love with him ... but he pretty much told her he isn't interested in a true relationship. He is the one that stated my way or the highway!

  2. It still amazes me how after all the rejection spouses hand over WHY they are so surprised when they are handed divorce papers. He already divorced her, and the papers are just an agreement on her part. She gave in to his wishes legally what he had already lived.

    When churches PUSH the love dare on the wrong party they tell people they believe in the Disneyland type of love. They don't believe in the love that can come from true repentance of sinful behavior. As you mentioned she has been doing the best she can with what she had to show her love, and was placed in a position of rejection of that from her husband. His definition of love is the one that is warped here. She responded as any human would - be that man, woman, children...or purple people eaters!

    It was the husband that needed a wake up call. His heart was NOT in the right place, and the proper type of love was one that gives, and receives. You cares and nurtures. Who thinks of his wife's heartache over her mother's position, and gives of his boat money knowing this is not only the RIGHT thing to do ... but something that will show his wife the proper love for her.

    His reaction to her during the love dare? The fact he was angry that she didn't instantly respond? The church tends to encourage this anger at times when they tell him, "Your right! She shouldn't stay mad and cold forever when you are trying here!" They refuse to see that she is scared to hand over trust due to the nature of the relationship.

    He has taken that trust prior, and stomped her heart. The fact he is upset shows his true nature has not changed yet. If it had he would realize WHY he is being rejected. He would realize that is called consequences, and would continue on. He had people that would lay it all out there, and sadly within the church environment at times? They don't do that, because of their fear of the "D" word! If she would JUST cooperate they could have this 'happily ever after', and move on to the next issue in life.

    To me people are lazy. Abusers do need that type of help to have a heart change. They do need to feel and live the rejection to learn the consequences of their actions. There is a purpose there. If they are genuine in their change even if the wife in this case never turns around he will be changed the way God has intended. The church in their fear and laziness wants the restoration like you find in Disney films. The abuser is to much work. They completely missed the point. His heart change is the most important thing to God, and the saved marriage? WELL that is just gravy! HE is more important than the marriage to God. God does not place the marriage above the humans.

    Thank you for this series of articles. It does open my mind up. At times you see the church striving for the unrealistic Walt Disney World type of relationships, and it shows they truly can't deal with the real world types if they can't even figure WHO the love dare is FOR!

  3. I agree with you that the implication that the love-dare can work if the wife does it unilaterally undermined the power of the movies message (they threw that in at the end of the movie).

    However, I thought the movie was powerful. The depiction of the life with a porn user was very accurate and true to life. Caleb's repentance was very moving and if it inspires porn using husbands to repent, that would be wonderful!

    1. Caleb OWNED his behavior. He apologized on his knees with tears for how he had trampled his wife emotionally for years.

    2. Caleb bashes his computer with a baseball bat, puts a dozen roses and a note where the computer was. The note says “I Love You MORE”.

    Here are some of the things that bothered me:

    1. The implication that Caleb finding Jesus "solved the problems" Sadly porn use and the dehumanization, disrespect, and abuse of wives and children which accompanies that addiction is epidemic among pew sitters. My husband graduated seminary, was a professor at Christian colleges, and a missionary concurrent with porn which escalated to more concrete forms of adultery. Professing Christ appears to have no impact.

    2. Michael, the black Christian fireman with the good marriage told Caleb- the one with the struggling marriage- that he learned this in counseling:
    A woman is like a rose.
    If you treat her right she blooms.
    If you treat her wrong she wilts.

    Perhaps it is a bit of denial on my part, but I really do not like to give the power to my husband over whether I bloom or wilt. I think GOD can help me to BLOOM even if my marriage dies.

    My husband and I took the Love-Dare Bible study and I had to drop out. In the third chapter, I felt that the wife was singled out for criticism which was not leveled at the husband at all: I blogged on this with and included some excerpts from the book here: Love Dare “Bible Study” – Why I am Tempted to Drop Out. For another thing, I felt an enormous amount of "performance pressure" placed on me, "accountability partner" calling me up asking me how I was doing with the assignments, meanwhile no one called my husband. And his reaction to the material was "I am doing all this stuff already.". So he felt validated and proud about what a "perfect husband" he is (without heart change and acknowledgment of the pain his long term disrespect and self-centered lifestyle has caused me and the children). Just check of an item on the "things to do" performance list.... Grrrrr....

  4. Charis,

    Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you brought up the porn angle. Yes, the writers did an excellant job with showing that as well as showing Caleb's apparently heartfelt repentance.

    However, that "heartfelt repentance" is a hallmark of abusers. They often "repent" only to return and abuse again. Church folk often "buy" the repentance show. But no human can know if it is the real deal until 9 months to a year has passed. This is why domestic violence shelters tell abused wives to wait a MINIMUM of 9 months AFTER the abuser has changed, before returning to live with him. More time is better, to give him time to completely revamp his belief system of the relationship of husbands and wives. If his change remains for at least 9 months to 2 years, it is more likely the real thing.

    It bothers me that he destroyed the computer. Wasn't that his wife's, too? Why else would he need to erase the history of where he had been? Why couldn't he have moved the computer to a room designated as his wife's room that is to remain locked when she is not in it, and given his wife the only keys?

    It also bothers me that the wife's distress was inadequately shown. No mention was made of health difficulties, yet a chronic health problem is the normal result of living with abuse. Nearly all abused wives suffer a health difficulty, and most of them gain freedom from the health problem after they leave their husbands and their husbands do not have the leverage to continue abusing. Health issues are slower to recede if the husband can still inflict major abuse through the children or other means that keep them connected.

    They do show that she is vulnerable to being "picked up" by a predator male, who is already married. Abusive husbands, however, would not see this as a result of their neglect and abuse, but rather as another area where they need to take control of their wives.

  5. Hannah,

    "God would wish his changed heart even if she rejected him forever 100%. The way some churches approach this? That point seems to escape them completely."

    Good point. It is her husband who needs to get his heart right with God. Christians often apply certain verses in the N.T. but forget to apply wisdom. The Proverbs state that if a person sees danger and keeps going, he suffers for it. Yet the church frequently commands and urges the abused wife to ignore the danger and keep going. She indeed suffers for it, and so do her children.

    You are also right that she is not the person who needs the heart change. Usually she is the one who is already doing everything she can to obey God. How much more of a right heart can you get? I had to learn to start applying Proverbs more and denial of abuse and rewarding his abuse with kind deeds less. That was the heart change I needed. Completely opposite of what many churches and pastors teach.

    You are right. Caleb's wife was on the right track. When she got out of the way and stopped blocking the consequences of his abusive behavior, he had to face them. He had a choice: he could either change, or win his wife back. He never would have been at the crossroads if his wife had not taken the appropriate action.

    I also appreciate your pointing out the Disneyland type of love the church is standing up for. Reminds me of any number of chic movies where the divorced couple gets back together although none of their differences have been worked out. Usually, although the male claims to "love" her, he rarely values the real her. It's all about chemistry. In similar fashion, the church makes it all about "divorce is wrong." If they deal with the abuse at all, they rarely have a true understanding of the many tactics abusers use, nor of the damage it does. They rarely spot the con-artistry of abusers.

    AS you point out, they apparently value the institution of marriage more highly than they value the individuals involved, which is contrary to God's values. In other words, they value the law more highly than they value the people the law is supposed to serve. Wait, I take that back. They apparently think the law of marriage is primarily to serve husbands. According to their actions, women and children are secondary citizens to them.

  6. Hi Waneta,

    Now that you mention it, it would certainly bother me if my husband destroyed a household computer! But, in the movie, I took that scene as representative of his anger at the porn and radical committment to break the porn habit.

    I do understand how that scene would trigger anyone with any history of physical violence against them or household objects. In my case, my husband would NEVER deliberately break something. To the contrary, he has a history of cherishing the objects over the people, so for me- I saw the scene of his axing the computer and putting the roses there with "I love you more" as a refreshing moment of him putting a person (his wife) over the possession. Likewise, his laying down his boat to help her parents.

  7. I come from a "soft comp" background. My parents believe in submission, but they would never, ever countenance abuse. In fact, they have helped battered wives that they knew escaped from their husbands. The same attitude goes for most Christians I know, although I myself have rejected the submission beliefs and have a mutually submissive marriage with my wonderful husband.

    I say all this because I saw the movie twice and loved it. Most of the Chritians I know saw it and loved it. We didn't see any of the things you've pointed out, Waneta. We simply saw a beautiful movie about a husband's sincere desire to repent from his past bad behavior and exhibit genuine Christ-likeness to his wife. We also saw it as a call to love our own spouses the same way.

    A good example of this is the computer scene. Like Charis, I saw it as a sign of how Caleb loved his wife. He was destroying the thing that was leading him down the path of temptation so that he could have a pure relationship with his wife.

    Look, I don't want to argue. I'm really sorry that you and the other posters have suffered like you have. But I just don't see most of the things you're talking about.

  8. Anonymous,
    Welcome to my blog! Thank-you for sharing your perspective. If you read my other posts, you will see that I do point out that the movie is largely correct. (see: ) The problem is the way many Christians are applying the movie when it comes to marriages where one spouse is abusive. Because of the statement at the end that the wife can apply the Love Dare, too, the assumption many make is that an ABUSED WIFE can effectively use the love dare. I, along with many other Christian women, know this is not only false--it is dangerous. The result of this assumption is that the abusive husband increases his contempt for his wife, which results in his increasing his abuse of her.

    I am glad you are in a situation where these things are not happening to you or to anyone you know. You are right, for those who are in marriages that have grown cold/colder, Fireproof and the Love Dare would likely be very helpful.

    You may be interested in reading the reviews of the Love Dare on There are many that gave it a 5 star rating. But those that give it a lower rating give even more information--often very thoughtful. One reviewer, for example, said that the Love Dare is good for a year, maybe, but after that things will likely go back to how they were. Another reviewer suggested other resources to keep the love in one's marriage.

    May I ask you to keep your eyes and ears open and see if you eventually run into someone who is experiencing something similar to what I and a number of the commenters on my blog pointed out?