Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fireproof, What’s Right About it, Part 6, Conclusion

The main problem with Fireproof is the interpretation of those who view the movie. For the most part, the necessary and correct details ARE in the movie, but they are either too subtle for most Evangelical Christian viewers who know little about domestic violence, or they are downplayed by the screenwriters. Keep in mind, the screenwriters knew their audience would largely be Evangelical Christians, so I’ll leave it up to you as to whether the fogging-over of the issues was intentional.

First, notice that the word “submission” is not used once in the movie. Perhaps this is because the couple does not claim to be Christian, even though they have Christian values. The writers got it right when they left “submission” and “authority” out of the movie. They rightly do NOT indicate that Catherine’s “non-submissive” behavior, her forthright and truthful comments, and her confrontive speech is the factor that is destroying the marriage and driving her husband to porn addiction, lack of love and respect for her, and trampling on her. Instead, it is clear that her behavior is a RESPONSE to her husband’s selfish use of her and his lust after other women.

Next, notice that the writers deal compassionately with Catherine’s responses to the doctor who is wooing her. There is some truth to the counselor’s words that if a husband treats his wife right, she will bloom, but if he mistreats her she will wilt. We can see that in the scene where Catherine wilts when Caleb abruptly slams the cupboard door, turns on her with his savage words, and threatens her by punching the air with his fists stopping just short of her nose. We also see where she blooms with the positive attention of the doctor.

The writers use the “on-the-job flirtation” to show abusive husbands that they are literally driving their wives into another man’s arms, rather than to blame it on the abused wives. I commend them for this compassionate stance. Although the abused wife is accountable to God for her behavior, the writers show that when a husband mistreats his wife, he also carries the responsibility for putting her in the position to be seriously tempted to become an adulteress.

Another thing they got right, is when they refer to Caleb’s parents’ marriage. Caleb’s impatient and contemptuous attitude toward his mother seems unwarranted, until a viewer puts it together that she was the abuser up until 2 years ago. She was so hard to live with, that her husband was planning to leave the marriage. Because she was the abuser, SHE had to be the one to implement the Love Dare. If her husband had used it, she would have continued to walk all over him.

Next, notice that the word “abuse” did not appear once in the movie. Not once. Why? I would guess it is because their target audience had largely rejected that word. The writers replaced it with the word “trample” when Caleb confesses to Catherine that he has trampled on her for 7 years.

Replacing the word “abuse” with “trample” has at least 3 consequences, some positive, and others detrimental for their audience.

1. The movie would not be rejected by those who reject the veracity of the claims of wives who say their husbands abuse them in non-physical ways.

2. Because the word “abuse” is not used, many viewers are unaware that the story is about a couple whose marriage is being destroyed by Caleb’s abusive behavior and porn viewing. They can consider his actions to be “verbal unkindness” as John Piper has labeled non-physical abuse. This downplays the seriousness of the abuser’s sin, making it very easy to blame the wife for non-submission, which, as mentioned above, the writers did not do. However, since respected Christian leaders, like Bruce Ware, have told huge audiences it is the wife’s non-submission that causes husbands to get angry, it would be easy for viewers to draw the same conclusion.

3. Those who do not recognize the abusive behavior of Caleb, and the abusive behavior that is inferred about Caleb’s mother’s previous behavior, nor that Catherine has already been loving for six years, assume the statement toward the end that either gender can apply the Love Dare, means that either spouse—even the abused spouse—can successfully and safely implement the Love Dare. This is very dangerous.

The result is that the Evangelical community pushes abused wives to apply the Love Dare, which further damages marriages that are already close to beyond repair, and puts abused wives and their children at serious risk for their mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health.

Considering that it was Caleb and his mother, the trampling, abusive ones, who used the Love Dare, the movie DOES tell viewers that the person who has been violating his spouse is the one who must use the Love Dare.

Besides these assumptions made by viewers, there are two major problems with the storyline itself. One is the assumption that a person who becomes a Christian and uses the Love Dare will stop trampling his or her spouse. As I pointed out in an earlier post, men who choose to abuse, often see scripture as permission to increase their abuse. There are some men, however, (like Gary Smalley, Paul Hegstrom, and Joel Davisson) who have seen their sin, and taken steps to cherish, sacrifice for, and honor their wives.

A second problem is the assumption that the abuser’s heart-change will be fairly quick, or within 40 days, and does not need to be time-tested for a year or more. Even though Caleb says “you can have all the time you need,” the story still has Catherine making up her mind in a very short time. This, however, may be because it is fiction. To hold the interest of the viewers, writers frequently have to condense the time-line of the story. Indeed, I had to do the same thing with my novel, “Behind the Hedge,” and will likely have to do it again with the sequel. Like the writers of "Fireproof", I, too, have to hope my audience will gain enough truth and insight from my story that they will refrain from forcing a compressed time-line on hurting people.

A third problem arises after the church gets it right and pushes the abuser to try the Love Dare. Although the story does show Caleb trying to use the Love Dare manipulatively and without genuine love, which is typical of abusers, a problem arises because of the church’s emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation. Many pastors and Christian counselors would join the abuser in pressuring the spouse to accept the abuser’s/trampler’s half-hearted change as genuine and urge her to forgive and forget, instead of first making sure the abuser has a genuine heart transformation, and that he will stick with it. They fail to understand the necessity of making the husband deal with the consequences of his sin, by making it HIS responsibility to WIN her trust and respect, instead of HER responsibility to forgive and take him back without proof of his trustworthiness.

In Conclusion, it is important for Christians to understand that the Love Dare is to be applied by the spouse who has been nasty and “trampled on” his or her partner, NOT by the abused spouse. It is also important that church pastors and lay people, educate themselves about domestic abuse, including behaviors and thought patterns that are typical to abusers, and stop pushing the wrong solutions on hurting people.

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. Great article Waneta. I appreciate how well you've explained different ways people interpret and apply a movie like Fireproof. It's paradigmatic of how differently various Christians understand domestic abuse. I hope this post and the series get linked to by many other sites. Bless you.

  2. WOW Waneta! You have done an awesome job pointing out things that some may not have thought about. I hope more people read your series on the movie. You are certainly correct in saying its not something you should apply to everyone. Its common sense in some ways, but not with those that prefer to use spiritual pixie dust instead. WAY to often do you see people viewing things as the 'do all' band-aid for mankind!

  3. Thanks Barbara and Hannah!
    However, in rereading what I wrote, I realize that although I inferred a point, I did not state it.

    I want to state that Fireproof got it right in showing an abuser trying to use the Love Dare manipulatively. The authors also got it right when they didn't have Caleb's parents turn the blame on her as soon as Caleb told them he tried but she rejected every effort. Instead, his dad reminds him it takes 40 days instead of just 4, and says he is guessing Caleb is doing just enough to get by. Although Dad apparently did not know about the porn, he still guessed that something in Caleb's story was not as it was reported. Notice that Dad did not come to Caleb's house to pressure Catherine to change her mind, as many pastors currently do. He did not pat Caleb on the back and tell him he did everything he could, so he can stop trying now. The counsel Dad and Michael gave Caleb is the counsel church folks should give the abusers, not the abused. so Fireproof has that right, too.