Sherwood Baptist Church of Georgia has done it again.
It’s been nearly four months since the release of Sherwood’s fourth film, Courageous. I finally watched it this weekend and found that its tone was consistent with their 2006 football film Facing the Giants. It was a similar mix of laugh out loud hilarity and somber tearjerker scenes that result in deep self-reflection. The range of emotions captured in this film has a greater intensity than their previous films. It’s the kind of production you let play clear through the credits because you’re so absorbed in thinking about its message.
While I have not seen Sherwood’s Fireproof, which starred Kirk Cameron, I bought Facing the Giants immediately after seeing it and have watched their original film, Flywheel, on TBN. These are Hollywood-quality productions created mostly by volunteers and their expertise increases with each movie. It’s a pleasure to watch their growth. Aside from some awkward scene transitions and my ongoing boredom with most contemporary Christian music, this film is well done. A shootout scene in particular gave the subject matter a gripping realism.
When I first learned that Courageous was about four cops, I almost didn’t want to see it because I was concerned it would romanticize the policing profession. There are a significant number of domestic abusers in law enforcement, and many are masters of maintaining a heroic public persona while mistreating their families behind closed doors. For those unfamiliar with my blog, I am a multiple-time survivor of police officer-involved domestic violence who made that topic the focus of my M.A. in forensic psychology. I’ve lived it, worked in it, studied it, and have dear friends and family members in the profession.
What Courageous does is ask all men, including cops, to stand up and be men of integrity in both the public and private parts of their lives. This can be especially difficult for cops because their profession gives them access to drugs, women, money, and all sorts of tantalizing enticements that they have the means to indulge in. Working “overtime” or “off-duty” (wink, wink) or having special assignments give police officers a myriad of excuses to not be there for their families. Police departments may do briefings at the start of shift, but I have yet to hear of one that does routine debriefings at the end of shift that helps officers transition into their private roles. Ethically, police work is a minefield, and its reliance on power and control can be deadly for those around the officer.
Courageous doesn’t delve into police culture much but there is a scene later in the movie that demonstrates how difficult it can be for cops to be men (and women) of integrity. Policing is often described as a brotherhood in which you don’t “rat out” your fellow officers because you have to depend upon them to “have your back.” I’ve also seen officers face serious retaliation when they stand up to corruption in Administration, and as a civilian, have experienced this as well. Courageous addresses this in a manner that evokes one of my favorite ancient adages: to live a life of virtue, you have to become consistent, even when it isn’t convenient, comfortable, or easy. Sometimes you have to do what’s right even when it hurts.
“Why?” you may ask. Some people don’t subscribe to Judeo-Christian ethics and don’t believe that someday we’re going to stand in front of our Maker to explain why we did the things we did. That’s your choice. An astute point that this film makes, though, is that the behaviors we model to our children set the tone for their children, and their children’s children. One of the men in the movie recounts a time when his dad yelled at him, “I’d better never catch you drinking!” while holding a beer in his hand. Another never met his womanizing father, and another has a father-related secret that has him gripped by guilt. The characters realize that any darkness, drama, and dysfunction must be stopped by them.
This story is a good reminder that kids don’t need hypocrites, they need role models. It also speaks to the mind-blowing number of children in our country are growing up without dads. What we do—us, now—has a great likelihood of trickling down into future generations. The choices we make affect offspring we’ll never even see. Also, we don’t know how much time we get with the kids we have now, a component of this movie that may shock you more than any other. While both parents are equally valuable, there is a desperate need for dads and the protection they can provide in our modern age. As one of the characters pointed out, think of how many people in prison didn’t have active, involved fathers. I’ve often mused that this could be the single biggest social problem in the U.S.
While this might not have been the film’s intent, its message caused me to consider something I’d talked about with believing friends recently. The question is whether “Christian” men are any different than “regular” men. I’m completely serious. Going to church and saying “hallelujah” a lot while patting other men on the back and calling them “brothers” doesn’t mean that you’re a man of integrity the other six days of the week. You may be someone else entirely in your job or justify your choices based on your circumstances rather than your faith. This is something we all struggle with; I’ll be the first to admit that it is challenging to keep your faith intact at work.
I’ve developed a “typical single guy” composite based on the experiences of women around me, and “he” is a morally flexible, hedonistic sports nut who spends his weekends on grand adventures with his buddies and needs constant stimulation. His commitment to his partner and/or family is shallow and his level of involvement is determined by what’s convenient or comfortable to him. He compartmentalizes his life and usually has multiple relationships going on with good, successful, giving women who think they’re his “only one.” In a variation on this theme, there’s also the “cool dad” guy who, perhaps instinctively, uses his kids as bait. He eventually uses the woman to care for the kids while he’s sleeping around and acting like “typical single guy.”
This has a lot of beautiful, talented women in my life wondering, “where are the men?” Because even among the “brothers,” we find self-absorbed sports guy who talks the talk, but his walk has about as much moral fiber as a tablespoon of expired yogurt. He knows how to look awesome but fails to see—or doesn’t care—that his life is all about him. He shouldn’t lead women to believe he’s a Christian family man when he’s basically an overgrown frat boy. This “display of faith” is exactly how the spineless and noncommittal among us worm their way into the lives of women who are seeking long-term commitment. These guys thrive on attaching themselves to women who have their lives together and feeding off their successes. They crave what they lack internally—they’re parasites.
My main point is that if a guy says he’s a Christian, is he for real? Does he make a dazzling show of his forgiveness, benevolence, and belief in the eternal or does his daily life reflect his claims? Is he enmeshed with his mother, or an ex, or have multiple pots simmering on his relationship burner, or has he matured to the point that he is ready for the real deal? Did he have a father figure who modeled character and integrity? Has he made a conscious decision not to be like his dysfunctional parents? Sometimes those with the strongest faith are those with the quietest faith. Sometimes a sincere Christian is going to be a quirky guy who opens doors for old ladies but doesn’t raise his hands in church. Sometimes he’ll be a muscular manly man with gruff speech who has a tender heart. You can find a real Christian in his walk, not his talk. This is a lesson that I admit I’ve learned the hard way.
I fear that we’ve developed a “super-Christian” stereotype that a “true believer” will be dancing in the worship service and volunteering in soup kitchens. Such stereotypes are dangerous because different people are given different gifts and all are equally important. Additionally, how we express our faith is a personal choice, and God never made a rule that we all have to look or act alike. Our diversity is a reflection of His creativity. So frankly I’m wary of guys who come across as perfect super-Christians rather than men who walk with a limp. God builds our faith through trials and tribulations, so to me a sincere Christian man is going to be a guy who recognizes his bad choices and has made a commitment to doing things right. He’s not perfect; he’s trying, like me, and I am many, many miles away from a place called perfect.
This is exactly what the men of Courageous did. They decided that they were tired of being good enough, or hypocritical, or less than they could be, and they made a commitment to doing things better. Of course they’re going to make mistakes along the way; they’re human. But when they do, they’re going to have people around them to help them recognize those trips and slips and pull them back up. The five main characters of this movie basically made a pact with each other to be the kind of men that God would want them to be—honest, invested, reliable husbands and fathers whose actions reflected their faith.
Regardless of your belief system, Courageous will challenge you to evaluate how much you truly care about the people you’ve made a purposeful commitment to and the people you’ve brought into this world. It will make you think about whether you’re really standing up for what’s right or if you’re skating through life making excuses for everyone. You can look at this movie as entertainment with some notable casting choices and you can look at it as a mirror you don’t really want to gaze into, but you’ll be a stronger person if you do.
Even if you’re a single person, Courageous can be a tool to help you prepare for the life ahead. God recognized that it’s not good for man to be alone and if He has not relieved you of the desire for a partner, then keep praying you’ll be the best partner you can when the time comes. I am very glad that the producers of this movie dared show people what it means to be a real man and the consequences of saying you’re one thing but acting like another. We are all guilty of this to some degree. The point is that we can accept divine help to be better than we are. And there are a lot of women and children out there looking for real men, even the strong, successful ones.
The world of posers is shaken by a real man. They’ll do whatever it takes to get you back in line—threaten you, bribe you, seduce you, undermine you. You must let your strength show up… Many of us have actually been afraid to let our strength show up because the world doesn’t have a place for it. Fine. The world’s screwed up. Let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it. –John Eldredge
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