Several commenters have noted that their pastor doesn’t give anti-father sermons on Father’s Day*. I don’t doubt this, as the church I attend doesn’t do this either. But the anti-father sermon on a day reserved to honor fathers is just one of the more visible symptoms of the problem. Other symptoms are more universal but harder spot precisely because they are so common they feel normal.
Christian films are a better way to see how universal the attitude is. Because the Christian movie market is a niche market, the films are carefully designed to have a message that appeals to a wide Christian audience, including Protestants and Catholics*. Also, Christians have a trade off when they view movies. They can watch a secular movie and get the best production qualities at the cost of a message they disagree with, or they can watch a Christian movie with a message they agree with at the cost of lower production qualities.
Christian movies are all about the message, and anti-married-father messages are extremely common in Christian movies. What is often telling is the startled reaction secular reviewers have to the anti-father message in well loved Christian movies. Mom’s Night Out was loved by Christians as just another good Christian movie about the family. But the feminists at Dame were appalled by the anti-married-father message in Mom’s Night Out.
‘Moms’ Night Out’ may be a Christian movie, but it’s part of a long cinematic tradition portraying men as useless louts. And that’s not good for anyone.
As the Dame review noted, Mom’s Night Out was just a Christian retread of the common fathers-as-buffoons theme we see in secular entertainment. But Christian films often have a much darker anti-father message than secular entertainment. The widely popular Kendrick brother** movies are the obvious example of this darker message, with War Room being their most recent. In War Room the married father is portrayed not as a hapless idiot, but as a truly vile man, devoid of any positive qualities at all. As the reviewer from rogerebert.com observed:
The film’s centerpiece sequence occurs early on, as Elizabeth sits weeping in her closet while pleading, “God, help him love me again.” This moment is heartbreaking for all the wrong reasons. Since the Kendricks have mistaken one-dimensional caricatures for people who exist in the real world, they forgot to provide Tony with any redeeming qualities that would make us want to root for his marriage.
Neither of these movies caused controversy for their anti-father messages in conservative Christian circles, because they are simply “normal” Christian movies with a message that Christians love.
But the best example of all with relation to conservative Christians tearing fathers down on Father’s Day is the Kendrick brother movie Courageous. In the first few years after it was released the movie itself and its accompanying resolution were widely touted as excellent Father’s Day gifts. The message of Courageous is that married Christian fathers who seem like they have it together are actually terrible failures as fathers, and need to sign a pledge to man up. The movie is, as the description of The Resolution for Men explains, “an emotionally charged wake-up call to fathers”.
In order for Courageous to motivate good fathers to man up, it must first tear good fathers down. This leads to a disturbing scene where the protagonists sit around a backyard barbecue complaining about their fathers. For those who haven’t seen the movie, note that this isn’t something the characters are shown as having to repent of later in the movie. On the contrary, it is the movie makers speaking in a very clunky way through their characters, and by doing so modeling how good Christians should speak of their own fathers. Most astonishing is the fact that this scene (and the message of the movie) didn’t create a controversy in Christian circles.
From the movie script at Springfield Springfield:
I wonder where all the good fathers went.
Ain’t that the truth?
What? I remember you talking about your dad.
Wasn’t he an usher at your church?
Yeah, but that doesn’t mean anything.
Soon as the church service started, he’d step out back for a smoke.
You know, one time he says to me, “I better not catch you drinking. ”
Had a beer in his hand when he said it.
My mom used to nag him.
That is, till they got divorced.
Look, it’s not like I don’t love the guy, but it’s hard to respect a hypocrite.
What about you, David?
I had a good dad.
I mean, the guy wasn’t perfect.
My parents split after he had an affair.
But I think he regretted it.
This movie, and it’s accompanying pledge to be a better father, was seen by conservative Christians as an excellent gift to give fathers on Father’s Day. This movie that tears good father’s down, is seen in conservative Christian circles as a way to honor fathers! In fact, Courageous, it’s resolution ceremony, and the other movies I referenced in this post are all offered as resources to honor fathers by Honor Your Father Today.
*Based on feedback from Catholic readers the anti-father Father’s Day sermon is either uncommon in Catholic churches or doesn’t occur at all. However, the movie Courageous was supported by at least 10 Catholic organizations. You can see Catholic reviews of the movie here, here, and here. You can see a discussion on Catholic Answers Forum here. You can also see Catholic reviews of Moms Night Out here, here, here, and here. You can see Catholic reviews of War Room here, here and here, and a discussion of the movie on Catholic Answers Forum.
**Stephen Kendrick is featured in my post A radical Father’s Day proposal where he urges fellow Christians to honor their fathers. His brother Alex plays the role of the pastor in Mom’s Night Out.