For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.
– 2 Timothy 4:3, NLT
Around 2010, a major marital craze went through the American, evangelical church world. A new “Christian” movie was in the theaters, and it was billed as having a marriage saving story-line. My home church in CT was not immune to the hype as they encouraged couples–husbands especially–to go see the movie “Fireproof” and do The Love Dare, the spin-off book from the movie.
While I suspect the motives behind the message were sincerely to help marriages (and may have helped some), the movie and book are examples of a very dangerous and wrong approach to marriages ravaged by infidelity. I am convinced this movie caused more damage in my first marriage than it helped. It certainly sent the wrong messages to my spouse at the time further enabling her infidelity.
A brief summary of the movie plot as I remember it:
Caleb is a firefighter, and his marriage is in crisis due to his porn addiction and selfish, angry ways. Catherine, Caleb’s wife, files for divorce, and while it is being processed, Caleb does the “Love Dare” at the behest of his father. This “Love Dare” consists of doing selfless acts of love toward Catherine over a period of time. It transforms Caleb’s heart, and he destroys his computer realizing his porn addiction was very wrong.
During this time, Catherine has an emotional affair with a married doctor at work. Caleb finds out and “confronts” the married doctor telling him that he will win Catherine’s heart back since he has a head start.
The turning point in the movie takes place when Caleb takes his own savings for a boat and uses the money instead to buy necessary medical things for Catherine’s aging parents. Catherine at first thinks the OM did this for her and only returns to Caleb after realizing he did it. Then they have a reaffirmation of marital vows ceremony to close the movie.
I have several issues with the teachings this movie presents:
1. It minimizes the sinfulness and damage of emotional affairs.
At no point did Catherine repent in the movie for her infidelity to Caleb who she wronged. In fact, Caleb confronting the doctor in the way he did suggests Caleb, and not Catherine, is responsible for the emotional affair. This is a lie. Catherine and the doctor chose to cheat on their spouses (That is TWO spouses plus families wronged, by the way, yet another plot oversight). Adultery flows from the cheaters’ hearts, in this instance. They are 100% responsible for the emotional affair.
2. It teaches that the evangelical Christians view pornography as a greater threat and sin than adultery.
The movie fell into the typical evangelical/fundamentalist trope of railing against the ills of pornography while missing the elephant in the room–i.e. adultery. Please understand, I think pornography is awful and damaging for marital relationships. The movie gets that correct.
I raise this broader observation to make my point about how a situation ripe for adultery teaching is missed. In fact, Caleb’s pornography addiction is treated as worse than Catherine’s emotional affair with the doctor.
They are both horrible and ought to be treated as such laying the responsibility for the sin on the sinner engaged in the behavior. The script writers did just that in the case of Caleb’s porn addiction. They failed to do that in the case of Catherine’s emotional affair. This is a major oversight.
3. The “Love Dare” sends the wrong messages to partners already cheating.
The Love Dare is this program to selflessly love a spouse. It is billed as the Christlike approach to a spouse and an opportunity for the one doing it to grow in godly character. My problem with this approach is that such a dare is not Christlike when marital cheating is happening.
We are called to confront sin (see Matthew 18).
Adultery needs confronting and not enabling. By not addressing adultery directly, one is sending the message that it is not so serious. By engaging in the “win back” behavior advocated by The Love Dare, the faithful spouse is sending the message that they are to blame for the adultery or emotional affair (to some degree, at least). This is a lie.
Only the one who chooses infidelity is responsible for the infidelity. Until this truth is grasped, repentance is far away, and the marriage remains vulnerable to future infidelities as the adulterous spouse has not mastered the sin.
Those are just a few of my top issues with this movie. And I am not just speculating on possible damage such teachings create. It happened to me.
When my former spouse watched this movie as part of our marital counseling with lay “Christian” counselors, she loved it. The part she gravitated towards was Caleb confronting the OM and not his wife for her infidelity. My ex-wife thought that was great. It fed her ego to think she would be fought over like Catherine.
And I suspect she loved how Catherine was not held responsible for her sinful, cheating choices. As I pointed out above, this teaching set her up for further acts of infidelity and disempowered her to choose godliness through repentance. This was and is not Christlike.
We can do better for Christian teaching on troubled marriages.
More like fire fodder-worthy!
*A version of this post ran previously.
Republished with permission from www.divorceminister.com.