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Fireproof: Church-based movie studio pro-marriage film set to debut

By John W. Kennedy

Six years ago, Alex and Stephen Kendrick read a Barna Research study reporting that movies are the leading method of influencing this generation. Churches were not included in the top 10 ways to impact the culture, a disappointment to the brothers who both serve on the pastoral staff of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.

So the Kendricks determined to use the medium of moviemaking to get people interested in God. Two years ago, their first wide-release motion picture, Facing the Giants, topped $10 million at the box office.

Now, rather than a high school football team, the Kendricks’ new film that opens in theaters Friday deals with a crumbling marriage. Fireproof is being distributed by Provident, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures, and could make a potent impression on society.

The movie has a realistic premise that is difficult to illustrate in a Sunday sermon: A husband and wife have attained career success yet drifted apart emotionally and physically. After seven years of marriage, the husband is more interested in Internet pornography and the wife is more emotionally attached to a male co-worker.

Most anyone who has been married any length of time can identify with some scenes in the movie. The bottom line message: Marriage is a lifelong journey with trials a couple can only overcome with God’s help.

Fireproof pulls no punches in showcasing factors that can lead to divorce, such as pornography, debt and greed. Husband Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron), a hard-working firefighter, has replaced physical contact with his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea), with images of women on the Web.

“Anything that strips you of the time, energy and affection you normally give your spouse is a parasite,” says Alex Kendrick, who has spent the past year co-writing the screenplay and directing, editing and promoting the movie. “We’re not saying everyone should get rid of his computer, but people should break off access to what tempts them to stumble the most.”

Caleb, for the first part of the movie, is an unsympathetic husband who yells at his wife, looks at Internet porn and isn’t interested in God.

Catherine considers divorce with words commonly uttered across America. “We were in love when we got married,” she confides to a friend. “We’re two totally different people now.”

The movie explains how Caleb needs to get right with God, even if his wife decides to leave.

Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist for 19 years, serves as executive producer.

“The issue in marriage is not ‘I need to fix my spouse,’” Catt told TPE. “The issue is ‘I need to fix me.’”

The motion picture deftly portrays societal influences at work in tearing a marriage apart. Friends and co-workers of Catherine, who is a hospital public relations executive, urge her to bail out of the marriage because she isn’t happy.

Caleb is more than ready to call it quits. Grudgingly, he acquiesces to pleas from his father to wait 40 days before any divorce proceedings. During the span, Caleb, following daily advice from his father’s handwritten journal, implements steps of civility, compassion and unconditional love toward the wife he has emotionally battered. Slowly, Caleb becomes a more caring, less selfish husband.

The movie clearly shows that reversing course from divorce preparations doesn’t happen overnight, and that trust takes a long time to rebuild. Catherine continues to confide her intimate feelings to a male doctor at the hospital. “He listens to me and makes me feel important,” she tells a co-worker.

Catherine coldly resists her husband’s overtures of niceness. “Let me be clear; I do not love you,” she responds.

Some film critics no doubt will find Fireproof preachy and simplistic. But there’s no quick transformation to sweetness and light once Caleb commits his life to Jesus. He still endures weeks of torment from the wife he’s mistreated.

It takes a church

Sherwood Baptist Church has 3,000 attendees, and more than a third of them — all volunteers — had a hand in seeing the movie to fruition. The end credits are six minutes long, listing everyone who helped with support tasks from meal preparation to babysitting. It’s not common to see “prayer coordinator” listed in the acknowledgments of a major motion picture.

Residents of Albany, population 90,000, also rallied around the movie. At no cost, a regional hospital allowed filming to take place in a new wing. The city provided two fire stations for scenes, as well as use of a new half-million-dollar fire engine.

Alex Kendrick, who has a cameo role as a minister in Fireproof, says he hopes the movie prompts a national dialogue. “We want to point people back to God, who designed the covenant of marriage, and get away from the cultural view, which has almost reduced marriage to just a piece of paper,” Kendrick told TPE.

“If we love our spouses based on whether they deserve it, we’ll often feel like we’ve fallen out of love,” says Kendrick, who has been married for 13 years and has five children.

If Fireproof is to expand beyond the 800 theaters set to show the film on Friday, it will need to do well opening weekend. It won’t be for a lack of trying to get the word out. Fireproof has been endorsed by more than 50 national ministries, including the Assemblies of God. Facing the Giants, in which Alex Kendrick portrayed protagonist Coach Grant Taylor, opened on 441 screens in 2006.

A professional film crew of eight worked at a discounted rate on Fireproof. Cameron, who gained fame in the 1980s as Mike Seaver on the TV series Growing Pains, donated his fee from the film to a camp for kids. With profits from the movie, Sherwood Baptist plans to build an 82-acre sports complex for the city.

The Kendrick brothers also have authored The Love Dare, a 40-day biblically based book on how to rekindle a dying marriage that further develops vignettes from the movie. The book will be released on Friday to coincide with the film’s premiere.


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Midlife Musings (jkennedy.agblogger.org).

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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