Does anyone remember old Doug Phillips' San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, back before the demise of Vision Forum? Well, Vision Forum may have dissolved but its acolytes didn't. It seems that they continue to produce sappy, schmaltzy films which seem wholesome and virtuous. Those of us who are familiar with the religion and the lifestyle quickly recognize that the films like Fireproof and Courageous aren't just sugar and schmaltz.
Like most fans of the Duggars and TLC's 19 Kids and Counting cable show fail to realize, most of those who participate in the festival follow a spiritually abusive (or cultic) version of high demand Christianity. I have little hesitation calling this genre of religion a spinoff of Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) principles which new, up and coming leaders seek to brand as their own. They are rehashed lifestyle formulas which seem to prove that they are extra-special to God.
Bill Gothard organized one of the first spinoffs, an others like Jonathan Lindvall, Doug Phillips, and the latecomer Voddie Baucham followed. Those who came before just didn't get things right enough, but their own new twists on patriarchal legalism seemed to them to work just a little bit better. They felt that they were just a little bit more orthodox and therefore more special to God than everyone else. Most people just smile and enjoy the lovely looking families without taking note of the high price that those involved must pay to create that illusion. They don't show much interest in the spirituality that inspires the devoted followers. Most people also fail to realize that their support of such TV shows and films helps to legitimize the spiritually abusive lifestyles in the minds of the followers.
I didn't find this recent production of The War Room to be as openly offensive as Courageous, so my review will be shorter and sweeter than that tome that I wrote a few years ago.
- I found the dialogue to be excessively scripted, but this does not surprise me much because the real lives of those who follow the religious ideology of the filmmakers are just as scripted.
- I couldn't even identify with the elder protagonist, and I couldn't tell if the writing, directing, or the acting was responsible for that. For me, there is nothing like the strong yet gentle encouragement from an older Black woman in the South (if they decide that they like you). ;) I thought of my experiences in the Deep South while working with such fine women as something tantamount to a religious experience, especially when I would engage them on a topic that inspired them. Earning their love and trust was no light thing, and I don't think that it was something that they give away without merit.I must admit that I desperately wanted to find that feeling in this film, but the Southern Black matriarch in The War Room engendered none of it for me. Was it bad acting, bad writing, bad directing or all three factors combined? I was sad that the matriarch character brought none of that back to me in her performance, and I wanted so much to find it.At No Longer Quivering, Suzanne notes this similar theme in her review:
The dialogue is hokey and belabored, one of the main characters is that Hollywood stock character/trope known as the “Magical Negro”, the film is preachier than an IFB pastor on speed at a tent revival, filled with simplistic formulas that do not work, and comparing it to a Lifetime movie is an insult to Lifetime. It’s much worse than its predecessors in the Christian film genre. Even worse that the cringe-inducing purity ball-esque father-daughter moment that was in ‘Courageous.’
- I could not help but question whether the formulaic family folk religion filmmakers really wanted to send the message of developing a bold, fervent prayer life to every woman.
Please note that I was taught to pray quite boldly as a Pentecostal. Also consider the four years that I logged in at a Gothard/Shepherding church in a middle class suburb in Maryland. I also put in almost three years at a Presbyterian church in Texas where Doug Phillips attended. He then made an exodus with half of my same aged peers there to venture off to form his own church called Boerne Christian Assembly.I know all about the social mores and the hidden curriculum of conduct required by the kind of churches targeted by the Kendrick Brothers in The War Room. Their story line features a matriarch who teaches a younger Black woman to submit and retreat to her prayer closet to pray to change her cheating husband. As Hannah Thomas of Emotional Abuse and Your Faith has described her idea of formulaic Christianity to me, one need only sprinkle “spiritual pixie dust” on everything, and suddenly, your life becomes idyllic as your problems melt away. This was the primary message of the film. Get thee to the closet! (The prayer closet.)Through very painful experience, I can say that Celtic/Caucasian women like me are not permitted to be demonstrative in their worship or in their prayers in these types of churches. I was actually 'counseled' while in a Complementarian church (which subordinates women) for my failure to demonstrate an appropriately gentle, feminine spirit, specifically pertaining to prayer. Such behavior might be tolerated by elder women or perhaps women of an ethnicity other than the Caucasian norm in most of these churches.
(I don't think that much can trump the disgust of the dating daddy business in Courageous. Until I read this review, I knew nothing of a “stock 'Magical Negro'” type of character, but I would agree that this is what the film tried to emulate. They tried, anyway.)
- Of course, the film is also accompanied by themed products which can be purchased from the filmmakers. (For kicks a few years back, I asked a bookseller if they sold the Prayer of Jabez shot glass.) I was sad to see all of the merchandising. It's a savvy business move, but why can't people readily find this instruction at their churches? Why do they need a parade of merchandise to keep mindful of the message? Courageous (also a Kendrick production) offered the same trappings.
I haven't seen the materials, and a part of me hopes that the filmmakers are actually aspiring to change and broaden roles for women. But for the reasons I mention, if they have indeed made the attempt to change their closed religious world, I don't think that it will endure.
- An obscure song kept popping into my mind from a science fiction spoof cartoon. I feel that describes the primary message of the film for women quite succinctly, along with a little sardonic humor. And with that, I conclude this review.
Shut up and love me,