Posted on May 5, 2014 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Expressions of intolerance
Date Released to Theaters: May 6, 2014

Irreplaceable” is indefensible.

My parents taught me that you automatically lose an argument if you (1) fail to state the other side’s views in a manner they approve or (2) fail to attribute to the other side the same good intentions you assume for your own. Focus on the Family’s faux documentary “Irreplaceable” fails on both grounds.  It probably also violates one of the Commandments as well, the one prohibiting the bearing of false witness.

I’m in favor of strong, loving families with responsible parents. You’re in favor of strong. loving, families with responsible parents. It is safe to say that there is just about no one who is not in favor of strong, loving families with responsible parents. It is about the least controversial position imaginable. But this film uses the rhetoric of support for family as a thin and increasingly cynical and specious cover for a pernicious agenda disguised as a “conversation.” It’s so smug, constricted, and phony that it does not even qualify as one-sided.

irreplaceable movieThe unctuous tones of the participants are intended to convey concern. But the false humility is merely an attempt to distract the audience from a poisonous message. Though some vague generalities acknowledge that in some cases marriages cannot be made safe and spouses must leave, the real message is that there is only one kind of family and everything else is unstable for its members and for culture and society. If it had any faith in its positions, Focus on the Family would accurately explain the views of those who embrace a variety of family structures and roles, allowing each family to find what is best for them.  Instead it slants and distorts those messages because it knows it has no effective arguments to make honestly.  It relies on innuendo and the basest slur to keep its base too scared to be anything but compliant.

The “experts” in the film tell us that the problem is that we are getting cultural messages about valuing self, possessions, and pleasure over the family.  Those are serious questions and worth exploring.  But they fall back on an imagined war between faith and culture without any exploration of why the faith community has failed to communicate its message more effectively or how the faith community or society as a whole could provide more support for families in need.  There is no place in the world of these experts for families that do not fit into their one-size-fits-all vision of mother, father, children all living together.  Is it possible for strong, loving, intact families with gay parents to raise happy, healthy children?  For single parents and blended families to raise happy, healthy, children?  Are fathers today more deeply involved in their children’s lives than in the falsely idealized vision of the mid-20th century promoted here?  Statistics say yes, but you would not know that from this film.  If indeed that era was so ideal, why did the overwhelming majority of those who grew up that way advocate with such passion for alternatives?

Those who wish to persuade others can best do so by building a bridge to establish a common foundation, making it clear that what connects us is more important than what separates us. Or, as they have done here, they can build a moat around their shrinking base, reinforcing the condescending sense of superiority of their own little group by telling them that only their answers work for everyone and playing into their worst fears and stereotypes.

One of the “experts” in this film tells us, “If anyone says they can fix the world, run.”  Yet that is just what they do here, imagining that once there was a heavenly era of intact families living out God’s plan without acknowledging that the mid-century “ideal” was neither universal nor considered ideal by those living in it.  The dissatisfactions that model engendered led to a cultural upheaval that created its own problems, but none so grave to lead to a widespread call for a return to stultifying, rigidly conformist norms.  While commentators in this film make vague concessions to those whose situations are so intolerable that the marriage cannot survive, the essential condescension, arrogance, and total absence of grace or compassion is its primary message.

With this cynical, meretricious and hypocritical film, Focus on the Family has dug a moat and burned the drawbridge. It purports to be about the importance of fathers taking responsibility for their children (again, something everyone agrees on, but you would not know that from this film). It purports to be about forgiveness, something else everyone agrees on, but it engages in the most immoral tactics by demonizing anyone who does not meet its standards.

I am happy for the person in the film who is glad his mother stayed with his father even after he went to jail for stealing money but that does not mean that it would be right for all spouses. And it does not mean I will forgive Focus on the Family for this shoddy, hateful, and dishonest film.

Parents should know that this is a dishonest film that attempts to hide its biased agenda.

Family discussion:  What families do you admire and why?  What can you to do help your family be stronger?

If you like this, try: “A Family is a Family is a Family”

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