UPDATED: Crowd estimate updated in first paragraph
INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–More than 3,000 Southern Baptists attended a June 8 screening of “Fireproof,” the third film produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.
“As leaders and influencers … we hope you will help us get people into the theater and pray that God will use the movie to impact homes across the country,” Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church, told attendees of the screening, held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, a two-day gathering prior to the SBC’s June 10-11 annual meeting in Indianapolis.
Fireproof chronicles the impact of selfishness, financial struggles, emotional adultery and Internet pornography on the seven-year marriage of firefighter Caleb Holt and his wife Catherine, a public relations executive.
Actor Kirk Cameron, perhaps best known for his roles in the 1980s TV series “Growing Pains” and the later “Left Behind” movie series, plays the role of Holt, whose constant mantra to his team is, “Never leave your partner behind, especially in a fire.”
When his wife tells him she wants a divorce, Holt realizes the contradiction between his commitment to run into a burning building to save a stranger but falling short in his marriage. With the help of his father, Holt takes up the challenging -– and often discouraging — challenge of reviving his marriage.
“It’s very important for churches to see this movie” because of the negative effect divorce is having on churches, said one of the pastors, Greg Carroll, who saw the movie. “I think that in most churches, we mask this problem and act like it isn’t there,” said Carroll, of Truett Memorial First Baptist Church in Hayesville, N.C.
“The movie made me ask myself if my marriage is a 10,” Carroll added. “It’s too easy for me to reflect on 30 years of marriage and the fact that my wife teaches Sunday School and I preach three times a week. That makes me think everything is hunky-dory. But the movie made me realize my marriage is not a 10, and there are some things I need to work on.”
The movie conveys an important message for secular culture, as well as the church, Carroll added. “If non-believers see the film, they’ll realize that marriage is more than just two people living together, and that they can have a better marriage with Jesus Christ in it. The movie shows the original plan God had for marriage in the Garden of Eden, where two people become one.”
Erin Bethea, who plays opposite Cameron in the role of Catherine Holt, said the movie “challenged me more for the future as far as setting a reality of how difficult marriage is. Young girls a lot of time think it’s the wedding and the honeymoon, but that’s not what marriage is.”
Bethea, a longtime member of Sherwood who now lives in Orlando, Fla., added, “Aside from the lessons that are in the movie, one of the biggest lessons I learned in making the movie was about taking a leap of faith, because I had to quit my job to do the movie.
“I lost everything when I quit my job and came to Albany for two months to shoot the movie voluntarily,” Bethea said. “I just knew it was the right thing to do,” she said.
About a week before shooting ended, Bethea’s former employer called her to offer a better job at better pay. She said she could see God’s hand of protection and reward in her willingness to step out in faith on behalf of the movie.
Following the screening, Sherwood’s executive pastor, Jim McBride — who played the antagonistic, lollipop-sucking coach in “Facing the Giants,” Sherwood Baptist’s second movie — encouraged viewers to check the www.fireproofthemovie.com website to see if Fireproof will open at a theater in or near their town.
The film is set for release Sept. 26 in about 800 theaters, but McBride added that pastors, churches and Baptist associations can form “action squads” to bring the movie to their town. Information about action squads can be found at the website.
McBride encouraged the audience to help ensure a strong opening weekend so that distributors of the movie would broaden the release to other cities.
An additional website, www.fireproofmymarriage.com, provides information about marriage-strengthening resources scheduled to be released simultaneously with the Fireproof DVD in January 2009.
Norm Miller is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Va.