Irreplaceable is a new documentary by Focus on the Family International. Tim Sisarich, of Focus on the Family New Zealand, himself a young father of three boys and a girl, hosts this journey literally all over the world.
Running on the premise that the family in our culture is broken, Sisarich travels to many different countries to interview everyone from experts to average people on the street to discover “What’s wrong with the family?” The film opens with his talking to academic experts from all over the world in the field of sociology of the family and learning statistics and possible causes for the brokenness of the traditional view of the family. He traces the root cause back to a devaluing of sexuality in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. His thesis statement for the rest of the film is this:
A devaluing of sexuality leads to a devaluing of marriage, which leads to a devaluing of parenthood.
Sisarich explores the current “hook-up culture” of today’s teens and notes how empty and shallow it is. He talks to experts as well as people on the street and discovers how the culture of casual meaningless “hookups” leaves teens feeling lonely, worthless and unloved. A lot of research has been done on this subject lately and not just in Christian circles (see The New York Times’ article, “She can play that game, too”). To be fair, there are also studies which conclude that the “hookup culture” is a myth and today’s college students aren’t having any more sex than college students did in the 1980s (see Smithsonian Magazine‘s article, “Millenials raucous ‘hook-up culture’ is a big myth”). Yet, even those studies which say students are not having any more sex than their parents did at their age admit that sex today is more casual among teens and college students (i.e. they are more likely to have sex with a casual date or friend than only a serious girlfriend or boyfriend). No matter what research you read, then, Sisarich is correct in his conclusions — sex has become more and more devalued in our culture. No longer is sex expected to be reserved for a marriage or even a serious relationship.
Sisarich’s reaction to learning about this culture is deeply personal and authentic — his concern for his daughter and a desire to protect her from a world where girls are often used and abused sexually, with little or no reaction from those around them (remember Steubenville?). Fueling this is the attitude which has been around at least since I was in high school — boys who have a lot of sex are considered “studs” or “players,” but girls who have a lot of sex are considered “sluts.” Sisarich rightly asks what every parent of a little girl in the audience is thinking: “How can I protect my daughter from this culture?”
The only part of this movie that disappointed me was here, in this one part. Sisarich asks this question, and rightly so, but he doesn’t ask the opposite question, which should go right along with it, as a parent of boys — “How do I teach my boys to not treat girls this way and not let their friends treat girls this way?” In a culture which often goes so far as to even blame girls for being raped, Christians should be the first ones standing up to say that it is equally important, if not more important, to teach our boys to respect women and treat them as fellow sisters in Christ — including protecting them from other boys who don’t treat them properly.
[Note: I attended a preview of this movie where they asked the audience for feedback and shared this thought with them. The representative from Focus on the Family with whom I spoke agreed whole-heartedly and said he would pass along the suggestion to add this to the movie. I don't know if they will be able to do so in the final editing or not, but I was very encouraged at his response.]
After examining the current dominant view of sex in our culture, Sisarich concludes that it is this devaluing of sex which leads to the brokenness of marriage.
In a culture where anyone can (and “should be able to”) have sex with anyone they want whenever they want, marriage becomes irrelevant. Staying committed to one person for a lifetime is often considered passé, especially among younger generations. Divorce rates and co-habitation rates are growing, even among Christians — some say the rates are equally as high among Christians, though those statistics are much debated (see Christianity Today‘s article, “Marriage, divorce and the Church: What do the stats say and can marriage be happy?”).
It seems that the culture’s ultimate value when it comes to a romantic relationship is this: “Is it making me happy?” If it’s not, then the culture’s answer is, “Go find a new one that will.” This attitude leads to a culture where more and more children are growing up in non-traditional families, which Sisarich says leads to a devaluing of parenthood.
Once marriage has become irrelevant, parenthood is completely redefined. Children today are growing up in all kinds of situations, from traditional two-parent families, to multi-generational families, to divorced families with shared custody, to single parent families, and even more complicated situations. While it is certainly possible for a child to grow up happy and well-adjusted in a single parent family and not happy and well-adjusted in a two-parent family, research shows that this is often not the case. In this section of the film, Sisarich again hears from experts with research and statistics which report that a high percentage of those in prison come from fatherless homes. As a father himself, Sisarich interviews several inmates about their experiences growing up without a father figure and the stories are heart-breaking. Again, Sisarich makes the issue personal and asks himself how he can be a better father.
Taking a cue from these powerful personal stories, the last part of the film moves from statistics and research to story. Sisarich spends the rest of the film interviewing people who have been through difficult situations as parents and hearing their amazing stories of unconditional love, family, and faith. This is when the film really starts to get powerful and intensely personal for its host.
After this long journey, Sisarich ends with the same question with which he began — “What’s wrong with the family?” His answer surprised me — it wasn’t political; he didn’t propose a program or a plan. His response was personal. It was honest, challenging, and true. It was Gospel-centered. It was personally convicting to me.
Want to know what his answer was? You’ll have to go see the film on Tuesday, May 6 in a theater near you.
Irreplaceable will not be shown like a regular movie, having a “run” in theaters for several weeks. It is a one-night event on Tuesday, May 6. The film will be shown only on that one night in select theaters throughout the United States. Click here to find a theater near you. I strongly encourage you to go see this film or take a group from your church or a group of young parents if you can. If there is not a theater near you showing this film, contact Focus on the Family about requesting it. For more information or to request materials to advertise the movie at your church, go to www.irreplaceablethemovie.com.
Kathy Larson is the director of Christian Education and Creative Arts at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C.