On Tuesday, more than 700 theaters across the country will screen the documentary "Irreplaceable" during a one-night event.
The film, produced by the Christian advocacy group Focus on the Family, explores why individuals need families and the factors leading to the decline of the traditional family.
"I've always believed in traditional family," Tim Sisarich, former executive director of Focus on the Family New Zealand and the film's narrator, said in a trailer, "but every day in the media, I seem to be told that I've got it wrong. Does culture have it right, or is there something better?"
The screening is taking place while same-sex marriage battles rage across the country and public sentiment is shifting in favor of gay marriage. Although "Irreplaceable" is not directly assaulting gay marriage, Focus on the Family is facing backlash because of the film's pro-traditional family message.
"Focus on the Family is trying to pass this film off as a real documentary about marriage with a fair and balanced message. This is simply not true," said Shalom Rosenberg, who is leading a petition drive against the film.
Filming "Irreplaceable" was a personal journey for Sisarich. Before he participated in the project, Sisarich said he had a "boxing ring" mentality of fighting against culture for his family.
"As a dad, I was genuinely concerned that the culture was trying to somehow seep into my home to rob me of my kids," Sisarich told the Deseret News in an email. "If I didn't find out for myself what was out there, then I wouldn't be equipped or prepared."
By the end of the filming process, Sisarich's views of parenting had shifted.
"I learned that I was trying so hard to be a great parent to my kids; trying so hard to make sure that they’re ready for the world, that I wasn’t actually creating an environment in which they could thrive. I was only trying to teach them to survive," said Sisarich.
He explained he learned from the wisdom of Solomon to "teach a child about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."
"An old Jewish guy told me that this little proverb literally means that we should study our kids, learn their strengths, talents and giftings. And then, simply encourage them to do more of that. Then when they’re grown, they will excel at life, and love doing it, because they’re doing what they’re wired to do," Sisarich said.
Sisarich added he learned to accept himself while completing "Irreplaceable."
"I discovered that God likes me. I don’t mean loves me, He’s bound by his own laws to love me. God actually likes Tim Sisarich and wants to spend time with me, just as I am, not when I become who I should be," he said.
Although "Irreplaceable" has garnered praise for pinpointing why the nuclear family is still important from those who have seen advanced screenings of the film, others are not lauding the documentary's message that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
In fact, a Change.org petition, which has 953 supporters, calls for theaters to cancel "Irreplaceable" showings — and a theater in Ohio has complied.
Rosenberg, who authored the petition, told the Deseret News he was disturbed when he saw the "Irreplaceable" movie trailer at a local theater.
"It really surprised me that a mainstream movie theatre would support a religious organization's propaganda film," said Rosenberg. He claims the film promotes the notion that nontraditional families (including single parents and LGBT families) are not valid.
"As a teacher and a gay man and as an American, I simply cannot accept this," he said.
Rosenberg said he is religious — he teaches theology and is married to a rabbi — and strongly supports freedom of speech and religion. But he contends groups like Focus on the Family "hurt others either directly or indirectly by preaching hate and not love."
"They tell others it is OK to discriminate against those who are different and to knock down other families who are different. It is irresponsible to not hold them accountable."
In response to Rosenberg's petition, Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, wrote a blog post defending the organization and the film.
He said the controversy began when Focus on the Family began running "benign" clips of the documentary in December. "During the trailer, Sisarich rightly points out that the culture is now seemingly at odds with that simple and natural design formula," he wrote.
"We quickly learned that according to some, there are some questions you just can’t ask — or you’ll suffer the consequences," Daly said.
He advised the film's supporters to pray that the film "ignites a counter-cultural revolution" that will cause "husbands and wives to live lives committed to each other, and that moms and dads can see the beauty and worth of their everyday sacrifices as they parent their kids."
He also asked the film's proponents to pray for those who are opposed to "Irreplaceable."
Message of "Irreplaceable"
Sisarich said the most important message viewers can learn from "Irreplaceable" is to learn to love.
"It’s not until we get a grasp of what Jesus talked about in the Gospels, of loving God and loving others in the same way we love ourselves — the greatest commandment — that we can truly know how to reflect the love, mercy and glory of the God of the universe to a hurt and confused world," he said.
He added our culture has problems, but he is now attempting to "embrace people within the culture" rather than fighting against society.
"We let the light of Jesus Christ so shine out of us that those around us would see the reflection of that light, by how we live, love and care for those around us, that they can only but glorify our Father in Heaven," Sisarich said.
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