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Minister Seeks Models of Manhood on the Big Screen

CALEDONIA, Mich. (RNS) The aroma of freshly popped popcorn and the crack of soda cans opening while the “Gladiator” soundtrack blares through the speakers are a signal that it’s guys night out at Cornerstone Church.
Tonight’s feature is “Open Range,” a Western that pits those who believe in free access to water and grass for everyone’s cattle against “barbed wire” land barons, who used the fencing to block cattlemen from moving their herds.

But “Open Range” isn’t just a drama about late-19th century range wars, said Kevin Miles, founder and director of the Caledonia-based Go the Distance Ministries and sponsor of the movie series.

Through the film’s hail of bullets and gun smoke emerge some valuable lessons about manhood, he believes.

“What are the things that gnaw at a man worse than dying?” the lanky Miles said to about 30 men and boys during an intermission. “What do you do when you’re afraid? You don’t bring your strength. You don’t step into life as you’re created.”

That’s the kind of brawny stuff that Mike Kok wanted his 14-year-old son, Mitch, to hear.

Kok particularly liked how the hired hand in the film, Charley Waite, consistently showed respect for his cattleman boss.

“Trust. A man’s word. That’s the kind of movie we like to see,” Kok said. “Respect is not a given, you’ve got to earn it. That’s true in the real world.”

Miles concedes that some of the films he shown in the past few months—Clint Eastwood’s “Grand Torino” and J.J. Abrams’ big-screen adaptation of “Star Trek,” for example—contain some salty language.

But Miles believes it’s worth showing such gung-ho movies because they nonetheless contain underlying principles of how Christianity and masculinity fit together, principles such as integrity over compromise, and moral courage.

This is a bit of an uphill battle, Miles said. Too many men consider Christianity nice, polite and boring—all flowers and doilies on the altar.

“Growing up, I saw Mr. Jesus as Mr. Rogers with a beard,” Miles said. “I didn’t see his strength, his courage, his valor, his character. Jesus was a man of strength and dignity.”

The movies for men in general, and fathers and their sons specifically, are intended to capture “the full picture of the gospel, which includes overcoming great odds such as spiritual tyranny, that is, legalism,” Miles said.

“Guys didn’t grow up getting the full picture of the gospel,” Miles said. “Speaking from my personal experience, I got a partial view of the gospel. There’s a lot more to the story I was led to believe and was taught.”

Miles opts for movies that show the kind of valor and courage that he believes too many men today lack and that growing boys need to experience. It’s all part of his larger efforts, which include retreats devoted to masculinity, teaching fathers how walk their sons into manhood, outdoor adventures and small group discipleship.

According to Miles’ website, go-distance.org, there’s been a generational lack of fatherly upbringing. Miles cites no-fault divorce, feminism, sexual revolution and the legalization of abortion as contributing factors to stripping men of their male identity.

Guys Night Out, as Miles calls it, also has been extended to the Exodus Building in Grand Rapids, which serves as a transitional living place for 80 to 100 men.

“The movie is a launching pad for mentoring and teaching,” said Robb Munger, who started the facility in 2009. “The dialogue before and after the movie is really the key. Kevin does a good job to focus on the perspective how would we deal with certain situations if God was there.”

(Paul R. Kopenkoskey writes for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich.)