James Mhoon on Focus on the Family's new documentary and God's perfect design for family

Tim Sisarich stars in Focus on the Family's new documentary, Irreplaceable.
Does God exist and, if so, has he provided humanity with a perfect design for family structure? James Mhoon thinks so. As vice president of Content Development and Integration for the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, he leads the organization's charge to spread the word about the importance of the "good, old-fashioned traditional family."

The organization's latest project, Irreplaceable, is a documentary that tells the story of Tim Sisarich, who leaves his wife and children in New Zealand to travel the world seeking out the best models of parenthood. He interviews a carefully curated slew of sociologists, self-proclaimed feminists and religious scholars. After encountering these rather homogenous scholars who believe in the essential differences between men and women, the superiority of heterosexual marriage and the necessity of fatherhood, Sisarich adopts the beliefs of the funding organization and reconciles with his own absentee dad.

In advance of May 6 screenings of Irreplaceable, Westword spoke with Mhoon about the documentary and his work at Focus on the Family.

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Westword: What was your role in this production?

James Mhoon: As the vice president of Content Development and Integration for Focus on the Family, my job is to build media product like this to get our core message out to the audience. Our assignment on this particular one was to revisit what is, in our belief, God's design for family. We believe we can read scripture and from scripture discern how God designed us. We believe he created us and created us in his image as relational beings. He created man and woman and told them to be fruitful and multiply. There are cues in there about how to structure family, but also, if you ever read the book of Proverbs, the warnings about all the ways we can go astray are all in there. What's amazing about it is even if you didn't believe the scripture was inspired by God himself, what you can't deny is that it's profoundly wise. That's part of what we're doing is revisiting it.

My goal is to oversee the production. Part of that means that while I'm not the subject matter expert, I'm one of the people speaking into how we construct the message and what our goals are for the message. But also, we do more than just films. We do books and audio products, magazines, etc. The integration part is making sure we have a full product line.

It's fascinating to think about how you orchestrate a campaign like this with so many different prongs and so many different strategies. What does that look like for you?

First of all, you don't do it by yourself. You'd be out of your mind to do that. Orchestrating it is first of all knowing what it is that you want to accomplish. We're taking on a pretty big task here. We're calling people back to some fundamentals, without trying to idolize the past, which frankly wasn't so great anyway.

Families have always struggled. But at least there was a time where we had a core paradigm for family. In many cases now, we feel there are some unhealthy attitudes and beliefs about family, or that the healthy attitudes and beliefs about family are being lost in a new generation. How do you change that? Boy, that's a huge deal. All we can really hope to do is influence the people that we can influence. We know we can't do it just by showing the movie. How do we keep them ruminating and working through this together as a community? That's the idea.

In the film, Tim Sisarich goes on this journey to discover what family should look like. Is he modeling what you hope people do in their small groups?

Exactly. We're hoping that they're relating to what Tim just went through, hearing the message and learning what he discovered. In the post-event panel discussion that we'll have, our pastor is going to talk about how a lot of what he learned from a sociological perspective is actually discoverable in scripture as well. We want people to dig in and understand. What are the key verses? We have to get people into the grand narrative of the Bible. You can't look in one book of the Bible and figure out the full design of family.

There are some wacky designs of family in there.

Exactly. You have to take it all the way to Joseph before you'd find a guy you'd even hire from the scripture. The point there is that it's the struggle of continuing to live out a life before God, even as an imperfect person.

Read on for more from James Mhoon.

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Doug Wharton
Doug Wharton

I do not need to follow religions that got their stories from two thousand years ago that got their stories from people two thousand years before that, that got their stories from two thousand years before that.

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