The redemption story of ‘Father Stu’: A movie America needs right now

Mel Gibson’s return to the silver screen seems to be following a pattern in his recent films– that of redemption. Hacksaw Ridge followed World War II hero Desmond Doss carrying the Fifth Commandment on the battlefield along with the lifelong guilt of nearly killing his younger brother in 1925. Gibson’s most recent film starring Mark Wahlberg– another celebrity who, like Gibson, is no stranger to redemption– seems to thread the redemption needle. 

Father Stu presents us with a theme we seldom recognize in our modern, social media-driven culture: Redemption not only exists but is for everyone. 

In a world of performative outrage and moral righteousness, no one is able to stand to the artificial standards we place on each other. Everyone is bound to fall short of their own standards and no one is willing to give you a second chance. 

The God we see in Father Stu is a forgiving father who gives the protagonist chance after chance, all because Stu kept the faith. 

Father Stu follows the adult life of Stu Long (played by Mark Wahlberg), a middling boxer in Montana who found mediocre success in a semi-pro league. After deciding this wasn’t going to be his ticket to fame, Stu decided to try his luck in Hollywood as an actor.

After a lackluster acting career and a near-death experience, Stu Long decides to change course and become a priest. Unfortunately, the same car accident that inspired him to spread the gospel ultimately would leave him with a debilitating disability that would threaten his ability to lead a normal life, let alone serve as an ordained priest. 

Stu Long had every reason to abandon his calling to become a priest. When the Catholic Church wanted to reject him, he kept the faith and pushed through. When his body gave him the perfect reason to quit, he continued to preach the Word. 

There is nothing about Stu’s background that would paint him as worthy of being an ordained minister. The world would rightfully look at him and see a lost man from a broken family. It’s first what the Catholic Church saw in him but his God saw someone greater than anyone ever could. 

Father Stu Long was an effective messenger for God because he understood the hardships every day people faced. He knew the pain many go through searching for their purpose in this fallen world. Father Stu Long went from boxing to appearing in exercise commercials looking for a purpose ultimately only God could provide.

He sought forgiveness for the wrongs he committed and in return forgave those who wronged him. Long’s father, played by Mel Gibson, was the last person in the world who deserved forgiveness. He abandoned his family and fled to California instead of being responsible for his actions.

When Stu Long first arrives in California himself, he first refused to look up and meet his estranged father. When their paths ultimately did cross, the last thing Long wanted was a relationship with him. 

But once Long began his new life as a man of God, he learned how to not only forgive his father but became an example of Christ’s forgiveness towards our sins. 

This movie, much like its protagonist, is an unlikely vessel to tell a powerful story of redemption. When you think of the Christian faith, the last thing you imagine is A-list Hollywood actors Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson starring in an R-rated movie filled with drinking, sex, and swearing. But as we’ve seen in scripture and in Father Stu Long’s real life, God uses the unlikeliest messengers to share the gospel. 

The movie premiered over Easter weekend and is now playing in theaters across the country.

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Jonah Athey

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