Christian Leaders Warn Against Fifty Shades Movie
Many Christian couples will celebrate Valentine’s Day this weekend, but one entertainment option should be left off the menu. Christian ministry leaders warn constituents to avoid attending the highly publicized Fifty Shades of Grey movie, which opens Friday.
The film is the much-anticipated big screen treatment of the book series by British author E.L. James. It has racked up the highest number of phone and Internet presale tickets for an R-rated flick in the 15-year history of the site Fandango. The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, since publication in 2012, has sold in excess of 100 million copies translated into 52 languages.
The novel focuses on the twisted association between billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and naïve 21-year-old college student Anastasia Steele. The movie has been banned in Malaysia and received the equivalent of an NC-17 designation in the United Kingdom. The Motion Picture Association of America has rated the film R for “strong sexual and unusual behavior.”
According to U.S. Christian leaders, the film is objectionable for myriad reasons, including the veneration of premarital sex and promotion of sexual deviance.
"We're admonished by Scripture to guard our hearts,” says Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood. “This directly prescribes our choices in entertainment. I strongly urge my brothers and sisters in the Assemblies of God to avoid any entertainment which would lead us away from whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, or praiseworthy.”
“Fifty Shades of Grey robs the intimacy connection God intended for a husband and wife,” says Roger Gibson, senior director of Assemblies of God Adult and Family Ministry. “It is a message of an abusing man’s self-centeredness in a hypersexualized culture, not a relationship with an emotional and spiritual connection.”
The Cincinnati-based Religious Alliance Against Pornography has launched a campaign urging religious leaders to alert those in the pews about the destructive nature of the movie as an assault on Christian marriage, with its depiction of bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM) as normal and pleasurable.
Gibson is concerned that curious Christians won’t consider the movie as “real porn” because of Hollywood talent involved. Gibson says some Christian women are drawn to such fare because they are yearning for intimacy in a relationship in which a husband will lead them in a godly family environment.
“In the Bible, Christ talks about a husband laying down his life for his wife,” Gibson says. “Yet the ‘warrior lover’ depicted in Fifty Shades ends up beating up the woman in the relationship.”
The representation of Steele enjoying pain involving whips, chains, and handcuffs has some organizations alarmed that the movie will spark domestic abuse. In the book, Steele signs a contract agreeing to be an unquestioning sex slave who is submissive to Grey’s intimidation, stalking, humiliation, and violent whippings.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation suggests that when torture and domestic violence become normalized in real life, women often end up fleeing to shelters — or dead.
Kerry Clarensau, director of the AG National Women’s Department, says true intimacy in marriage is more than sex. Rather, she says it involves the exclusive bond between husband and wife, characterized by affection, warmth, openness, and connectedness. Clarensau says books and movies such as Fifty Shades deceptively imply that deviant sexual behaviors are acceptable and that women who subject themselves to such abuse somehow will emerge in a meaningful relationship.
“Men seeing women as objects rather than viewing them as someone with value is a result of sin — never God’s ideal treatment for the women He has created,” Clarensau says. “Love is always self-sacrificing.”
Michael Bartel, Las Vegas-based co-founder of FREE International, an Assemblies of God ministry assisting human trafficking victims, views Fifty Shades as an example of the mainstreaming of porn that only will increase the number of females who become addicted.
“Most times porn is performed by people who are being sexually exploited,” Bartel says. “A high number of those who are on the screen are coerced into sexually commercialized acts that fit the definition of trafficking.”
FREE International stands for find, rescue, embrace and empower. Bartel says most movies that depict women being empowered because of sexual freedom present a false portrait of reality.
“Environments that glorify being dominated reinforce false stereotypes that women are objects to fulfill male fantasies,” Bartel says. “Movies with the message that women must find their worth through sexuality are exploitive. God doesn’t place our value in our sexuality, but rather who we are as people and our relationship to each other.”
One Assemblies of God minister who is gearing up to provide a biblical counterbalance to the Fifty Shades movie is Rick McDaniel, senior pastor of Richmond Community Church in Glen Allen, Virginia.
On Sunday, McDaniel will launch a five-week sermon series that gives an overview of human sexuality from a Christian, biblical, and moral perspective.
“The movie does more than raise questions focusing on BDSM stuff,” McDaniel says. “It makes it relevant to talk about sexuality and marriage, and the related topics of adultery, divorce, pornography, cohabitation, and gay marriage.”
The church is advertising the series, entitled “5 Shades of Grey,” on a billboard in Richmond. McDaniel says he will cover the topics more in depth than he ever has before.
“Fifty Shades puts too much focus on fantasy and removes the reality of the effort it takes to make a marriage work,” McDaniel says. “To enjoy the gift of sex we need to understand human sexuality through the lens of God’s morality.”
“The Church needs to take a stand,” Gibson says. “Satan is putting lustful thoughts into the minds of men and women that are not healthy in relationships. Blurring the lines of what God created to be pleasurable — a monogamous marital relationship between a man and a woman — is a battle we must continue to fight.”
“God calls us to purity, both in our thoughts and our behaviors,” Clarensau says. “As the Author of intimacy, God wants us to experience life-giving closeness with Him and with our spouse. This requires us to fully trust God’s Word and reject our culture’s over-sexualized, demoralizing views.”