Let’s talk about Fifty Shades of Grey. The books have sold over 100 million copies. The advance ticket pre-sales on Fandango are skyrocketing for the upcoming film’s release this week. Love it or hate it, it’s become a cultural phenomena and it’s happening right in front of us. For the faith-based folks, it’s time again to ramp up boycott and condemnation. But I want to change the conversation and take a deeper look into this interesting cultural moment.
So, buckle your seatbelt or in this case… grab your riding crop, handcuffs and blindfolds while we dig into this Fifty Shades moment in culture though the lens of faith and spirituality.
What I want to offer here… which is sort of like agreeing on a safe word… is a few alternative points to having a constructive conversation about Fifty Shades of Grey.
A few ground rules before we enter into this conversation:
- Most of what is happening within the conversations by Christians of this book/movie is based on second, third (etc.) hand information. I’m not defending the book or it’s content, but I am saying that constructive conversations are not made by assumptions and hearsay. If you don’t know what you’re talking about… then don’t talk about it – which is an issue that’s often hard for Christians to grasp.
- For many, especially in the pulpit, you should steer clear of engaging in culture if you’re not going to actually engage with it. Simply bashing it isn’t engaging it. Sure, it’s easy to tickle ears by talking about en vogue topics… but you’re merely communicating about these topics with the wit and depth of a bumpersticker. It’s trite, sloppy and leads to teaching others that their Christian faith is about running from culture instead of leaning into it. Leaning into culture isn’t necessarily the same as agreeing with or embracing it. Faith is about wrestling through tough topics that are complicated and messy, not simply dismissing them.
- When things of culture are a hot topic, we should ask the greater questions of why do such events, movies or works of literature, etc. hit on such a nerve within the greater population? It’s too easy to dismiss the medium, but fail to engage the underlying issue that has tapped into a cultural pulse.
Now let’s whip up (pun intended) constructive/alternative talking points about Fifty Shades of Grey from someone who has read the books. This is by no means an endorsement or praise, but a few topics of push back against what is being said. It always bugs me when conversations play out over the media (social and otherwise) in attacks that are one-sided platitudes.
To have a constructive conversation about the book/movie here are a few alternative talking points about the story:
- Christian Grey of the title, is a billionaire with a particular set of skills; kind of like a sexual Liam Neeson. But to dig deeper, Grey is an orphan who comes from an abusive past which lead him to embrace a BDSM lifestyle where he can control his emotions – what he feels and doesn’t feel. It should also be noted that he is in therapy throughout the series. He’s a broken person in search of healing.
- Anastasia Steel, our main character, enters into Christian’s world of bondage and kink, willingly… always with the power to stay or go. She doesn’t agree to anything she doesn’t want, literally because they begin their relationship with a contract of do’s and don’t’s.
- The book sets up a distinctive dominant male/ submissive female scenario here. Which surprises me that those Christians of the complementarian persuasion don’t embrace more.
Now, the books aren’t written very well and have been called, “mommy porn” for good reason. That being said, one area I think people connect with the book (besides the salacious sex…) is that broken people can be mended. Overall, the scope of the book/film is that you’ve got two broken people looking for healing. Like the rest of us, we don’t always go looking for healing in the right places or within the healthiest of means. If you want to have a constructive conversation about the books… it should be geared in this vein. Who among us isn’t hurt, broken and messed up. Who among us hasn’t sought healing in self-indulgent or destructive places?
And if you want to further engage the conversation within faith… here’s a wakeup call for pastors… most of your congregation is made up of broken and flawed people. Some have sexual issues and others, maybe, have emotional or physical problems. None of this is new. But like the book, the place for healing begins where there is acceptance of one another in a safe and loving environment. When people don’t feel free to deal with their brokenness and pain, we tend to hide it in the dark… and in the dark the pain isn’t healed… it just gets twisted and bathed in shame. We need communities of faith to embrace people. To love people. To help people. To be a place of healing and not condemnation.
Often our churches come off as a red room of pain. Like in the book, we flog and whip people into feeling beaten down with life. We give them a god that isn’t an accepting and loving God. We give them a god of bondage and pain and not one of freedom love and hope. Jesus came to give freedom and not bondage. It’s funny how the thing people vehemently condemn the most is often the thing they secretly struggle with.
So again, I’m not endorsing the book or the film. I’m just calling for a different posture amongst the faithful as they engage culture.
Ultimately, I’m saying that we need to quit condemning culture and begin speaking life and hope into people… teaching them that a life lived under the way of Christ is a pursuit of healing and freedom…. one in which we eventually use to help other people.