I’ve had it. This time we cannot roll our eyes, snicker under our breaths or defer to that great United States colloquialism, “what two people do behind closed doors is up to them.” 100,000,000 paperback copies and a big screen movie have flung those doors wide open, friends.
We need to talk about “50 Shades of Grey” as a church. As a preface let me say I have not read the book nor will I go to the movie. You should also know that I support free speech and am not proposing censorship. However, as someone who is working to connect U.S. Presbyterians with our global partners to stop sexual violence, I must speak up. And my guess is you want to also.
The thing is … I have 2 daughters and 3 nieces. They are at formative ages in developing an understanding of their sexuality as teens moving into adulthood. The normalization of violent, controlling sexual behaviors explored in Shades of Grey, consensual or not, is yet another way our culture disempowers women, treats them as objects for (violent) gratification and confuses the most essential truth of who they are. I cannot even tell you the conversations my 14-year-old niece is having on her Facebook page. These are beloved children of God, made in the image of the Creator, precious, beloved and given beautiful bodies to care for and respect. The same is true for boys and men. If the church does not speak up, tell me who will?
Our first sexual exposures and experiences shape us in profound ways. For many teens, “50 Shades of Grey” will be one of their first big screen movies with a sexual focus. We must acknowledge that the subtle and obvious ways we embrace this movie either by viewing or by remaining silent, will affect our culture and the world our children see as normal. There is big business behind this. There is now a Shades of Grey Teddy Bear complete with handcuffs. A local pizza restaurant in my town is offering free pizza to women (not men) who “dress to thrill.” This, they say, is sexy.
Violence in sexuality is not about sex. It is about power. It is about control. It is about money.
Meanwhile the rest of the world watches. Friends, you do know they are watching, don’t you? Because Christ’s resurrection makes us one family with people around the world, they are our sisters and daughters and nieces and mothers. While women we love and partner with in Congo try to heal from the physical and emotional scars of rape, we are munching on popcorn watching violations of physical and emotional safety being sexualized. While we lay down 20 bucks to be “entertained” by sexualized violence, young men and women in the Philippines are outsourced to Malaysia where they must service 21 men a night in order to eat the next day.
Do you see the connection?
As a woman, a mother, a sister, a Presbyterian, a Christian, a human being, I plead with you: Speak Up! Have this conversation at your church, with your teens, in your communities.
These are not easy conversations. They don’t make for polite cocktail party chatter or “feel good” sermons. But we live in this present world … just as it is. And we are called into it. Not out of it. Not beside it. Not behind it.
The Gospel of Christ calls us to speak truth into our broken world and work for healing and reconciliation. We cannot do this without committing ourselves to opening up a space for courageous conversations to happen. Join me in NOT going to the movie and sending the cost of a movie and popcorn ($20) to your local women’s shelter or an international effort. Then write to me (Shannon.Beck@pcusa.org) and tell me what you did so I can share that action with other Presbyterians.
The world wants us to say something. Our partners around the world would want us to do something. Our children need us to do something. It is what Jesus would do, don’t you think?
SHANNON BECK is the reconciliation catalyst for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).