With the film Fifty Shades of Grey hitting theaters, it’s time to speak up: Sexual violence is not entertainment.
Originally published as an article in the Presbyterian News Service.
I’ve had it. This time we cannot roll our eyes, snicker under our breath, or defer to that great US 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 Fifty 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.
For me, this film is personal. I have two daughters and three 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 Fifty 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, 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, Fifty Shades of Grey will be one of their first big screen movies with a sexual focus.
Our first sexual exposures and experiences shape us in profound ways. For many teens, Fifty 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 it or remaining silent, will affect our culture and the world our children see as normal. There is big business behind this. There is now a Fifty 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” and promises an 8″ Elvis. This, they say, is sexy.
Meanwhile the rest of the world watches. And because Christ’s resurrection makes us one family, the people watching are not strangers. They are our sisters, daughters, 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 put down twenty bucks to be “entertained” by sexualized violence, young men and women in the Philippines are being 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, and in your communities.
While we put down twenty bucks to be “entertained” by sexualized violence, young men and women in the Philippines are being outsourced to Malaysia where they must service 21 men a night in order to eat the next day. Do you see the connection?
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 instead sending the cost of a movie and popcorn ($20) to your local women’s shelter or an international effort. Then write to me 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?
AUTHOR BIO: Shannon Beck holds a BA in Christian Education from Seattle Pacific University and an MA in Theology from Fuller Seminary. She is an educator, performing songwriter, poet, blogger, and peace seeker. Her last position was the Directory of Young People’s Ministries at First United Methodist Church of Seattle. She has worked on peace and justice concerns in various capacities including chairing the Seattle Presbytery Peacemaking Committee for seven years, serving on the Synod of Alaska-Northwest Peacemaking Committee, assisting in founding the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, organizing for the Washington State affiliate of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and co-writing the 2012 Season of Peace of the PC(USA). Shannon is energized around broad collaborations that work for common goals in pursuit of a peaceful, just, and generous world.
- Speak Up! Join the PC(USA) campaign to stop sexual violence by contacting Shannon.Beck@pcusa.org.
- Want to preach about it? http://wewillspeakout.us/resources-tools/
- Donate to the Presbyterian campaign Speak Up!
- Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence Network (part of PHEWA, the Presbytertian Health, Education, and Welfare Association)
- Join the Stop Sexual Violence PC(USA) Facebook Page
- Follow Shannon on Twitter: @shanibah
- #pcusa #50shadesofabuse