Fifty shades of church communication

17 February, 2015 — 4 Comments

I don’t actually care about the movie that has kept the internet buzzing over the last week. What I care to write about is how the church is perceived in society, and issues of communication around this. What I have observed this week from the Christian perspective could fit into my series on cringe communication from the church.


Headlines like “Fifty Shades of Grey is sign of apocalypse – Dallas pastor”, and a Cincinnati Archbishop saying the Fifty Shades of Grey Movie is a “direct assault on Christian Marriage and on the moral and spiritual strength of God’s people.” Also, requests for families to boycott the film have left me wondering how many R18 movies families usually go and see?

Many of these Christian spokespersons appear to think their thoughts and opinions about the Fifty Shades of Grey book and movie will make some sort of impact on society, as if they, as representatives of the church, are some sort of moral police, and this is suddenly an urgent issue.

R18 films

I haven’t read the books and I’m not going to see the movie, and I doubt any of my friends have or will. It’s actually none of my business if someone wants to read them or see the movie. In fact, R18 movies are being shown every day of the year and people are discerning whether to see them or not.

Young people and sexuality

I’m not against talking about sexuality. Some of the Christians commentating on Fifty Shades seem to have real concerns that young people will learn the wrong idea about sexuality and relationships by seeing the movie.

If young people don’t have a healthy understanding of sexuality, these commentators have more to worry about than some of them seeing this particular movie.

What is actually being communicated?

My concern is how people outside of the church view many of the comments from Christians and churches about this movie, as are my concerns for anything the church and Christians put into the public sphere – as recorded through official media channels or on social media. Do those outside the church see a group of people who look like they’re pretending the church has moral influence over society? A group of people pretending Christendom is still alive and well? (Click the link to a previous post where I briefly define Christendom).

The post-Christendom reality requires a different response

The thing is, Christendom is over, the church has no explicit guiding moral force in society anymore, and so many of the responses from Christians online this week have been inappropriate and damaging, making Christians and the church look selectively reactionary about a particular R18 movie that official film reviewers themselves seem to be doing a good job of warning the public against (every actual film review I’ve come across about Fifty Shades exposes it for what it is).

Ignore it

The best response from Christians and the church on Fifty Shades is to ignore it. If we are concerned about sexuality (and we should be), then lets continue to model and demonstrate healthy engagement with relationships and sex. That could be something radical and transformative the rest of society takes notice of – and if they’re not taking notice, perhaps there’s nothing radical and transformative about our relationships and sexuality, and maybe that is the real problem that needs addressing.

Fifty Shades aside, does your church community present a healthy view of sexuality, including facing issues such as domestic violence?

Image: Heritage building, by Mike Crudge 2014

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  • Andrew Reyngoud

    If it was just about sex I would agree totally with you. However, from what I have read there are some aspects of the movie and book that seem to legitimise sexual abuse – almost “grooming” victims. I believe that it is appropriate for those who work in this area to post critiques (as some have done) – highlighting what domestic abuse looks like.

    • Hi Andrew
      I think in an ideal world there would be a healthy cultural understanding of what domestic abuse looks like, so when something like Fifty Shades comes along it doesn’t create a flurry. I realise we aren’t in an ideal world, but this kind of ideal world I’m imagining could be an expression of the Kingdom of God the church grabs hold of and models to society (unfortunately research shows there is plenty of domestic abuse in church families).
      Thanks for your input here.

  • Amy K

    I think it’s important that we represent a Christian viewpoint in the
    whole debate. We can’t just be opposed to it, we need to have something
    to present that engages those hoodwinked by the original 50 shades
    enough to show them that Christianity has a valid (better) alternative.
    I’ve talked to people til I’m blue in the face about the movie and domestic
    violence and respect etc etc but it’s hard to make them listen. I did
    though find a Christian fiction alternative that is mirrored on the
    story but presents God’s love not the fake and manipulative 50 shades
    love. I’ve found a few of my secular friends have said, oh okay if
    you’re just giving me a novel I’ll read it whereas they wouldn’t have
    engaged in a full blown debate over it.
    Two of those friends have nowstarted to (periodically) attend church. One said to me ‘I didn’t know you had a bigger love until I read that book.’
    Drawback is it’s only on kindle though

    • Hi Amy K
      Your personal/relational approach seems a good way to address this with people you know – it maintains a positive expression of integrity and is not part of the Christian viewpoint in the public debate which largely seems wacky.

      You could probably contact the author of the book you recommend and ask for some print-to-order copies be made…
      Thanks for your feedback.