‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Moves Evangelicals beyond Black-and-White Sexuality

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Ask Kelley Taylor, a Southern Baptist college student, if she’s opened the steamy pages of Fifty Shades of Grey, and she has a ready response. “I think that it’s kind of contrary to what the Bible says about fleeing from sexual lust and temptation.”

Taylor is not alone. Many evangelical women say they wouldn’t touch the best-selling book, often described as “mommy porn” because of its escapist appeal to working mothers and suburban housewives. But evangelical leaders also realize that some members of their churches and Bible studies can’t resist.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

RNS photo courtesy Random House UK

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a closed-door women’s meeting on what it all means and what churches should do about it.

“I think they’re asking first of all, ‘Is it truly pornography?’” said Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. “We say yes it is because it creates pictures in your head.”

Even as many prominent women leaders cautioned against reading it, Stovall said that closing one’s eyes to the phenomenon just isn’t a good option for evangelical women. “If they don’t know it and we can’t talk about it, they’re going to get caught out in ministry blindsided.”

In an interview for an upcoming issue of the magazine of the American Association of Christian Counselors, author Shannon Ethridge warned against a throwing-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater mentality.

“I do not believe fantasy about one’s spouse within a Christian marriage is sinful, but can signify a healthy sexual relationship,” said Ethridge, author of a new response to the trilogy titled The Fantasy Fallacy, released by evangelical publisher Thomas Nelson.

“However,” she added, “fantasizing about individuals other than one’s spouse (fictional characters included), serves no healthy or holy purpose.”

In fact, the BDSM aspects of the book are the most troubling parts for many evangelicals and are providing an opportunity for Christians to speak out about such practices.

“To find sexual arousal through the domination of women, regardless of who you are, is incredibly unhealthy,” said Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, an organization that supports equal gender roles.

She suggests a biblical alternative: the eroticism in the Song of Solomon, which tells of a woman “continually taking initiative” in a sexual relationship with a shepherd.

Susie Hawkins, author of From One Ministry Wife to Another, noted, “A lot of Christian women say that this book (Fifty Shades of Grey) has spiced up their marriage, but you have to realize you’re bringing another person in there, another party,” said Hawkins, who was a panelist at the Southwestern women’s forum. “That’s just not a road that is going to lead to contentment.”

She hopes more churches and ministries will have discussions like the Southwestern forum and not fear talking about something people have already read or are considering reading.

“Lead the way. If you don’t, they will be swayed,” she recommends. “It’s messy and it’s gross and you don’t want to put it in your own mind, but we have to do that.”

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