Yes, this is another post inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey, but it’s not really about Fifty Shades of Grey. With bloggers freaking out in anticipation of the film release, Dannah Gresh and Juli Slattery – authors of Pulling Back the Shades – want to give away copies of their books to women who want to see the movie, in hopes of educating them about unhealthy patterns in intimate relationships.
I’ve reviewed Pulling Back the Shades here. If Gresh and Slattery’s book was only about recognizing abusive relationship patterns, I’d be completely on board with their project. Unfortunately, having read their book, they swerved their focus from recognizing the differences between love and abuse and instead talk about how feminism has ruined the idea of submission: women are ‘supposed’ to submit to traditional gender roles, not to being tied up.
This is where I, a former evangelical, go tsk-tsk because evangelical churches have such great track records of handling abuse allegations. From expelling victims of rape at Bob Jones University for seducing their assailants to championing Mark Driscoll as he preaches that women ‘owe’ their husbands oral sex, it’s clear that there’s a big misunderstanding in this circle when it comes to consent: what it is, why it matters.
The abusive practices of Christian Grey need to be explained to religious and secular audiences alike, as both groups sometimes lack understanding of what abuse looks like. But many evangelical bloggers will have you believe that all these problems stem from having sex out of its proper context – marriage – and embracing porn, not because of ignoring consent (and I’m not saying I think porn is good, by the way. I don’t like it, and it can have extremely damaging effects on relationships, but you can’t use it as a scapegoat for all abuse cases).
Passages like Ephesians 5 are beautiful in their depiction of mutual submission: husbands and wives engaging in pure, selfless love for one another. But for victims of abuse – the real issue here – words like “submission,” “servant,” and phrases like “giving himself/herself up” are triggering. For a significant portion of the church population, these words conjure up flashbacks of moments when their consent was dismissed completely; sometimes within marriage.
Christians and churches need to wake up and realize that marital sex does not always equate to healthy, biblical sex. A book series as popular as Fifty Shades, which boasts many fans who call themselves Christians, makes an excellent tool to begin this discussion of what healthy sexual relationships look like. Unfortunately, I have read more blog posts by evangelicals criticizing what consenting couples choose to do in their own bedrooms rather than address the issue of consent itself. Why else do so many non-Christians hate these books? Hint: it’s not because the characters hook up before they’re married.
I would hate to see this much-needed dialogue turn into a debate about BDSM between consenting couples, which the church has no business policing, and not about the real issue at hand: what abuse looks like in real life. Given the number of people in the BDSM community who say this series misrepresents what it’s all about, it’s a dialogue worth having.