The Crime is the Fruit of the Theology: Christian Responses to 50 Shades of Grey

by Kristin Du Mez.

[This piece originally appeared in the Oxford University Press Blog on March 21, 2015. The first portion is republished here with permission of the author.]

The much anticipated Valentine’s Day release 50 Shades of Grey set off a flurry of activity on social media sites, with bloggers lining up to cajole, shame, reason, or plead with women to resist temptation and abstain from viewing the film. In a case of strange bedfellows, if you will, conservative Christians and liberal feminists alike castigated the film for its packaging of abuse as mainstream entertainment. (Feminists and Christians were also joined by a fair number film critics, whose condemnation revolved more around the film’s artistic offenses than its moral flaws.)

Christians had reason to be concerned about the film’s pernicious influences, even among their own. A 2013 Barna Group study revealed that roughly 9% of practicing Christians had read 50 Shades since its publication the previous year, the same proportion as the general adult population. Despite (or, one wonders, because of?) the social media campaign, the film opened to a record-breaking weekend, though ticket sales have reportedly dropped off rather dramatically since. The film has, however, succeeded in generating a lively conversation among Christians about sex, power, and the abuse of women.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the topic of abuse was all but taboo in many Christian circles. Among conservative Christians who instructed women to submit to their husbands and men to assert headship over women, there was little space in which to address issues of abuse, especially abuse that occurred within the household. In recent years, however, churches, organizations, and individuals have worked to address domestic abuse within Christian communities more openly. Public scandals—from the treatment of rape victims at Bob Jones University, to the well-publicized misogyny of evangelical mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll, to accusations of domestic abuse brought against emergent church leader Tony Jones—have kept the topic of abuse a matter of public discussion among American Christians.

In bringing to light the problem of abuse perpetrated by men who profess to be Christians, however, fellow believers must inevitably confront a critical question: Do perpetrators commit acts of violence against women in contradiction to the theology they espouse, or does that theology itself facilitate a culture of violence against women?

[Read the rest of this post on OUPblog.]

Kristin Du Mez is associate professor of history at Calvin and teaches courses in recent America, US social and cultural history, and Gender Studies. Her book A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism was recently published with Oxford University Press. Follow her on Twitter @kkdumez.

About historicalhorizons

The blog of the Calvin College History Department
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