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Fifty Shades Returns. . . Darker. What Now?

I spent the last couple of days in Mississippi. On Wednesday night, I spoke to a gym full off parents and teens about pornography. What is it? Why are we drawn to it? What effect does it have on us? How does it distort God’s grand and glorious gift of sex and sexuality? How do we avoid allowing it to work us over spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and even physically? And what steps can we take to restore sexuality and relationships that have been damaged by pornography? Those were just a few of the questions we worked to answer. . . all in an effort to promote human flourishing.

As the evening ended, a physician in attendance approached me and handed me a note. “This is an actual medical diagnosis,” she said. On the note she had scribble PIED. The acronym stands for Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction. Research reports that it’s becoming a more common issue among young men who are accessing pornography. The very thing they believe will enhance their sexual lives is, in fact, destroying them.

Yesterday morning, I spoke to the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Yes, we’re all vulnerable because of our brokenness. But his was a group of middle school students who had gathered for a frank and forthright chapel talk on pornography from this sixty-year-old guy. They were engaged. . . and rightly so. They’re sexual beings who are right in the midst of experiencing God’s good gift to them. They’re also living in a world filled with ambient pornography. They’re struggle is real.

After speaking to the students, I hopped on a plane to start my journey home. I settled into my seat and began to leaf through USA Today section by section. When I got to the entertainment news I spotted and read this review: “‘Fifty Shades Darker’ takes a turn for the worst.”  The film comes out today. . . just two years after the original film in the series was released, sadly, on Valentine’s Day weekend. The reviewer’s justification for “worst” lies more in the cinematic value as opposed to any moral judgments. Reading the review, however, does solidify the film’s dive further into the dark world of sexual license and pornography that horribly distorts the God-given gift of sex and sexuality that he declared “good!” from the moment He made us. The “Darker” addition to the title couldn’t be more accurate.

And so I’m thinking about those middle school kids. . . their sexual “now’s” and their sexual “futures.” The world’s story encourages living a destructive narrative that undermines and even mocks the biblical narrative. We are pointed away from light and into darkness. . . from truth to lies.

In an effort to give some perspective and talking points as the Fifty Shades franchise is re-ignited this weekend, I’ve decided to re-post what I wrote about the original film when it debuted two years ago. . .

(Originally posted 2/12/15). . . And so it arrives. It’s already proclaimed a blockbuster and judging from the predictions of those who seem to know about these things, it will most likely bring in about $90 million over its first three days, an opening which will rival the record-setting opening of American Sniper. That’s not at all surprising since the books have sold over 100 million copies and there will be much-anticipated sequels to this first film in the series.

Now. . . the big question. . . Are you going? Seriously. Are you going? Or, are you planning on viewing the film sometime in the future, perhaps in the comfort of your own home?

These are necessary questions for us to answer as parents, youth workers, and most importantly, followers of Jesus Christ.

If our hearts are truly in line with the way and will of our Creator and our desire is to flourish in our humanity by honoring His borders and boundaries for His great and glorious gift of our sexuality, well. . . the answer should be clear.

Sadly, based on what I’m hearing, the answer’s not so clear. Just as I heard with the books, a large number of Christian women, young and old alike, mothers and grandmothers, singles and marrieds, are eagerly anticipating and can’t wait for their trip to the movies this weekend. Many are giddy with excitement. And, we can expect that some Christian men will be there as well. . . some brought by their wives. . . both of them expecting the film to spice it up for them a little over the Valentine’s Day weekend.

The reality is that there’s not one of us who doesn’t have to deal with our own sexual brokenness and the temptations that come with that. There’s not one of us who hasn’t stepped out of the will of God and into sexual sin in thought, word, and deed. But to knowingly invite, entertain, and indulge sexual temptation while making a clear decision to step into sexual sin. . . well. . . that’s where we need to be stepping up and calling each other out with a good dose of Biblical accountability.

God’s design for His grand and glorious gift of sex is this. . . that sex is a gift to be indulged by one man and one woman within the context of an exclusive, monogamous, covenantal, life-long marriage. That’s it, plain and simple. Sex is something God made, gave to us, and enthusiastically declared “Good!” But with everything else, we go and mess it up. And when the Bible commands us to “flee from sexual immorality,” the word that it uses is porneia, which means “to practice prostitution, sexual immorality, or fornication.” In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul frequently used the word in reference to any kind of sinful and illegitimate sexual activity. Porneia is, in fact, the very thing from which followers of Jesus are commanded to “flee!” (I Corinthians 6:18). (To learn more about Sexual Integrity, check out CPYU’s new Sexual Integrity Initiative).

And so tomorrow, millions of folks will pay to settle down in dark theaters to be entertained by, get lost in, and be provoked to enter their own little world of sexual fantasizing by watching a young man with a penchant for BDSM systematically and intentionally stalk, seduce, and deflower a young virgin. This is not a film where non-gratuitous depictions of sexuality are truthful in nature, adding to the story. In this case, sexual fantasies and BDSM are the story and they are the draw. In other words, millions will pay to sit in a dark theater and indulge in pornography. . . a practice that is not only sinful, but highly destructive and addictive.

Yes, pornography! And if you are considering indulging in Fifty Shades of Grey, please take a minute to consider these definitions of pornography that I’ve found to be particularly helpful. . .

  •  From my friends at HarvestUSA: “Pornography is anything that the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts or corrupts the human heart into desiring sexual pleasure in sinful ways.”
  • From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.” 

Still undecided? Consider the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey has indeed been fairly labeled as “mommy porn.” Then let me ask you to consider these questions as you ponder your decision. . .

  • Is “It’s just a movie!” a reasonable justification for sin? Couldn’t we also be saying, “Come on, it’s just a magazine, or a DVD, or an on-demand movie, or an adult-bookstore, or a free website!”
  • Have you considered the fact that when you view pornography you are complicit in sexual trafficking? Yes, whether the individuals depicted are actors or real people, or if they are appearing willingly or by coercion, your presence, attention, and payment all combine to make you a willing consumer and market expander of the ever-growing and always exploitative pornography industry.
  • If you are a young mother, an older mother, or grandmother, how would you feel if it was your precious children on that screen in that darkened theater. . . again, willingly or coerced? Would you want your son to, in real life, become a Christian Grey? Or, would you want your daughter, in real life, to be pursued and seduced like Anastasia Steele?
  • What kind of model does God call us to present to your watching and growing children? Are they learning about the joy of healthy, biblical sexuality? Or if they watch you will they be learning something else?
  • Do you really believe that in a day and age when sexual assault and violence are pervasive, that we should actually be choosing to celebrate depictions of such on the big screen?
  • Do you really believe in a day and age where women are objectified and stripped of their dignity by men who see them as nothing but objects to be used, that it is a positive thing to carve out time and eagerly indulge in viewing a film which does the same?
  • Do you realize that pornography doesn’t spice up and improve the marriage bed or marriage, but rather, it drains the life out of and destroys a marriage?
  • And finally, are you willing to take something that God has given you that is amazingly good, and twist it in a way that does not bring glory to God, but instead brings glory to the kingdom of the world, the flesh, and the devil? Or simply stated, are you willing to willingly go your way rather than God’s? Remember, that’s what got us human beings in trouble in the first place.

I’m not so sure that the biggest problem here is the book  or the film Fifty Shades of Grey. This kind of stuff has always existed. And in a broken world, sadly, it will continue to exist. Our greater concern should be the widespread appeal, the ready acceptance, and even the willingness to engage in secretly reading the books or sneaking off to the film. . . an indication that we know that there’s something that’s just not right about what we’re doing. We’re now talking about mainstream stuff. This isn’t some dark corner or fringe. And as one who studies youth culture I wonder. . . . what will middle school-aged kids do with this one when it’s on DVD and Netflix? Or, what will this stuff do to middle school-aged kids. The most pressing issue is the heart that’s drawn to and shaped by this stuff.

Perhaps today is a great day. . . THE day. . . to leverage all the attention our culture is giving this film and sit down to talk with our kids. . . openly, frankly, seriously, and honestly. . . about the very real pull, power, and dangers related to pornography use.  .  . to talk about what it will do to us and what God is calling us to do with it. (Click here for a resource you can use to get the discussion started)

The great Reformer Martin Luther once famously said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” That’s a clear and powerful picture of the difference between the temptations we face and the sins we choose. I pray that this weekend, none of us will have allowed pornography to nest on or in our heads.

Because of my own brokenness, I’ve learned to constantly remind myself that every time I make a choice, I’m choosing sides.

Which side will it be this weekend? The Gospel offers so much more!

To learn about helpful resources on pornography and sexual integrity from CPYU, click here

Here’s a link to CPYU’s brand new Sexual Integrity Initiative website.

To read a helpful article, “Sexual Sanity for Women in a World Gone Mad,” click here.

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