Record-breaking sales for the R-rated film “Fifty Shades of Grey” on its opening weekend should grieve Christians and encourage pastors to persevere in promoting God’s Word, Southern Baptists and others told Baptist Press.
The movie based on the best-selling book trilogy broke the box office record by more than 50 percent for Valentine’s Day viewings, bringing in $36.7 million in sales for the popular date night, and more than $85 million over the Thursday-Sunday weekend sales, according to the Box Office Mojo movie reporting service. Internationally, the R-rated movie earned $158 million, Box Office Mojo reported.
John Mark Yeats, associate professor of church history at Midwestern College of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press the numbers confirm “the ongoing pornification of the U.S. and the West.”
“From a ministry standpoint, this should confirm the startling rise of pornography consumption amongst both men and women, if those details were in question at all,” he said. “Historically, we need to be attentive to the close parallels between our age and that of the early church.
“During the first couple of centuries, any Christian living in an urban environment would have experienced an all-out assault on scriptural standards for morality. From sexual exploitation in public baths to sexual rituals as part of worship ceremonies in pagan temples, believers were assaulted with every form of temptation and visual stimuli,” Yeats said. “Yet the Christian’s firm grounding in the Word gave a stronger foundation to the family. Virtue became a clear defining principle of the early church. As the social units of the broader culture continued to collapse and struggle, the clear claims of the gospel stood in stark contrast. The church truly was a city on hill that couldn’t be hidden.”
Declining morality gives Christians ripe opportunity to proclaim the truth, he said, challenging pastors and teachers to promote the biblical truth of intimate relationships and to point out the dangers of pornography.
“But more important than creating a sermon series that plays off the success of the movie, we need to keep pointing broken people to the cross where our souls find ultimate fulfillment,” Yeats said. “We do that by preaching the Word of God week in and week out. Continue to call people to fix their eyes on Jesus and to follow God’s plan for living that is found in the Word.”
Using a description similar to the one Yeats shared, Nathan Finn termed the movie evidence of the “pornization of America.”
“Our culture is promoting a particular narrative about gender, marriage, and sexual fulfillment,” Finn, director of the Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. “It’s a story as old as idolatry itself. As Christians, we need to counter the pornization of America, not by promoting kitschy Christian alternatives within our subculture, but by speaking prophetically to the surrounding culture.
“This means we must winsomely proclaim – and live out faithfully – an alternative narrative wherein gender, marriage and sexual fulfillment are rooted in God’s intentions as they are revealed to us in the scriptures.
“This will likely not be a popular narrative that wins us friends, but the gospel compels us to point others to a better way,” Finn said, “even as we recognize it will take a spectacular work of God to reverse the current direction our nation is heading in matters of gender and sexuality.”
Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said the movie’s success evidences “We’re in a septic age in moral terms. It glamorizes evil and sneers at holiness. But we have an apologetic opportunity larger than your local IMAX screen. We can show this age that gospel purity, not disordered promiscuity, is beautiful.”
“Fifty Shades is silly and demeaning,” Strachan said. “It will lead to suffering and sadness. The biblical vision of manhood and womanhood is glorious. When embraced by the Spirit’s power, it leads to the very throne-room of heaven.”
Only 32 percent of the movie’s audience over the weekend was male, and 42 percent of the audience was under the age of 25, according to exit polls by Universal Studios. While exit polls did not focus on religious beliefs, pornography addiction is prevalent among Christians, wrote Joel Owen, lead pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Kingsport, Tenn.
“Pornography isn’t something only people outside the church are struggling with. Christians have been impacted deeply by pornography’s pull,” he said in an article submitted to Baptist Press. “This information came from an article from The Center for Parent and Youth Understanding: research says that 50% of the men and 20% of the women in church pews are addicted to pornography,” he wrote, terming the statistics “Fifty Shades of Facts.”
Movie reviews noted the film contained about 20 minutes of sexual content. Many critics labeled the movie pornographic.
“Harvest USA defines pornography as ‘anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy,’“ Owen wrote. “It is anything that tempts and corrupts the human heart into desiring sensual pleasure in sinful ways.”
Donna Rice Hughes, CEO of the Internet safety and anti-porn group Enough is Enough, called the movie “Fifty Shades of Counterfeit.”
“Unfortunately, this Valentines season, Hollywood is pushing the cheap lust-filled counterfeit of genuine erotic love. Fifty Shades of Grey glamorizes sexual exploitation, bondage, degradation and sadomasochism,” she wrote on World Net Daily. She noted this goes against every woman’s desire to be “loved, cherished, adored, honored, protected, fought for, taken care of and if need be, rescued.”
Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, wrote that pornography normalizes the bizarre and “bizarrifies” the normal.
“If one were to create a pornographic website that featured average couples who had been married 20 years or more engaging in sex as the average married couple experiences it, who would watch it? And yet study after study has shown that the greatest satisfaction in romance comes to people in just that kind of a relationship,” Barber wrote on the Ethics and Religious Liberty’s Canon and Culture webpage.
“There is beauty there; our culture just doesn’t condition us to see it. What would we see if married men and women described their marriages to a sketch artist? What would we see if their friends described their marriages? When it comes to beauty, something about us has gone wrong.”
Although the movie drew record revenue on its opening weekend, the box office popularity isn’t expected to last. Now that Valentine’s Day weekend is over, Box Office Mojo predicted the movie will fizzle before earning $200 million.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)