We commonly hear today from a secular culture and from many voices of progressive Christianity (so-called) that the Bible is oppressive to women. Men are called to be heads of their home, goes the line, and women are called to submit, and that makes the Bible hugely problematic.
Let me make four points to guide a possible response to this common objection and to “50 Shades of Grey” in particular, which opens in theaters Feb. 13.
1. This is a sham accusation, of course. Men are called to be heads, but in the image of Christ. They’re called to lay their lives down for their wives (see Ephesians 5:22-33). The Bible never enfranchises men treating women anything less than purely and lovingly (1 Peter 3:7). The man a godly woman submits to is not some goofball with a title he didn’t earn. To the fullest possible extent, with every fiber of his being, he’s supposed to love his wife like Jesus loves His bride. Nothing less than perfection is the standard for masculine conduct and manly headship. High stakes, these.
Not so with secular culture. There is no extant moral code for men and women. Christianity is outmoded, bygone and repressive. In its place, the postmodern West has adopted, well, not much of any ethical standard, really. Into the vacuum come cultural fodder like 50 Shades of Grey, based on the best-selling book. In this film and book, a playboy named Christian Grey enters into a relationship with Anastasia Steele. Grey sexually uses and abuses Anastasia, who finds herself drawn to the man despite his roughness.
In the Bible, an abusive male sexual predator is an abomination. In secular culture, an abusive male sexual predator is a celebrity. The difference could not be more stark.
2. Christianity disciplines abusive men. A man who sexually uses and abuses women will be excommunicated from the church, reported to the police, and opposed with the full force of biblical righteousness. Not so with the culture that promotes 50 Shades of Grey. A man who sexually uses and abuses women is cool, mysterious and compelling.
Let me speak as strongly as I should here: 50 Shades of Grey is disgusting, despicable and unerringly awful for women. Don’t view this film as just a film. Know that it is much more. It is representative of the new sexual progressivism and its amoral worldview. 50 Shades of Grey speaks to where things are headed in our culture. We should not expect that postmodernism will protect women. It will do no such thing. We should not expect that it will ennoble men and call them to self-sacrificial responsibility. It will do no such thing. We should not expect that postmodernism will bless children and strengthen the family. It will do no such thing.
Those who work against biblical manhood and womanhood, who fight the scripture’s teaching as marginalizing are in fact undermining the last cultural defense that still stands against male predation and sexual suffering.
3. 50 Shades of Grey may seem exciting, enticing and alluring. It is in truth nihilistic, degrading and devastating. Any woman who has been sexually abused will be very clear that there is nothing romantic, fun and satisfying in the experience. It’s unthinkable – but true – that this is the vision of the good life being offered to and received by many, many women today. Abuse of women is evil to the very core of what evil represents. Yet our double-minded culture decries “rape culture” and then – in a spasm of confusion – turns around and extols what it just condemned.
Think about how confusing sexual mores are today for young men and women. There is effectively no standard of sexual conduct on many secular college campuses, for example, outside of mutual consent. But media like 50 Shades of Grey entice young men to sexually abuse women while exhorting young women to engage in harmful sexual practices. Honestly, what kind of twisted, deviant culture is this?
The church must be clear against the backdrop of such confusion. No system of thought more dignifies women than biblical Christianity. Our culture and our world desperately need it. But in a world turned upside down by the fall, many people – including professing Christians – make gospel faith out to be the problem. They try to present biblical complementarianism as evil. This is a lie. We must not believe it.
There is evil in every human heart; no church is perfect. Abuse can and does happen even in Christian homes and churches, but we must remember that when it does, no gospel-loving church celebrates it. No movie is made to sell it. Such sin is condemned and opposed and reported to authorities and then dealt with in the household of God. No, it is not the scripture that harms women and subjugates them. It is a sexualized culture that has loosed men from their role as Christ-like heads and encouraged them to gratify their lusts with women without recourse.
4. There is one, and exactly one, source of ultimate hope for man-woman relationships today. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel, the message of Christ crucified and raised for sinners like us, takes predatory men and fallen women and turns them into trophies of grace. This is not a limited redemption. The worst of the worst can be saved. The abusive, the predatory, the abused, the hopeless – all alike find everlasting salvation in the cross of Jesus as they turn from this world and run into the strong and safe arms of Christ.
Remember these words when 50 Shades of Grey is lauded in coming days. You’re not witnessing something beautiful and hopeful. You’re seeing something diabolical and twisted, a force so strong that only one man can undo it: Jesus Christ, the self-sacrificing Savior of His wandering, unfaithful bride, the church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Owen Strachan is president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; at Boyce College he is the director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. This column first appeared at the Patheos.com blog site.)