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  • Shawna Duvall

The Gospel "Unshaded" (an open letter to the church in response to "Fifty Shades of G

This is post from three years ago when the first movie in the Fifty Shades trilogy was released. On February 8, the final film will hit theaters. While the storyline has shifted, the overarching themes and destructive views on sexuality remain present. If you are considering reading the books or viewing the film this weekend, these words below might prove helpful...


Originally posted: February 12, 2015

Dear Church Family,

A few days from now hundreds of thousands of people will be flocking to theaters to see the new film, Fifty Shades of Grey. It is based on the first novel in a trilogy that has sold over 100 million copies as of Feb 2014 and joined the ranks of best sellers like the Harry Potter and Twilight series. It has been crowned the fastest selling paperback book of all time, and now, with the film release just days away, it is building more global interest and gaining more speed than a downhill locomotive. According to early Fandango box office numbers, Fifty Shades of Grey is set to become one of the highest grossing R-rated films of all time with an estimated $60 million opening weekend . Hundreds of theaters are reporting pre-sale sold-out showings. Major retailers (both in stores and online) are selling a new line of Fifty Shades of Grey merchandise.

To say this is a small fad, or just another harmless indulgence is a radical understatement. A better description might be a “phenomenon” and it’s sweeping across continents masquerading itself as a true love story or fairy tale, when in reality it is spreading and infecting women of all ages (as well as men and teens) with images and lies that are dark and destructive. A story is powerful. A love story that tattoos explicit images on your mind can have effects that are almost irreversible.

As I researched and found out more about these novels now turned film, I became more prompted in my spirit to speak out to our church family (particularly our sisters) an urgent message of both warning and truth. Kind of like that oil check light on your dashboard that flashes at you when something is wrong. And from what I have seen and heard in the Christian community, many are simply unaware of what Fifty Shades of Grey is preaching to the masses. Yet chances are, as popular as it has become, either you or someone you know has either read the books or is planning to go see the movie this weekend. If that’s you, dear one, please…don’t. And here’s why…

The Storyline

Fifty Shades of Grey is in the same vein of fiction as the Twilight series, except exponentially more sexual. The lead characters in both stories are “heroes” that are depicted as powerful, strong, controlling, dominant men that have a dark side. Their objects of obsession are young, innocent, pure, naïve, virgin females that fall hopelessly in love with them. In an informative article on this issue Joe Carter of The Gospel Coalition writes, “In an earlier era of fantasy stories, the goal of a hero was to protect a woman from evil by slaying the dragon. In many of today’s fantasy stories, the hero is the dragon, whose mission is to seduce a woman by his evil.”

The Fifty Shades books are classified under the genre of erotic fiction or “soft” porn and tell the story of how Christian Grey pursues Anastasia Steele and lures her into an entirely sexual relationship based upon the rules of BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, Masochism). Realizing this, one might question what the draw is for millions of women. I think we get a glimpse of it in TIME Magazine’s most recent article on the subject:

“So many of our romantic fantasies, from Twilight to Cinderella, tell the same story: an extraordinary man finds an ordinary woman so irresistible that he overcomes all obstacles – thirst, class divisions, or knowing nothing about her identity except her shoe size – to win her. Fifty Shades is no different. It speaks to our yearning to be seen as somebody worthy of love, somebody who is chosen by someone impressive and who therefore must be special.”

While this quote is revealing, let’s first get something straight. Like The Gospel Coalition quote states above, Fifty Shades is no Cinderella. While I realize they were both overcome by the beauty of a woman, Prince Charming and Christian Grey are simply incomparable. But I think TIME Magazine’s point that we are all “yearning to be seen as somebody worthy of love” is profound and right on target. And the Gospel has an answer for this that no fiction novel will ever be able to satisfy.

The Gospel Unshaded

What Anastasia Steele longs for - to be desired and feel desirable. To feel alive. To be “taken care of” in the arms and promised security of another - We all long for that, don’t we? At least as women we do. But we don’t need to fill our hearts and minds with counterfeit fantasy when we are part of the truest love story ever written. And our hero? He overcame all obstacles and laid aside His fullness of glory in order to “cross class divisions” for us in a way that Christian Grey can’t even touch. Motivated by a heart full of raging love, He came for you. And He came for me. And He came not to be served, but to serve. So unlike the hero in Fifty Shades who desires the girl first only for her body and what she could do for him, our Hero, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave up His own body so he could have relationship with His beloved. He desires to draw you in to His very soul that you might know Him intimately and live with Him eternally. And as far a feeling “alive”? Our Hero is Life itself. Do you long to feel taken care of? Our Hero’s name is also Jehovah Jireh – your provider – and He cares for you.

Take a moment and consider all that Jesus offers. I am convinced that with Christ as your hero, you won’t be left hanging and longing for the next book, the next sex scene to gratify your longings, or the next Christian Grey to come along to make you feel beautiful and alive. He infinitely satisfies and He is more than enough. Female degradation streams through the pages of Fifty Shades, but we see Jesus in the scriptures honoring and empowering women in a radical way. Jesus Christ has chosen you for His own. Will you give your heart to Him?

A Final Warning

The church has been fairly proactive in dealing with pornography as it relates to men. I feel the rise of Fifty Shades has highlighted the need to reach out to women in the same way. Romance novels, erotica fiction, sexy primetime shows, cable network series, and sometimes even seemingly harmless chick flicks and books can sneak their way into a woman’s heart and begin to take over control like a growing weed. Our feminine wiring lends us to so easily become immersed and emotionally enmeshed in a story. So much so that in the case of fantasy, the story can begin to warp our expectations, basing them upon something or someone that simply does not exist. Scripture says to guard your heart for from it flows the springs of life. (Prov 4:23)

Ultimately, anything that stirs emotional or sexual desire in you to the point where you find yourself in a place of needing it or feeding off of it is taking the rightful place of God in your life and is not His best for you. For married individuals, entertaining a sexual desire for anything or anyone other than your spouse is like inviting a third party into your relationship. It’s destructive, isolating and leads to ultimate disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Infinite Shades of Hope

To my sisters, there is so much more left to say, so much I’d love to talk through over a cup of coffee with you. I’m thankful for others in the evangelical Christian community that have taken the time and done the research to equip the church to move forward with a strong beacon of light in this matter. (Those resources are listed below.) However, if you are at a place where you could use additional help or encouragement in this area…or maybe this just raises other questions for which you’d like to process and discover Biblical answers, then please don’t hesitate to reach out to your local church. There is no room for judgment at the foot of the cross…only grace, forgiveness and unfading hope.

You are beautiful and beloved. You are treasured and honored… And the Hero of your story…He loves you more than you could ever imagine.

Yours in Christ,

Shawna Duvall



Focus on the Family:

Family Life Today:

Family Life Today:

Radio program:

Family Life Today:


Pulling Back the Shades by Dannah Gresh and Julie Slattery:


Link to results from a study presented in Journal of Women’s Health:


Excellent online ministry devoted to addressing women's sexuality, relationships and intimacy from a Biblical perspective:

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