When Black & White Turns to Shades of Grey: Examining the #MeToo Movement and Fifty Shades Series

As a Christian leader I have followed the developing story of the #MeToo movement with great interest and with some degree of hope. I have counseled and listened to similar stories over the course of my years in ministry, and have seen first-hand the devastating effects of sexual abuse. I am deeply saddened by the number of women who have experienced sexual abuse and harassment and I applaud their courage for calling out their abusers. I am inspired by women like Rachael Denhollander, former Olympic gymnast and the first woman to publically accuse Larry Nassar, former team physican for USA gymnastics, of rampant sexual abuse. By coming forward, she created a platform for scores of female sexual assault victims to bravely share their stories. As a believer in Jesus and at great personal sacrifice, she stood in that Michigan courtroom and faced her abuser. She spoke with fierce and Spirit-filled resolve as she advocated on behalf of little girls and young women everywhere and gave them a voice. She called out the atrocity of Nassar’s long term abuse and the injustice of the systems that protected him. Rachael Denhollander communicated the gospel with vibrant clarity, and because of her courage. Something holy happened in Lansing that day.

Not surprisingly, the #MeToo movement continues to fuel the courage of women everywhere to speak up. In fact, Time Magazine honored as Person of the Year the “Silence Breakers: The Voices that Launched a Movement” and tells the stories of well-known movie stars who, like so many other women, have experienced sexual abuse and harassment. By speaking up, these women have given voice to “a very real and potent sense of unrest.”[1] As immediately as this sense of unrest unfurled—women united. According to Time,

Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose.…they’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal.[2]

Revolution indeed. Whether in mainstream news, social media, or the local gym the sense of unity is palatable.  Just a few days ago a woman I work out with was wearing a t-shirt that read “Strong is the New Pretty.” Every woman in that gym—all sorts of ages and from different backgrounds—gave her a knowing nod and a high five (including me). The line has been drawn, it’s clear, it’s a black and white issue. Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse is wrong.

Black & White Turns Fifty Shades

So, why is it that so many women are eagerly anticipating the release of Fifty Shades Freed? Fifty Shades Freed is the third installment of a series of films described as “American erotic romantic drama” glorifying the very thing the #MeToo movement stands for. In the name of entertainment the very thing Hollywood decries as reprehensible is the film “everyone’s talking about.”  Why on earth, just weeks after Hollywood actresses, Rachael Hollander, Judge Aquilina and some 164 women broke the silence and elevated the worth of little girls and young women everywhere, why would we “Make a Date” or “Take a Daughter” to see Fifty Shades Freed? Suddenly the black and white line of morality has dissolved into fifty shades of grey.  

Our Response

So, how do we as Christian leaders respond in the face of these inconsistencies? First, it is imperative that we recognize and critically analyze the cultural relativism at work in our society today. Clearly, based upon the events outlined in this article, people recognize the need for some kind of moral compass a place to orient between right and wrong, yet without a divine center relativism leaves us confused and disoriented. As believers in Jesus Christ, as children of the most-high God, we have access to his authoritative and unchanging revelation. The Bible describes in graphic detail our shared problem of sin and introduces the only One who can make straight the crooked and restore the broken. We must remain vigilant and allow the Scriptures to speak into the currents of the day.

Secondly, I believe that God is providing Christians an opportunity to play a prophetic role in the public square. Paul G. Hiebert affirms, “The gospel serves a prophetic function, showing us the way God intended us to live as human beings and judging our lives and cultures by those norms. Where the gospel has lost this prophetic voice, it is in danger of being wedding to beliefs and values that distort its message.”[3] For too long the gospel has been privatized and sanitized, it is time to follow the Rachael Denhollanders of our day. She provides for us, the church, a vivid example of what it means to stand up for the harassed and abused and marginalized, to call for dignity and justice, and at the same time to proclaim with boldness the cross of Jesus Christ.

Finally, while the effects of sin outlined in this article are egregious, it is imperative that followers of Christ we willingly engage with people who have suffered the effects of sexual sin. This is a problem that seeps into all the nooks and crannies of the church and is not easy to talk about and requires we take shift our gospel posture. We need to first listen and seek to understand, which might take a long time. Then carefully, lovingly, and confidently share a better story—the true story of God’s redeeming love.

This post was first featured here on February 11, 2018.

[1] Stephanie Zacharek, Eliana Dockterman and Haley Sweetland Edwards, “The Silence Breakers: The Voices that Launched a Movement,” Time.com, Dec. 18, 2017 (http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2017-silence-breakers/ (accessed February 11, 2018), np.

[2] Ibid., np.

[3] Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1985), 56.