Behind closed doors?

With the film Fifty Shades of Grey hitting theaters this weekend, it’s time to speak up: sexual violence is not entertainment.

February 13, 2015

Shannon Beck

Shannon Beck, Reconciliation Catalyst for Presbyterian World Mission


I’ve had it. This time we cannot roll our eyes, snicker under our breath, or defer to that great US colloquialism: “what two people do behind closed doors is up to them.” 100,000,000 paperback copies and a big screen movie have flung those doors wide open, friends. 

We need to talk about Fifty Shades of Grey as a church. As a preface let me say I have not read the book nor will I go to the movie. You should also know that I support free speech and am not proposing censorship. However, as someone who is working to connect U.S. Presbyterians with our global partners to stop sexual violence, I must speak up. And my guess is you want to also. 

For me, this film is personal. I have two daughters and three nieces. They are at formative ages in developing an understanding of their sexuality as teens moving into adulthood. The normalization of violent, controlling sexual behaviors explored in Fifty Shades of Grey, consensual or not, is yet another way our culture disempowers women, treats them as objects for (violent) gratification, and confuses the most essential truth of who they are. I cannot even tell you the conversations my 14-year-old niece is having on her Facebook page. These are beloved children of God, made in the image of the Creator, given beautiful bodies to care for and respect. The same is true for boys and men. If the church does not speak up, tell me who will? 

Our first sexual exposures and experiences shape us in profound ways. For many teens, Fifty Shades of Grey will be one of their first big screen movies with a sexual focus. We must acknowledge that the subtle and obvious ways we embrace this movie, either by viewing it or remaining silent, will affect our culture and the world our children see as normal. There is big business behind this. There is now a Fifty Shades of Grey Teddy bear complete with handcuffs. A local pizza restaurant in my town is offering free pizza to women (not men) who “dress to thrill” and promises an 8" Elvis. This, they say, is sexy. 

Sexual violence is not about sex. It is about power. It is about control. It is about money. 

Meanwhile the rest of the world watches. And because Christ’s resurrection makes us one family, the people watching are not strangers. They are our sisters, daughters, nieces, and mothers. While women we love and partner with in Congo try to heal from the physical and emotional scars of rape, we are munching on popcorn, watching violations of physical and emotional safety being sexualized. While we put down twenty bucks to be “entertained” by sexualized violence, young men and women in the Philippines are being outsourced to Malaysia where they must service 21 men a night in order to eat the next day. 

Do you see the connection? 

As a woman, a mother, a sister, a Presbyterian, a Christian, a human being, I plead with you: Speak up! Have this conversation at your church, with your teens, and in your communities. 

These are not easy conversations. They don’t make for polite cocktail party chatter or “feel good” sermons. But we live in this present world, just as it is. And we are called into it. Not out of it. Not beside it. Not behind it. 

The Gospel of Christ calls us to speak truth into our broken world and work for healing and reconciliation. We cannot do this without committing ourselves to opening up a space for courageous conversations to happen. Join me in not going to the movie and instead sending the cost of a movie and popcorn ($20) to your local women’s shelter or an international effort. Then write to me and tell me what you did so I can share that action with other Presbyterians. 

The world wants us to say something. Our partners around the world would want us to do something. Our children need us to do something. It is what Jesus would do, don’t you think?

Media Contact:
Kathy Melvin, Director of Mission Communications, 502-377-4321



Speak Up. Join the PCUSA campaign to stop sexual violence by contacting

Want to preach about it? 

Donate to the Presbyterian campaign Speak Up! ( 

Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence Network, Twitter:@shanibah

#pcusa #50shadesofabuse  

  1. This is so true and wonderful comments. Being Presbyterian and a mother and grandmother of daughters, I agree.

    by lucille Digges

    February 20, 2015

  2. I am so thankful our PCUSA is speaking out. Thank you for your essay. I am donating to the Turlock Gospel Mission.

    by Chris Freeman

    February 19, 2015

  3. Thank you! I am so grateful to hear a message from the PCUSA that I can whole-heartedly affirm as a woman and PCUSA member. Your title phrase "sexual violence is not entertainment" is truth the world needs to hear from the church.

    by Marie Bowen

    February 19, 2015

  4. Thanks for this article. Isolation or part of a growing trend? Either case, it's disturbing for our culture and if we're a culture that cares about leaving an imprint of value on the covenant of marriage however you care to define it.

    by Alan

    February 17, 2015

  5. Thank you for this well done essay. I hope it has widespread readers!

    by Kay Travis

    February 16, 2015

  6. Thank you, Shannon, for writing this article. I was beginning to think I was the only person who thought this way. You put the issue into words beautifully.

    by Carol

    February 16, 2015

  7. Preach it! Let the church say "amen!"

    by Carmel

    February 15, 2015

  8. Thanks, Shannon. Just thanks.

    by Jerry Van Marter

    February 14, 2015

  9. When I finish writing this comment I am sending a donation to our Women's & Children's Horizon's in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Thank-you for speaking for the rest of us who, otherwise may have remained silent

    by Lois Van Dahm

    February 14, 2015

  10. I only wish I could hand out flyers to anyone & everyone who is about to watch this degrading display of depraved treatment of women. Yes, I will send a donation today to our local women's shelter.

    by Lois Van Dahm

    February 14, 2015

  11. Strong, powerful words!!! Thank you for the gift of them!

    by Holly Hallman

    February 13, 2015

  12. Well said, Shannon. This is surely what the church and those within it need to be talking about right now. What a troubled and violent world surrounds us and how helpless we often feel.

    by Kathy Matsushima

    February 13, 2015

  13. Sending donation. Thank you for speaking up.

    by Connie Wilson

    February 13, 2015