It’s been fascinating to me to see how the Christian community has responded to the release of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. First, let me say I haven’t seen it and have no desire to see it – and this post is not about the film itself but more about what I believe our response to it represents. Over-all many in the Christian community have decried the film’s release, I’ve heard some call for boycotts and others argue that, basically, seeing it is a way to be a missionary to the lost who will see it.
Here’s what prompted this post, though… I have in the past consulted the site Plugged In regarding movies to see if they are ones I wanted to go to or not, so I was curious whether the site would review this particular movie, given the public interest in the film in general. I won’t say I was surprised to see they did, and I also won’t say I wasn’t disappointed to see they did. But perhaps not for the reasons you may expect.
First, I wasn’t surprised they reviewed it because they’ve reviewed most movies over the years that seem to be highly popular. Given that pre-release ticket sales were through the roof and that from what I heard about opening weekend sales it out-sold it’s next closest competitor by a 2:1 margin, I wasn’t surprised they reviewed it because that’s what they do.
Second, yes, I was disappointed they reviewed it. But not necessarily because of the content of the movie in particular – let’s be honest, Christians don’t want to even talk about sex in general, yet alone what this movie apparently portrays – but more generally than that. Because of it’s emphasis on sex most Christians were expected to stand against it and say “don’t go see it”. Yet many of those same Christians will go see plenty of other movies that portray violence and graphic sex and they don’t seem to blink an eye. For a long time I’ve had mixed feelings about Plugged In in general – here is a Christian reviewer who will go see some of the worst movies I can imagine and literally record the number of times God’s name is said in vain, the number of swear words, the specific sexual details in the movie (amount of nudity, type of sex, etc). And I have to wonder how beneficial that really is.
Call me crazy or old-fashioned, but isn’t that one of the purposes of the MPAA – to tell us, as a public, the contents of a movie? Movies with lots of questionable content (drugs, drinking, graphic sex, nudity, swearing, etc) receive higher MPAA ratings, while those that are “cleaner” receive lower ratings. So I decided to give this a little test… I pulled the historical ratings of Plugged In to see how he rated all the “R” rated movies over the years. As could probably be expected, they all are rated poorly – most have only 1 or 2 stars, and only one had 3 stars ever.
Yeah, that’s right… Movies that I would expect to be questionable for me as a believer to see based on the MPAA rating were, in fact, questionable for me to see based on Plugged In’s rating as well.
Which gets me to the point of this post… Perhaps the reason the world finds so many Christians irrelevant is that we aren’t different enough from the culture around us; perhaps the reason the world finds so many Christians irrelevant is that they see us condemn movies like Fifty Shades of Grey because of it’s content but then we’ll turn around and praise another movie which, according to Plugged In (since I didn’t see it), has over 100 uses of the “F” word, over a dozen uses of “God” and “damn” together, and “Someone [who] removes his ring when trying to score at a bar [and contains] one-off jokes about incest, masturbation, oral sex, anatomical sizes and talking dirty on the phone.” (yes, that’s a direct quote). How is it that Fifty Shades is wrong to watch but the movie American Sniper isn’t (which is what that review is referring to)?
Plugged In even had to release an explanation of why they were reviewing Fifty Shades, given how controversial the decision was. Obviously, I’m in the camp of commentators who would have preferred Plugged In not review the movie, but apparently I’m in the minority that feels Plugged In (and Christians in general) really don’t need to review any movie with an R rating. I gave up on those movies long ago. And I’ve learned that even Plugged In hasn’t given a positive review to any R rated film that I could find, which tells me that, by and large, I can actually trust the MPAA to correctly inform me whether I want to consider seeing a movie or not. In my opinion, Plugged In could just review G, PG, and PG13 films if they feel the need to, because apparently they haven’t seen a decent R-rated film in the last 5 years (that’s as far back as the records on the site go).
See, part of our problem as followers of Jesus is that we too often don’t take God at his word. My pastor when I lived in Florida (and who married Melissa and I) released on his blog a post entitled Protect Your Mind! Guard Your Heart! and in it he shared a couple of Bible verses I think are wonderful verses. Take Psalm 101:3, for example, where David wrote, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless,” or Philippians 4:8 where Paul admonishes “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
But we don’t really act that way – not really. We put all sorts of conditions on them.. If I were to use the two movies already mentioned I would have to reword Psalm 101 to say, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless unless it is a great patriotic movie” while Philippians would have to be reworded to say, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable, unless you’re watching a movie (listing to music/reading a book) that clearly differentiates between good and evil or is extra patriotic and tells a true story.”
It seems to me that Christians are the only ones who identify levels of sin – and, ironically, we are the ones who should be move giving of grace. We are willing to say, “sex on screen in a movie like 50 Shades is sin” but “I can watch Titanic because it only has one scene with nudity.” Or we justify seeing a movie with “over 100 ‘F’ words” because it’s “patriotic” and “inspirational”.
I watch very little TV, but sometimes I even have to ask myself if sitting and watching a show like Bones on Netflix is any less “fixing my thoughts on what is true” than would be watching 50 Shades. What about other shows that have people engaging in extra-marital affairs, homosexual relationships, using God’s name in vain, or killing people? When did watching those shows somehow become “acceptable”? Why is watching those shows appropriate but 50 Shades not?
The release of Fifty Shades of Grey should cause us as Christians to re-examine what it is we are watching, how we are living, and what it is we say when we tacitly endorse by our words and actions certain movies/shows/books/music over others.