This Valentine’s Day thousands will flock to movie theaters to see 50 Shades Darker a sequel to 50 Shades of Grey, an erotic journey into the details of a sexual relationship that is based in bondage, dominance, sadomasochism (BDSM). The popularity of this series raises important questions about love and sex, consent and abuse, erotica and pornography.
If we want to reach a hurting world that is flooded with sexual messages, then we need to boldly address these sensationalized topics in thoughtful, clear and loving ways.
Small groups in our congregations can lead and affirm discussion about loving relationships and the role of sex, the differences between consent and abuse in sexual relationships and societal norms in promoting sexual messages that do not align with our spiritual values. Offering small group discussion that is open and publicized to those outside the regular church community can expand the conversation further. Invite leaders from local domestic violence agencies, health and mental care professionals, local schools and colleges to offer different perspectives and go deeper with the conversation.
Here’s a starting place for the discussion:
Acknowledging the challenge
Own up front how challenging it is to engage in a meaningful discussion about sex, including human sexuality, pornography, sexual violence, sexual consent and privacy, exploitation of women and men, human rights and more. Start off the discussion acknowledging the challenge with an invitation to contribute respectfully to the conversation to engender trust. Pray about moving forward to spiritually, emotionally and intellectually prepare all of you.
Engaging different viewpoints and experiences
Encourage all views to the table. Equip yourself for a wide range of opinions in the dialogue. Use key questions to lead to healthy thought and action. Specifically:
- What is appropriate in a loving and committed relationship? What is not appropriate?
- How does society drive our opinion about issues of sex and violence? Is there a difference for men and women?
- What is the difference between consent and abuse? Is violence ever okay? How do we help others heal after violence?
- How does age and age differences affect our beliefs about sexual appropriateness? What defines a sexual predator?
- How can we help people heal after sexual trauma? What are the consequences of sexual violence?
- How do you talk to young people about sex? How do you help them balance societal norms with their spiritual values?
- What’s pornography? Is there a difference between pornography and sexually explicit material?
- In 2016, UMC deaconess and former general secretary for the General Commission of the Status of and Role of Women Garlinda Burton wrote an excellent Participant’s Guide to Ellen Brubaker’s The Bible and Human Sexuality. The two are published in one volume by United Methodist Women. More info is here.
- The United Methodist Church has established social principles to help guide our actions in the world. In The Book of Resolutions, pornography is specifically addressed. Use them to guide your discussions.
Finally, remember, when cultural challenges to Christian ethics come along, let us remember Hebrews 10:24-25 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.