What would Jesus say about 50 Shades of Grey?


This is the big week, the one we’ve all been waiting for!

In my sad, dark, out-of-touch corner of the world, this is the week that Lent begins, always preceded by the Feast of the Transfiguration, one of my favorite days on the church calendar. I look forward to preaching about the transfiguration every year.

But then that’s me.

The rest of the world has been waiting – breathlessly – for the release of 50 Shades of Grey, a movie based on three novels by E. L. James. I assume there will be at least two more movies, and maybe the last book will be divided in two, which seems to be the trend, resulting in a total of four movies about … a fictional and, from the reports, utterly implausible relationship that I don’t care anything at all about. (Most billionaires I know, unlike the main character in the novel, spend long hours at the office doing actual work.)

But there is always someone in the church wanting me to “take a strong stand” about whatever is happening in popular culture.

I remember back in 2003, when The Da Vinci Code was published, that there was a clamor for me to “say something” about the book “from the pulpit” because those “new to the faith” would be harmed by it.

Ordinarily, a book like The Da Vinci Code would not be on my reading list, but at the time I felt compelled to read it. I don’t usually enjoy reading books I feel compelled to read, but I found The Da Vinci Code to be entertaining, more of a guilty pleasure, though not especially great literature. I ended up offering an adult education class about it anyway. I even bought the curriculum developed by the denomination to refute the book’s main points.

Even after a lot of publicity fewer than 10 people attended.

I feel the same pressure once again to “take a strong stand” about 50 Shades of Grey. And to be honest, I feel more sympathetic than I have in the past because I too am concerned about the topics addressed by the books and the movie. Being a father to two daughters has changed my mind about lots of things.

But is this what a sermon is supposed to be?

In the last community where I served, a pastor started a church that grew almost overnight to several thousand attendees on a weekend, and his sermon titles, published in the local newspaper, were always eye-catching. He once preached a series on “What would Jesus say to…?” LeBron James, Lance Armstrong, Barack Obama, Miley Cyrus, and a host of other sports and popular culture figures.

Maybe he was on to something. Maybe my sermon tomorrow should have been titled “What would Jesus say about 50 Shades of Grey?”

That’s not the title I chose, sadly, but now that I think about it, what I have planned fits that topic.

What Jesus did on that mountain with three of his disciples, what we call the transfiguration, was to offer an alternative, something not based in popular culture, something deeper, richer, more compelling. The glimpse of glory that the disciples saw stayed with them for the rest of their lives and became the focus of their lives.

The transfiguration, I believe, was Jesus’ way of “taking a strong stand.”

If you happen to be in Zurich tomorrow, join us at the International Protestant Church as we all “take a strong stand.”

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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9 Responses to What would Jesus say about 50 Shades of Grey?

  1. Miss Mandana Sharifi February 14, 2015 at 4:13 am #

    Hello my dear pastor & sushi friend…how are you? Hope welll…just know that we are thinking of you back in Fort Lauderdale Florida ….You are missed by many….Mandana

    • Doug February 14, 2015 at 9:47 am #

      It’s been a long time since I’ve had good sushi, Mandana, but these days we live a long way from the ocean, as you know. Bless you, and thanks for reading the blog!

  2. Jürg Kessler February 14, 2015 at 4:51 am #

    I plan to be there tomorrow, and I will not miss it one bit not to hear about 50 shades of Grey.
    I have not read the book and have not been waiting breathlessly for the movie either.From what I have heard about it – it’s pretty clear what we should think about it.
    Let’s just hear about the Transfiguration and hope we get a good glimpse of that glory.
    Enjoy Saturday!

    • Doug February 14, 2015 at 9:45 am #

      Hi, Juerg. I thought of a few funny responses, but decided against all of them. I know you will be there tomorrow, and I know you will always stand for the alternative to popular culture. Bless you for that!

  3. jodifondell February 14, 2015 at 9:29 am #

    I wish I was in Zurich to hear your sermon Doug! Love this line: was to offer an alternative, something not based in popular culture, something deeper, richer, more compelling. Thank God for what Jesus offers us, right?! Blessings as you prepare to preach.

    • Doug February 14, 2015 at 9:44 am #

      And that was pretty much the punchline of the entire post, Jodi! But as usual make readers work to find it. Am enjoying your recent blog posts about repatriation to the U.S. Keep ’em coming!

  4. Fred Anderson February 14, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    Well said, Doug.
    Thank God the transfiguration promises something better for all of us.

    • Doug February 14, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

      I’m pretty sure I know what you’ll be preaching about tomorrow, Fred. I had a mighty fine teacher.

  5. attilaalbert February 14, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    I had a look at the book for professional reasons. Something that sells 100 million copies in just a few years has to be checked out by a journalists, because it obviously addresses wishes, hopes, or dreams that many people (in this case: women) share.

    A sermon could be about the tricky balance between “the right thing” vs. “guilty pleasures”. We all know this struggle when it comes to food, but it extends into all areas of live (what do I watch, read, spend money for). I knew Christians who weren’t even allowed to dance when they were younger, because it was “idle”, and others who did not dare to watch something silly, because they thought that EVERY action shall honor the Lord. But then again, that does not really create happy people and certainly not a life others would find appealing.

    PS: Thank you, Doug, for your blog. I read all entries as soon as they appear.