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Dr. Juli Slattery and author Dannah Gresh talk about the cultural fascination with erotica that's been largely spawned by the popular novel and now movie Fifty Shades of Grey and other sexually explicit media. Our guests explain why such material especially appeals to women, and the danger it poses to marriage and families. (Part 1 of 2)
Jim Daly: Juli, in 2012, one of our nation’s leading Christian publishers conducted a survey, asking what is the most influential book you read this year? What was the result?
Juli Slattery: The result will startle you. Christian women responded back by saying, Fifty Shades of Grey was their favorite book of the year.
Jim: That is unbelievable.
Jim: How can that be?
Juli: Well, I think on one level, it does shock us, but when you look at our culture and you look at the Christian culture, as a matter of fact, it probably doesn’t shock us, because we see all these compromises of men and women that are dabbling in things like pornography and going to see movies they shouldn’t be seeing. And it’s just become such that we don’t have discernment anymore. Uh … and it should shock us at some level, just wake us up.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, we do have some things today to hopefully, wake you up. They may be a little shocking and as a result, the content of our program is not going to be suitable for younger listeners. That was Juli Slattery. She was a guest with Dannah Gresh on a program that we aired on “Focus on the Family” last year. They wrote a book called Pulling Back the Shades and those ladies each have a ministry designed to promote and help women have sexual purity. Juli’s is called Authentic Intimacy and Dannah’s is Pure Freedom. Your host, by the way, is Focus president, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, we’re gonna talk today about something that is really important, but very sensitive. And I know sometimes people are uneasy with it, but you know what? When we talk about human sexuality, there’s a reason we do and that’s because the Bible talks about it. God has a design for it. And so often the culture and particularly, the Christian culture, we’re being duped. We’re being blinded by the culture and not living lives that are worthy of the label “Christian.
And this can be hard-hitting and I apply this to my own life. We’re all sinners saved by grace and I get that, so we don’t mean to simply heap guilt on you if you’re in this place and you’re struggling. But let’s talk about it and let’s get it out on the table, so to speak.
What I’m talking about is a very successful book trilogy that is one of the fastest-selling series of all time. And according to one report, the series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide–100 million copies. In fact, they’ve made it into a movie that’s going to release for Valentine’s Day and it is the Fifty Shades of Grey.
And it’s erotica, is what it is and a lot of women, a lot of married women are buying that series and reading it and many Christians are, too, as Juli just alluded to. To set the stage for us, I want to open with a Scripture, because in reality, the Scripture is what’s most important, not our feelings, not what Jim Daly or John Fuller or Juli or Dannah have to say about it. It’s what does the Scripture say?
Let me read for you what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:9. It says, “I wrote to you in my letter, not to associate with sexually immoral people, not all meaning the sexually immoral of this world or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since then you’d need to get out of this world. But with anyone who bears the name of brother,” may I just say “Christian.” “If he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed or is an idolater or reveler or drunkard or swindler, not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom we are to judge? God judges those on the outside.”
I’ll tell you, John, there’s a lot of meat in that statement and our attitude toward the world, versus how our attitude should be toward each other. So often, we’re hypercritical about the world and how it behaves and very lax on one another. And today, we want to talk to each other. We want to talk to the body of Christ about what’s goin’ on.
John: Yeah, we have to have a higher standard about all of our behaviors and thoughts and that applies right to this book and movie now, Fifty Shades of Grey. And so, as we unpack this, there’s a biblical filter we’re asking you to kind of see the whole series through. And if you miss any of today or tomorrow’s program, it is from our Best of collection from last year and you can get that as a CD or download at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. Let’s go ahead and listen now to this best of program with Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh on today’s “Focus on the Family.”
Jim: Ladies, welcome to “Focus on the Family.”
Dannah Gresh: Thank you.
Dannah: It’s awesome to be here.
Juli: Thanks for havin’ us back.
Jim: Juli, you used to be here full time with us.
Juli: I know. I just feel like I’m right back at home.
Jim: Good (Laughing), right back in the chair.
Juli: That’s right.
Jim: Well, it’s good to have you. Let me ask you this. I can’t imagine that many in our audience haven’t heard about Fifty Shades of Grey. I was in the dark with it, but I am shocked by the impact that, that book has had and books like it. Help us understand what is it; what is it? And why are Christian women drawn to reading it?
Dannah: Well, I think one of the first things you need to understand is it’s pornography. It’s a written form of pornography. Just because it’s called “erotica” doesn’t mean it’s less. And many women are excusing it and saying, “Well, there aren’t pictures.” Well, you’re still having very sexual images in your head. In this case, Fifty Shades of Grey is very transgressive, so bondage, dominance, masochism, sadism, very dark sex.
And what kind of impact it’s having is what’s startling, because at the release of our book, we were up to 100 million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey that have sold. It literally has cannibalized much of the publishing industry, ’cause now we see all these other erotic copy-cat series popping up. And really it’s on a pace where you can’t compare it to anything else out there, not even things like Harry Potter. The only thing you could compare it to and it’s still trailing behind would be the Bible. So, the only person …
Jim: That’s a shocker right there.
Dannah: Yeah, the only person outselling E.L. James right now is God. (Laughing)
Jim: Well, let’s put it into some perspective, ’cause I want to sit in the seat of those listening. And I would think there’s probably three camps—a woman who is going, what in the world are they talking about? And they’re probably getting ready to write us a letter to say, how could you do that? And we get it, folks. Certainly write us if you’re concerned, but we understand it. But we believe the other two camps are the folks we really need to get to—those that may not know much about it, maybe a girlfriend has talked about it. And they’re maybe thinking this is something I should look at if 100 million people are reading it. And then those that are already reading it’ they’re into it, yet they’re going to church.
In fact, that survey that we talked about at the top of the program, these were Christian women. These are women that are doing Christian Bible studies–
Jim: –reading Christian–
Dannah: They were not nominal Christians.
Dannah: Yeah, they were customers for some of the best Bible studies out there and at the same time, reading this dark erotic book.
Jim: And I’m painting the picture of the appetite, because we men, we understand this. What’s a shock is that women are now starting to develop this appetite. Why do you think that is?
Juli: Well, one of the things that Dannah I did as we were researching for Pulling Back the Shades is look at, what is drawing women into the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon? It’s not just a random thing and we think that there’s a real spiritual element to that.
But when you break it down in terms of, what are women looking for? What are they going after? Dannah and I found five needs that we think are representative of what women are really longing for that Fifty Shades of Grey and books like it seem to promising to address. And frankly, Jim, they’re needs that some of them, the church has not addressed well.
Jim: What are they?
Juli: Well, one of them you probably wouldn’t even thought of, but it’s a real longing in a woman’s heart and that’s to escape reality.
Jim: Okay, that may connect with a lot of people, but I’m not sure I get it. I see Jean busy and engaged. I don’t see her wanting to escape reality. What’s happening in the secret heart of a woman?
Juli: Well, I think to some extent, maybe a guy can relate to this and it might be what pulls him into things like pornography, as well. You might be busy, but life feels boring. It’s mundane. Every day you get up, you go to the same job. Or a woman gets up and she’s doing housework and taking care of kids.
Jim: Or going to a job and doing all of that, too.
Juli: Right, absolutely. And her marriage, maybe she’s been married 10 or 15 years and it’s kind of blah. They’re not a lot of excitement. There’s not a lot of romance. She wants a heartbeat. She wants to wake up and feel like life is exciting and adventurous. And all of fiction kind of pulls us out of our mundane lives and gives us an infusion of excitement. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but this take it to a whole ‘nother level.
Juli: And when we’ve interacted with women, a lot of them will say, I just needed an escape from my boring and in some places, very painful lives and this seemed to promise it.
Jim: Wow, that’s powerful.
Dannah: The one that really, I guess, put the fire in my belly is the one that women are longing to be rescued by a strong man. And in a society that emasculates men constantly, we have created this world of strong women and weak men. Even in the church we have been guilty of that.
And Barbara Walters was on “The View” discussing the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and why women were reading it. And she actually said something to the effect of, “Well, women at the end of the day, just want the man to be in charge. They’re tired of being in charge and they want the man to be in charge.” And she went on a few months later to be recorded saying that, what this book really is about is a book about submission.
But here’s the problem. It’s a twisted, distorted view of submission. When a man is tying you up in chains and beating you because it gives him sexual pleasure, that is not a healthy submission. But it’s being honored and we’re living in this culture, this feminist culture. And yet, the sexiest words right now are “obedience,” “master,” and “submission.” How does this make sense? We’re starving for something and so, we reach out for this twisted counterfeit.
Jim: Dannah, I want to park here for a minute, because as I’ve thought about the program today, there’s a paradox that I sense. You see the feminist movement in one direction, wanting independence, wanting to be like men. What’s fascinating and we tied this together in Irreplaceable, a movie we released earlier this year and then also in The Family Project. It’s almost a bait and switch that’s occurred. Women traditionally have been the stabilizers in the culture. They’re the ones who domesticate men. It’s been known that this is the way men behave, because of testosterone and all that. But when they get married, they get committed and it controls their appetite.
Now we’re seeing that unleashed within women, which is, I think reasonably new for any culture. This hasn’t been the way that human beings have behaved. Women, for the most part, have been chaste and have been the ones to calm the human sexual appetite and put it in the right place, in a godly place, which is in marriage.
Jim: What’s goin’ on?
Dannah: Well, I think one of the things that’s happening is, our society just really wants to erase gender. And so, we’re telling women they have to be a certain way or act a certain way and they certainly can’t fall into the typical stereotype.
The problem with that is, that when I look back in the book of Genesis, God loves gender. And when He says, “I have created you in My image,” he lists two things—male and female—that make us most like Him. Gender matters to God.
And when we defy gender and say that a woman can be strong and override … now a woman can be strong. I think Juli and I are both strong women, but I think it has to be at the expense of my husband and his manhood.
Jim: Well, but that has been the way that has been going on–
Jim: –between the genders.
Dannah: And it’s one reason why women are turning to erotica, where there’s a twisted distortion of a strong male figure.
Juli: And you know, you can look at this from a sociological perspective and say, it’s the war, the battle of the genders. But the way I’ve really begun to see it, is it’s a battle to destroy God’s design. And a lot of this is a spiritual battle. And if you look at the fact that Satan has won the hearts of many men and pulled them into pornography and lured them with extramarital affairs, he’s after the women now. And he’s very audaciously going for the heart of women.
And we see many of them being entrapped by this. And again, not just the world. We see Christian young women who love the Lord, get confused about their role in marriage or whether marriage is even worth it to start with. And you take that into sexuality, they’re very confused about sexuality and how to express that in a way that honors the Lord. And they don’t have any discernment to see what’s really happening.
John: Well, we’re talking about the longings of a woman’s heart with Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery on today’s “Focus on the Family.” And as we address these five key longings that our guests have identified, we’ll post those online for you, so if you can’t continue on with the program, you can always find them there at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And not to get into the graphic details of the book, but there are some listening who do not understand what you’re talking about right now in terms of how can my desire to escape reality or to find a strong man be fulfilled in this book? What’s in the book that’s appealing to a woman who has those longings?
Juli: Well, let me say, John, that as Dannah and I were preparing to write Pulling Back the Shades, we prayerfully asked the Lord, should we read Fifty Shades of Grey? It’s a trilogy, so you’re talking about, about 1,500 pages of written pornography. And as we prayed, I felt that the Lord was asking me to read the books and Dannah felt that the Lord was asking her not to read them.
So, when we wrote this book, she’s coming from the perspective of looking in on the phenomenon and having a voice in it without having read the books, which is really great, because a lot of women want to be able to dialogue, but they don’t want to have to go into the literature itself.
I read the books and read it very much with, what’s going on in these books? What’s drawing women to it? And so, I don’t want to get too graphic, but I will tell you with broad brushes, that there’s no question in my mind that these books are very explicitly pornographic. We’re not just talking about allusions to romance scenes or sexual scenes. We’re talking about very graphic frequent scenes that are highly sexual. And as Dannah mentioned earlier, violent sex and it’s all couched within a love story. And some would tell you, a healing story, so there’s a lot of deception about what’s really happening. But I also want …
Dannah: It’s so deceptive that there are women listening right now who are angry–
Dannah: –because they would defend the book and they would say, but at the end, it all works out.
Juli: It’s not just the sexual stuff that is–
Juli: –offensive. The language is terrible in each of the three books. The F word is used at least 100 times. But I think what was most alarming to me is, that there are very clear spiritual references throughout the books, Christian references, even the name of the main character, Christian Grey. And his mom’s name is Grace. All the way through there’s Bible verses quoted in certain contexts. There’s plays on words when it comes to good and evil.
In the book, Christian Grey, the main character, has a room he calls “The Red Room of Pain,” where he takes his submissives–his women and sexually flogs them. And this is supposed to be romantic and erotic. In the red room of pain, there is a wooden cross and the wooden cross is used in sexual ways in the books.
Now you tell me that you’re a believer in Jesus Christ and that doesn’t offend you. Even if you took the sex out of it, how are you not offended by that? And that’s what’s most alarming, is that Christians are reading this stuff and alarm bells aren’t going off.
Jim: How do we wake up to these realities? How do we shake the smoke from our eyes spiritually speaking and say, okay, how do we take a first step to get out of this?
Juli: Well, I think already you’ve heard two main messages as we’ve been talking. One of them is, we understand why you’re drawn to this. And the longings that are drawing women to erotica are legitimate longings. And to the shame of the church, we haven’t validated some of the sexual longings that women have, the desires for intimacy. We haven’t helped them with those.
And so, they’re running to worldly sources. And we understand that. We don’t want this just to be condemnation. We want to validate the fact that you have needs that aren’t being met.
But the second message you’re hearing is, that the ways Fifty Shades of Grey and things like it are meeting these needs are dangerous and they’re evil. And you’re giving an aspect of your heart and your life over to evil. And we hope that even this conversation and this book is a wake-up call.
Dannah: If I could, I’d like to maybe give you some examples of how Satan brings death through books like Fifty Shades of Grey, ’cause we interviewed women who read it. That was my job, rather than reading the book and analyzing the book, I was gonna look at what was happening to the women that were reading it.
And there were women, Christian women. I remember one woman that we wrote about in the first chapter, who her husband was in leadership at the church. He was a very prominent member of the Chamber of Commerce, a local businessman and so, he was always busy.
And suddenly, she was a stay-at-home mom, which is what she wanted very badly. But his world was so busy and hers was so small in her mind. And so, she just started reading them because her girlfriend told her that it would help her to rev up her sex life, help her to experience some passion in her normal mundane life.
Jim: In the context of her marriage.
Dannah: In the context of her marriage. And that’s the defense many Christian women use is, it’s gonna rev up your sex life. And it might temporarily, but what it ultimately does, because this is also what pornography does, is it draws you away from your partner, away from your spouse. Even secular sources will admit this. There are articles in The New Yorker for example and Self magazine that suggest, if you want to have a great sex life with a real person, you better push pause on porn, because you’re gonna become more and more withdrawn into your own fantasy and your own way of pleasuring, that you’re not gonna be able to do that cooperative communication of blessing each other.
And this particular woman found that before long her day revolved around how she could get to a new book, a new erotica book. And she was planning her day so she had hours and hours. It cannibalized her life. And the wake-up call for her was the day that she was deciding to pack her bags and leave her family.
Jim: So, it had gotten to that point.
Dannah: Because she wanted that life in the book and she was tired of the life that she had. And when the Holy Spirit really rescued her when she saw what a terrible travesty it would’ve been. But we’ve seen women move from a healthy wholesome marriage into a not just an interest in lesbian, but an interest in lesbian bondage dominance, masochism and sadism through erotica.
We’ve seen the youngest victim of erotica that we talked with while we were writing Pulling Back the Shades, started looking at erotica when she was just 9-years-old and just encapsulated in this bondage. And so, women need to know it might temporarily awaken your interest in sex, but it’s gonna lead you away from a real person and that’s not God’s intention.
Jim: Juli, something you said and Dannah, that is powerful. I mean there’s so many directions my mind is going right now. Juli, something you said I want to emphasize though. And that is, you know this allure, what is drawing Christian women into this kind of activity, in part I would say it’s because we don’t talk about these things. The thing that I see in the New Testament, what I read at the top of the program about Paul talking to the Corinthian church, he didn’t shrink back. He didn’t have people coming and saying, “Don’t talk about sex.”
Jim: Paul did it. He said, “Listen, here’s how you behave.” And it … I think we’re getting to that moment where we as Christians, we’ve gotta talk about it, because it’s hidden. And when things are hidden, Satan works his mischief. If we can speak about it maturely as adults and as believers, I think we’ll be in a much better place to sort out the enemy of our soul.
Juli: Absolutely and the Scripture—both the Old Testament and New Testament—have a lot to say about sexuality. But over the last 100 years or so, the church has just ignored that and we’ve been quiet. And when we’re quiet, there are other voices that come in. We need to talk about what God has created and what’s right and what’s right to celebrate within marriage. As a single man or woman, what do you do with your sexuality? And we need to be open to entertain the questions that people have.
Juli: You know, Jim, women are walking around with great shame and pain in the area of sexuality.
Jim: In what way specifically? I don’t know that I connect with that.
Juli: Sure, yeah, well, really the last two years the focus of the ministry that Linda Dillow and I started has been addressing women’s issues related to intimacy, largely sexuality. And I can’t tell you, in a room of maybe 600 Christian women, when we teach and open it up for questions and have women turn in index cards of what’s going on and what questions they have, out of 600 women, we might get 300 of them that write a question, maybe 250. And the pain that will be represented in that room would blow you away. But you have everything from, my husband’s addicted to pornography, to my husband’s betrayed me, to I’m in an affair; I don’t know how to get out of it, to I have homosexual thoughts. What do I do with them?
And then you’ve got probably about a quarter of women at least, who have experienced sexual trauma. They’ve been abused in childhood. They’ve been raped. And they have nowhere to go with that pain. The church is silent on it.
Dannah: Even if you’re just a woman not struggling with deep pain, but you’re struggling with how does this work? I’ve been married for two years and I think I’m supposed to be doing things I’m not doin’. And my husband and I are just having a hard time communicating. What’s okay in the bedroom? What’s not okay in the bedroom? Even if you’re that woman, the church isn’t really providing answers.
So, in this book, we went there. You know, I met a woman from my church in the airport just last week. She’s very pregnant to give birth and she said, “Oh, my goodness. I can’t believe I ran into you. I just read Pulling Back the Shades on my flight. You went there! You went there. You answered the questions that nobody’s been willing to talk about before.” And if we talked about ’em right here, the women listening would probably blush, but you guys would surely blush.
So … because we … but here’s the thing. Juli and I had a deep conviction. We have on one hand the church, as you read at the beginning of the hour. We’re not supposed to really be concerned about the lost and their behavior. They’re just acting like the unsaved. They’re acting like the lost. But why is the church acting like the lost?
Dannah: Maybe it’s because the culture has gone there and talked about these things that we’ve been afraid of. And so, we looked at the Scriptures together, Juli and I. Could we find an example? We did. We found Jesus talking to the woman at the well, a woman mired in sexual pain, a woman mired in the thought that her answer lied in sexual conquest. If she was alive today, I think she would’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey and she would’ve loved it.
But she was so full of shame that she comes to the well alone in the heat of the day. And who shows up but Jesus, who’d taken a detour. He came the long way. He wasn’t headed to Samaria. He was headed somewhere else and I think the Father told Him there’s a woman who needs Your love. And He finds her there in her shame.
He talks to a woman. That’s the first religious rule he breaks. He talks about her sex life. That’s the next religious rule that He breaks. And all these traditions that are held up by man, He busts through them to rescue her heart. And that’s what July and I want to do. That’s why the book talks about things that the church previously has been terrified to talk about. We go there, because the example is that Jesus went there. Why? So that she could have the living water that really did quench the thirst of her soul.
John: We’ve been listening to part one of a conversation with Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh on this edition of “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. And we’re so appreciative for their openness and this discussion has been addressing the very real allure of erotica in all of its various forms–books and video and so on. So, be sure to tune in next time for the conclusion.
And we understand that today’s program might’ve stirred up some concerns for you, some struggles that you’re experiencing. And you need to know we have caring Christian counselors here to speak with you about this if this is troublesome for you. Our number to talk to a counselor or to ask for resources is 800-232-6450; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And let me ask you to please help us continue offering broadcasts and resources that make a difference in the lives of our listeners. As our way of saying thanks for your gift today of any amount, we’ll send a copy of the book we’ve discussed, Pulling Back the Shades by Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh. There is so much in the book. It is so timely in light of the movie coming out and Dr. Juli and Dannah explore the dangers of this kind of material. They also offer some hope about God’s design for sexuality and helping you determine what that can look like in your life. Also available is our Best of CD set. It includes this one and all of our very best programs from the past year. Donate or find the book or CDs at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or you can call us, 800-232-6459.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow for the continuation of this important conversation, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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