Ask Kelley Taylor if shes opened the steamy pages of Fifty Shades of Grey, and she has a ready response.
Some of my friends have read it, but I decided not to because I just heard about the content and didnt think it was something I should be reading, said the N.C. State University senior, who is majoring in wildlife biology. I think that its kind of contrary to what the Bible says about fleeing from sexual lust and temptation.
Many evangelical women say they wouldnt touch the racy best-seller. But evangelical leaders also realize that some members of their churches and Bible studies cant resist.
A month ago, worried that the book the first in a trilogy by E.L. James and the basis of a highly anticipated movie could harm Christian marriages, leaders at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a closed-door womens meeting on what it all means and what churches should do about it.
I think theyre asking first of all, Is it truly pornography? said Terri Stovall, dean of womens programs at the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Stovall moderated the session for the schools young women, who often are married to ministers or are single and pursuing ministry themselves. We say yes it is because it creates pictures in your head.
Many of the sexual practices featured in the book bondage, domination, sadism and masochism were described during the meeting. Especially my single students, they were, Oh, my goodness, said Stovall.
But she said that reaction shows why they needed to talk about the book, even as many prominent female leaders cautioned against reading it.
The topic on TV
Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson recently asked his female co-host about the book, expressing his shock that the paperback is selling at such a rapid-fire pace.
Youre a sweet, Christian girl lady, he told Kristi Watts in early November on the Christian Broadcasting Networks The 700 Club. Do you see anything in porn that attracts you at all?
That is not an issue for me, thank you very much, responded an incredulous Watts.
Stovall said that closing ones eyes to the phenomenon isnt a good option for evangelical women. If they dont know it and we cant talk about it, theyre going to get caught out in ministry blindsided.
In some parts of the evangelical world others are even trying to move beyond using the novel only as a cautionary tale. Instead they want to explore what the books prominence can bring to Christian conversations about healthy sexuality.
In an interview for the magazine of the American Association of Christian Counselors, author Shannon Ethridge said:
I do not believe fantasy about ones spouse within a Christian marriage is sinful, but can signify a healthy sexual relationship.
Ethridge is author of a new response to the trilogy, The Fantasy Fallacy, released by evangelical publisher Thomas Nelson.
However, she added, fantasizing about individuals other than ones spouse (fictional characters included), serves no healthy or holy purpose.
Eroticism in the Bible
The bondage and masochism in the book are the most troubling parts for many evangelicals, providing an opportunity for Christians to speak out about such practices.
To find sexual arousal through the domination of women, regardless of who you are, is incredibly unhealthy, said Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, an organization that supports equal gender roles.
She suggests a biblical alternative: the eroticism in the Song of Solomon, which tells of a woman continually taking initiative in a sexual relationship with a shepherd.
Susie Hawkins, author of From One Ministry Wife to Another, points to 1 Corinthians, which opposes sexual immorality and speaks of a womans body belonging to her husband and vice versa.
But Marissa Elliott, a Boston-area literature professor and an evangelical Christian, said she has trouble understanding what all the fuss is about.
The only thing that upset me was the quality of writing, said Elliott.
Elliott, who admits she is probably an atypical evangelical, says the book hardly deserves a glowing recommendation. But it shouldnt be branded a marriage destroyer either.
If people are going to take that and then look at their own marriage and say, Why dont I have this? theyre forgetting that this is fiction, she said. Its supposed to be enticing and engaging and interesting and paint this very intense picture.