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February 14. A day to celebrate love. 

Today, 55 percent of Americans will celebrate the holiday with their significant others. And according to the National Retail Federation, couples will spend an estimated $143.56 on jewelry, flowers, candy, cards, and dates. 

While this figure seems exorbitant, I’m not here to tell you where to spend your Valentine’s Day budget. But I will absolutely tell you where not to spend it. 

As you may be aware, Fifty Shades Freed, the third and final installment of the Fifty Shades of Grey series is currently in theaters. The erotica film is raking in cash, and scored the number one spot at the box office over the weekend. The R-rated movie has already grossed over $137 million worldwide, and it hasn’t even been out a week. 

But its popularity doesn’t mean Fifty Shades Freed is worth your time and money.

I’ll admit that I haven’t read that book that the film is based upon, but friends, you don’t have to get sprayed by a skunk to know it stinks.

What I’m saying is this: many others have read the Fifty Shades books, and watched the movies. They have already reported the facts for you. And the facts say that this is clearly not the kind of content Christians should be consuming. A quick Google search on reasons why not to go see the film yielded a slew of articles questioning whether or not leading actor Jamie Dornan agreed to shoot a scene will full-frontal nudity. (Note: I don’t know. I refused to even dignify such articles with a click.) 

If you still need convincing, writer Debbie Holloway explained back in 2015 why the site would not be reviewing the original Fifty Shades film:

“It takes very little research to realize that this glorified erotica is little more than a treatise on misogyny, manipulation, and abuse masquerading as a romance. Christian Grey,

  • regularly stalks Ana
  • tracks her cell phone without permission
  • manipulates her emotionally into giving him what he desires
  • gaslights her
  • explodes at her for using their ‘safe word’ when she felt unsafe (and then again later for not using it)
  • purchases her place of employment so as to become her boss
  • coerces her into sexual practices she neither understands nor desires
  • routinely forbids her from seeing others, making phone calls, wearing certain items of clothing, and asking others for help or advice

“Instead of labelled ‘abusive,’ these traits are portrayed as aspects of Grey's ‘kinky’ BDSM lifestyle. And because Christian and Ana end up married and ‘happy’ by the end of the third installment, it becomes yet another story perpetuating the dangerous myth that women can ‘change’ violent men. Many have latched onto the story as some sort of redemptive tale of a man trapped in darkness coming into the light. Unfortunately, the text clearly shows that Grey’s abuse remains consistent throughout the series, and Ana remains an eerie portrait of a battered woman who believes that her issues are caused by her own stubbornness or inadequacy.”

Christians are told to guard our minds (Proverbs 4:23 CEB). In today’s world, this means making smart choices about the kind of content we expose ourselves to. Fifty Shades Freed is definitely not the kind of faith-affirming material that we should be feeding our minds. It’s harmful. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” 

Holloway says, “Christians and non-Christians alike should be outraged and baffled by the success and adoration of this series. Its harmful qualities vastly outweigh any potential good it might include, especially for Christians who believe that true love is patient, kind, not envious, and not harming.”

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day celebrations, friends. But please, think before dropping $25 on movie tickets that do nothing to affirm biblical love and everything to tear it apart. 

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (Proverbs 119:37)

Photo courtesy: ©Thinsktock/Radovanovic96

Women, if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably heard things like “you’re just too intimidating to guys” or “you have too strong of opinions” or “men don’t want smart, strong women like you.” If you haven’t heard these things, I’m so glad for you. Comments like these seem to suggest that it’s wrong to be a strong woman, or that it’s looked down upon to be brave, opinionated, outspoken, or well-educated.

The alternative is weak women. Even just writing those words together makes me cringe. Is that what we really want in our society today? Really? Is that what Christian men should be desiring?

Paul Maxwell asks the same question: “Do we want women to be weak? And the answer must forever be, on the basis of Scripture, ‘May it never be.’ Strong women are as vital as strong men to God’s purpose in the church.”

It’s not just because I’m a woman that I agree with him. When I read the stories of women in the Bible, I don’t see weakness. I don’t see women being quiet or holding back or living in fear. I see women like Mary humbly and bravely giving their lives for the will of the Lord, saying “May your word to me be fulfilled.” There was nothing timid in that woman, and I don’t want there to be any such weakness in women today either.

I believe women should be strong, and that real men of faith should love strong women for all they are.

Maxwell shares three reasons that strong women are essential in the kingdom of God:

  1. “Strong women expose evil men.” There are several stories throughout the Bible that illustrate this well, and Maxwell highlights Jael’s story in Judges 4. This woman drove a tent peg through the temple of a man who was an enemy of the people of God-- “Thank God Jael wasn’t meek and submissive and respectful toward this friend of her wayward husband,” he says. “She wasn’t one to be trampled on. Strong women reject the requests of evil men.” I’m reminded of the story of teenager Malala Yousafzai who “spoke out against the Taliban regime that had overtaken her rural township and banned girls from schools,” contributing writer Jeffrey Huston said in a review of the movie about her life. “By the time she was 15, Malala’s voice had become so influential that the Taliban put out an assassination attempt on her life – and nearly succeeded.” She, too, was a strong woman willing to risk her life to speak out against the evil men around her, and the world knows her name because of her bravery.
  2. “Strong women rebuke good men.” Let’s look at Abigail’s story found in 1 Samuel 25. David was setting out to kill Nabal (a mean, surly man) who was married to Abigail (described as intelligent and beautiful). Abigail knows what is about to happen, and she goes to David with an offering of food, wine, and sheep to try to change things. “In other words, Abigail warned: ‘Be careful. Don’t use your power in a way that will make you guilty,’” Maxwell says. I’m sure it wasn’t what David wanted to hear in that moment, when he wanted to lash out, use his force, and end the life of this foolish man… but it was what he needed to hear. The end of chapter 25 shows David thanking Abigail for her good judgment and for keeping him from bloodshed. “Strong women rebuke good men, who need help in their weaknesses, who need someone to help them see how to be strong,” Maxwell says.
  3. “Strong women raise believing men.” In 1 Timothy 1:5, we see Paul reference the strength and faith of both Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Many of us have fathers who are absent or disengaged, and the presence of strong women in our lives is a powerful one. “We live in a world where we need strong women to make men strong,” Maxwell says, “because sometimes there simply are no men there to do it.” If you have a strong woman in your life who has helped shape your faith and raise you into a believing adult, thank them and praise God for them. “In an age where fathers often fail to bestow the gift of faith to their children, the future often hangs on the strength of women to do that gospel work,” says Maxwell.

Women, be strong. Be bold and brave in your faith, and live humbly in service to our good Father. And men? Listen to what Maxwell says: “Real men love strong women, because God’s glory is beautiful, and ‘woman is the glory of man’ (1 Corinthians 11:7).” Don’t be intimidated by women of strength, but honor them and give your lives alongside them to bring God praise.

Let’s celebrate strong, brave, beautiful, powerful women of faith. And men, love those strong women well.

Publication date: May 13, 2016

Rachel Dawson is the editor of

Remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Huckleberry Finn in school? They’re esteemed works of classic literature, but students in a Minnesota school district will no longer be required to read them, according to a recent article on Fox News. The reason? Both include the “n-word.”

It’s a decision I can understand, but it’s not one I agree with. (I’m in no way defending the word, or arguing for using it, so hear me out.)

I’m an avid reader personally, devouring hundreds of books each year from a wide variety of authors. I’ve read many of the classics, including these two, and I firmly believe I am better (as a human and not just a reader and learner) because of it. Yes, both books (and many others on our schools’ required reading lists) contain controversial content, but I believe that’s what makes them especially valuable in the context of a comprehensive education.

Let’s put classic literature aside for a minute and take a look at the Bible in light of this debate.

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament at a fast pace lately as I’ve set out to read through the entire Bible in 90 days. It’s early February and I’m already in the Psalms, to give you an idea of how quickly it’s going. I’ve covered a lot of ground, and much of it hasn’t been pretty.

A few examples:

King David lusted after a woman who had a husband, and instead of leaving well alone, he sent for her, slept with her, impregnated her, and then had the husband killed to try to cover it all up. King after king after king did evil in the sight of the Lord, worshipping idols and murdering men, women, and children in their desire for power and glory. Jacob betrayed Esau and deceived his dying father just to secure the family birthright, and Cain murdered his own brother out of jealousy. Hosea was told by the Lord to marry a prostitute and have children with her, even though the woman continued to sleep with other men and rebel against him. Laban duped his future son-in-law Jacob, making him work for double the time just to earn the right wife. Abram slept with a woman who was not his wife in desperate attempts to continue his family line. God’s own people blatantly ignored his commands and worshipped other false gods despite the fact that he set them free from slavery and was faithful to them.

The Bible keeps it real.

Nothing about the Old Testament was polished over or presented with a filter to make it seem nicer, safer, or easier to digest. But it was all real life. Sex, murder, racism, infidelity, war, scandal... It’s a real story. It’s our story, our history, telling of generation after generation of broken people falling prey to sin and making a big disaster of things.

The Bible isn’t a sanitized story. It doesn’t shy away from telling the truth of who we are as a human race, even when it’s painful, shameful, ugly, and controversial.

But aren’t we better for reading it? Aren’t we better for immersing ourselves in these stories, messy as they might be? Don’t we read them and find ourselves in the pages, realizing our own tendencies to sin, harm others, and fall short of all that God has intended for us?

I think the works of classic literature in question do much of the same thing-- they give us opportunities to engage with the realness of humanity and grapple with what it means for us today.

These stories (Mockingbird, Huck Finn, and so many others) aren’t sanitized either.

They aren’t putting a polish on the pain of our past. They don’t shy away from telling things how they were, even when it’s painful, shameful, ugly, and controversial. They don’t even shy away from derogatory language (such as the “n-word” in question).

“Human beings can be awful cruel to one another,” Mark Twain writes in Huckleberry Finn. He’s right, we know that full well.

But I think we are better for reading these stories, too.

I will never repeat the curse words these stories include, nor will I endorse the hate behind them. (The exact opposite, really.) I am not suggesting in any way that we repeat the racism, prejudice, and discrimination of past generations. I am, however, strongly advocating for the inclusion of these stories in the education of our rising generations, as a powerful and helpful tool in both understanding our history as humans and working toward a better future together.

If we don’t reflect on where we’ve been, how we will prepare for where we are going?

If we don’t acknowledge the hurt, address the sins of the past, remember the divides between people groups, and humble ourselves to see our own privilege and perspectives for what they are, how can we ever expect to repent and find new freedom?

That’s the theme I see all throughout Scripture, and the thread I see throughout these works (and others) of classic literature-- redemption. Repentance. Renewal. A turning away from the sin, the brokenness, the hatred, the evil. A turning toward justice, forgiveness, unity, wholeness, love.

We see David become a king after God’s own heart. We see Hosea and Gomer model repentance for God’s people and find blessing in restored relationship. We see Abraham become the father of many generations and a patriarch for the faith. Jacob meets Esau again many years later, and the two embrace and weep and give each other gifts. In every story, we see redemption, renewal, and new life burst forth from the brokenness and pain of the past.

Like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird so wisely says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Let’s climb inside of these stories. Let’s see the realness of what brokenness looks like, and let’s learn to empathize and understand. Let’s see things from different points of view. Let’s be taught by these stories, and made better because of them.

“Cry about the simple hell people give other people- without even thinking,” Harper Lee writes in To Kill a Mockingbird. “Cry about the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they're people too.”

Just like reading the Old Testament reminds us, there are painful chapters of our story, of our history, but they are never the end of the story. The “n-word” reminds us of painful discrimination and oppression toward an entire people group, but that, too, is not the end of the story. While it might seem easier to ban these stories and ignore these painful, hurtful, horrible reminders of our broken and sinful nature, I believe we will be better for climbing inside of them and considering things from every point of view.

Photo credit: Unsplash

Publication date: February 9, 2018

Rachel Dawson is the design editor for