The film adaptation of "Fifty Shades of Grey," which opens in theaters Friday, has movie morality guardians armed and heading for battle.
The Catholic bishop of Buffalo, N.Y., has warned fellow prelates to step up preaching on the true beauty of sex-within-male-female-marriage -- and do it pronto.
"Remind the faithful of the beauty of the Church's teaching on the gift of sexual intimacy in marriage, the great dignity of women, and the moral reprehensibility of all domestic violence and sexual exploitation," wrote Bishop Richard Malone in a letter Feb. 4 to fellow clergy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
His letter came with multiple links to resources, some 15 to 20 years old, showing the church's consistent stand against domestic violence and pornography.
The Catholic clergymen could be facing a juggernaut: Fandango reports box-office pre-sale numbers are soaring, particularly in the Bible Belt and the Midwest.
The Fifty Shades books by British writer E.L. James have sold more than 100 million copies.
But the movie trailer -- and a Super Bowl ad scrubbed of anything very sexual -- sent opposition to the film into high gear.
It depicts a young woman* becoming a willing sex slave to a handsome, powerful man she interviews. Critics say it could make a tale of bondage and sadomasochism seem like playing fantasy sex leagues.
Archbishop of Cincinnati Dennis Schnurr already wrote to his pastors, calling the film "a direct assault on Christian marriage and on the moral and spiritual strength of God's people." Pastors must sound the alarm against its "destructive message" and "highlight the beauty of God's design for loving relationships between a husband and a wife in the bond of marriage."
The bishops are following the lead of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography. The RAAP co-chairmen are Catholic and evangelical: George Niederauer, retired archbishop of San Francisco, and Jerry R. Kirk, founder of the pureHOPE Christian purity ministry. Protestants, Catholics and Jews have signed a RAAP letter warning that, "The contrast between the message of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and God's design for self-giving and self-sacrificing love, marriage and sexual intimacy could not be greater."
Southern Baptist pastor Jay Dennis, founder of the One Million Men anti-pornography ministry, decries the marketing of the movie as "leading to the normalization of pornography. Make no mistake, Fifty Shades of Grey is pornography," said Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla.
They are all late to the shaming party. Morality in Media, the anti-porn site, has been whipping up (so to speak) press releases against "Fifty Shades" for months for glamorizing "abuse of power, female inequality, coercion, and sexual violence."
"The popularity of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' among women sends a message to men that this is what women really want. Even more dangerous, it also sends the message to women that they can 'fix' violent, controlling men by being obedient and loving."
But "Fifty Shades" does provide a mini-marketing opportunity for another relationship movie opening on Valentine's Day weekend -- "Old Fashioned." And the star of that is unabashedly promoting it as the anti-porn, Christian true love indie film to share with your sweetie.
"Clearly, we're picking a fight with 'Fifty Shades' because we believe it matters. Love and romance are created by God and designed to lead to marriage and physical intimacy, created by God," said Rik Swartzwelder, who produces, directs and plays the lead actor role in the film.
The film's trailer has the tag line: "Love is anything but grey."
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the character's career.