Its latest marquee posting plays on tales of the Arabian Nights, reading “1001 Shades of Grace.” But until recently, the sign outside Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in London, Ont. made an even racier play on the title of a contemporary bestselling erotic novel.
The Anglican church’s previous sign read “50 Shades of Grace,” echoing Fifty Shades of Grey–the title of the first book in U.K. author E.L. James’s sexually explicit trilogy.
The Rev. Raemond Fletcher has defended the reference to the graphic book on several counts: it shows the church is not out of touch with what people are actually reading; it speaks to an unusual intimate relationship, in this case with God; and it acknowledges that God’s grace takes many forms. “The new 1001 sign makes the point that God’s grace is even more nuanced than 50 shades,” says Fletcher.
The “Grace” sign attracted its share of stares from passersby-and protests, too. “One lady, who had neither read the book nor seen the sign, complained that we were condoning the abuse of women,” Fletcher says.
The London church is no stranger to artistic controversy. This past Easter, it raised eyebrows with a series of paintings intended to reflect Christ’s persecution by society and suffering at the Stations of the Cross. One panel, by London artist Erin Ivy, depicted a distraught and pregnant teenage girl with bleeding wrists, who was strapped to an ambulance gurney.
Last Christmas, St. Matthew-in-the City, a progressive Anglican church in Auckland, N.Z., raised a storm with a billboard showing a classic young Virgin Mary reacting in dismay to a modern positive pregnancy test.