I have learned a lot since I began hosting my show a year ago. The opportunity to speak to dozens of Christian writers from all faith walks has been an enriching and rewarding experience. A plethora of ideas loom in the minds of these great writers and their execution of their craft in the form of various stories remains an aspect of writing I have come to appreciate more and more.
Yet, in my experience, I have come against backlash from Christian authors and readers alike. The backlash stems from preconceived answers to this question: “What is appropriate for Christian fiction?”
The answer varies based on who you talk to; which is part of the problem.
Everyone has a different idea of what is construed as appropriate Christian fiction. According to a website that contains some rules, the following are some guidelines. Please note that the rules below are for inspirational romance; however, I think this applies to other genres, as well.
“There should be no explicit sex in these stories, and a minimum of sensuality and sexual desire. Both humor and drama have a place in these books; foul language, swearing and scenes containing violence do not. Though the stories may take place in urban environments, hanging out in bar settings, drinking alcohol or becoming involved in sexual situations is not appropriate for Christian characters. …Though the heroine can be conflicted about being “cool” or finding her place in the contemporary secular world while maintaining her Christian values, her behavior cannot stray from acceptable Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) norms. The stories may not include alcohol consumption by Christian characters, dancing, card playing, gambling or games of chance (including raffles), explicit scatological terms, hero and heroine remaining overnight together alone, Halloween celebrations or magic or the mention of intimate body parts. Lying is also problematical in the CBA market and characters who are Christian should not lie or deceive others. Possibly there could be exceptional circumstances (matters of life and death), but this has to be okayed….”
As far as I know, Christians are not saints that do not just struggle with sin but they sin. It’s not as if they are sanctified people who experience sin on an occasional basis. This is part of the conflict within us. The apostle Paul stated it clearly in Romans 7:21-24: So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
The apostle Paul understood this conflict within us very well. He considered himself to be the chief of sinners. (1st Timothy 1:15) yet knew that grace was greater than sin (Romans 5:20).
Please understand that I am not saying Christians should engage in these behaviors. Not by any means. Yet, when it comes to writing our fictional stories, we should use characters that are real with real problems. Why, because Christians in the real world deal with these issues.
Recently in a discussion thread of one of my Facebook groups, a fellow colleague was contemplating utilizing a character, a teenager who had premarital sex and became pregnant. One author/reader made the statement they would not read the book if it has that type of character. When probed, the commentator stated they knew this happened in the real world. When they read a Christian book, they want to escape the world.
If books are just for entertainment, then yes. I can concur with their sentiment. Some readers prefer to escape from the real world. Yet, as a Christian author who writes Christian fiction, I would suggest that our books are a form of ministry. To reach the nonbeliever as well as the believer.
I have been told that my book, Many Strange Women, is too sensual. I’ve been told it’s not sensual enough. At the end of the day, I can’t win. There are sex scenes in one author’s book, who I spoke with. That author made it clear it was something that needed to be done. Whereas I cannot agree with this stance (after all, explaining the act is little more than just catering to the flesh, deliberately); the author did not tout the book as Christian fiction but fiction that has subtle Christian elements.
That opens up another can of worms, doesn’t it? Not to mention speculative fiction that deals with multiverses, werewolves, magic, vampires, ghosts, spiritual warfare, zombies, aliens, elves, fairies, and a host of things that don’t fit in what we consider ‘Christian’.
So, how should a reader and author answer the question, “What is appropriate for Christian fiction?”
For the writer I suggest this:
Pray about what you are going to write about. God answers your prayers and gives you the vision.
Determine who your audience is. Some Christians prefer certain types of book to others. If your work is sweet and inspirational, see what these readers are interested in and gear your work in a similar fashion
As a caveat to #2, at the same time, write the story that is in your heart. No one knows it better than you.
For the reader, I suggest this:
Understand that Christian writers come from all faith walks and experiences. Their works will reflect that.
Christian writers use various plot devices to reach a wider sect of people. Writing about zombies does not necessarily mean they believe in zombies.
Don’t be afraid to read a new Christian author’s work. After all, you may just find a new author’s work enjoyable! And what can be more appropriate than that?