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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Realistic Christian Behavior



Bethany House recently published a book, My Stubborn Heart, in which the characters engage in behavior and use words that are offensive to some Christians. Some of the reviewers on Amazon expressed their displeasure at finding unsavory actions and words in a Christian novel.  

My Stubborn Heart is not a children's book, but after reading about this on Mike Duran's blog, I read the book because this issue of realistic fiction is important to me. Since I'm trying to write books that please God and edify readers, I'm always asking myself what kinds of behavior are allowable for Christian characters.

Christians sin.

So I used to think we needed to allow sin but demand consequences.

But sometimes sinners aren't caught. Sometimes there are no apparent consequences. Sometimes God doesn't strike them dead. Lot, the guy who offered his virgin daughters to the slavering mob, is commended as being a righteous man.

And if we scold for every sin, we come across as preachy.

Okay, but does that mean I want my heroine to sin and get away without a good talking to? Won't that embolden young readers to follow in her footsteps?

Becky Wade, the author of My Stubborn Heart, is a talented writer and I loved her characters. Really cared about them. And yet, I was bothered by the way some of them acted.

The book was realistic. The old-women characters didn't act the way my Christian women friends act, but they did act the way some Christian women act, apparently. The heroine didn't look at men the way I've tried to teach my daughter to look at men, and yet she looked at men the way many young Christian women look at men, I'm afraid.  

The characters were not all mature Christians and some of them were not even aware that they were sinning.

Just like real life.

I think if we want realistic books, and we should all want those, we have to allow Christian characters to sin without getting caught sometimes. Not every girl who has premarital sex gets pregnant. Not every boy who drives drunk gets in a wreck.

The more I think about this the more I think we need to allow our characters to be who they are and trust the reader to have some discernment.

Our readers are bumping up against sinful people in the world every day. They have to pick up discernment sometime, because we can't follow our children around all day telling them what's sin and what's not.

Writers can't teach discernment by having heroes that are perfect and villains who are all bad. That doesn't give readers an honest view of human nature. We can help readers by giving them contrasting characters, so they can compare the two and decide which one is doing right and which one is sinning. In the end, though, we need to trust our readers to get it.  

Do the readers not know that Tom Sawyer is acting in his own best interest and not really loving his neighbors when he talks them into paying him for the privilege of whitewashing Aunt Polly's fence? Is there any question that Matthew Cuthbert is softer and kinder than Marilla Cuthbert but not more loving or loyal? Don't we know that Mrs. Bennett is a manipulative hypocrite?  

How do we know these things? Because we know how we want to be treated.  

So this is what I think we need to do. I think we need to let our characters sin, and we need to trust our readers to know the difference between right and wrong. I lean toward having the main character recognize her sin and grow out of it or make some progress fighting it, but letting the secondary characters go on in sin. And we may even let some small sins slide by in our main characters, without consequence. The reader will most likely see them. We're very good at spotting sin in others.

What do you think? Are you bothered when Christian characters don’t come to repent for their sin during the course of the book? Do you always have someone scold the sinners in your books or do you always require a consequence? Do you think we judge Christian books more harshly than we judge general market books?

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 is the local liaison for SCBWI in Cobb County, Georgia. She has published short works in a number of places and has received an SCBWI Work in Progress grant. She can usually be found blogging about young adult novels at sally-apokedak.com

87 comments:

Ane Mulligan said...

Excellent article, Sally. I agree with you in that some authors are called to write real issues and portray real people. At the same time, others are called to write stories that represent different people. Are either wrong? No. Emphatically no. There is room in the Christian market for both. We as Christians, need to be careful who we judge. Even the Pharisees realized that and said in Acts 5:39, "But if it is from God ... You may even find yourselves fighting against God."

Margo Carmichael said...

As long as we keep in mind that Jesus warned that if we cause a "little one"--could that be any of us who are not mature yet?--to stumble, we are better off with a millstone around the neck and cast into the sea. That scares me. We know God does discipline all He loves.
So, if we're calling ourselves Christian authors and our books Christian fiction, we owe it to our readers not to show sin without consequences.
That's where I am, anyway. My friends are free to differ. : )

Karen said...

I agree with you and Ane but the Christian publishing houses need to agree as well if we are to offer our readers a more realistic view of life. I like a book written from a Christian perspective. That doesn't mean that the life portrayed there is candy-coated. It just means that the protagonist or at least one of the other characters is looking at sin for what it is and forgiveness for what it offers and Jesus for hope--without being preachy. And yes, there's still room for those who want a sweet look at the world without its ugliness.

Janny said...

Interesting how when Chila Woychik tried to say much the same thing in reflecting on the quality of Christian fiction as a whole...she was vilified. Irony, anyone? Or is the greater irony contained in the comment about "some people are called to write real issues and portray real people"...and some are not? How is that even POSSIBLE? Why would a God who is nothing if not authentic call ANY of us to write people who are not?

No one gets "saved" reading about plaster saints. And no one gets uplifted reading about 'em, either. We serve a God who's as real as it gets. Write real. He can take it. :-)

Nicole said...

There's no question the author of My Stubborn Heart is a bona fide Jesus loving, God-honoring Christian who is a writer. She chose to write a Christian romance filled with faith issues and challenges and did so with authentic examples in her characters. Quite frankly, the majority of criticisms for this novel proved to be a matter of personal reading preferences and certainly nothing in this story advocated anything that would lead someone into sin and anyone who's read the novel and proclaimed such is the case doesn't understand the meaning of that scripture which is so overused in the critique of FICTION writing.

Becky Wade wrote a touching, smart, adult romance. Some readers completely ignored the spiritual elements to complain about truly insignificant matters/words within the story. I commend both Becky and Bethany House for braving the cacaphony of unfair criticisms. It's about time we got a novel with some ba---, oh! nerve.

sally apokedak said...

Well, Janny, If you're saying that Chila said much the same thing as I'm saying...I interpreted the Chila Woychik event in a different light. She came onto a list full of Christian writers and got the fight she seemed to be looking for. Then she refused to post dissenting opinions that she said were too rude of off-topic. I don't like being compared to her.

I'm not saying what she said. I'm not telling Christian writers they need to raise the bar because their books aren't as good as general market books. I'm saying that in the twelve years I've been struggling with how to be faithful to God and edifying to readers, I've come to change my views a bit. But I am not faulting people who write books with characters who are strong, mature Christians. I like reading books with characters who are strong and mature. One of my favorite books is the Wee Sir Gibby book and I don't think that character was capable of sin. I don't remember. It's been a while since I last read it. But he was pretty angelic. And I loved him dearly and I think he made me a better a person.

sally apokedak said...

Thanks for commenting, Nicole. I also loved the book and thought there were some great faith elements. I was a sorry to see no mention of Jesus, as I said over at Mike's blog, but, I think what Becky Wade did was very good, for as far as she went, and I'm hopeful she will go even farther in future books, and present the gospel.

I don't think the gospel needs to be preached in every book. I don't think we need to mention God in ever book. I don't write Christian books, myself. I write fantasy. But I do think when we are writing about repentance and conversion in the lives of Christian characters, we need to get across the truth sometimes, that Jesus is the Savior.

I haven't been over to your blog, but I think you said you posted there about this topic. If you could leave a link in the comments here, maybe that would be a good resource for some of the readers here. I'd love to get over there and read myself as soon as I have a chance.

Thanks!

sally apokedak said...

Ane, I also think there is room in the Christian market for both. And yet, I am guilty of judging Christian books more harshly than general market books. I loved Becky Wade's characters, but I also hated them at times. I wanted them to stop acting so immature in some places. Well...why?

I think I struggle most with characters who are presented as being strong Christians, do something that I think is sinful. It always feels to me as if the author is condoning their sin if she doesn't punish it. But...I'm beginning to rethink that.

Nicole said...

Thanks, Sally, for your interest. For those who winced at Becky's novel, I suppose they'll blanch at my comments. (And they'd have a field day with my novels. Sigh.) There are several posts after the review of the book.

(I thought the implications of Jesus were definitely there in the chapel scenes with Matt and some inner dialogue with Kate.)

Here you go: hopeofglory.typepad.com

sally apokedak said...

Ah...you're right. Jesus was in the stained glass window holding out his arms. I'd forgotten about that. I stand corrected. Thanks.

Stacy Aannestad said...

I read Chila's article, and it seemed like she was saying you couldn't be a "good" writer and write specifically Christian fiction, that if you wanted to be "successful" you needed to write for mainstream. (That's a tiny nutshell summary, it's not everything she was saying.) I took exception to that. I don't think we should be seeking worldly success more than seeking to please God in what we write. I understand that in trying to reach unsaved readers one needs to go "out into the world," and that's okay. But we Christians need books, too. Encouraging books, edifying books, real-life stories infused with the hope, forgiveness and grace of Jesus.

As a Christian reader, I want stories that don't make my spirit squirm. If there is pre-marital or adulterous sex, imply it, don't give me the play-by-play (and it had better be important to the story, not gratuitous). Don't fill the book with expletives. Sure, some people swear (some of them do it all the time), so some characters will. To be true to them, I think the occasional swear word is acceptable. Perfect people don't exist in this world, so they shouldn't exist in fiction.

As a writer, I don't want to trip anyone up. I don't want to include trash that cheapens the soul of the reader. Neither do I want to turn seekers (or anybody else) off. I want the Good News of Jesus to be evident in the story, but not slam people over the head. Some of my characters are overt, strong Christians who talk about God, who include Him in their lives and their decisions. Others are marginal Christians. Others aren't Christians at all. I want to stay true to their characters, to the kind of people they would be. Otherwise it's all going to come across as false and it won't reach anybody, not the Christians I'm trying to encourage or the seekers I hope will see their need of Him.

So this is a tricky issue, and one I think we need to bathe with lots of prayer. We need to seek God's face on what He wants us to write, and how He wants us to write it. He has given us our gift of writing, and His purpose for that gift is different for each of us -- and yet it is always, always to glorify Him and not detract.

Stacy A

Brenda Anderson said...

I like your perspective, Sally.

As a reader, the books I'm drawn to are the ones that represent authentic, messy, broken characters. I enjoyed My Stubborn Heart because the not-so-perfect Christian (just like the real world Christian) is precisely who Becky Wade created.

As Nicole pointed out above, Becky Wade wove together a fascinating story and she told it with a fresh voice. I'll gladly pick up her next novel. And even though her book is a romance, it's appeal can cross gender. My husband's reading it right now & is thoroughly enjoying it.

H L Wegley said...

In my writing, I would like the freedom to show my Christian characters sinning, falling short of standards, messing up. Publishers/editors often restrict us from doing this. But I think Margo describes the best approach, always show the behavior as being wrong and show that it has consequences.

sally apokedak said...

I held that view for a long time, Margo. And I still think it's good to show consequences when we can do that and strengthen the story. But sometimes I think...we just need to let the character tell the lie and have that lie get him out of trouble, because in real life sometimes you tell a lie and it works to get you our of trouble. Your parents don't find out later.

God knows when you lie and lies will destroy your soul. But if my teen reader knows that her friends in real life tell lies and get away with it and if she's tried a couple herself and they've worked well, it's not going to be believable if every character in my book who lies gets caught. If I can't get the lying part right--sometimes it works--why should she believe anything else I say?

What's an alternative? If I want to teach children that lies destroy your soul and God sees your sin, I might write a book about a boy who lies all the time and his lies get worse and his nose grows long and he ends up being a donkey.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm beginning to think we need choose the theme and choose the lesson and we need to let people sin in other ways but pound home the one lesson. Each book can't teach about every sin.

When Jesus told the parable about the unjust judge he wasn't saying that God was an unjust judge and he didn't stop the story to clarify that the judge was sinning by being unjust. He told that story to make a different point--we should pray--and he left the other points alone. He covered them in different parables.

I begin to think we need to allow Christian writers to make one point and not force them to address every sin their characters commit in every book.

Jo Huddleston said...

This is my thinking without reading My Stubborn Heart. Of course we bump up against sin every day. I think our Christian novels should show sin but also show the consequences. That's the biggest struggle when our protag admits his sin and asks for forgiveness. I like reality in novels if it's not all that graphic

Mocha with Linda said...

I appreciate "real" Christian fiction with characters who have honest struggles. And yes, Christians sin. And I defended a book once that in a review that many others disliked because it was a little rough, primarily because of the intended audience and the ministry that the author had.

But since you brought up My Stubborn Heart, that was one I did take issue with. Yes, Christians sometimes use bad language and have affairs. But as Stacy's comment above said, that doesn't mean you have to be explicit in the novel itself. I've always thought the rule of thumb was "less is more" when portraying some details. Many authors write "He swore" or use other means to get the point across. I hear offensive language at the grocery store and many other places I go; I do not expect or desire to read it in a book I buy at a Christian bookstore, especially one that doesn't have the appearance of an "edgy" novel. And while language preferences vary, there are some words that are particularly crass, and that was the case in this novel.

I think you can represent authentic broken characters without the book crossing the line. Christians rail about the language and sex in secular movies - why is it okay to put them in detail in Christian books just because we label it "sin" and show redemption?

Nicole said...

Just for the record and to be clear, there is no cussing or swearing in My Stubborn Heart. The four objectionable-to-some words are listed in my review, but they are not cuss or swear words. Two of those words are used one time. They aren't even close to what's included and allowed in PG-13 films. And there is no "in detail" depictions of sex in this well done romance novel.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I've definitely been following this thread over on Mike's blog, since I feel very strongly about the vulgar language aspect of it.

I love the idea of Christian books portraying sin in realistic ways, because we all struggle with different things. I just worry that if people are offended by vulgar terms for human anatomy, then run across Christian books with said terms in them, they're not going to appreciate it. And I know many Christians who would boycott a book that uses such "realistic" language without a second glance. If they want edgy language, they can find it aplenty in the ABA.

I grew up in the South, and I'm sure that colors what I think is acceptable language. There are some words you just don't say in polite company (or really any company). But above and beyond word choice, what happens to characters who sin is a key part of the worldview of an author.

Thomas Hardy probably wasn't a Christian, you could gather this from reading MOST of his books and realizing that wickedness often goes completely unpunished, pure characters are tainted and depressed/suicidal, etc. Yes, Christians go through this. But you have to get to the end of those books (I'm thinking of JUDE THE OBSCURE in particular) and realize that HARDY WAS PROPAGATING HIS WORLDVIEW through what he wrote. He never portrays that there is HOPE.

As Christian authors, we're doing the same thing. Yes, evil isn't always punished on earth. BUT there are always consequences for Christians, even when you're living the high life apart from God for a season. He will pull you back, if you're one of His. It's not always easy. There will be effects on you and/or your children. THAT is the realism that I think we're called to write in the CBA. Because we're writing primarily to Christians (whether lapsed or walking w/the Lord).

Oh, well, enough of my rambling. I agree with Linda, above. We can get sinful behavior across without reveling in the explicit details of it.

sally apokedak said...

We should be clear that in My Stubborn Hear no one had an affair and there was no cursing. There were a couple of uses of language that are considered course. I don't want readers here to get the idea that the novel was full of curse words.

I didn't think any of the words in the book were very strong.I am comfortable reading books with much stronger language. I can appreciate that others don't want to read books with curse words. But I'm not sure what the answer is, then.

I guess we have to just figure out which authors we won't read. I won't go to Jim Carrey movies. I can't stand his movies.

When I write, though, I want to put into my bad characters all kinds of badness. So I wasn't even addressing that in this post. I think the bad people should curse if that's what they do in real life. I think they should beat their wives and kick the dog, too. If that's who they are.

I don't think my young readers are going to be led astray because I have bad people doing bad things. I don't think they're going to be tempted to sin because the evil man curses at the hero of the story. I'm concerned with whether they will be led astray if the good people do bad things and don't suffer negative consequences. That's my question.

sally apokedak said...

And I know many Christians who would boycott a book that uses such "realistic" language without a second glance.

That's something that the author and the publisher are going to have to consider. Is it worth it to them to offend some readers? Will they gain enough new readers to make it worth their while?

You certainly have a right, and even a duty, to stay away from novels that cause you to stumble. But it's up to the publisher to decide what they believe is appropriate. I think if we're going to boycott we should boycott whoever published Benny Hinn books, myself. He's far more offensive than any of cursing I've ever heard.

If they want edgy language, they can find it aplenty in the ABA.

yes, we can, but we can't find very many Christian worldview novels in the ABA. Some of us don't like ABA novels because we don't like the unrelenting feminism or the uninhibited sex or the nihilism, humanism, and atheism. Some of us want to read novels written by Christians that have Christian themes. Some of us want to read about Christian characters who read their Bibles and talk about Jesus. We can't get a lot of that in ABA novels. So please don't think that just because we like to hear the gangster say, "F-you" instead of "Eat dirt and die" that means we can go read ABA books. We can't find what we're looking for in ABA books. That's why we're still hanging out in the CBA circles. We're readers without a country--not fitting into the ABA or the CBA.

That's why the small presses, like Chila's are offering a valuable service, guess. I don't know. I haven't read any of her books.

Deb said...

Spot on. Sometimes the consequences of sin are internal and not obvious. Yet to hear some of the gatekeepers talk, every consequence must be shown openly and/or spelled out in one-syllable words. To do this doesn't adequately show the work of the Spirit, Who sometimes works in much subtler ways.

Christian Author Pat Simmons said...

As a Christian author, we need to remind readers that God can keep us from falling--period.

Di Dart said...

Intriguing discussions and comments, one and all. I've read Chila's posts and follow Mike Duran with silent admiration, but I wanted to ask you a direct question about all of this design and planning in our novels.

What is the role of subtlety? Must we, as authors, lay out every bend in the road for our readers, or can we allow them to draw conclusions about the inevitable consequences of sin? Are we limiting the work of the Holy Spirit with all of these "rules" or are we simply engaging in the publishing business and allowing the Holy Spirit to chart a whole load of courses in our own lives?

You mentioned a few familiar (and beloved!) characters in this blog, noting that readers easily understood and recognized their sinfulness (Tom Sawyer, Mrs. Bennett). Shouldn't we strive for that type of intimate writing? Stories and characters so authentic that we trust the reader to catch on? Powerful, three-dimensional works that poke and prod in some dark places but shine the trouble light on others?

As a reader I fall in love with flawed characters, likely because I'm terribly flawed. I long for stories that show God's power, mercy and love THROUGH those flaws, just as I bask in His presence in my own sometimes-messy life. My goal as a writer is to create stories that move readers toward GOD, not to create characters that my readers can worship. Does that make any sense at all?

morganlbusse.com said...

I want to write realistic characters too, so I go for the heart. What is inside my character's heart? What drives it? Feeds it? Scares it? What lives in that innermost place?

It is where you can show the struggles a Christian goes through, eventually leading (or not leading) to sinful behavior. Or write how each choice and action slowly kills the life inside the heart. Or how hard it is to forgive when you want revenge.

I think this makes characters real because it is real for us.

sally apokedak said...

Yes, I agree with you. That was the point I was trying to make.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

As I've said before, I appreciate the inclusion of more realistic scenarios/sins people struggle with in Christian fiction. I do NOT like sermonizing in CBA books when it's done in an in-your-face way (because most of the readers are already Christians). The key is identifying your AUDIENCE, and I'm assuming MY STUBBORN HEART is for Christians who don't have problems with more detailed anatomical details/language in books.

I was just saying I can find that in the ABA, and I'd rather not find it in the CBA, any more than I enjoy finding sermonizing. I can guarantee that I wouldn't have anyone I could recommend those more detailed Christian books to, any more than the sermonizing ones.

In the end, Christian literature (as I think Chila is saying) needs to transcend mediocre WRITING and have something meaningful and "new" to say. I guess, as authors, we all come at the concept of "crossover" books in different ways. But to me, it's developing a plotline/story that hits saved and unsaved alike with a Christian worldview that's undeniable (but not preachy). Hard to do, and harder still to place a book like that. Too Christ-oriented for the ABA and too realistic for the CBA. Yup. In the end, it all comes down to what the book is SAYING.

Adam Blumer said...

A lot of my reading base would boycott a novel like My Stubborn Heart. I'm sure the author worked hard and had the purist of motives (no intent to offend or condemn her here), but that doesn't change this fact. I'm aware of some of the language in this novel, and it shocks me. This is certainly not the CBA (or the Bethany House, for that matter) my family and I grew up with. Or the one I write for. I could argue about realism versus offensiveness, but others have done that well already. Whenever in doubt, just consult what Scripture says about clean speech/vulgarity and the believer. Check it out and decide for yourself.

I'm arguing here from a marketing/sales standpoint. Bethany House is taking a big risk by alienating the very audience that put them on the map in the eighties (authors like Gilbert Morris, Michael Phillips, Janette Oke, Judith Pella, George MacDonald, etc). Did the language in novels then even come close to this? Um, no. Somewhere along the line, something changed. What was it? And why?

I can't think of anyone in my immediate conservative audience I could recommend this novel to. Sorry, but it's true. They don't watch TV with this language, so they certainly wouldn't read a novel that has the same language they turn off.

So is it a wise move alienating a rather large segment of the CBA that is turned off by this type of realism? I guess Bethany House will find out. A lot of dear family members and friends will no longer be able to trust what they offer. And that's simply a fact.

Di Dart said...

Well, good. At least I'm not crazy... or alone in my craziness. :) And admittedly I want to check out this book now, although it's not my preferred genre.

sally apokedak said...

I am so surprised by this. Adam, you have a man who kidnaps and kills a girl in the first chapter of you novel or something like that. Right?

I find that kind of behavior evil. And yet you write about it.

What is so offensive about a man wishing he had to testicles to do something and calling the testicles by another word? I just don't get it. What word offended you?

Nicole said...

Adam, Sally's right on here. OPINIONS of vulgarity, and in this case these opinions are cheap, completely ignore the very real and dominant faith issues in this novel. Vulgarity?! There is no real vulgarity in My Stubborn Heart, but there are a lot of apparently very pious and legalistic Christians determining for everyone else what sin is while ignoring it in their own judgmental lives. This is totally out of hand. It both sickens and saddens me.

Adam Blumer said...

Sally, I wrote a novel depicting an evil man kidnapping a woman. Later, we learn he strangled her. I didn't depict the violence in stomach-clenching detail (I have convictions about that). He's the bad guy; he does evil; he gets caught. Apples and oranges, folks. I didn't use any vulgar terminology for a woman's breasts or a man's sex organs. Can't believe we're even having this discussion.

If there are deep faith issues in My Stubborn Heart, that's wonderful. Did I criticize those? Nope. What I said was this (I'll say it again), since I was obviously misunderstood. Many of those in my most direct audience would be offended by this type of realistic terminology in a CBA novel. That's what I said. Did I say I was personally offended? No, though I did say I was shocked (still am). I questioned the wisdom of letting this type of language in, given a large segment of Bethany House's conservative readership. That's what I said.

This has nothing to do with legalism, but it has everything to do with a certain readership standing on what they believe the Bible says about speech and the believer. This belief affects the novels they choose to read (or not to read). Have they said YOU are a sinner if you read this and like it? Did I say this? Nope. So where does legalism enter the picture here? Because they have high standards and won't read a novel you like? Sorry, that's not legalism. They can choose what they believe to be acceptable just as you can. (And, as I said, go to Scripture, study the issue of language for yourself, and make your decision.) Just because others do not draw their line exactly where you do does not make them legalists.

I'm sorry some of you you don't like what I said, but it's a fact. A segment (I would argue a large segment) of the CBA readership would be offended by this. Feel free to disagree with what these brothers and sisters in Christ believe, but that doesn't change the fact that they believe this way. They won't read this novel, strong faith issues or not, because of the use of certain language.

Gina Holmes said...

I found myself recently under similar scrutiny as Becky. In my sophomore novel, Dry as Rain, the Christian husband wakes up in a woman's bed (a woman who is not his wife). The whole theme of the novel centers around adultery and forgiveness. There are very real consequences to his sins, for him and his family and there is redemption. Still, I had a few attacks in the way of reviews because a Christian man would never do this. Um... all fall short of the glory of God. Some refused to read past the sin to get to the redemption.

I know that I'm a sinner, in need of grace and forgiveness. I'm beginning to wonder if all Christians realize this about themselves.

I've said this over at Mike's blog but the language in question in Becky's book are not words I find to be curse words first of all, and second of all, if I'm between a book that did
include bad language but challenged me and one that had nothing objectionable but did nothing to challenge me, I'm picking the former.

It is not bad language that makes my spirit squirm, it's pretending that sin doesn't exist, that Christians are not sinners, that people aren't going to hell because they reject Him and a society of Christians more concerned with the use of "boobs" in a book than winning the world for Christ, feeding the hungry and so forth.

Gina Holmes said...

I should qualify the above by saying, I'm also not a fan of extraneous foul language in books movies or life (so maybe it does make my spirit squirm after all), but what I consider foul is personal and cultural. And I think it is foolish for us to use graphic language or anything else if it's not absolutely necessary. What benefits it a writer to gain an arsenal of language but lose his reader? Interesting discussion on several levels.

Adam Blumer said...

Hi, Gina. Nice to chat with you. I think the opening scene of our novel could be fine depending on how you handle it (I haven't read it), especially of this behavior is called sin and the character experiences spiritual transformation and the scene is not depicted in graphic, sensual detail. But I haven't read it and can't say. The fact is, not everyone is going to like everything in our novels (as this discussion proves). We just need to seek God's direction, do our best with it, and realize we can't please everybody.

Most people I know who would react to "boobs" (see, I don't even like typing the word) also believe in winning the lost and feeding the hungry. Their spirits also squirm over the things you've listed. They are concerned about all these things. And they are also frustrated when standards appear to be slipping and they can no longer reach for a CBA novel with the confidence that it won't cross the line.

Yes, this is a good and important discussion.

Adam Blumer said...

Nicole, there is no vulgarity in My Stubborn Heart? I would challenge you to look up each of the words in question in Webster's (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/). Even Webster's (the world, I might add, and not Christians) recognizes these terms as "usually," "sometimes," or "often vulgar." So is this estimation of vulgarity really just the opinion of several legalistic Christians?

Katie Ganshert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie Ganshert said...

"It is not bad language that makes my spirit squirm, it's pretending that sin doesn't exist, that Christians are not sinners, that people aren't going to hell because they reject Him and a society of Christians more concerned with the use of "boobs" in a book than winning the world for Christ, feeding the hungry and so forth."

Well said, Gina.

Becky Wade's book is in my TBR pile. So is Gina's Dry as Rain (hers is next, actually). I can't wait to read both.

I like my fiction to be real. I like my characters to feel real. And characters who are not perfect, who struggle with their brokenness and the brokenness of this world - that is real.

My debut novel, WILDFLOWERS FROM WINTER, hit shelves a month ago. People are calling it "real" in their reviews. A few have had a really hard time with my main character. What saddens me a little is that my MC isn't a believer throughout a good portion of the novel. So why should it surprise us that she would be selfish or hardened? I'm a believer - I've been redeemed and set free by the power of Christ's blood - and I struggle with selfishness and indifference (toward people/situations that I shouldn't be indifferent to) every single day.

I think this is a great discussion

Nicole said...

"This has nothing to do with legalism, but it has everything to do with a certain readership standing on what they believe the Bible says about speech and the believer. This belief affects the novels they choose to read (or not to read). Have they said YOU are a sinner if you read this and like it? Did I say this? Nope. So where does legalism enter the picture here? Because they have high standards and won't read a novel you like? Sorry, that's not legalism. They can choose what they believe to be acceptable just as you can. (And, as I said, go to Scripture, study the issue of language for yourself, and make your decision.) Just because others do not draw their line exactly where you do does not make them legalists."

High standards? So the rest of us who were not offended by the four words used in this novel do not have high biblical standards? You're wrong, Adam. I don't use three of the words in this book because for me I don't like the words and for me to say them would be offensive to ME. The other word is hardly offensive, is mild slang, and really does pinpoint a way of indicating a macho courage. Period.

Nobody here whines about the fluff in "innocent", so-called "clean" novels. We do however whine a bit about many of CBA novels being unrealistic portrayals of love and romance and daily living. All we've asked for are a few novels that give us characters who reflect less "perfect" depictions of the struggles Christians face with people who give their faith priority while facing hard circumstances and allowing those characters who are not believers to be shown in their genuine states WITHOUT the vulgarity of the ABA. My Stubborn Heart did exactly this.

The beauty and hope of Christianity is relationship with God. The Holy Spirit is the One who does the convicting for each one of us. Not the world, not Webster's. If you're convicted by any word in a story, you can put the book down and not read further. That's a choice.

Like you, I can't believe we're even discussing this because to me, considering the whole of the novel, it most certainly is legalism, and the inaccurate assessments and accusations are truly offensive to me.

You defended your use of violence, strangulation as the murder means, and justify it because the individual was "evil". (I read and reviewed it, BTW.) Knowing that the use of violence offends some Christians. But that's okay because kidnapping and murder were portrayed as evil and he was caught?

As I'm quickly assessing here, Christians are so easily offended by things that Jesus wouldn't have batted an eye at. What He saw and how He spoke, how He loved, how He rebuked, would be considered not nearly enough by most of those who were "offended" by four words in a novel filled with redemption and the love of God. And may I remind you, Adam, of the reference to a donkey's anatomy in the OT? The demonic beings who craved Noah's guests? The guys who dragged out (probably unclothed) the woman caught in adultery - ignoring the man - before Jesus?

Marianne said...

i have not read My Stubborn Heart, and therefore maybe i should not be commenting. I want a novel that challenges me...those are the ones i reread, and remember. A few novel that i have read dealt with the sin of adultery in totally unrealistic ways. The way it was resolved was by death. Now, we all know that there might be someone who dies after having committed adultery, but as a way to resolve the issue? Not likely. Now i am anxious to read this novel to see what all the hype is about.

Ane Mulligan said...

I agree, Katie, and you did a superb job with portraying your MC Wildflowers from Winter. We understood, had sympathy and read with expectation of her change. This has been a great discussion!

Katie Ganshert said...

I just read through all the comments - I love a good, thought-provoking discussion. This is definitely one of them!

I totally understand what Adam is saying. I don't think he's saying it's wrong to include these things in our novels, I think he's just pointing out that we risk alienating readers.

Here are my thoughts....and keep in mind, I haven't read My Stubborn Heart (but will soon) so I don't even know what the words are that you're talking about.

What rubs me the wrong way is when book readers slam a book because of a few words that offend them, yet completely disregard the overall story/themes of the book. If the book points to redemption and hope and the freedom we find in Christ, then that is a book worth sharing (in my opinion). Especially with unbelievers - who probably won't be offended by a few vulgar words, but might be drawn closer to the truth. Yet because there are a few offensive words, some Christians (not all), can't (or don't want to) see the forest for the trees.

sally apokedak said...

Adam, I hope you don't think I was saying you are a legalist. I was just surprised because I thought you were saying YOU thought the words were vulgar.

If we are talking about testicles or breasts, what does it matter if we call them by words that are not the medically accepted terms? It's not the words, but what they represent that is vulgar. We shouldn't talk about our private parts in mixed company. This conversation feels far more vulgar to me than anything in the book.

But I think it's important, so I'll press on.

In the book the character is in the privacy her own mind wishing that her breasts were a little larger. OK I think that's a shallow wish and it shows some immaturity in the heroine. That's what I was struggling with in the book--the immaturity of several characters, not the actual words they used. So I'm surprised that people are offended by the word "boobs" but I don't mean to say that they are legalists for being offended.

But I don't think your depiction of evil in your novel, and the use of the mild words in this book is apples and oranges.

I was bothered by the opening of your book, Adam. You had me in the mind of a man who was stalking a young women. It grossed me out. I hated that he got her in the car. And I didn't read the rest of the book.

So isn't that the same thing?

I wasn't offended. I didn't think you were making an offensive move against me. I thought you were a Christian brother who was writing a story for some purpose God had given you. I trust that God has you serving an audience that is not me and that I'm not going to serve. I don't like to read the kind of stuff you wrote--I can't watch the evening news. I am sensitive to this stuff. But I trust that you are writing for an audience that God wants you to reach.

Is that really apples and oranges?

sally apokedak said...

I haven't read your book, Gina, but I have several close friends who have forgiven husbands after infidelity. I don't see why anyone would say Christian men don't fall into this sin.

sally apokedak said...

Well, usually, sometimes, and often, aren't the same as always. So we should judge each usage separately, right? Maybe the usages in My Stubborn Heart, weren't vulgar. I didn't find them to be vulgar. And I never curse. And I never have my characters curse. So I'm not particularly loose in my speech.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I agree with you, Adam. And though our comments seem to be in the minority on many of these blogspots, I think the majority of Christian readers I know would not appreciate finding terms like the "p" word, or the slang for testicles (or really, mention of said parts)and breasts in Christian fiction. Again, WHY can't we hold the HIGHEST possible standard, instead of justifying the lowest? The author has a responsibility to be thoughtful of his/her audience. But it seems as if the CBA audience is changing to those who don't mind using language that would SHOCK others if it came out of my mouth or my children's mouths.

There is a difference between realism and a gritty gratuitousness that we find in secular fiction, seeping into Christian fiction. In fact, sounds like the TWILIGHT series is cleaner than MY STUBBORN HEART. Hmmm.

Mocha with Linda said...

While I agree this is an important discussion and there will be as many opinions as there are individuals, it is interesting and a bit troubling to me when the discussions become so heated. Why is it, when someone wishes to draw a line, that they are immediately assumed to be "pious and legalistic" or that he/she is "offended" by the sin, and ineveitably, the comparison is made to how Jesus treated people. Can we not have a discussion without making assumptions about someone's spiritual maturity?

Regarding some of these words being used in the Bible, as Nicole's comment and Mike Duran's blog pointed out: yes, they are, but they are used in their original form. Words for bodily excretory functions are used in that context in the Bible. That is not the context in the vernacular of slang/coarse language/cursing which you hear them (or which they were used in Becky Wade's novel) today. If they are not considered offensive, maybe it's because we have become too desensitized. (Similar to the way that just in my lifetime, we've gone from TV not even showing married couples sharing a bed to anything goes and no one blinks an eye.)

Regarding the issue of "book readers slam a book because of a few words that offend them, yet completely disregard the overall story/themes of the book," sometimes that is appropriate, sometimes not. In my review of My Stubborn Heart, I did praise it as a solid debut novel and pointed out many positive aspects but did feel readers should know there were some words that they might not be expecting. Frankly, I found them to be disruptive of the flow of the novel and distracting from the story. How do you think it would have been received if the painting The Last Supper had had three or four drips/splotches of paint in various areas? Overall, the painting is beautiful - what do a few errant smudges matter? It just shows the artist is real and flawed.

I fear that in our efforts to draw unbelievers in we often try too hard to relate and show them that Christians are just as sinful as they are instead of trying to live holy lives. In Romans 7, Paul talks about the war between his sin nature and his redeemed nature and bemoans it; he fears being a stumbling block, not a way to relate to others.

Authentic books about real issues are important and needed. But as has been said, you don't have to include every detail. It's a gifted writer who can lead a reader to a point with sublety, just as some of the classic movies were incredibly romantic before there was ever a kiss between hero and heroine.

Adam Blumer said...

I'm truly sorry you felt that way about my novel. I had no idea. It's ironic because I tried to be oh so careful in how I handled the violence. I have also read some violence that made my stomach clench, and I didn't want to do that to my readers. I didn't even depict the actual strangling in the prologue, so this amazes me. But I am sorry if what you read troubled you. Terri Blackstock and Brandilyn Collins, for example, frequently put us in the killer's mind. I was just using the same technique as the killer was planning the deed.

But I would have to disagree about apples and oranges(and feel free to discuss this via email since we are off topic here). Level of violence and using words that could be considered vulgar by some don't seem to be in the same category to me, but you are welcome to disagree. Again, so sorry. I couldn't figure out how the violence level in my novel had anything to do with our discussion about vulgar terms here. Thank you for explaining more.

Debra Mayhew said...

This post has clearly touched on a nerve for many and I can feel the emotions radiating through the comments. In an odd way, that's encouraging to me because what I see are passionate Christians standing up for what they believe in. We need to fight for the truth God's sets forth in His Word everyday we spend in this sin-saturated world.

I share Sally's opinion from her post - which by the time you get through the comments you may have forgotten! But in general, I don't read CBA books because they don't ring true for me. Sadly, we may share the Gospel over and over in our day to day lives, and never see the results of what the Holy Spirit does with our witness. This is why I agree with Sally on what is and isn't realistic. However, I know there are many who read and enjoy this market, and it serves a very definite purpose. I commend those who prayerfully write for CBA while at the same time I prayerfully write for ABA.

sally apokedak said...

I feel like I'm following you are the internet pounding on you Heather. I just answered you on facebook :) I hope you don't feel pummeled. I really like you.

But...

:)

I have nothing against you saying Christian characters should speak politely and not use crude language in Christian novels.

My problem with the "word" discussion is that it pulls the spotlight off of what it is, to my mind, a more important discussion.

Why was this Christian heroine considering falling in love with and kissing a man who is not a Christian as far as anyone can tell? She never even asked herself if he would be a good husband and father. He was hot and injured and she fell in love with him. Like Christian women do in real life.

That is what I wanted to talk about when I wrote this post. Am I right or wrong to demand that Christian heroines act mature and wise?

The word discussion is fine. I'm glad to find out that people are disturbed by these words. I really was unaware that people found these words to be offensive. But I don't know why anyone would boycott a publisher? It must be that those people who would boycott think these words are really sinful.

Do you think it's sinful for Christian to say, "Oh, crap!" How about "Oh, Shoot!" Is there a list somewhere that can tell us which words are OK and which ones are sinful? I'm not trying to be sarcastic. I'm really trying to figure out why some people think that saying "Oh crap" is sinful and others don't.

sally apokedak said...

I've never read Blackstock, but I did start a Collins book several years ago and stopped because we opened in the head of a really twisted guy. She's a great writer and it creeped me out. When I read your opening that is exactly what I thought of. So you achieved what you were going for.

I thought you were a good writer. You had me right there in the scene. :) I just don't read those kinds of books unless I have to. I can take violence but the psychology--being inside a twisted mind--really bothers me.

And I'm now finding out that crude language really bothers other readers. I can understand that. I just am not sure why they don't just put the book down, like I did with your book.

I can only guess that I think you're not sinning, so I'm not upset about what you write. And so I'm guessing that others think that writers who allow their characters to use words that are offensive, are sinning.

Is that a correct assessment, or am I missing something.

Adam Blumer said...

OK, so you can't read Blackstock either. I don't find her to be disturbing at all. Just more evidence that not everyone responds to the same thing the same way.

Yes, the audience I describe are turned off by crude language (it is sinful) and do not understand why a Christian author would put this in his or her books or why a Christian publisher would allow it. The Bible does say, Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, so discernment is necessary. Each believer will need to decide for himself. Yes, they can just put the book down, but they don't understand why they should have to if this is, after all, a Christian novel. These novels were never offensive before.

What I find interesting is that Bethany House never allowed such language in the past, so this is a change. A change for the bad, in many minds. The readers who used to be able to pick their books and not have to be concerned about language will no longer be able to do so.

As far as I know, mystery/suspense novels by me and Blackstock have always been around in the CBA.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I don't think you're pounding me, Sally! I was following your remarks re: the "hot" word choice over on Mike's blog. And I don't have a huge problem w/"crap," but that's more of a cultural thing.

I TOTALLY get your discussion of the motivations of characters. Honey child, I have written posts/comments myself about the romance genre as a whole in the CBA...sometimes it sets women up, as much as a Harlequin romance, to expect their hubbies will act/speak a certain way (a way that men DO NOT generally speak). I'm with you, that we need to take on WORLDVIEWS in these books. So from what I understand, not only is there questionable word choice in MY STUBBORN HEART, there is also questionable motivations/outcomes of situations?

Yes, we can show these sinful motivations (falling in love with a hot, injured guy). But, as Christian writers, we also need to show the fallout. What happens after they get together/are married? How does the unsaved aspect play out? THOSE are the kind of books I want to read. Romance after marriage. It's really the best kind, because it involves far more sacrifices and builds your character, as well.

I love following you around the internet, Sally!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Gina, your books portray REALISTIC situations AND the outcome of said situations. In this way, you really do "keep it real," and I appreciate that so much. I still need to get DRY AS RAIN. I truly enjoyed CROSSING OCEANS so much, as it was very realistic about the MC's attraction to the main dude, and very honest about her bitterness toward her ex.

And not only would Christian MEN have affairs, Christian women have them all the time. This theme (at least the temptation aspects of it) plays into my book, which is yet to be published...

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...

What a fascinating question! I especially like the idea that every girl who has premarital sex doesn't get pregnant, and every boy who drives drunk doesn't get in a wreck.

In fact, when they DO, I sometimes feel like the author cheated by using such a conventional setup. I'd rather be surprised when a (good) protagonist's sin catches up with them, than think "yep, I sure saw this coming."

Still, I'd be uncomfortable if the teenagers blithely continue that behavior and don't suffer any consequences. It's different for villains, but I want to see the main characters grow and learn and change before the end of the book.

Yet that IS a tough balance to strike, since it doesn't always happen this way in real life!

Laurie, still pondering...

Mocha with Linda said...

Sally, somehow I completely missed your question about the issue of Why was this Christian heroine considering falling in love with and kissing a man who is not a Christian as far as anyone can tell? She never even asked herself if he would be a good husband and father. (Actually, for me, the question of whether he would be a good husband and father is a moot point.) Yes, I think that is something that needs to be clearly delineated and there be consequences in novels if characters do that. Christians are not to be unequally yoked and marry non-Christians. Do Christians do that in real life? Sure. But there is a cost, in intimacy, unity, and other ways. Do I judge them and accuse them? No. But I agree with Heather that the fallout does need to be shown. Maybe the main fallout is to the Christian's spiritual life. Maybe God's grace and mercy will be evident in their marriage. But books should definitely show consequences of sin. Marianne Evans' recent novel Devotion did this very well. The conviction and agony and the damage to the marriage of "just a kiss" was powerfully portrayed, and though there was immediate redemption and forgiveness from God, there were still consequences and it took a lot of hard work to restore the marriage.

Nicole said...

My opinion here is the issue has deteriorated to some Christians calling out the author of a novel (that some of them haven't read)for using a few words which offend SOME readers. Now those offended readers have "drawn the line" on what's right for every reader and insinuated those readers who are not offended by the words in context to this particular story are argumentative, perhaps desensitized, and apparently do not know why they should be offended at the "vulgarity", "coarse language", and "crude" slang of the four words in question - in other words are not mature enough to know better, or not holy enough to be offended.

". . . and ineveitably, the comparison is made to how Jesus treated people." Yes, Linda. Do you think Jesus is more offended by the words Becky chose to use after prayerful consideration or by the finger pointing and near outrage some are waging against this ultimately redemptive novel written by a Christian sister? I think we can find bigger and far more important issues to be offended by, don't you? This isn't about promoting bad language. This is about how one author chose to tell her story. Ultimately it's between her and the Lord. If we don't like it, we don't have to read any more of her work, we don't have to recommend the book, and we can respectfully acknowledge what we don't like.

sally apokedak said...

Witness A & E's version of Pride and Prejudice to see how popular chaste movies can be. People are starved for good love stories with noble characters. The best thing about Becky's book, I thought, was the nobility and faithfulness of her hero. He was a very decent man who didn't fall in lust. He found a friend and then he grew to believe that she was beautiful. That was a wonderful thing.

I agree that the words were not needed. I didn't think they were paint blotches, though. I read mostly general market YA so if I hadn't been looking for those words, I wouldn't have noticed them. Yes, I'm desensitized, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing in this case. I don't know that we need to be so sensitive about some of these issues.

I'm all for negative reviews. I think you did the right thing to tell what bothered you. But I don't like to hear people talk about boycotting the publisher.

We are all in different places. Becky Wade wrote romance for the general market. She is now writing because she wants to please God. I think it's cause for great rejoicing to see him redeem this gift he's given her. I'm praying for her and thanking God for the good gift he's given her.

sally apokedak said...

Crude speech and coarse jesting are sin.

So is kidnapping and strangling girls.

When authors make an evil character kill or a Christian character refuse to forgive, the authors aren't guilty of sinning.

Are they?

So if a Christian character thinks the word "boobs" in her head, is the author sinning?

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Interesting, since I've perceived some of the comments in these threads as "we're the stronger Christian, so we can use vulgar language and we're okay with it. what's wrong with YOU for being offended?" It's safe to say we all take things different ways. What offends ME might not offend you. But I imagine some things you have problems with I might not. So when you say to Linda that she could find bigger and more important issues to be offended by, you're insulting HER convictions, not vice versa.

I think some of us feel this is a major issue at stake. When SOME vulgar language is let in the door (of Bethany House, no less!), who's going to say "that's enough!" Better to object to something offensive at the onset, than to complain when the words slipping into the CBA are progressively more offensive to many of our Christian brothers/sisters.

In other words, I think it's good to have transparent conversations about this. I don't think anyone is trying to be hostile here. Some things are worth fighting for, and I think clean language in the CBA is one of them. Not to mention realistic worldviews, which show the fallout of sin, both within and without the MCs.

sally apokedak said...

Is it possible to give spoilers in romance novels or do we all know how they end? If you don't want to know the ending stop reading now.

Heather, he was saved when they finally got together at the end. And the girl did know she had sinned in some things. But she didn't come to a full realization of how foolish she'd been, in my opinion.

Nicole said...

And that's just it, Heather. "Vulgar language". I don't like reading "vulgar language". I don't expect "vulgar language" in a CBA book. But this language isn't "vulgar" to all people. And quoting dictionaries for suggested implications of certain words doesn't cut it. You haven't read the novel, correct? If you still think these words used in context are indeed "vulgar" then we can agree to disagree.

Nicole said...

Postscript, Heather. "So when you say to Linda that she could find bigger and more important issues to be offended by, you're insulting HER convictions, not vice versa."

I said "we". All of us. Every one of us. And, yeah, this is important to me. I have convictions about it that run as deep as any contributors to this discussion/debate. But there are things and issues far more critical than four words used in a definitively Christian novel.

Adam Blumer said...

Here's the difference, Sally. I can read a novel about a husband who shoots his wife for the insurance money (hopefully he'll get caught and justice will prevail). Reading about this event doesn't tempt me to shoot my wife for the insurance money. When an author uses certain terms, however, those terms can become planted in the reader's mind. I'm not even going to type those words—you know the words I mean because we've been talking about them. I (and many others) believe those words are crude and don't want them in our minds so they can slip out on our tongues. As I mentioned, there's a CBA audience that disproves of those words for this reason. They see them as crude (as corrupt communication); they don't speak these words, and they certainly don't want to read them in a novel that is called "Christian," bearing Christ's name.

They can, however, read about a murderer shooting someone and getting caught and paying the price. How does the story of the murderer getting caught cause them to sin? Now how does reading words their conscience tells them is vulgar cause them to sin? The author invites readers to repeat those crude words in their minds. The reader has gone against his or her conscience and sinned. Do you see the difference?

In my next novel, I actually do have a Christian character who has a problem with not forgiving someone else. She struggles and hopefully (I don't want to give it away) comes to the right spiritual conclusion in the end. Certainly Christian authors can depict sinful situations (with caution) as long as the characters in those situations learn important life lessons and if sin is called sin and if immorality is not portrayed in a titillating way. (For example, in Fatal Illusions, the pastor is accused of having an immoral relationship with a counselee. She is called immoral, but I never describe her in the bedroom.)

The Bible deal with stories the same way. It has stories of murder, incest, rape, and other difficult topics. But it never tells those stories in such a way that could cause the reader to sin in his or her mind. It even uses words for donkey and other things that during that time were not considered vulgar as they are today. Words do mean different things at different times.

No, I don't believe an author is necessarily sinning by creating a bad character per se. The Bible is filled with evil characters, and the Bible writers certainly were not in sin by writing about them. The Bible always describes justice winning over those bad characters. A Christian author can sin, however, by describing a lustful situation and inviting the reader to imagine it. Enough said. There's a whole genre of fiction out there that sells because of this.

If "boobs" is a vulgarity (I believe it is), then yes, I believe the author is sinning by putting that word in her novel (the publisher does as well for allowing it). As you just said, "Crude speech and coarse jesting are sin." How do we know this? The Bible says so. It doesn't really matter if the character is thinking the word to herself; the author has a problem because she has invited the reader to think this vulgarity in his or her head.

I suppose now I'll be crucified by somebody here, but that's my honest evaluation based on what I understand in Scripture.

Gina Holmes said...

I think it's important to remember that your idea of a crass word is subjective. I don't think Bethany or the author are sinning by saying boob or crap. I don't find those words the least bit crass.To me, a boob is a breast. It's all in the intention to me. It's funny how if someone said oh poo, one might think that's okay but not oh crap. Don't they mean the same thing? If someone says darnit it doesn't it mean the same thing as damn it? And are they really "damning" anything? Probably not. It's not like Jesus gave a list of okay and not okay words. Sucks and stinks? Is it ok to say something stinks? I think we can put on other people a yoke that Jesus didn't mean for them to bear. If you find those words crass, then yes, it is sinful for you to use them, if I don't, is it sinful for me? I don't think so.

Adam Blumer said...

So then . . . we have no biblical absolutes to guide us in this issue? Whatever you think is OK for you is OK for you. Whatever I think is OK for me is OK for me. I'm stunned.

Gina Holmes said...

No, Adam, that's not what I said. Show me the biblical absolute that says that boob is crass language. You can't. It's your subjective opinion.

Gina Holmes said...

Incidentally, I don't make a big deal about my editor taking out stuff she considers crass, even when I don't agree. Why? Because it's not worth it. As Linda pointed out, this stuff often is tripped upon by the reader and serves no great purpose. I had someone say, "You almost made me pee my pants" cut for this reason. That doesn't hit me as crude but it's not worth it to me to turn off a reader from the overall story for the sake of a little urine. ha. I love that there are so many passionate people speaking out because it says to me we're wrestling and iron sharpening iron is a good thing. I'm glad we can have these discussions openly and particularly glad when we remain speaking in love.

Adam Blumer said...

There's a clear connection, Gina. Even Webster's recognizes "boob" as a vulgar term, and Webster's is an esteemed reference manual with authority on all English words. We also have the evidence of many Christians, who live in society, as support, who would give testimony (if asked) that yes, it is a crass term. Then the Bible gives us clear absolutes that forbid crassness or vulgarity among believers. One verse says, "Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth but that which is good for the use of edifying." There are lots of other verses too. That's an absolute principle that applies to all words, and God gives us the ability to apply it and use discernment. Granted some words do change over time. Consider the word for donkey in the Bible. It has a different meaning today. I don't believe the meaning of this word is in question here.

The principles forbidding coarse language among believers, which is what I lean on, are not subjective. They're Bible. If you don't agree, that is your call. But neither is the issue as relative as some here would like us to believe. As believers, we do have absolutes, and the Bible applies to all areas of life and godliness. We are also ambassadors to the world of what Christ and Christlikeness is all about in all His holiness and purity. Do you think it's wise for an ambassador of Christ to use a term considered by many, including Webster's, as vulgar and potentially offensive to many? (Keep in mind that Scripture strongly exhorts us not to offend our weaker brothers.) Do you believe God and His Holy Spirit would lead a Christian to use this word as a reflection of His character?

Can you imagine Jesus Christ saying that word if he stood before you today? That would be considered sacrilegious if it were depicted in a sitcom or other TV show.

I mean no offense, but since you asked, that is a very abbreviated answer. Many other Christian leaders have written on the topic and could do a much better job than I can here with limited time.

You wrote, "that's not what I said." If that's not what you said, what exactly are YOU saying?

Gina Holmes said...

Adam, you obviously have a very strong conviction on this matter and I respect that. I'm going to bow out now. The Holy Spirit lives in me too and I have strong convictions as well. One of which is to walk away from an argument that is going nowhere. When I watch movies, I have a knee-jerk reaction to promiscuity and I'm imaging the feeling I get when I shut off the tv in disgust is similar to what you're feeling on this matter. I understand that. Thanks for sharing your point of view. I know there are others who are offended by words many of us are not. God bless.

Mocha with Linda said...

I'm not sure I should even try to add to what Adam has stated in both of his comments this morning, which I completely agree with. But I was thinking about the Bible and Jesus and yes, the sort of folks he hung out with. The tax collectors, the prostitutes. And a bunch of rough fisherman, among whom was Peter, who had a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease! I'm sure none of them had great language. Yet the Bible manages to convey the nuances of their personalities and conversations without including the details of that language. I imagine Peter had a choice word or two when he cut off the soldier's ear in the garden. The arguments among the disciples were probably not particularly filled with polite discourse.

And then there are the parables - Jesus's use of fiction, if you will. When the prodigal son returned, I suspect his older brother's language could have been pretty salty as he complained to his father about the fatted calf.

I don't think anyone would say that the Bible would be more relevant or effective if any of that had been included.

Do I gasp, judge, or shun people when I hear those words? No. Do I think it's wise to include them in a Christian novel? No. Not because of legalism or fear of judgment but because of the reasons that Adam stated and because as Christians we are set apart, and God commands us to "be holy as I am holy." (1 Peter 1:15-16) It would sadden me if CBA decided to lower standards to give people what their "itching ears want to hear." (2 Tim. 4:3)

Jason said...

Adam,

I agree with Gina's last comment that you have a strong conviction, and good for you for speaking clearly for something that impacts you. I hear your argument from Scripture, and we should definitely not let the Bible slide as our standard. I think a key word you used is "discernment," but that isn't my point.

The only point I wanted to make here is that there are some considered to be "professional weaker brothers." They specialize in being offended over any little thing. They aren't truly those who would be stumbled in their faith - they just have a personal preference that they push out with the context of offensive (I'm NOT saying this is you. Please hear me. I'm saying these people are out here).

I would reference Mike Duran's excellent posts on this topic from a few years ago to explain it more.
http://mikeduran.com/2006/05/professional-weaker-brothers-1/
http://mikeduran.com/2006/05/professional-weaker-brothers-2/

I think these people are the ones that frustrate some of the writers commenting here. That's my opinion as well.

Nicole said...

I'm probably the "some here" Adam's referring to. I accept that. "Crass, vulgar, lower standards." So this is how it's going to stand. I respect and desire to be holy, to be pure in obedience to God. I do not respect the blanket condemnation of certain words adhering to the above words. Thank God He looks at the heart and that He is the Just Judge of us all.

Adam Blumer said...

Thanks, Jason. I'll take a look. Thanks for your comment.

sally apokedak said...

Well, thanks for answering, Adam. I finally get it. It's a matter of the curse words being graphic. We can say, "he cursed," or we can say, "he strangled the girl" but we can't say the actual curse word or show his hands around the girl's neck.

I never understood before. I do understand now, but I still disagree with it.

I don't see the words in the book as being crude. And I also don't think it's wrong to put actual curse words into the mouths of my characters. We all have to be a little graphic. That's what "show, don't tell" is all about. So I think we all have to decide for ourselves how graphic we need to be for the story we're writing.

Thanks for taking the time to go back and forth on this, though. I hope you don't think I was crucifying you. I have no desire to sway you from your convictions or to get you to sin against your conscience.

I was trying to pound out my beliefs in this post, not pound on others for their beliefs.

sally apokedak said...

I agree with this completely. This is not a hill worth dying on, I don't think. No one has to use any of these words. But the conversation does make me more sympathetic towards the poor publishers. I used to laugh about their list of words that were not allowed. "Priest" and "panties" and I can't remember what all. I thought it was silly. Now I see that these words are really a big deal to some people.

Gina Holmes said...

Me too Sally! Perfect timing too since I'm in line edits. I understand now why a guy saying something about his nipple has to be edited out. I still roll my eyes a little but I see now the can of worms...

Gina Holmes said...

Eloquently put.

Gina Holmes said...

Thank God He looks at the heart and that He is the Just Judge of us all.
Amen to that!

Jessica Thomas said...

I'm not buying the argument that it's okay to depict violence, even if it's graphic, but it's not okay to say "boobs" or "balls". Some people read violence, see violence, and it messes with their head. I tend to be one of those people so I tread lightly there. I'd rather read a book that contains 10 "balls", versus one that includes violence done to a child. Regardless, neither is going to "cause" me to sin. I choose to sin or not to sin.

Jessica Thomas said...

I personally don't care so much about what Webster's has to say. The Bible is my authority. And Jesus cares more about the condition of the heart than the (subjective) words that come out of the mouth. I suppose he'd rather hear the word "balls" used lovingly than he would care to hear "loving" words spoken self-righteously.

Jessica Thomas said...

(Before I start, I want to say I'm speaking to myself here too because I fall victim to this.)

I think a great way for satan to lessen the effectiveness of an author's ministry would be to burden them with the paranoid fear that something they write might lead another Christian astray. At the heart of it, this is an issue of pride ("everything I say is soooo important") and an issue of faith, or rather lack of faith that God and the Holy Spirit will give readers the discernment they need to properly interpret the text. ("God's not doing his job so I better be extra careful and do some of His work for him!")

For the record, Andrew Lloyd Webber had a big hand in leading me toward Jesus via the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Do you think that was his intent? I think he was more interested in writing some funky music, so much so that he didn't worry about the Biblical inaccuracies in his script. Luckily, none of us read or listen to music in a vacuum. A novel or a song or a poem is just one stone in the road that leads to Him.

sally apokedak said...

Yes, this is what I think, too. We don't have to get all the gospel into every book. We don't have to clarify that every sin is punished, because, as you say, we don't read in a vacuum. God is able to give our readers wisdom to see that lying's sinful without our having to punish every lie our characters tell.

Mark said...

I have not read the book, but one of my pet peeves is bad language in Christian books, which seems to be an issue in this one in addition to the other things you mentioned.

Christian fiction should be held to a higher standard. Have we become so calloused to cursing and other stuff from TV and reading secular fiction, that it doesn't bother us? I don't want much TV, nor read much secular fiction, so I am still disgusted and offended by cursing in Christian books. Something proponents of cursing seem to overlook, is we are to not offend others, which can be taken to exrtremes, but I have had non-Christians apologize for cursing in front of me because they know I am a Christian and do not, yet I have had Christian authors defend cursing in their books.

Have we blurred the lines so much that we have to have this stuff in Christian books? I read Christian fiction to avoid language and inappropriate content.

We are told to be in the world, not of the world, to be separate, that this is a narrow way, etc - yet - and this applies outside of Christian fiction - we want to be just like the world. If Christian fiction is going to be no different than secular, then why write it? If a Christian author wants to curse in books, then why not write secular? And I believe it is just as wrong to curse on paper as with your mouth.

And as for the sinning Christians - what hope does a book offer if the Christian sins and doesn't change, suffers no consequence? Christians SHOULD NOT sin - we may stumble, but if we sin all the time, then we need to work on our relationship with God, or we never got saved in the first place. And get real people..... its fiction. It does not have to mirror real life.

I can't count the times a Christian fiction book has encouraged me. Many have flawed characters who overcome - and thought its fictional, it still encourages me. If the flawed character never changes, never overcomes, where is the hope in that?

We Christians should live by a higher standard in all we do and say - and write. And as for comments about not getting the gospel into every book - wake up people! The most important thing ever is God, our relationship with Him, and reaching others for Christ. We may never know how many people have been influenced toward Christ, and even become a Christian, because of reading a Christian fiction book. Our aim should be to be like Christ in all we do, please Him, and win others to Him. If we can't put Him in a book we write and present the Gospel, then what good are we?

As I stated, I have not read the book, just what people have said about it, but I don't plan on doing so.

Mark said...

Sally your one comment really bothers me, in fact I am blogging right now using it as the main point...... we don't need to mention God in every book? We don't need to preach the gospel in every book? God and reaching people should be the most important thing to Christians and we SHOULD preach the Gospel and mention God in books we write. "We've Only One Life ~ It Soon Will Be Past ~ Only What's Done For Christ Will Last" On Judgement day, nothing else will matter. What will matter is what we did for God

Mark said...

there seems to be a lot of disagreement on what is vulgar, cursing, in appropriate, and what is not. For those of you who don't get it, here you go: if it is a word you wouldn't want your kids using - especially blurting out in front of your pastor, if it something you wouldn't say in front of certain people - than it falls into that category. And a word doesn't have to be a curse word to be inappropriate.

What I'd like to know, is why? Why push the envelope with langaue and stuff that is inappropriate? Why try to have content as close to secular as possible? Why risk - and succeed - in offending other Christians (and not seeming to care). Why? Some of the words I am finding in so-called Christian books are words that used to get "bleeped" out on radio and TV, and now they are appearing in Christian books. Doesn't that bother you on some level?! What is next? The "f" word? Why not, it depends on people's definition of what is a bad word. Twenty years ago, no one on here would have thought these words and others I have seen (water over the ***, other word for donkey, and hell used as an expletive - I've seen them in so-called Christian books) - we wouldn't have believed that they would be appearing in Christian books, so within 20 years can we expect that and other such words and sex scenes? Why not? And God's name being used in vain? Anything like this is a slippery slope, and once publishers and authors start down it, who knows where it will end.

Why don't these authors just write for secular publishers? Why do they want to write under the guise of Christian fiction - sounds like they want to write secular and can't get into that market? I've read the explanations and think they are a smoke screen. And do these authors curse and use this vulgar language around people? If not, then why do they think its ok to do it in a book where I have to see it?

I am really fed up with this. I know I will be called legalisitic and narrow minded, but we aren't supposed to be like the world. We are supposed to be different - God says so, not me!

I still plan on politely complaining to the author and publisher when I run across this stuff, and encourage other like-minded people to do so. If enough people complain, maybe we can change this ungodly trend.

And in closing........ I am serious about this idea: If a "Christian author" and publisher insists on this stuff, why not put a warning on the back cover, or make a separate imprint for those kind of books? No matter how strongly you are pro-cursing, down in the most decent parts of you, can't you admit we have the right to buy a Christian book in a Christian bookstore and be able to buy one without being shocked and offended by langauage and content?

Kirsty said...

The book of Esther doesn't mention God, though. And that was inspired by God!
So maybe it's not necessary.
After all, we don't mention God and the gospel in every conversation we have. But every conversation we have should be affected by God and the gospel.

Bethanne said...

What a great commentary.
There's obviously some very heated discussion going on about vulgar language. I'm a Christian who swears too much. I know it. My pastor knows it. My husband knows it. My kids know it. It's something I work on everyday. EVERYDAY I work at keeping my language clean. I'm not the only one.

I think that's why books that come from publishers like Bethany house annoy me so greatly. Who in their right mind never swears? EVER? Not even when the worst thing in the world happens to them? Not when they find out their husband is cheating on them(and it does happen to good Christian people) or when they slam their hand with a hammer or when their loved one is killed in a car accident or when they cause that accident. I'm sorry but that's annoying to me. My husband is a soldier. We always laugh when our pastor comments on swearing and how, "no one ever swears in the Army." It's a bit of sarcasm, of course. If I write a book with a soldier who is Active Duty, there's probably going to be a few swear words...and a few "excuse me, Ma'ams" too. That's the story... unabridged.

I DO agree with the previous commenter, though. Mark. Publishers HAVE to have qualifications. Readers need to know what they are getting or they will stop buying. Do I like their guidelines? No. OTOH, I only read their books on recommendation IF it's not historical fiction.

The bottom line for me is that Christian fiction is written for Christians. There seems to be this great pedestal-like motivation to possibly convert someone or inspire conversion, but mostly it seems that Christian fiction is preaching to the choir. Or, to put it nicely, it's inspiring already good people to be better. We all need that, I know it.

I don't mind putting a book out that inspires non Christians to ask, why? Who? What made that character act that way? Do I write that way intentionally? No. But my characters live differently than the characters in a run-of-the-mill romance novel. They don't have sex on the first date...or with the first stirring of attraction.

I look forward to reading My Stubborn Heart. Perhaps it will be the book that drags me back over to the Inspirational side of things.