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?