Monday, September 24, 2012

The Crusade for Profanity (and Other Ploys)

You know you're winning an argument when people have to resort to caricatures and distortion. And that's what's happening in the debate about "clean" Christian fiction. 
One such ruse often employed by defenders of "clean fiction" is that people like me are on a crusade to include expletives in Christian fiction. It's not framed as a reasonable discussion about art and theology, nor as a valid critique of what Christian fiction is or should be. It's simply a campaign to allow cussing. We'll know we've "arrived" when Christian fiction includes its first F-bomb. Hurray! Mission accomplished!

Like this blogger who was not shy about calling me out for my "crusade." In a piece labeled Lowering the standards on Christian fiction, the author concludes:

...To condemn sinful and un-Christian behavior can get you labeled narrow-minded by even other Christians (check out Mike Duran's blog, he infers that). And that is sad. So I am sure I will get that label.
Just think, not that many years ago, people on TV and radio got bleeped out for the same words that are appearing in Christian novels. Wow, what wonderful progress. Can we honestly think that is ok, and even worse, like Mike Duran, cheer on profanity? (emphasis mine)
So while the author bemoans inevitably being labeled "narrow-minded," he appears to have little qualms labeling me profane.

In a more recent online discussion I was involved in, one commenter levied this, more subtle, but equally aimed, barb at suggestions of less language restrictions in Christian fiction: 

I have a hard time believing that there are readers who are disappointed when they read a book and find no swearing. 

Nor are viewers of Sesame Street disappointed if Oscar the Grouch doesn't discuss how to perfectly cut a Cohiba cigar. Interpretation:  No swearing = Good. Swearing = Bad. Idiots who "cheer on profanity" = Very Bad.

I have no problem with dissent and have publicly noted that a conversation does not get interesting until someone disagrees. The above line of attack, however, falls into another category, I'm afraid. Either this is:

  • an innocent misunderstanding of the argument against "clean fiction," or
  • an intentional mis-characterization of the argument against "clean fiction"

The more I engage in these discussions, the more I tend to see it as the latter. Perhaps there are Christian readers who really don't understand the gist of the argument against "clean fiction." Perhaps there are those who simply don't agree with my conclusions. But please don't mis-characterize arguments for easing language restrictions in Christian fiction as a crusade to lower standards.

  • It's about realism in art.
  • It's about overcoming superstition.
  • It's about right theology.
  • It's about raising the standards in Christian fiction.
  • It's about a more nuanced approach to art and culture.
  • It's about appealing to a larger market.
  • It's about getting out of the Christian ghetto
  • It's about a healthy understanding of holiness.
  • It's about not being bullied.
It's NOT a crusade to get bad words into Christian fiction.

It's fine if you want to disagree that we should keep Christian fiction "clean." Cool. We can debate that. Just please don't characterize people like me as on a crusade for profanity. Because we're not.

Mike Duran writes supernatural thrillers. He is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, and an ebook novella, Winterland.  You can visit his website at


Ane Mulligan said...

It was great to see you at the ACFW conference, Mike!

My only comment on this subject is I don't like to see profanity used when a reworking of the sentences could show the emotion. I hate lazy writing, and so often you see profanity in place of hard work.

Mike Duran said...

True, Ane. Profanity could be a sign of lazy writing. But is it always? In the Christian market I'd suggest its absence (or offense) is based on something other than just great, not-lazy, writing.

And it was great seeing you again, too!

Heather Day Gilbert said...

You know where I stand on this, Mike, and I've decided not to get involved in this debate, since it seems to fall into that "endless geneologies" category. You think it's okay. I don't. We might also disagree on drinking, women wearing jeans, or any number of things. But I think repeatedly flogging this topic is destructive to the Christian sister/brotherhood. NO ONE is going to come around and change their viewpoints based on well-reasoned arguments in comment sections of blogs (sort of like our choice for the Presidential election this year!).

I'd love to know what progress would look like on this topic. Is it progress when the words are included in the CBA? For you, maybe yes. For me, definitely no. And we're both basing our thoughts on the Scripture, right?

I don't think there's a happy medium here. So maybe we should discuss how to get spec-fic or dystopian YA into the CBA instead?

Mike Duran said...

Heather, having just come from the ACFW conference, I can assure you this is an issue that will not go away. Most authors, agents, and editors recognize that, as I say here, language restrictions are part of a bigger issue that has to do with art, culture, and theology. I don't bring it up simply to irritate people, although I know it does. In fact, I think NOT addressing it and avoiding the subject can be just as wrong as flogging the issue. Thanks for commenting!

Nicole said...

I agree on so many levels here, Mike. Number one: you were definitely targeted for "attack", completely misrepresented, and given the typical "holier-than-thou" misguided scripture references for your assessments and opinions (as was I with my review of My Stubborn Heart). For heaven's sake, we weren't, aren't, championing cussing, swearing, and vulgarity to keep up with relevancy, the cultural worldview, shock value, lazy writing, etc., choose your weapon. The fact that some reality of the profane would damage a Christian novel assumes harmful, brazen motives lie behind its usage. This is simply not true for serious writers who are devoted to the Lord. Although I agree the argument is everpresent and not going away, the dividing lines seem to range from the unrelenting and unreasonable to the those who can see the careful and wise usage as providing realism and punch to those who want the license to insert profanity and perversion to demonstrate their favorite "causes".

It would be useful for more imprints to cover those of us in the middle category.

Gina Conroy said...


I think I get both sides and it's a tricky issue. Not sure if profanity will ever have a place in the CBA or if "preaching" won't be ragged on and get nasty reviews in the ABA. Unfortunately, my writing falls somewhere in between. I think that's what Nicole meant by the "middle category." So I get what you're saying. It's not about getting profanity into Christian fiction, for me it's about being true to my characters and reaching those Christian who love Jesus, but would never pick up Christian fiction. So how do I do that? I'm still figuring that out, and I know there is a way. It's just not a popular or easy road.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

A song from my Sunday School days just popped into my head:

"Be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little eyes what you see. For the Father up above is looking down with love, so be careful little eyes what you see."

I'm careful about what I allow into my mind. I don't want to be de-sensitized.

No apologies. I don't want to read Christian books with profanity, graphic sexual content, or gratuitous violence.

Michelle Sutton said...

Well, that's interesting all around. I don't think the debate will go away, but it makes me think of the many letters Paul wrote to the churches (like Corinthians) where he was constantly telling them they got some things right and others wrong. I think the bottom line is the heart of the book. I've read clean stories (Christian and secular) that are good stories, but many have little life in them because of those constraints. I've read some Christian books that don't even sound Christian. They're just "safe" and "clean" reads. I've read a few books that I thought went over the top with graphic violence, yet that was "okay" for the Christian market. Honestly, I think all around it's a bit of a double standard. We can show a gruesome murder but not sexual tension? What? Anyway, I read a story for the message and how it's delivered depends on the story. I write the same way. What are my characters thinking, not what SHOULD my characters be thinking. I think that shows authenticity and the same goes for language. When I think my characters were drop an f-bomb (since I hate the real word) I just have it say, "they swore" but sometimes they do say things like crap, bitch and you get the idea... It has to feel realistic whatever they say. If it's "too much" even more me, they simply swore.

michael snyder said...

My views have changed on this over time (and I reserve the right to change them again at will!)

One, I don't think that profanity in fiction is that big of a deal, as long as it serves the story. But that's just me. And I have no desire to "convert" anyone to my way of thinking.

Two, I do find it odd that all manner of sin and evil are vividly portrayed in "Christian stories"...murder, mayhem, lying, gossip, cheating, stealing, etc.. Yet the swearing and sex are paraphrased. (Little known fact: Swearing DURING sex is perfectly legit in Christian fiction. It works like a double negative or offsetting penalties. Seriously, try it...)

I used to have this debate with my mother regarding Murder She Wrote. One character snuffing out the God-given life of another character was totally cool, so long as no one said a naughty word as the trigger was pulled. Murder is the prerequisite. If there's no premeditated killing, there's no show, no story!

Sin is sin, but consequences do vary. And I would MUCH rather one of my kids have to confess saying the "S-word" in a heated debate than actually strangling the guy they were arguing with!

If "he swore" serves the story, great. Usually though, it reads like a terse nod to the choir.

Three, and the confusing part for me, is trying to properly define Christian fiction. I totally get why Lifeway wants to keep their shelves "clean" and I respect their right to do so. is all about tension and release. It really should be more than just an escape.

So...I wonder if the debate should be framed in terms of art vs. escapism, as opposed to how much of the "world" we want to invade our entertainment?

Thankfully, I'm neither judge nor jury.

Nicole said...

You're hilarious, Michael. Besides cleverly making some great points.

cindy said...

I respect your opinion on this topic. Here is mine. Stay with me, I do get to the point. I want to provide the backdrop first. Thanks.

"We live in a world that does not believe in Judgement, does not believe in Sin."

We try to clean ourselves of sin from the outside in.

1.) Religion, by following Religious Rules we think we have freed ourselves from sin, 2.) Politics, by announcing it is the environment we live and by the lack of educated lives, cause this sin, so if we just get educated and change the environment we rid ourselves of sin. 3.) Popular Culture, by watching what everybody in Hollywood and the World does, we can get rid of sin; because well they do it, we can do it. Or I am not as bad as that person's sin. All of these are dealing with sin OUTSIDE IN.

When we understand Jesus took on our sin on the cross, yet we deny we have sin for him to take, we find Pride. This lack of the Truth about sin with in, is why we have people wanting to put words of no value in Christian books. Everyone knows you can read a book without the bad language (if you will) and still get the story, enjoy the story, and have a massive impact on anyone! Jesus didn't need words of destruction and neither do I in my books to receive the goal of writing in the first place. Christian Writing is to Bring Glory to God, not the author.

You can post that to this guy if you'd like. I get tired of people trying to mold to the world thinking this will bring them glory or bring more people to Christ, that's not what Jesus did and that's not what we should do if we are following Him. AMEN