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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Deflecting the Christian Fiction Police




As a Christian, as a person, and as an author, I'm not responsible for your walk with Christ. As far it's possible for me to do, I am to keep peace with others. If that indicates I must compromise my knowledge of the Lord and the coinciding belief system which results in my actions, then peace is not attainable. True peace comes from the Prince of Peace and even He could not establish a physical peace with those Pharisees and unbelievers who crucified Him. I must also be aware of those who surround me, being cognizant of what they can handle hearing, seeing, and discussing.

While these biblical principles guide our Christian lifestyles, they do not logically apply to fiction writing. No one demands a reader indulge himself in a novel of any sort. This simple factor absolves authors of damaging another Christian's walk with God. Christians are responsible for what they read, view, discuss, or teach, and the standard with which they conduct their walk is the one on which they will be judged as to how it stacks up with the Word.

We all know other Christians who don't quite walk their talk, who don't quite measure up to our standards of how we think Christians should act, speak, or lead their lives. Let's be honest here: sometimes certain people who claim the title of Christian do not live up to that holy reference, and we're embarrassed when they make those claims because it reflects negatively on us.

Readers need to take responsibility for their choices. If offensive language, circumstances, individuals, or scenes cause you to react in shock or distaste, put the book down. Burn it if you like. But understand this: what you might deem shocking or distasteful doesn't even register on another believer's moral meter. The reason for this is because some readers prefer stories which tackle reality with clear vision, and we all must admit reality can be harsh, vivid, shocking, and lovely.

Dark and light can be acceptable in the same story. What is dark to some is light grey to another. These preferences do not indicate strong or weak walks with our Lord Jesus Christ. They prove that authors have taken different journeys in their lifetimes, experienced the wicked and the sublime, and, for the sake of themselves and others, have been directed to portray the unlovely with the lovely.

If you're a fan of pristine stories and want your novels "clean and chaste", God has given you a cadre of authors to fulfill your desires. You have no need to investigate those stories which you feel might somehow threaten your relationship with Christ. Nor do you have any need to "protect" other readers from making their responsible choices. And, while you're of course entitled to your opinion of a novel, for you to make a public display of your judgment after having decided to complete a novel that offended you, well . . . why did you elect to finish it? To castigate your fellow believer?

Authors answer to God. Both believers and unbelievers will answer to Him. Not to you. The Christian Fiction Police stand guard at the publishers' doors. They're called editors subject to each house's list of restrictive measures for Christian fiction, some far more demanding than others.

Each Christian reader selects the fiction he most wants to read, hoping to find a story that entertains or ministers to his particular expectations from a story. That reader takes personal inventory to validate his spiritual well-being. It seems difficult for some Christians to allow others to be their own judges, to seek the Holy Spirit's counsel without interference from self-appointed fiction police. Authors do not need to seek permission to write what God has put upon their hearts to create. And readers should not be issuing "tickets" for stories that don't fit into personal demands for "appropriate" Christian fiction.

Nicole Petrino-Salter writes love stories with a passion. Visit her at hopeofglory.typepad.com.
 
                    

29 comments:

jubileewriter said...

Well said. I read many genres and they range from clean and chaste to secular. But I won't read the f word. I have put many a book down after the first reference. I love realistic stories but not those that have thrown in something racy just because. As a Christian writer I strive to create a real world story without stooping to things that offend my own sensibilities.I've even been in the midst of a story and felt the Holy Spirit nudging me to close the cover.Not reading to the end was probably for my good. Reading is a very personal thing. We can visit places that bring up memories and show us truth that we need revealed. That same book may do nothing for someone else but entertain. I agree we are all accountable for what we write and what we read. Thanks for this post.You have said what I would like to say to those who get on their bandwagon from both the clean and chaste and the keepin' it real camp.

Nicole said...

Thanks, Cindy, for your thoughtful comments. You nailed it. You take your instruction from the only One who matters as far as your well-being. You're the perfect reader. ;)

Janice C Johnson said...

Well said, ineed. And just as readers have "a cadre of authors to fulfill [their] desires," I believe each writer will have a corresponding cadre of readers who will resonate with the kind of stories we offer.

rachelallord.com said...

I loved this and breathed a great sigh of relief. Thanks for sharing.

Heather Marsten said...

I agree. Sometimes I think there should be a rating system. I realize that some prefer to read only books that have nothing offensive in it. My memoir, when I finish it, will not be on their reading list. While I don't go out of my way to put in gratuitous gritty scenes in my story, I was sexually abused. I write about it in enough detail that others who have been abused will relate. My story is not written for the choir, but rather for those who are hurting and maybe feel that God has abandoned them (something I felt for about forty years). I'm trying to reach the new age and occult people by giving enough details to let these readers know I've been there, done that. A Christian who doesn't want this knowledge would stay away from my book. But if I can keep the unsaved, pagan, and hurting people reading, then they will get to the end to find the saving grace of God.

My pastor's wife told me, after reading the rough draft, that the knowledge I shared was helpful to her ministering to others. She wanted more details. I'm careful what I share because I don't want a how-to on the occult and other activities, but just enough to give credibility.

That's why I feel a rating system is a good thing. It would let readers pick and choose the level of book they desire.

Nicole said...

We're all different, aren't we, Janice? We have different expectations. We have different experiences. We need different audiences for our work. Finding that audience isn't always easy . . . but we need freedom from condemnation for writing what the Lord puts on our hearts.

Nicole said...

Rachel, thank you.

Heather, I'm not opposed to a rating system for precisely the reasons you gave. And you are to be commended for your bravery, your insights, and sharing your pain to minister to others. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. God's abundance to you for your courageous heart.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I agree with Heather, above, on the rating system (and Heather, I applaud you for writing your story!). I know many friends who spend money on Christian books just based on blurbs in catalogues/online, but it's wasted if they have to stop reading for some unexpectedly offensive language/situations. They won't donate that book to the library--they'll just throw it away.

I do think that if a CBA reader finds offensive language in a book by a certain author, they'll either avoid buying books from said author or possibly avoid buying from that publisher again. A ratings system (which would have to be VERY CLEAR on standards, otherwise it could get all subjective) could be a good way to encourage the reader to buy from the same author/publisher if another book is "cleaner."

Yes, as Christians, we all write differently, and it's hard to offend NO ONE with what we write. And yet I still err on the side of caution with what I include--taking the Bible as my guide. It didn't avoid sexual situations, but it didn't give us all the nitty-gritty details, either. Blasphemy was portrayed as blasphemy, that kind of thing. I think worldview is key with any Christian writer.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I was also thinking that a CBA rating system would deflect bad reviews by readers who are shocked with content once they purchase. They wouldn't buy those books in the first place, so they wouldn't give low reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, etc.

Margo Berendsen said...

I agree with this post, though I do want to add one possible insight to this issue. I have gotten a little cautious sampling Christian books lately, because the last few I've read didn't mention Jesus or the Gospel at all. Now, that's a personal preference for me.

When I pick up a novel by a Christian publisher, I'm in the mood for spiritual encouragement (not that I'm afraid of controversial issues). I also read a lot of fiction from non Christian publishers, but I like to balance those with books with a strong Christian theme, and sometimes books that just mention God without Jesus feel like they could be almost other religions.

Now again this is MY PERSONAL PREFERENCE and I don't castigate the authors or publishers of books that don't meet the expectations I'm hoping for.

However I will state in my reviews that the Gospel or Jesus isn't mentioned in this book, because otherwise how will readers now ahead of time if they are looking for something specific?

I think it's very important when writing reviews or sharing your thoughts about books though not to be mean or snivelly about things like this. Readers or reviewers should be free to share their opinions, but with the gentleness and love that the Bible encourages for all interactions between believers.

Nicole said...

Heather, you know I'm not campaigning for graphics in the sexual arena in Christian fiction, but I do believe realism is key. It's hard to find in CBA romance with some outstanding exceptions. Those exceptions usually rile up the Christian Fiction Police. That's a shame.

I think I'll do a blog post on a ratings system.

Margo, I've read those CBA novels with a passing whisper of God or prayer that could fit easily into any secular classification. They tend to leave me a bit empty. I see no problem whatsoever with mentioning the lack of strong faith issues in a review. Good point.

I wish your analysis of how to write reviews done by Christians in regard to fellow Christian authors was the norm, but the Christian Fiction Police are usually strident and outspoken and show little love for those they feel have written a book they deem "unrighteous". Thank you for your comments.

Heidi Blankenship said...

What an interesting discussion you all have going here. As a writer with an unpublished manuscript, I read as many debut novels as I can get my hands on. It's amazing how the spiritual thread has changed since I started reading "Christian fiction" as a tweener (that would be Janette Oke, in case you were wondering)> Last year Becky Wade released My Stubborn Heart, a fun, fantastic debut novel that I couldn't put down. However, a reader blasted her because of the physical description of her hero. He was a hockey player and a carpenter for Pete's sake. Of course he was hot. The overall message of the novel was excellent, by the way. It's a shame that the Christian fiction police get riled up over what I view to be trivial things. I've noticed a couple of successful CBA authors that portray the hero as somewhat Christ-like. Not that he can be responsible for the heroine's salvation rather he demonstrates very few flaws throughout the novel. What do you all think about that?

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Talk about realism...I don't usually finish books like that. I want a hero who is flawed, like ANY hero is. I want him to not always say/do the right things. But I know that perfection sells, when escapism is the goal. I think it comes down to some people reading for escapism and some for realism. It's a difference in tastes, really. And when I asked my FB readers about this, it was a 50/50 split with why people read books.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

(I should clarify that the ultimate-hero of humanity, Jesus, was NOT flawed...maybe that's why there's the obsession w/the perfect hero?)

Nicole said...

Heidi, I agree: My Stubborn Heart was one of the few truly good CBA romance novels, but the Christian Fiction Police were out in force over her story, word choices, that an older woman who was her grandmother's friend thought the young hockey player/carpenter was indeed hot, and the list goes on. The controversy, although difficult for Becky, actually sparked interest in the novel and suffice it to say sales were good. You know what they say in Hollywood: "No publicity is bad publicity." Anyway, what so offended some people of God didn't even rate a raised eyebrow with many others.

The point being, if you're offended, so what? That might sound harsh, but you can voice your respectful opinion without (as Margo suggested) bringing the author's Christianity into question or criticizing the book because it "offended" you. And, yes, My Stubborn Heart was clearly redemptive, gospel included.

If we write solely to please man, there's no guarantee we're going to please God. And vice versa.

As for flawless heroes? There are good ways to portray good men without making them into stick figures molded into perfect shapes and doing perfect things.

Nicole said...

(Rachel,great book trailer! Congratulations!)

Jason said...

Powerful words Nicole. It would be nice to slap a few of these on the door of Christian bookstores, or make them required reading for people who read fiction ;). Alas, that won't happen.

I'm coming to believe that the problems of the Christian Fiction Police stem from a much deeper malady in the church in general, and that we need some radical therapy to get beyond it.

Nicole said...

It seems we live in the times of unbalanced extremes. We either tolerate activities and philosophies that are so far outside the realm of Truth or we deny the notion that God actually speaks and instructs individual writers to relate His truth in stories with their own unique voices and topics. Tolerate everything or tolerate nothing somehow misses the concept of Truth. You're right, Jason.

rachelallord.com said...

Thanks Nicole! I'm honored that you stopped over to check it out! Thanks much!!!

Sandra Stiles said...

Well said! I look at it this way. The person who writes the book that shows a character who is rough and tough before they met the lord may be the character who can reach the non-believer. The non-believer may see themselves in that character. We as Christians write what God lays on our heart.

Nicole said...

Thank you, Sandra. We ALL were once lost - or have we forgotten? Maybe some of us experienced harsher things in our lives, but sin is sin and portraying it contrasted to the light of the Lord is done in many ways. The author answers to the One who loves him most for the work he's been given to do.

Sibella Giorello said...

Great post, Nicole. Your courage inspires, and your passion for the truth shines through all the noise. Thank you.

Nicole said...

Thank YOU, S. Love you.

Jenny B. Jones said...

YES! Great word, Nicole.

Christa Allan said...

Bravo. So honest, stated with such clarity and courage. I've been berated by Christians who have told me my writing causes others to stumble, my books wasted their money and time.
I laughed, only because I have thought the same so many times, when you wrote, "...put the book down."

Thank you!

Amy Matayo said...

I LOVED reading this!

Nicole said...

Jenny, Christa, Amy, thank you all. But isn't it a shame that we must come up against this with our brothers and sisters in Christ? We do not walk with them as our Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit brings our direction, our conviction, and our holiness. It isn't up to readers.

The Just Judge speaks to our hearts. Not the many fallen self-appointed ones.

Lisa Tawn Bergren said...

As a girl berated for not being "Christian enough" in her fiction by Christians, and "too sweet" by non-Christians, I appreciate this. We're all led to write what we're led to write. Let the chips fall where they may...

Nicole said...

There ya go, Lisa.