There’s something rotten in Christian fiction. Personally, a romance in a book has to work pretty hard to impress me, but I want to specifically address the authors who claim the name of Christ publicly while including romance in their fiction.
Romance itself is not bad or disrespectful to God; evidence: Ruth, Genesis 24, Ephesians 5 (vs. 25), etc. I’m looking at a few specific issues I’ve noticed in some recent Christian romance novels that I think every sincere follower of the Lord Jesus Christ needs to take seriously.
1—It’s All About That Face
Her face, his smell, her kissable lips, his dreamy eyes and tousled hair… Focusing on these superficial, physical traits might well be an accurate portrayal of how our hormones fuel our emotions.
BUT – encouraging the readers’ thoughts to linger over these elements, while glossing over the character, personality, and spirituality of the love interest encourages the audience that looks and sexual attraction are all that matter.
They say this kind of writing is like porn for women, and sets them up to be emotionally unfulfilled in their real-life relationships.
Psychology Today suggests that Harlequin romances cater to women who want to believe that they can “fall for” a sexy bad-boy but also have that bad-boy change, settle down, and raise kids – and insists this vision is unrealistic and poised to disappoint.
And Suzannah Rowntree, in discussing the suitability of portraying any evil, magic, violence, or romance in fiction points out: “An audience watching a movie in which someone gets killed is not participating in a sin, but an audience watching a movie in which someone takes their clothes off, usually is.”
[Edit: the site where she posted this seems to have disappeared, but you can get another glimpse of her argument here. Don’t depend on the cloud!]
Need more external voices to prove it’s not just me? Every time I hear “swoon-worthy”, I think of this video. Women are not just meat – and neither are men.
Not only is writing these kinds of books doing a disservice to our readers (who, consciously or not, absorb the lessons of our stories into their minds) but it’s a misrepresentation of our Lord and King, who – while giving us the beauty and youth we enjoy – also delighted to give Abraham and Sarah (husband and wife) a baby together at one hundred years old and ninety years old. She may have been a stunner of a ninety-year-old, but there was a whole lot more going on there – and we miss out on that deeper joy when we’re focusing on whether someone’s a “good kisser” or not. (What does that even mean?! #single&celibate)
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” (1 Cor. 6: 15-16)
This seriously disturbs me, especially since I’ve seen it repeatedly in modern fiction (AKA twice).
The Bible is very clear: there is no Jew or Greek, black or white, slave or free, but all are equal in the redeeming blood of Jesus.
Outside the blood of Jesus? You are their evangelist – not their lover.
Once again, I get that our emotions do things we wish they wouldn’t, but the Bible tells us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10: 5). Self-control, mentoring with mature Christians, and focusing on other things can help break you out of love…wow, I think I’ve discovered a fresh plot!
God’s Word also tells us: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5: 17). You’re not the same as those other people – you’ve got the Holy Spirit living inside you!
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Cor. 6: 14)
As we said, you’re a new creation! Imagine trying to stick a horse under a yoke with an ox! Or imagine a dog and a cat trying to run a house together!
Come to think of it, marriage is already kinda like that: getting a man and a woman to work together. If they don’t both have Jesus Christ at the center of their hearts…well, God help you!
Religion affects so much more than your eternal destination – it also affects the here and now. If we’re going to take God seriously on this, our characters need to, too – or at least face realistic consequences for not doing so!
SMH. I get that readers love to be dragged along with the suspense of “who gets who?” and apparently revel to form teams for their favorite rival.
BUT – that is not the Way of the King.
I am not a “soul-mate believer“, in that I don’t believe there’s only one person for anyone, and that unless/until you find that one person you have no chance at happiness. God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to give us free will, and that means choosing our own mate (within the boundaries of our common faith).
BUT – C.S. Lewis said:
“The truth is that wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured.” (The Screwtape Letters)
I’m a believer in stability. And stringing characters along for the sake of dramatic effect sets a bad example for our real-life relationships.
God’s plan was Adam and Eve: one man, one woman, one God, always and forever. Since we’re all egoistic sinners, we have trouble living sacrificially for our spouses, but with God all things are possible.
“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10: 7-9; that’s JESUS talking, by the way)
“Will she, won’t she, him or him, him or him?” is not stability. And when she/he finally does choose between her/his choices, they’re all going to have emotional baggage that they tote onward into the rest of their lives.
Makes for great drama, but we have to draw the line somewhere.
One of the lines I draw is at the end of stories.
I’ve read books where the love triangle/rhombus/tetrahedron isn’t resolved. You heard me. No one gets a ring. No one goes down on one knee and says, “Will you join me in founding a dynasty of light for reflecting the everlasting love of Christ for His church, radiating the glory and power of God through generations of our descendants and setting this dark world afire with His love through us?”
I can but guess why the authors did this. Either they couldn’t decide how to resolve all the loose ends, they wanted to leave threads open for their future books, or they wanted to give the sports teams of their readers the freedom to “ship” whichever couple they wanted.
If you are a sincere, devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, I plead with you: consider the consequences of this! We all know we shouldn’t, but we do take life advice from the TV shows we see, the songs we hear, and the books we read. In a world that screams, “Sexual partners are just candy bars – pitch the wrapper when it’s gone!” we need the church – we need “Christian” authors – to trumpet something different, something higher.
The Bible deals with people’s messy lives — it doesn’t glorify the mess. Anyone read 2 Samuel 13 lately? 😬😨 Or if that’s too intense for you, how about the preceding chapters: “King’s One-Night-Stand With Married Woman Has Deadly Consequences”.
Christians of all people should remember 1 Cor. 6: 15-20 — “Flee sexual immorality.” And we should also remember that when people or characters disregard God’s instructions, there is pain and broken pieces.
Team Red, Team Blue
I’ve lost the link, and perhaps it’s just as well, but in my social media network I found a promotion for an upcoming “Romantic Suspense” book. It sounded interesting enough, with some CIA/FBI/government agent losing her husband on their wedding day, slowly finding healing with a coworker/friend, then discovering her husband alive some years later. Plenty of honest tension and slow healing necessary, right?
Except that the post-writer, at the very end, prompted comments by asking, “Are you Team Husband? Or Team Guy-friend?”
ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? If there were an altar and vows, there is only one man in the universe for that woman. Her emotions, trust, and lifestyle might take a long time readjusting (baggage is realistic) but how can you encourage this doubt, this “will-she-nil-she” mode of evaluating the most crucial relationship in your life, after the one with God?
I don’t care if he’s been presumed dead for ten years — sit down at coffee, start at square one, and work yourself backward. We can feel sorry for Guy-friend, but sometimes “It sucks to suck.” (#ALERT)
Just…you don’t go messing with Eternal Covenants Before God. Bad idea.
(Say…watching the woman and her husband ease each other back into love with each other could be a cool book…not the clichéd angst-fest we usually get…)
Encouraging your readers to take sides in this is even worse than mishandling the situation in the first place. I get that there’s a market for Player-vs-Player, but some of us play World of Warcraft to explore the cool worlds on our cool dragons and we don’t want every single little thing broken down into Horde/Alliance/This Faction/That Faction/Red/Blue.
Consider the Masters
Consider Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet had two (if not more) young men she could have gone off with, but one of them was obviously superior – and in his character (development) and how he treated her, not just in his external attractions.
Does any right-headed, red-blooded reader call themselves “Team Wickham”? (Except for that writer-workshop hoax guy?) When the winner of Lizzy’s hand emerges, the audience cheers along with the protagonists… There’s no “Team Jacob” or “Team Gail” resistance.
If you have to divide up your readers like this to get them invested, I think you’re doing it wrong.
P.S. Jane Austen’s characters never talk about God, but she’s still read today as an example of quality literature, remarkable characters, and solid moral principles. How many of the books being churned out today will be chewed up like junk food and thrown away, with no “preservatives” in them once I meet my new favorite “crush” (because who keeps their candy-wrappers after they’ve had their hit)?
Rubber Meets the Road
Where is our focus? On God, or on something (anything) else?
Again, if you don’t give a fig about God, you won’t give a fig about my post. But I’m not talking to the mainstream Harlequin…I’m talking to the authors, publishers, and reviewers who label themselves with the name of Christ for all the world to see. If we can’t look at your content and tell (without the praying characters, the conversion scenes, or the going-to-church) that there’s something different in your “manner of life” (Phil. 1: 27), then please, please, please think and pray very hard about this.
Kimia Wood was raised by an aspiring writer, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood. She had about the most stable upbringing possible in 21-century North America, which does not explain her neuroses.
She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American Midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by writing the cheerful post-apocalyptic series White Mesa Chronicles…because that’s more fun than gardening.
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