It used to be that Christian readers could pick up a book (fiction or nonfiction) from most recognized “Christian” publishers and never think twice about coming across questionable or outright offensive content or language. This, unfortunately, is no longer the case, folks. And that’s why I sometimes like to remind readers and publishers of where I stand on the issue. As the years pass, I’m afraid it will only become more necessary to do so.
Lest anyone question the accuracy of my claim about slipping standards, let me offer two examples to illustrate my point. In a desire to be kind and fair, I won’t mention the authors, book titles, or publishers.
The first example is very recent. A recognized author of Christian nonfiction had a 99-cent Kindle sale of one of his books from one of the leading Christian publishers. I had heard good things about this author’s writings and grabbed his book for my Kindle. Within five pages into it, however, the author used “hell” as a curse word. I was astonished.
Example two: A few years back, I participated in an online debate at a certain Christian fiction blog about “realistic” Christian fiction. Authors were chiming in and taking sides in a debate about a certain novel that had caused controversy. The author had chosen to use several slang expressions that would make most Christian readers I know close the book in disgust; we’re referring to expressions for certain parts of the body. One was a crass expression for a woman’s breasts. There were a few others I won’t even print here. A few authors like me argued that such terms should have no place in Christian fiction, but I believe we were outnumbered by those who not only were fine with such language in Christian fiction but also labeled us as judgmental and legalistic when using Bible verses as our defense. (People just love to fling that word legalism around, don’t they?)
Let me pause here and say that I don’t judge anyone’s motives related to these two books, whether the authors or publishers. For one, I don’t know the motives; perhaps these authors and publishers love God as much as I do. We just disagree about what is appropriate for Christian readers, and I believe good Christians can disagree (and perhaps be wrong) and still be assured of seeing each other in heaven someday. Either way, don’t violate your conscience, and I won’t violate mine.
But what I don’t understand is why certain expressions are even up for debate. If even Webster’s Dictionary defines a certain term as “often [or usually] vulgar”—this is the world’s standard, mind you—why go there as Christian writers? We have failed to learn the lesson of the highly successful Lord of the Rings movies. Yes, you can produce a squeaky-clean product that is void of any foul or questionable language and can still sell very well. No Hobbit cussing or bathroom talk needed.
I make no apology that I intentionally write clean and wholesome fiction for Christian readers. You won’t find crude expressions, curse words, or scenes that might arouse lustful thoughts in readers. There are several Bible reasons motivating my decision to write this way (Eph. 4:29 comes to mind; you can read more here), but I’m mainly appealing to common sense in this article. We authors have a hard enough time finding our audience and getting our products before readers in a sea crammed with too many fish. If we are writing for a broadly religious audience, why flirt with any language that might turn off a segment of it? Doing so seems counterintuitive. Avoid any questionable or offensive language, and you offend no one.
Full disclosure. Some characters in my novels curse (and do worse things). The difference is, I don’t make you read the words they use. I also read some secular fiction that contains cursing to some degree. I don’t use the same standard for secular authors, who don’t know any better. I believe authors who use the label “Christian” should uphold a higher standard.
Here’s a great article from novelist and editor Jeff Gerke about how to avoid using questionable language in Christian fiction. It’s worth a read.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think? Are you turned off by cursing or crude language in Christian books? What do you think about this growing trend?
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