Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Story Time . . . Christian Romance - Ministry or Danger?

Last Wednesday, Russel Moore, a prominent minister, posted this. It's a blog entitled "Can Romance Novels Hurt Your Heart?" and quotes a study expounded on in the book A Billion Wicked Thoughts. In short, this book explains that just like pornography appeals to a man's visual predisposition and creates in him an idea of women that's unrealistic and so harmful to his real-life relationships, so do romance novels appeal to a woman's emotional predisposition and creates in her an idea of men that's unrealistic (because they're based on alpha men who are rich, gorgeous, wild-but-tamed-by-heroine, and emotionally sensitive) and so damages relationships.

Mr. Moore takes this study and applies it to Christian romance and asks if the women who keep a Christian romance on their bedside table are hurting their marriages.

After 164 replies, most opinions on this subject have been made known, LOL. But it's a subject that upsets me, so I'd like to discuss it here.

This is what I grant Mr. Moore. Some women do indeed battle feelings of dissatisfaction with their love lives, their marriages, and their husbands when they see other romances. They feel their spouses don't add up, and being shown that really doesn't help. So yes, it's great to bring that to the attention of said women and say, "So, well, maybe you oughta steer clear of romantic stuff. Books, movies, etc."

Of course, as one commenter pointed out, those same women might be struck by this same comparison when they see Mr. Smith open the door for his wife at church and exchange a special smile with her.

So--I grant this is a valid point, and I hope every woman, if she feels dissatisfied with her relationships, stops to really examine why and to either steer clear of the catalysts or to take the time to work on this within herself (or both). Several women spoke up on this blog who readily admit that this is something they have to deal with. I applaud them.

But here's where this post really hurt my heart. Mr. Moore wrote a long article about how romance and pornography are alike. Then he made an assumption that Christian romance is built on the same principles as the mainstream erotica that this book studied. THEN he said that he wasn't equating Christian romance with the soul-destroying pornography, but we must ask ourselves if these books are building marriages and promoting unity or if they're causing harm.

Well, my answer is that they're building marriages, promoting unity, and saving souls. And frankly, it hurts that a prominent pastor not only calls our ministry into question, but asks his entire readership to do the same. We have enough to battle within the world--why are we attacking each other within the Church?

The nicest thing this blog did was grant that not all Christian romances were necessarily evil. I contend that that's like saying that all pastors are "not necessarily evil" since they don't all cheat on their wives or lead people into cults. That's like saying that not all Christians are evil, since they don't all use the Bible to dominate and abuse. But some do! 

Yes. Some do. But when someone points out that stuff, I cry out, "No, no no! Why would you judge an entire ministry based on a few? What about all the souls pastors save? What about all the relationships they build? What about all the many ways they strengthen our faith?"

I have to cry out the same thing here. "No, no, no! Why would you judge the entire ministry of Christian fiction because of how it affects some? What about all those letters we get saying readers were led to the Lord through our stories? What about the ones who say they were inspired to save their crumbling marriages? What about the ones who come to a deeper faith because of these books?"

Because THOSE are the majority. And that's the case because Christian romance is NOT built upon the same principles as mainstream romance, and we don't just gussy it up with prayer instead of sex. That anyone would claim we do is so insulting. More, it's disheartening. After years and years, Christian fiction is finally gaining a foothold in the industry, and then our own leaders prejudge us (because you bet these guys haven't read any of today's Christian romance--that's pretty obvious by the assumptions) and not only question that we are in ministry, but equate us to pornographers.

As you can see, I'm still fired up about this. I don't just read Christian Romance, I don't just write Christian Romance, I edit it and publish it. It's my entire professional life. Now, do I like to break molds with it? Absolutely. Do I chafe against some of the guidelines of traditional romance that were held over in Christian romance? Yes, I do. But I believe in its principles, in its goals, in its very real ministry to many people who otherwise may dismiss the messages that come through so naturally in fiction.

And I'd love to chat about it, explore both sides with others. So what's your take?


  1. I knew someone who told me basically what this pastor said. That she had to quit reading romance novels (not inspirational) because it only soured her marriage. I don't think the books did that. Her marriage wasn't a happy one to begin with and yes these books fueled a fire of unhappiness that was already there.

    I think any romance could fulfill a void, if given to a vulnerable woman who is dissatified in her marriage.

    I'd like to think that inspirational fiction wouldn't be used as a void filler, but as healing balm to deep wounds, that it would point her to Jesus Christ, that the Holy Spirit would use it to minister to her. That's why I write inspirational fiction.

    When hero is fighting for the heroine with sacrificial love, cherishing her, romancing her, it's really just a picture of the way Jesus love us. That's what I want the reader to grasp and I think that's what I see and feel when I read other inspirational romances.

    No one can love like Jesus.

    Thanks for writing about this today.

  2. I believe they are a ministry - just as many of these books show men who are loving and patient, they also show Godly women, women who are great examples of ways that God can and does work in our lives.

    I agree with Jessica - that if a person's relationship is on shaky ground than these books could have a negative impact, but so could a person's closest friends.

    To put the blame on Christian Romance and compare it to the darkness of society is ridiculous!

  3. Having read the his post (after your facebook comment), I am glad you responded to it. I agree that there some ladies need to be careful of what romances they read, even Christian ones. BUT to equate Christian romances to porn is unfair. AND it is a true ministry.

    Just as God-glorifying lyrics in different genres of music is honoring to God, Christian books in different genres are, too. Each meets a different need.

  4. Every book is different. I think some Christian romance novels are fine with a cute love story, but some have me skipping pages because I don't want to read about people making out and sometime more than that. It's a fine line for the author to draw. Readers all have different opinions on this.

    Personally, I believe that above all alse I should gaurd my heart.

    If a romance is giving me mental pictures I don't need or that would be dishonoring to my future husband, I don't need to read it. If it's conjuring up feelings or desires that I should save for my future husband, I don't need to be reading it. If it is making me disatisfied with my love love (or lack of), I don't need to be reading it.

    Also, I need to respect authority. If I think the romance I'm reading is acceptable, but my parents disagree, I need to take their concern into consideration and obey them.

    But really I think we just all need to remember that it's just a book. It shouldn't take over your time, thoughts, or feelings. If it is, why not take a break from reading them? Maybe spend a little more time reading the Bible (: Songs of Solomon is full of love and romance! I wonder what Mr. Moore thinks of that book of the Bible?!

    Great post, it's a thought provoking topic!

  5. Great thoughts on honoring and obedience, Anonymous. Very true. We do, first and foremost, have to guard our hearts.

    In my opinion, romance is a part of our lives. What is one of the biggest decisions we face in life? Who we date, who we marry. And once we're married, what then? How do we keep our marriages strong?

    When I read a romance, it reminds me of why I love my husband. Is he perfect? Well, ahem. I'm not married to Jesus, so obviously not, LOL. But we have a real love. And even if I'm in a bad frame of mind, reading about romance reminds me that my ultimate weapon against any fractures in my marriage is LOVE.

    But you know, this whole thing has given me a new prayer. Now I will not only be praying that my books reach those who need them, I'll be praying that they do NOT get in the hands of anyone who could be hurt by any of my words. What I know is that I'm called to write these books God has given me such a pure passion for. And what I also know is that He charges us to not let our convictions be a stumbling block for others.

    I know this debate is necessary; I also know it hurts those who are called to write. Just as we writers must pray not to be a stumbling block to those whose hearts are not going to be helped by us, so too should other forms of ministers pray not to say anything that might cause of one of God's children to question His call on her life to write.

  6. I write young adult books for the Christian market. I had never thought of myself as some scandalous writer, but when the first book in the Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series released, I was really surprised to see how many disapproved of the romance between my main character (who was just becoming a Christian) and a Christian boy.

    I write about this because it's what (many) teens are dealing with. It's what's important to them. It's what they're thinking about. By writing this from the position of faith, my prayer is that I'm showing them HOW to deal with it, think about it, and live it in a way that honors God.

  7. Well put, Stephanie. (tee hee hee--private joke)

    I think it really comes down to being able to find a problem in ANYTHING. Historically, people have even censored parts of the Bible. Um, hello?

    So what are we allowed to do? Sports? Surely not. I mean, competitive attitudes can lead us so easily into sin, right?

    TV shows? Good heavens, no! What do THEY put in front of us?

    Can we take a walk? Dangerous--what if we see a house or car that lures us into coveting?

    Reading the Bible? Well gracious, authorities agreed for centuries that it was foolish to put the word of God into the hands of untrained laymen, lest we totally misinterpret it!

    See my point? When one goes looking for the flaws, one will find them. Temptations lie in absolutely everything. BUT--If we seek Him first, then we can enjoy the freedom that comes of His grace-given salvation. We can enjoy the world He's given us, the arts He inspires in his children, without fear. So long as our eyes remain focused on Him, they can't lead us astray.

  8. Sometimes you just gotta wonder, Roseanna. Thanks for the excellent post!

  9. An online friend of mine wrote a post about this subject awhile ago, and I find that I quite agree with her. http://hopescribbles.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/rethinking-romance-novels/

    Until recently, I completely avoided romance novels as per my parents' request. I didn't even read Jane Austen (please note that this was a request, i was not banned from reading them). I didn't have a problem with avoiding them because there is just so much else to read!

    Now that I am 18, I have even more freedom to read what I choose, though I still listen to my parents' opinions. I read Jewel of
    Persia and quite enjoyed it. (my full review will be posted on my blog June 6 when Mrs. White comes to visit!)

    It's like Elisabeth said. Is the book's primary focus the romance? Or the God of love? I think in Mrs. White's case, the latter is true!

  10. Thanks, Jordan. =) Jewel of Persia wasn't technically a romance, either--I call it a "biblical love story," because it doesn't obey the patterns of romance. That said, my next book IS a romance--but even with that one, the romance between hero and heroine comes in second to both realizing that to be prepared for a romance with each other, they both must first come to grips with themselves and their God. They must both first understand that true liberty lies in Christ before they are free to love each other.

    That's the sort of thing that Christian romance strives for--to help us better understand our relationships through the lens of the Lord.