Answering the “Weaker Brother” Defense

by Mike Duran · 71 comments

One of the most common objections to allowing expletives into Christian fiction is that of potentially “stumbling weaker brothers.” The argument is based off of two sections of Scripture: I Cor. 8: 9-11 and Romans 14:13-23. It usually goes something like this:

Everyone is not at the same level of spiritual maturity. Those who are more mature and can handle more things should not allow their liberty – in this case, tolerance for or use of expletives – to offend those less mature in the faith.

My recent post Thank You, Bethany House Publishers and a spin-off article at Novel Rocket by Sally Apokedak, Realistic Christian Behavior, both addressed the inclusion of “vulgar” language and expletives in Christian fiction. Each post received a lot of comments and the aforementioned objection was, indeed, brought up. The following comment on Sally’s post is representative of those who seek to keep Christian fiction “clean”:

I think some of us feel this is a major issue at stake. When SOME vulgar language is let in the door (of Bethany House, no less!), who’s going to say “that’s enough!” Better to object to something offensive at the onset, than to complain when the words slipping into the CBA are progressively more offensive to many of our Christian brothers/sisters. (emphasis mine)

This commenter is hardly alone. But is it right to object to allowing some vulgar language into the CBA on the grounds that it might be offensive to many of our [weaker] Christian brothers/sisters”?

In a fine essay entitled The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother, the author exegetes Romans 14 and concludes that the Apostle Paul’s concern is to

“…protect Christian liberty in both directions, liberty to partake and liberty to abstain. This protects the stronger brother from the tyranny of the weaker, and as well diligently warns the stronger brother not to ignore the weakness of the weaker brother and draw him into behavior that is contrary to his conscience.”

The author rightly argues that liberty is a two-way street: liberty to partake and liberty to abstain. And both freedoms must be protected. However, the goal of the “weaker brother” defense is not to protect the spiritual freedom of both parties, but to impose only theirs.

In the case of the use (or abuse) of spiritual freedom, we often (mistakenly) portray the more mature individual as the one with the “power.” Not only can they partake of questionable elements with a pure conscience, they can potentially offend or confuse those who don’t share such liberties. This is a legitimate concern. However, in doing so, we often fail to acknowledge the equally destructive power of the “weaker” party. By decrying an action on the grounds of being offended, the weaker brother wields a sort of “tyranny.” Anything they deem offensive can be demonized. So if someone is offended by women wearing makeup, we must comply and ban makeup (or at least not wear it in mixed company). If someone is offended by dancing, drinking, going to the movies, or gambling, we must enact rules to keep from stumbling “the weaker brother.” But if the guiding principle is to “Avoid whatever offends someone else,” then we become prisoners to each others consciences.

The prescription given by Scripture is twofold: Love and Grow. We must love people where they’re at, respect their conscience, and seek to maintain the bonds of peace. This is foremost. But we must also serve to help each other grow. In fact, inherent in the “weaker brother” defense is the implication that they still need to grow.

Weaker brothers must become stronger brothers. Remaining weak — much less defending ones right to remain so — is equivalent to permanent adolescence.

Thus, our goal in this conversation mustn’t simply be to not offend “weaker brothers,” but to help them mature. And in this case, maturing means getting beyond being offended.

John MacArthur, in discussing Romans 14 and the issue of liberty and conscience, suggests that part of Serving Christians Who Are Needlessly Restrictive is to slowly re-educate their conscience. (Note: the following quote is a paraphrase taken by an attendee during a Q&A session at the 2007 Shepherd’s Conference):

“When it comes into the Christian realm, you have a dilemma between re-informing them [and] at the same time that you don’t train them to ignore their conscience or after they’re re-informed, they’re gonna be used to doing what their conscience tells them. That’s why Paul is so clear on that at the end of Romans. . . . You can’t train people to ignore conscience. You have to take the long-term approach to re-inform the conscience.”

Part of loving the “weaker brother” is to “re-inform [their] conscience.” Allowing other Christians to remain hyper-sensitive to others freedoms or preferences is unloving. The short-term approach — the approach taken by many in the Christian fiction industry — is to avoid doing or saying anything that offends them. The “long-term approach,” the more loving approach, is to help them grow out of this “tyranny.”

It can (and I’m sure does) appear to many that I am arguing FOR cuss words in Christian fiction. I’d like to think I’m aiming for something much more altruistic: Christian maturity.

If you are stumbled by certain things, then by all means avoid them. You might personally dislike cussing, dancing, smoking, or gambling. That is totally within your right to do so. What you must grow out of, however, is being chronically offended by brothers who “partake” in such matters and, even worse, hold an entire industry hostage to your preferences.

And this is where the “weaker brother” defense breaks down. Not only is the Scripture misinterpreted to mean only deference to the weak, it is wielded as a means of bondage. In this sense, I’d agree with the commenter on Sally’s post that “this is a major issue at stake.”

Rather than “protect Christian liberty in both directions,” the Christian fiction industry is in danger of caving to “the tyranny of the weaker brother.” For the moment we say “this will offend them” or “that will stumble them” and adjust our fiction accordingly, we normalize a specific cultural preference or moral sensibility. Christian liberty must exist in both directions, not just toward those who advocate “clean fiction.”

“Weaker brothers” should become “stronger brothers.” The goal of the “weaker brother” defense, however, has no such aim.

Christa Allan June 20, 2012 at 5:47 AM

I received an email recently in reference to my second novel: “Do you think about people you might lead away from God with a book condoling [sic] homo-sexuality?”

My first reaction was surprise that this person thought I could wield this degree of power. On a good day, I can barely lead myself to make the bed.

But what I believe, and what I responded, is that I can’t lead people away from God or in any direction they weren’t headed to in the first place.

Scathe meic Beorh June 20, 2012 at 10:37 AM

Is that true? I know that God has a countermine for every action that moves something away from His perfect will, but I know that I have both stumbled and have been a stumbling block for others, and in each instance there was avoidable sin involved. I have spent the last several months completely re-writing two novels, one that has been published already, the other just published yesterday. I take very seriously the Lord’s mandate to me personally that either I use the gift He gave me properly, or it will be given to someone else.

Weaker brothers should become stronger brothers. This is true. But there are weaker brothers who are not ready to be strong yet, and, as far as my own writing goes, my being primarily sent to the godless, there are unbelievers who may stumble around in the darkness a lot longer because of what I wrote.

Jessica Thomas June 20, 2012 at 6:10 AM

Very well said, Mike.

I came to the party late at Novel Rocket, so I’ll repost a bit of one of my comments which I think applies here. It also applies to Christa’s comment above.

I think a great way for satan to lessen the effectiveness of an author’s ministry would be to burden them with the paranoid fear that something they write might lead another Christian astray. At the heart of it, this is an issue of pride (“everything I say is soooo important”) and an issue of faith, or rather lack of faith that God and the Holy Spirit will give readers the discernment they need to properly interpret the text. (“God’s not doing his job so I better be extra careful and do some of His work for him!”)

Not much more to add. You pretty much nailed it.

Bobby June 20, 2012 at 8:12 AM

This will always be such a tense area. The character would curse in real life. So I should make him curse in the book, right? But what if he didn’t curse? Would it really take away from the narrative? Well, it might…that is how his character is… It is going to come down to the maturity of individual writers.

I think there’s room for grace, too. I don’t agree with author X’s choice to include such and such content, but I understand what they’re trying to do, so I’ll give them some room to do their thing.

Julie Presley June 20, 2012 at 4:35 PM

This is my battle right here: The character would curse in real life.
When I’m creating a non-believing character, or a character who is struggling w/ their walk with the Lord, I feel a sense of responsibility to be honest about where that character is at. I’m trying to be as realistic as possible in my novels, whether it’s how someone relates spiritually to the Father or how they relate to their friends. In my first book that is coming out in August, one of my characters uses a pretty strong word in conversation w/ God, simply because THAT is what he would have said. I struggled over taking it out, and eventually did, even though I really didn’t want to. I was able to describe the word in a way that gave little doubt to what he was saying, without actually saying it. I find that I can do that with a lot of things that might send readers over the edge. I want to be real and honest, but I also want to sell some books. My first draft is always completely raw, no holds barred. Then when I fine tune and edit, I realize that I’m really the only person who needs to know the details of certain situations in order to have some context and background for the future of those characters.

I believe that the Father is in love with us as we are. We are all flawed in some way or another, but His grace covers us. I agree w/ the posters who say that the Holy Spirit checks them and they know if they’ve written something they need to go back and delete. Been there, done that. I don’t think that the Father is offended by our humanity. I believe that He wants us to be real and not hide from where we are at, all the while being willing to let Him move us forward, and where necessary let go of things that are holding us back.

I appreciate realism in fiction as well as non-fiction. One of the best compliments that I received on a manuscript from a woman who is in an in-between state w/ the Lord was this: I didn’t leave your story feeling less than the fictional super Christians in a book, rather I left it reminded that everyone has struggles, no matter how good or bad, and that having desires for whatever is completely normal.

THAT is exactly my goal. Unfortunately it means that I have to be my own biggest fan, promote the H out of my books and understand that they may never make it onto the shelf of Lifeway or Mardel’s. I’m okay with that.

sally apokedak June 20, 2012 at 9:00 AM

I used to go to a church where one of the four elders held strong convictions about worship. We shouldn’t have instruments besides a piano. We shouldn’t have a choir. We shouldn’t have soloists. We shouldn’t have nursery, because children should be in the worship service with parents. And on and on. Each time something came up, we had to cave to his strong convictions. The Bible doesn’t command that we have a violin, so we couldn’t insist on a violin. The Bible doesn’t command that we have a choir, so we had to give up the choir. And so on and so forth.

I also used to open my home to a women and her eight children. They would come from a small town a couple of hundred miles away to go to our church. I had them in my home every other weekend. She was offended by the TV, by sugar, and by movies, among other things. My husband wasn’t a Christian at the time, so she didn’t insist that he turn off his TV and remove his sugar from his tea, but we did hide the soda pop and the R-rated movies and the sugary treats so her children wouldn’t be tempted. She left the church and quit coming to stay with me when she found out some of the women in the church were on birth control and the pastor wasn’t going to rebuke them.

I don’t decide lightly to offend others with my choices. Paul said he’d rather never eat meat than offend. So I was happy, while the woman was in my home, to hide my husband’s soda in the bedroom and put away the movies and the sugar so the children couldn’t find them.

But if I’m writing a book, I think I have to write what the story demands and the people who are offended have to take some responsibility.

The reason I believe this is that if I had to worry about offending people I couldn’t write one word. Everything I say is going to offend someone. So I think we all have to do as Becky Wade said here on your site a couple of weeks ago–write with an intention of not offending God.

If we love God, we’ll love our neighbors and try to help them. But I don’t think we can write to the lowest common denominator. If we did that we couldn’t write fiction at all. I know sensitive Christians who believe reading and writing fiction is sinful. They believe that every minute spent reading fiction is a minute that could have been better employed in reading God’s word.

Are we to bow to their sensibilities and stop writing and publishing fiction?

Amy Sonnichsen June 21, 2012 at 1:51 PM

These are great added points, Sally. Thank you for this.

Sarah Fulmer June 20, 2012 at 9:01 AM

well said, Mike!

Lyn Perry June 20, 2012 at 9:19 AM

One can be offended and not be weak.

Mike Duran June 20, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Lyn, absolutely. I am offended when my co-workers use Christ’s name in vain. The difference is I don’t demand they refrain to appease my conscience. Perhaps the difference is not what people are offended by, but what they expect others to do about it.

Lyn Perry June 20, 2012 at 9:52 AM

I see what you are saying. But it’s more a “market-driven” issue, imo, than a group of people saying we’re weaker in our faith, so don’t offend us. I’m not saying I agree, but evidently the market demand for clean Christian fiction is high and the target segment wants to keep it that way. Democracy in action. 🙂 And, btw, I don’t demand it, of course, but I do tell that random person swearing behind me at a public event to watch their language when my wife and children are present. I have just a much right to not hear them as they have a right to say it. I’m making my view known, not as a weaker or stronger person, just as someone who has an opinion.

Heather Day Gilbert June 20, 2012 at 10:11 AM

I wouldn’t dream of asking a NON-SAVED co-worker to stop swearing. I don’t expect them to understand WHY it’s offensive. But when fellow Christians use words that offend the majority of Christians “B-word,” “P-word,” etc, shouldn’t I be able to ask them to stop using it around me? I don’t do this, by the way. But I think there should be accountability in the CBA–authors and readers who are offended by this tolerance of what we believe is a sin should make their voices heard, as much as anyone else’s. Same as any church matter.

Melissa Marsh June 20, 2012 at 11:32 AM

You raise a good question, Heather. I have a co-worker who is a Christian and he uses Jesus’s name in vain all the time. I can’t understand it. The reason I say something to him is because when I hear our Savior’s name used in such a vulgar manner, I literally feel like I’m being stabbed. As he is a fellow Christian, I can’t let it go. Should I, though?

However, other co-workers say it who are not saved and I don’t say anything even though I still feel that stabbing pain. But you’re right, Heather – I don’t think they would understand why it offends me.

tcavey June 20, 2012 at 11:43 AM

I think tolerance is key in what you just said.
We are considered judgmental if we don’t tolerate things, however, how can we say we are Christian and not defend our beliefs?

I don’t tell people to not do certain things, I leave that between them and God. However, if I felt God telling me to say something I sure hope I don’t worry about what others think more than what God thinks.

I see too many Christians more worried about offending people than about offending God.

Nikole Hahn June 20, 2012 at 11:51 AM

I think that’s the key, tcavey. If the Holy Spirit pushes us to write one way or to say something we should listen and do in spite of offense made. And your last line is a good punch.

tcavey June 20, 2012 at 12:03 PM

Thanks Nikole!

Heather Day Gilbert June 20, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Hmmm…that quote from Sally’s post looks familiar–grin. To me, this quote “You can’t train people to ignore conscience. You have to take the long-term approach to re-inform the conscience” seems to indicate that there is only ONE right way to feel about things (conscience-wise), and if I’m offended by something you’re not, I need to be re-informed.

I agree with Lyn, above. One can be offended and not be weak. Why else would that verse even be in the Bible?

And I think it comes back to EXHORTATION. If we feel our brothers/sisters in Christ are headed the wrong way, particularly in something as influential as the Christian fiction market, shouldn’t we say something about it? If we don’t, seems like we’re hypocrites. I don’t mope around and pout about things that offend me. I say it, straight out, that it offends me and I think it’s taking the CBA the wrong way.

I don’t know if this makes me weaker or stronger. Frankly, I don’t care. I just know that it’s not something I can sit down and shut up about. I’m not easily offended–in fact, most of my friends find me very easy-going and understanding. But some things are not to be lauded. And I think vulgarity (throwing open the door to blasphemy, obscenity, etc) in the CBA is one of them.

Dude, some things are worth fighting for. You might not think this is one of them. But I believe the words that were used in the book fall into the “corrupt communication” category. I know you don’t agree. I know many Christians use words that would’ve shocked and appalled our parents/grandparents. I would argue that the church has been corrupted by TV/movies and BOOKS. Why would I want to support bad language in the CBA? I just don’t. I won’t buy those books, and I won’t write those books. And I think the majority of the Christian readership will not support that language, either.

Mike Duran June 20, 2012 at 7:55 PM

Heather: “If we feel our brothers/sisters in Christ are headed the wrong way, particularly in something as influential as the Christian fiction market, shouldn’t we say something about it?”

Mike: Absolutely, Heather. That’s why I wrote this piece.

Heather: “Dude, some things are worth fighting for. You might not think this is one of them.”

Mike: Absolutely, Heather. That’s why I wrote this piece.

The weight of the argument has been on your side (and I use that generally to refer to advocates of “clean fiction”) since the inception of the CBA. Only recently have objectors, like myself, been more vocal and our opinions given more credence. The status quo has remained unchallenged, which is why so many people get up in arms when it IS challenged.

You asked, “Why would I want to support bad language in the CBA?” If you see my objective as simply convincing publishers to include some expletives, you’re mistaken. As I said in my post: “I’m aiming for something much more altruistic: Christian maturity.” And this is probably where we disagree. I think we’re bumping into deeply embedded cultural and theological convictions that have shaped our perspective about how Christians should interact with culture.

Nikole Hahn June 20, 2012 at 10:42 AM

Folks, even Jerry Jenkins wrote in his book, “Writing for the Soul,” that he’s not against a few well placed cuss words. Some of the comments are quite offensive to me here. I do yoga, observe Halloween, sometimes cuss privately, and occasionally enjoy a glass of good red wine or a nice beer with dinner. If we’re going to judge other Christians, then that finger needs to point back to us.

Let me qualify the above statements: I cuss to my husband in humor, while doing yoga I am thinking of scripture not that I am strong like a tree, and when I observe Halloween I open my garage, serve the adults coffee and cookies and the kids candy thereby allowing me to socialize with people who are not believers and showing God’s light by being loving. I don’t believe in getting drunk, but there’s nothing in the Bible that states drinking wine is bad. There are people who are overweight, but we aren’t quoting biblical verses about gluttony, are we?

The point is…we are all sinners and to tell a story we should be realistic. When I watch show set in New York, I know the characters are going to be liberal and don’t get offended when they spout that theology. As long as it’s in the storyline and with the character I’m okay with it. It’s when it doesn’t fit the story line or the character and the writer is trying to preach.

Someone is going to be offended at something. I think it was Aesop who wrote that story about the old man the young boy and the donkey. Everyone had an opinion about who should ride the donkey. As Christians we get offended at each other because we can’t live up to the standards we place on each other.

I do draw the line at too many cuss words because it can be distracting and at smut versus drawing the eye to the fireplace. Some of the Christian romance is so white washed that you wonder if they feel attraction. Maybe that’s why I like authors like Dianne Christner who in her Amish fiction push the boundaries a little.

Heather Day Gilbert June 20, 2012 at 10:55 AM

Nicole, I don’t think anyone was saying Halloween and yoga are going to send you to hell. It’s true, many Christians don’t approve of it. This was not a personal attack. I think the Bible, throughout the OT and the NT, is very clear about choosing our words wisely, watching our language, etc. Wouldn’t you agree?

Nikole Hahn June 20, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Didn’t think it was a personal attack, but I get tired of the subject sometimes.

If I were writing nonfiction, I would agree Heather. But we’re telling a story. Life like story isn’t squeaky clean. A story even with cuss words can bring across a biblical point. Stories can be great for using a bad example to show transformation, or a sin someone struggles with, etc. That’s why I don’t rush to mark someone off for cussing unless it’s overdone. Stay true to story and your worldview will come out in your voice.

In real life, yes…I watch my words where possible, but I don’t correct another Christian for cussing. Usually, people kind of know not to cuss around a Christian. They have a sort of sixth sense about that. LOL.

Nikole Hahn June 20, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Incidently, I agree so far with the first paragraph of the commenter below me…R.L. Copple.

Nikole Hahn June 20, 2012 at 11:16 AM

One more thing, in my stories there are no curse words except the made up variety as I write speculative fiction. LOL. But if the character required it, I would use it if the publishing house allowed it depending upon who my audience is. But sometimes when you’re really, really mad and it’s only you and God, it feels mighty good to cuss aloud or at least turn on your wii boxing game to get out some aggression. LOL.

Heather Day Gilbert June 20, 2012 at 11:23 AM

I get you on the venting frustration–Black Ops is my drug of choice there. Grin.

Nikole Hahn June 20, 2012 at 11:25 AM

LOL.

R. L. Copple June 20, 2012 at 10:59 AM

So many issues! Hum.

One, on the weaker brother argument: Paul’s context there is your accountability to a specific individual who you are representing Christ to. Note, Paul’s solution wasn’t to tell the host, “Why are you feeding us meat offered to an idol? My brother is offended!” No, he simply doesn’t eat in front of him. So if the language in a book would offend a weaker brother, then the only requirement Paul is giving here is that the weaker brother shouldn’t read it, and I, as a “stronger brother,” shouldn’t try to convince him to read it.

But Paul’s solution isn’t that the host serve something different. It isn’t to tell the author or the publishing house, they shouldn’t print that book. Because, the weaker brother doesn’t have to read it, and the stronger brother should be able to if they so desire.

But I also think this isn’t a weaker brother maturing issue so much. What the “weaker brother” in this case is really saying when they say something offends them, is they don’t like it. Period. And what needs to mature isn’t being a weaker brother, but in not attempting to force their likes and dislikes onto other people. To be tolerant of other people’s values. IOW, I don’t really think it is a case of being offended, but of taste.

Now some will argue with that, in as much as they see cussing as anti-Christian. Like I said before, I’ve been in that group, and good Christians don’t cuss. At least not as a standard practice. And while I’m no longer of that opinion, I still don’t see much reason to cuss regularly. I’ve rarely cussed a lot. Most of the people I’m around don’t cuss much, if at all. Though I have been with co-workers who did. And there is some validity to the point that we are ambassadors for Christ, and using vulgar language isn’t the best witness. Is Christ vulgar? Hard to see Christ cussing to his disciples as he’s teaching them.

But of course, we’re talking about books here, not the author personally. And sometimes you have non-Christians or even maybe a nominal Christian who you want to show is a bit on the rough side, and to have them cussing is realistic and natural in that context. Just because the author has a character cuss doesn’t mean he or she approves of it, unless the novel itself ends up glorifying that practice.

But the reality is, there is a large sector of the Christian market that primarily wanted fiction, but not fiction they had to worry would contain a lot of cussing and sex and glorifying sins in general. Whether you or I personally believe cussing is a sin, there are many who do. And if a book or movie contains cussing, they aren’t going to like it. And they will probably say so. They want to pick up a book by the CBA and not worry about whether it will have that type of stuff in it.

So that market is there, and the CBA has historically catered to that market. I’m not so sure we have a right to demand that it change for us, so we can publish our books there. Rather, if we believe there is a market for Christian cussing book, or whatever, then we will get published by publishing houses that target that market, and sell to that market, and prove there is money to be made there. I know my books are not likely to ever be seriously considered by a CBA house, because I don’t fit that market. Not so much because of language, but other reasons. But I don’t see my goal as to change the CBA to allow cussing in novels. I’m not sure what good that would really accomplish. And the fact is, if I did get a cussing book published in the CBA, it probably wouldn’t sell very well.

Because even though I’m not so hard set against cussing as I used to be, I still don’t care for it in my fiction, books or movies. I can handle some, but if their is an explication on nearly every page, I’m not finishing that book. Or if a review says it is there, I’m not buying it. It’s purely a taste issue for me, more so than moral (other than God’s name taken in vain, which is a different issue). But that only goes to show you that the cuss-free zone market is out there. And the fact is, if you put much cussing in your novel, you limit your audience reach. You shave off a segment of your platform. Feel free to do it, but if you do, know that going in and be okay with that, rather than complaining when someone says they don’t like your book because it has cuss words in it.

But of course the issue is that those whose taste is not to like cussing, tend to make it into a moral/spiritual issue (which it could be a symptom of, but not necessarily) and therefore they feel a need to impose that value on everyone else. “You’re not a Christian, or at least a real one, if you cuss.” I don’t agree with that, but that is where many believe. Good luck helping them to mature out of that. 🙂 In their case, it is more than being offended and a weaker brother. They believe it is a sin. And that requires a change of belief.

Heather Day Gilbert June 20, 2012 at 11:31 AM

Two things:

I find it interesting that EVERYONE here will say that there is a limit to their personal cussing/vulgarities or what the amount they will tolerate in books. I’m saying, is it USEFUL to include and promote it within a specific segment of books, namely, the CHRISTIAN book association? Are those words edifying? And where does my limit stop and yours begin? Why include it in the first place, if you can use a different word or ACTIONS (even better!) to get the point across?

And it’s pretty obvious some of you feel offended that I’m offended by such language. I cannot believe you can make the blanket statement that this is because “I’m being offended and a weaker brother. They believe it is a sin. And that requires a change of belief.” I DO believe it is a sin for me to curse/use vulgarity/take God’s name in vain. I base this belief on myriad Bible verses, the one that stands out most being “Let no corrupt communication come out of your mouth.” I also take it very seriously when God says He won’t hold those guiltless who take His name in vain. Please don’t resort to condescending remarks about my convictions. I have not done so about yours.

I am speaking to the CBA as a whole. As authors in the CBA, you are free to include whatever language you want. I have the discretion not to read it.

Nikole Hahn June 20, 2012 at 11:45 AM

Actually, Heather, I’m not offended that you’re offended by bad language. If you were, for instance, coming to my house for dinner my husband and I would refrain from our private humor of using bad words; if you didn’t care for wine, I would refrain from drinking it in front of you (but not hide it behind the bag of apples unless you were a recovery person).

Heather Day Gilbert June 20, 2012 at 11:59 AM

Thank you, I appreciate that! And that you’d refrain from drinking–there is alcoholism rampant in my family tree, so I don’t drink. BUT we could probably do some yoga or play video games…hee.

Nikole Hahn June 20, 2012 at 12:02 PM

LOL. Oh, the fun we could have!

tcavey June 20, 2012 at 12:05 PM

Can I join you girls for yoga?

Not really into the video games- give me a punching bag and I’d love to take my frustrations out with a few round house kicks!

Nikole Hahn June 20, 2012 at 1:23 PM

Sure! LOL.

Niki Turner June 20, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Personally, I’d rather hear someone cussing than listen to a Christian whine and complain about how offended he or she is about this or that trivial thing. We’re so good at “majoring on the minors.” How did Jesus put it? “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.”

Scathe meic Beorh June 20, 2012 at 12:09 PM

The Holy Spirit works with us all personally. What He tells me is wrong may not be wrong for my sister or brother. I am working out _my_ salvation. Example? When I ran from God, I became a devout Hindu, and worshiped Kali. Yoga was a part of that worship. Today, back in God’s fold, I am abhorred by yoga. But that is me, not you. I can say that it will open doors to demons, but again, that could just be for me, not you. As a writer, I write what feels correct as I am bathed in my communion with the Lord. The Holy Spirit checks me, and I know when I have written something wrong. He countermines everything, all the time, and that includes my fallible pen if something gets past my conscience. _If_.

sally apokedak June 20, 2012 at 12:25 PM

I was never Hindu, but I agree on the Yoga. I won’t go anywhere near it. That to me is way worse than curse words, because it really is borrowing worship practices from a pagan religion and saying, “It’s just exercise.” It’s a little like taking the Lord’s Supper and saying, “It’s just grape juice.” Well, people were dying in Corinth for taking it the wrong way. I’m not into magic and I don’t think the wine and bread become the blood and body, but I do think there is more to worship practices in all religions than most Western Christians believe. I don’t fear demons, but I don’t want to mess with them either.

Heather Day Gilbert June 20, 2012 at 12:32 PM

Thanks for explaining your views on yoga and where you’re coming from! I’ve only “done” yoga to stretch (esp. when prego), but always fast-forwarded all the deep breathing/become one w/the universe stuff. I wouldn’t goto a yoga class that got all hoochie-coochie like that, either. But stretching out feels pretty good, whether called down dog or reverse plank.

It’s interesting–I wonder if we’re strongly convicted on certain things b/c those are areas that we’ve struggled with personally or that tempt us personally. In other words, we see the end effects of said behavior or we’ve experienced them. I’m with you on the magic, Sally. But I’ve debated that in Mike’s blog comments before.

I love this questioning and helpful blog community!

Scathe meic Beorh June 20, 2012 at 1:16 PM

My pleasure, Heather. Now that I’m back on the path (gone for 20 years) I feel the need to share what I’ve been through. It may be part catharsis and part witness, but whatever the ratio, the responses I receive are encouraging me to continue sharing. Thank you.

tcavey June 20, 2012 at 3:17 PM

I’m interested in hearing testimonies and learning new things. Thanks for sharing.

tcavey June 20, 2012 at 3:16 PM

I think you are onto to something Heather.

I agree, I love this dialog!

tcavey June 20, 2012 at 12:33 PM

I’ve never really given much thought into yoga and the meaning behind it/ what it represents. I simply enjoy the stretching. Don’t really do the breathing correctly and I suck at the relaxation at the end.
So maybe I shouldn’t say I do ‘yoga’, instead maybe I should say I stretch.

Cindy McCord June 20, 2012 at 12:20 PM

It has been interesting reading everyone’s point of view concerning this issue which has come up several times on a web site that I frequent regularly where we swap books around. I never thought about it being an issue of weaker/stronger brethren but more about “being in the world but not of the world”. The more of the world’s ways that are included in books, the more of the world that we become. I love to read Christian fiction and one of the biggest reasons that I do is because I don’t have to worry about what I might find in a book that I am reading. So far, I haven’t read any that have included cussing but I have read one or two authors that included sexually toned writings. I don’t look for any books by those two authors any longer even though they are very popular.
I apply the same considerations to the main stream books that I read and have set many of those aside for the same reasons.

Once a door is cracked, it makes it much easier to be pushed wide open and that is what concerns me as a reader.

Mike Duran June 21, 2012 at 4:15 AM

Cindy, I think that’s a good point. The issue is not just about “weaker/stronger brethren” but also about “being in the world but not of the world.” However, what I’d say is that that concern is just as nebulous as the other. Christians have all kinds of opinions about what it means to be “worldly.” Does owning an iPad make one “worldly”? Does wearing makeup, designer jeans, or sporting tattoos? Does smoking or drinking or dancing or…? The list goes on. I’d point out that Jesus was considered “worldly” by many of the religious leaders of His time because He hung out with the wrong crowd and violated their rules.

Cindy McCord June 21, 2012 at 7:16 AM

Very true Mike as to what some would consider worldly compared to what others believe. I can see that in just the ones that I am around at church. I may have 3-10 ladies in my bible study class and we have different views between us of one subject. For many it goes back to how they were raised and what their experiences have been that shaped their viewpoints. Since I was raised in a home where you didn’t hear curse words and would get in trouble from Moma and Daddy if they heard one from you has probably gone into my viewpoint.

Christian June 21, 2012 at 2:20 AM

I love to read Christian fiction and one of the biggest reasons that I do is because I don’t have to worry about what I might find in a book that I am reading.

Cindy, I think we should be more discerning with Christian fiction than with mainstream fiction, simply because we may be more likely to turn off our ‘rubbish’ filters when reading and therefore allow any old crap to creep in unsuspected and pass itself off as biblical truth. That’s dangerous. Look in your local Christian bookshop. Amongst the diamonds, there’s a lot of crap (and I’m not just talking about the general quality of writing-ha!). Granted, I’d say much of the non-fiction is the worst gamble in this respect and all because there’s the belief that Christian fiction is somehow immune from the effects of sin, besides being written by fallible human beings.

Mike Duran June 21, 2012 at 4:06 AM

Christian, do you realize many believers view the word “crap” as vulgar? And you just used it twice! Thankfully, I’ve never seen my commenters as “somehow immune from the effects of sin.”

Christian June 21, 2012 at 5:46 AM

Mike, I didn’t realise that was the case until I joined in discussions with American Christians. I believe writers should write honestly. We can’t afford to please everyone. If the Holy Spirit guides you to write in a certain way, do it. After all, it’s between you and God. Example: I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King’s stories, but of those I have, I’ve enjoyed most of them very much (especially The Stand – that book is phenomenal, and The Langolier novella – that was great). It would be easy to say authors like King include too much language (and sometimes I feel he does overuse strong words) but his writing definitely feels honest and his writing sings. That’s rare these days.

Cindy McCord June 21, 2012 at 7:21 AM

Mike – it is funny that you would remark on the word “crap” as vulgar. Reminds me of someone that I used to know who would not use the word “belly” because they had been taught at church that it was a bad word. They never exactly explain to me why. So even words that seem simple and inoffensive to us or not necessarily so to others.

Scathe meic Beorh June 21, 2012 at 7:28 AM
Bobby June 21, 2012 at 7:07 AM

Sorry, have to stir the pot a bit, if just to add to the discussion:

Think about it from a historical standpoint. You don’t find much cursing in the classics. I’d argue you find a lot of adult content, but it’s much more muted. There are, of course, exceptions.

I have to believe a bit of all this is simply due the shock/sex culture we live in. Twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. Certain content just didn’t show up in public entertainment. Now, do we perhaps feel that certain content is necessary to even be taken seriously as a writer? Think about all the classic films: little to no cursing. Or sex. Or violence. I bet Bogart, Grant, Wayne, etc. (all of whom I believe weren’t Christians) would blanche at the content in books, film, etc. today…and I’m not just talking about the raunchy R-rated comedies.

It doesn’t just stop at cursing, sex and violence. The atmosphere of so many stories…so dark, anti-hero-esque and unforgiving.

Just a thought.

Scathe meic Beorh June 21, 2012 at 7:24 AM

Yes, Bobby. Well thought out and said. I was thinking along this line myself. It’s the culture we live in today, meaning this post-1970 postmodern culture, that has made us all hyper-sensitive. Too, much of it could be the fact that America was, for most of its short history, controlled by a “Christian” mindset that was anything but. Each society is different. In Corinth, young Christian boys liked the hairstyles of the male temple prostitutes, and copied them. Paul rebuked these Christian men for wearing their hair long, calling it a shame. Does this mean than an old bearded Hippie (like myself on occasion) is sinning by wearing a ponytail? Of course not. The teachings are specific to what is happening in a specific culture of Christian growth. What Christian culture do we have here in America? We don’t have only one. And you’ve hit on something very important for us to remember: cursing goes far beyond words. Curses begin in thought and then, more often than not, bleed into action–anti-hero-esque and unforgiving action.

Jill June 21, 2012 at 9:33 AM

You must have a very limited idea of what constitutes classic literature. Either that, or you believe that old-fashioned bad words aren’t bad because they aren’t the naughty words of today. Today’s America clings to a perverted sort of Puratinism.

Scathe meic Beorh June 21, 2012 at 9:46 AM

Good point, Jill. ‘Frigging’ was once thought of as an extremely foul word. In any case, if God doesn’t check a writer’s heart about any content at all (not only words), and the content is not placed gratuitously but is rather there to illustrate the state of mind or heart of a character, then how can it be wrong (sin) to paint the picture in that way?

Christian June 21, 2012 at 10:17 AM

Bobby, I think you might find many of those classics from ages past weren’t quite so innocent. Movies back then often had to abide by incredibly strict codes. Even challenging an authority figure was seen as evil! But the content, oh boy! There were plenty of sexual themes, violence and disturbing imagery in many of the classics, the content just wasn’t shown onscreen but the adult themes were delivered in a more subtle manner, because of censorship. Still, you don’t have to look to hard to find them. Sin is is more out in the open than before, but let’s not paint the past as one of purity! We live in a sinful world and it’s been cursed since the Fall of man.

Bobby June 21, 2012 at 1:19 PM

I’d agree that the classics aren’t sweetie-pie stories of sunshine, daisies and happy endings. Perhaps what I’m suggesting is that the classics (books and film…even TV) had class. Yes, there were dark and adult themes, but they weren’t paraded about in a way to promote shock and awe or flaunt themselves. We picked it up subtly.

Today, there is no such thing. Shocking behavior, rebellious attitudes and a desire to flaunt is the common artistic language. Again, we can move past content to the way the narrative is developed: you’d better move quick so you don’t lose the reader, who possibly has the attention span of a gnat.

The raunchy of yesterday was not the raunchy of today. Our desire to be “relevant” is simply our desire to stay in lock-step with culture and its language.

I wouldn’t say I’m trying to make a point here, just an observation

Last thought: I’d bet anyone two pennies that Lord of the Rings would not be published today. Why? Too boring.

Scathe meic Beorh June 21, 2012 at 1:34 PM

A title change would do the trick, I think. ‘Lord of the Bling-Bling’

Greg Mitchell June 21, 2012 at 8:28 AM

Timely post, Mike. I’m struggling a bit with this issue right now, actually.

It’s funny–throughout the course of my books, I’ve discussed sex, I’ve dispatched numerous victims by hordes of monsters. There’s been blood, evisceration, some guy got his throat torn out, and someone was eaten by creatures.

All in the CBA, mind you!

But when my fingers hover over the keyboard and I’m about to have some Civil War era Southern soldier utter “damn” or “hell” every once in a great while, I feel absolutely PETRIFIED of the backlash. I’m telling you, like cold sweats, keep me up at night. It feels right as rain to have that particular character cuss OCCASIONALLY for a little added flavor (a character who is only in about 1/8 of the book, I should add), but just having three “damns” in a manuscript will probably get me more flak than all the hapless pedestrians I’ve mowed down with a pack of flesh-eating horrors :p

Strange, strange…

Greg Mitchell June 21, 2012 at 8:36 AM

If I can be a goober and comment on my own post… :p

It seems that, in my experience, the thought is that if you have cussing in your books, then YOU as a Christian author are condoning cussing in real life, which I find absurd. In real life, I’m not the kind of guy to go around cussing. Oh, I’d like to sometimes! And sometimes I let one fly in most private of moments if we’re all being honest here. But I don’t condone real-life cussing anymore than I condone wholesale manslaughter at the hands of drooling, black-eyed monsters! When I have a character lie or cheat on their spouse or make horrible decisions that lead them to hell–still not condoning. Just trying to provide a picture, hopefully to teach you something larger about life.

Scathe meic Beorh June 21, 2012 at 9:31 AM

Good point, Greg. Hieronymus Bosch painted freaky pictures of Hell and other weird places. I doubt he was suggesting that these were interesting places to explore.

Scathe meic Beorh June 21, 2012 at 9:35 AM

If a writer _doesn’t_ make a Civil War soldier curse to make a sailor blush, even in letters to their mothers, then no one who knows anything about the people of that era will take this writer at all seriously. This could be extended to hardened criminals, mafia-types, any kind of character presenting indecorative immorality in any of its millions of forms.

R. L. Copple June 21, 2012 at 11:32 AM

I’m not totally in agreement with the idea that you have to make them cuss up a storm. Sure, maybe you sacrifice a little “realism” in doing that, but fiction is by nature not realistic, you are only giving the illusion of realism. If you want realism, you should include ample supplies of “Uhm, well, let’s see now, um, etc.” in all your dialog. After all, none of us edit our daily dialog to make it tighter and more engaging to those who hear us. You can take this realism thing too far.

I think while I’m not opposed to including some cussing in my novels (as mentioned before, my book that just came out did have one instance of “damn” in it (gasp!)…will be interesting to see if that becomes what people comment on. lol), most people reading such books will simply not notice if it isn’t there. Sure, you’ll have some that might know better, and think it isn’t realistic enough. But even those folks know that for much of entertainment, even if the writer knows it would normally be that way, in order to garner a bigger audience and have wider appeal, may decide not to include that in there.

So, knowing that is the case, why would you not take a writer seriously simply because they chose not to have their characters talk that way. It may mean they don’t know any better, or it may mean they do and made a decision not to include it for better marketability. There are many, many people that will not give it one moments thought that the civil war soldier isn’t cussing. And the handful that do notice it, are likely to chalk it up to that’s the state of entertainment. The same reason Peter Jackson downplayed elements of gore in Lord of the Rings in order to keep it at a PG-13 rating. Is the fact that blood doesn’t go spewing out when a head gets cut off mean we shouldn’t take Peter Jackson seriously as a director and script writer/editor?

And then you have the issue of what were the “bad words” of that day. Somehow, damn and hell may not have been in use then, and using them is more unrealistic, not less. Someone saying “go to hell” in ancient Rome, while who knows they might have said that back then, just jumps out as totally out of place. But to be realistic, you’d have to research what were the cuss words of that time period and use those. Like, maybe dagnabit was a big cuss word back in the day. Though today it will just make people think you are avoiding cuss words, unless you include an appendix to explain your use of it, which is getting weird. So maybe you take literary license and use modern cuss words to “translate” the actual feeling of it rather than the literal realistic words used back then. Or maybe you use that same license to just allude to cussing and avoid detailing it and avoid the whole quagmire all together.

After all, if we’re being realistic, we should be using “Forsooth” a whole lot more in our Medieval fantasies than we do. And if you have a character say, “Blimey,” an American wouldn’t have a clue in many cases that it is a cuss word. But in certain times and geographical places, it was. And may still be to a certain degree in places.

Being truly realistic is a complicated thing to pull off and still communicate. If we were totally realistic, most people wouldn’t want to read our books. We give the illusion of reality by using enough realism that the reader fills in the blanks in their heads. But full realism would be boring and/or not communicate the story very well. None of us write totally realistically.

So I see little reason to not take an author seriously, simply because they aren’t using cussing in certain characters. Whether they are doing so from ignorance or on purpose. It’s just not that critical of an element in most cases. There are cases, if the audience you are trying to reach, would feel it not real to life. Say, you wanted to reach gang members with your story, not your typical mother of two who goes to church.

To me, whether to include it or not is a marketing decision, for the most part.

John Robinson June 21, 2012 at 11:52 AM

I was wondering if maybe a “rating” (such as motion pictures receive) on the book’s back cover might be the answer. but then I remembered how wide the continuum is for the Christian experience, and realized such a system would be unworkable.

For instance “beer.” Not only would the publisher have to mention in the list that the word is included in the story, they’d also have take a further step and describe its context. For some Christians the word “beer” is offensive, so you’re going to lose those right there. Then, next up, if you have any character partaking of a brew—hero or villian—you’ll lose more. Then you have believers who don’t mind if the antagonist takes a swig now and then, but if the hero does … that’s it.

And that’s just for one word. From there you get into profanity (and who decides what’s profane, which is a box of eels in itself), violence, sexuality, and the whole panoply of experiences particular to Christians. And before you know it that back cover list is an appendix all to itself, to make sure no stone is left unturned.

Is it any wonder, then, most CBA houses just say to hell with it (excuse me, “heck”) and sidestep the problem entirely by continuing to offer exactly what they’ve been offering for the last twenty-five years?

Yes, the books are safe, and yes, they’re non-offensive, and yes, by putting those books into the marketplace those houses are making lucre by the boxcar load. And that’s fine. Such a business model plainly works, so it’s no wonder the idea of stretching the borders a bit gives those CEO a case of the vapors.

And yet … and yet … What do they do with those OTHER writers? Those writers who don’t quite fit neatly into the box, writers who have challenging stories that must get into the hands of readers, readers who need those exact stories to meet a felt point of need in their lives?

What do they do about us?

Scathe meic Beorh June 21, 2012 at 12:01 PM

It’s what we do about ourselves. We steer clear of the CBA like a plague. Or at least I do. They wouldn’t touch my work with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole anyway.

R. L. Copple June 21, 2012 at 12:29 PM

Agreed, a ratings system would likely be too cumbersome. And too interpretative that it would end up being meaningless. I will tell people sometimes that my stories are around a PG-13 rating. But my last book is pushing that. And that would be meaningless for the stereotypical CBA reader, who would find plenty to object to in my books. So I don’t even worry about trying to get published by a CBA house.

And I know there is a certain segment of the Christian market I will not reach with these books. Too much violence, drinking of ale, sexual sins, and use of magic as a good thing that would turn off some folks (not to mention that one “damn” in the third novel).

Where to go? There are plenty of independent presses (I’m published at Splashdown Books) and there is always self-publishing if you do it right. Finding that audience is the bigger question, however.

Bobby June 21, 2012 at 1:31 PM

I’ll say this: I cannot stand writers who put any kind of “questionable” content into their books just to spite the CBA, or the soccer moms, or the pastors, or whoever. You can smell it ten miles away. I’d argue a lot of Christian writers court controversy just for controversy’s sake. They’re looking forward to the good ol’ Christian grandmothers getting upset so they can play the artistic martyr all over their blog or next novel.

Perhaps the goal should be to invite as many folks as possible to enjoy the tale. If that means scaling back a bit (not a lot…not to dilute the story…) then so be it. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard someone say about a book or movie (or anything else) “You know, they should have put more cursing in there…”

Everyone can go see a Pixar movie, but not everyone can go see an R-rated drama. And sometimes Pixar puts more drama in their stories than the other, more “realistic” guys.

R. L. Copple June 21, 2012 at 2:11 PM

I would have a hard time believing that many writers sit down to write a story to spite the CBA. I personally give no thought to it. I know some of what I write wouldn’t pass muster in the CBA, so I don’t even worry about it. I write the stories they way I feel they need to be written. For instance, the Medieval feel of my Reality world would naturally lend to the people mostly drinking ale and wine, rather than water which would need purification. It was primarily in the 1800s that alcohol became a big sin to avoid among some Christian circles. Getting drunk was never condoned, but just drinking it through history hasn’t been a big issue.

Likewise, with the one cuss word, when I first wrote it, that was the word that fit the situation. Later, in edits, I tried to find a different word or consider a mere mention that he cussed without spelling it out. And I could find no other word (other than another cuss word) that conveyed the emotion, and it weakened it to not have him say it. So after working on it, I decided it had to stay. Not to spite the CBA, not even with the purpose of making my character more “realistic,” but because I felt the emotion would be weaker if I didn’t and it didn’t sound at all natural for him at that point to not use something.

So what you are reading is more regrets that the CBA is closed off to us who write stories like this as a rule to be true to ourselves and what God has placed on our hearts to write. Which is to show God’s mercy and glory and grace in stark contrast to the evil and sin around us. If we don’t show the sin, we can’t show the redemption. And sanitized sin weakens the power of the Gospel. And maybe the folks we’re attempting to reach are not the one’s who would be offended by some of those things in their fiction.

That’s why I said it was a marketing decision. How much do I scale back to reach the biggest number of people while remaining true to the story and my characters and my world and my goals with the novels? Those are questions only a writer can answer themselves usually.

Amy Sonnichsen June 21, 2012 at 1:58 PM

I’m a Christian and a writer, though I don’t write for the Christian market. I try to portray real people in my writing and sometimes those people use bad language. I don’t glorify it, I don’t use too much of it, but I couldn’t portray my characters honestly without it. If people are offended, they can choose not to read my books. I have to be okay with that. Reading is such a subjective activity, anyway, it’s impossible to please everyone. I have to be true to my characters and to my own conscience.

Great discussion!

Rebecca LuElla Miller June 22, 2012 at 1:11 PM

Mike, I may have mentioned this in the past, but the real problem here is the misuse of the passage you refer to. We talk about the issue Paul addressed as “a gray area,” but it was no such thing.

The leaders of the church were clear about this when they stated that Gentile Christians didn’t need to be circumcised: “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols ” (Acts 21:25). The question at hand in Romans 14 was about whether or not a person should refrain from eating meat at all in the fear that unbeknownst to them it had been offered to an idol.

The comparable situation today with swearing or vulgar words, I think, would be someone saying they won’t read fiction at all for fear that it might contain swearing or vulgar words. The Christian who reads fiction, then, would be the strong brother.

But the “weaker brother,” if he really exists and believes what he says, would also have to unplug from TV and abstain from movies. I just don’t think many people are at that point, so are they really offended?

The Scripture that I think more clearly addresses the issue about Christians putting swearing and vulgar words in fiction is 1 Peter 2:16 – “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”

If someone puts swearing in his novel in his quest to reach the lost with a story about redemption, am I to say, he’s misusing his freedom? But if someone puts swearing or vulgar language in so that more people will buy his book, might that be using his freedom as a covering for evil?

In the end, each person must answer to God for his own decisions.

My personal stand. I don’t like reading cuss words, even think it’s bad for me, and I choose not to read certain books because of it, but that doesn’t mean I think someone else would be sinning if they read those words.

On the other hand, I don’t think it’s “more mature” for someone to read (or write) cussing. To me, that sounds a lot like legalism–you need to adhere to my standard.

Becky

Ron Williams June 25, 2012 at 7:56 AM

Man this article has really sparked a lot of feedback. I used to feel strongly about trying to re-educate the “weaker brother” and bring them around to my level of “maturity”. But, everytime I tried to do so, that plank kept getting in my way. Nikole-in regards to your “freedom” in yoga-what would you think if I said I like to spell out bible verses on my Ouija Board? Sometimes I think we need to keep our “freedom” in check even if there are no weaker brothers around. There are Spiritual forces of darkness at work around us and we should be cautious of taking the tools of the enemy to lightly. Now freedom obviously is a “good thing”. I have the freedom to drink alcohol and do so occasionally. However, that freedom has led to over indulgence on more than one occasion and crossed over the line of “maturity”. When a prisoner is freed from prison, to him it is a good thing. But if he goes and commits another crime then freedom is a bad thing. So it is not the freedom that is bad, it is what we do with our freedom that can become a stumbling block to ourselves and others as well. If a Christian cannot drink responsibly then perhaps that Christian should exercise his freedom not to drink. Yes-all things are permissable but not all our profitable. When we abstain from things because we WANT to-not because we HAVE to-that is the sign of “maturity”.

Scathe meic Beorh June 25, 2012 at 8:10 AM

Refreshing, Ron. Thank you.

Now, where did I put that Ouija board?…

sally apokedak June 25, 2012 at 9:02 AM

Great comment.

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