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The Crusade for Profanity (and Other Ploys)

You know you’re winning an argument when people have to resort to caricatures and distortion. And that’s what’s happening in the debate about “clean” Christian fiction.

One such ruse often employed by defenders of “clean fiction” is that people like me are on a crusade to include expletives in Christian fiction. It’s not framed as a reasonable discussion about art and theology, nor as a valid critique of what Christian fiction is or should be. It’s simply a campaign to allow cussing. We’ll know we’ve “arrived” when Christian fiction includes its first F-bomb. Hurray! Mission accomplished!

Like this blogger who was not shy about calling me out for my “crusade.” In a piece labeled Lowering the standards on Christian fiction, the author concludes:

…To condemn sinful and un-Christian behavior can get you labeled narrow-minded by even other Christians (check out Mike Duran’s blog, he infers that). And that is sad. So I am sure I will get that label.

Just think, not that many years ago, people on TV and radio got bleeped out for the same words that are appearing in Christian novels. Wow, what wonderful progress. Can we honestly think that is ok, and even worse, like Mike Duran, cheer on profanity? (emphasis mine)

So while the author bemoans inevitably being labeled “narrow-minded,” he appears to have little qualms labeling me profane.

In a more recent online discussion I was involved in, one commenter levied this, more subtle, but equally aimed, barb at suggestions of less language restrictions in Christian fiction:

I have a hard time believing that there are readers who are disappointed when they read a book and find no swearing.

Nor are viewers of Sesame Street disappointed if Oscar the Grouch doesn’t discuss how to perfectly cut a Cohiba cigar. Interpretation:  No swearing = Good. Swearing = Bad. Idiots who “cheer on profanity” = Very Bad.

I have no problem with dissent and have publicly noted that a conversation does not get interesting until someone disagrees. The above line of attack, however, falls into another category, I’m afraid. Either this is:

  • an innocent misunderstanding of the argument against “clean fiction,” or
  • an intentional mis-characterization of the argument against “clean fiction”

The more I engage in these discussions, the more I tend to see it as the latter. Perhaps there are Christian readers who really don’t understand the gist of the argument against “clean fiction.” Perhaps there are those who simply don’t agree with my conclusions. But please don’t mis-characterize arguments for easing language restrictions in Christian fiction as a crusade to lower standards.

  • It’s about realism in art.
  • It’s about overcoming superstition.
  • It’s about right theology.
  • It’s about raising the standards in Christian fiction.
  • It’s about a more nuanced approach to art and culture.
  • It’s about appealing to a larger market.
  • It’s about getting out of the Christian ghetto
  • It’s about a healthy understanding of holiness.
  • It’s about not being bullied.

It’s NOT a crusade to get bad words into Christian fiction.

It’s fine if you want to disagree that we should keep Christian fiction “clean.” Cool. We can debate that. Just please don’t characterize people like me as on a crusade for profanity. Because we’re not.

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{ 52 comments… add one }
  • Heather Day Gilbert August 12, 2012, 4:01 PM

    Just to keep it in context, we should probably mention that the commenter was referring to your post, “Thank you, Bethany House Publishers,” in which you said, “Likewise, Bethany House should be applauded” for stepping outside the box and including what many would consider vulgarities in Becky Wade’s MY STUBBORN HEART. In that post, it did seem you were holding this “new standard” up for something everyone should aspire to. And many Christian writers just aren’t comfortable with including that kind of language.

    Agree to disagree. I wonder if this endless debate between Christian writers is going to do anything, in the long run. I know agents and publishers have their own standards and lines they won’t cross, either. And we’re really not going to change anyone’s opinion arguing over it in blog comments. I love discussion, but not when it seems each side has to attack the other to emphasize the godliness of their viewpoints. Every time writers quote Scripture to support their convictions, the opposing side tries to deconstruct/re-contextualize it to support their views.

    I’m thinking this hot potato needs to be dropped, or better yet, blasted into a million pieces. It’s just not profitable. Just my take on things, and I’ve been following this for awhile, as you know, Mike!

    • Mike Duran August 12, 2012, 7:11 PM

      Heather, I am unusually exhilarated by this issue, think it’s incredibly profitable, and want to do everything I can to keep it on the front burner. But I appreciate your very civil dissent!

  • Tim George August 12, 2012, 4:34 PM

    I know we have seemed to be at logger-heads over this issue in times past but you have moved me more in your direction than you might believe. Honestly, what has often raised my hackles is when some of those commenting during these discussions just can’t seem to resist proving they have the freedom to drop the F-bomb. And then we are told no-one is trying to prove a point. I buy that artistic realism might require using certain language with certain characters at certain times. Whether commenting with such language in a blog has anything to do with demolishing the Christian ghetto might be another matter.

    The more constructive thing to do here is to find ways to discover what your readers really want. One way to do that is to ask them. Athol Dickson is attempting that right now with a simple two question survey. But, after 250 responses with comments in 2 days the problem is now that it is obvious there are a lot more definitions of “clean” than one might imagine.

    I guess readers,like writers, are a varied lot indeed.

  • Julie Presley August 12, 2012, 4:59 PM

    I love your list of what the crusade IS about. Getting out of the Christian ghetto. A healthy understanding of holiness. Ohhhh yes. Realism in art. That’s it for me. Maybe I’m not disappointed if there isn’t swearing in a book, but I’m rolling my eyes at some of the expressions characters are using instead, and shaking my head when they give their best friend a “Go God wink.” I just know that I’m writing for a specific audience, and it’s an audience that is either learning, or already knows that the Father is not afraid of our imperfections or our humanity.

    • Kevin Lucia August 13, 2012, 5:02 AM

      Maybe I’m not disappointed if there isn’t swearing in a book, but I’m rolling my eyes at some of the expressions characters are using instead, and shaking my head when they give their best friend a “Go God wink.”

      AGREED. I’ve read some fine Christian novels – Mike’s included – that sidestepped the profanity issue entirely, by sidestepping the “fake words”, and by excellent characterization. HOWEVER, he also didn’t have characters in those books you’d expect to swear in real life, so nothing sounded fake. BUT…does that now shackle Mike into only writing characters who wouldn’t swear in real life, if he were to stay in the CBA?

      I’m not writing in the CBA. Don’t intend to. But I can tell you as a former CBA reviewer and an occasional CBA reader, nothing INFURIATES me more when a character is poorly drawn, and they’ve given language that doesn’t fit the character the author wants to portray.

      I remember two incidents in particular that prompted me to stop reviewing CBA books on a regular basis, both novels written by well-known CBA authors. One had an evil, demon-possessed, battle-hardened, ruthless, black-ops assassin. The kind of guy that would kill children for fun. And he wasn’t an intellectual, he was “supposed to be” the classic, “Hamburger Hill” crew-cut, nails-chewing guy. And he taunted his opponents with SUCH intimidating language: “I’m gonna kick your butt” and “Boy, I’m gonna whip your DARN butt” when he was REALLY angry.

      Another novel featured hardened street-people hooked on crack, the type of people who’d kill kids – and maybe puppies – for their next fix. And boy, THOSE guys were bad. I mean, when they got mad, they even said, “Gosh, what the heck is your darn problem? Get the heck outta my darn face!”

      The problem is, I think Heather’s right. I’m not sure if you’ll ever come to a solution, and I actually don’t know if allowing CBA books a pass on swearing is the right thing. I realized, in the end, I didn’t want to write Christian fiction. The freedom to allow my characters to swear – not because I get a secret little, naughty thrill out of swearing – was one of many reasons why I decided to pursue publication elsewhere.

      It’s kind of like: if you attend a conservative, Baptist church filled with nothing but a conservative, Baptist congregation, lead by a conservative, Baptist deacon board and a conservative, Baptist pastor….in a small, conservative town…odds are, you’re not going to win them over on the concept of Christian Hardcore Metal, or speaking in tongues. And, more importantly, maybe you shouldn’t try.

      • Mike Duran August 13, 2012, 5:47 AM

        Exactly, Kevin! I’ve been asked before why, if I’m such a big advocate of cussing, my books don’t have that much of it. Mind you, I’ve had some minor stuff edited out — mainly hells and damns. And, oh, a “frickin’.” (Which I replaced with “flippin’.” I learned that “frickin'” is unacceptable because it sounds too much like the actual F-word.) One of the reasons I’ve been able to avoid language is… my characters have not really called for it. Plus, I understand what the CBA requirements are and have simply steered clear.

        What I wish my detractors would understand is this: I have nothing against clean fiction. There is a time and place for it. My issue has always been (1) Should “clean / safe / family-friendly fiction” be the defining trait of Christian fiction, and (2) Does it serve our art (or theology) to elevate “cleanness” to such an absurd height?

      • Jessica Thomas August 13, 2012, 7:12 AM

        ‘And he taunted his opponents with SUCH intimidating language: “I’m gonna kick your butt” and “Boy, I’m gonna whip your DARN butt” when he was REALLY angry.’

        Oy vey. This would cause me to close a book and not go back.

      • DD August 14, 2012, 6:06 PM

        You hit the nail on the head, exactly what went right over the blogger’s: The tendency to go so far to the other extreme, that the writing comes off childish. While deciding where the line is as far as acceptable content is at issue, this falls under the broader umbrella of quality of writing.

  • Lori Stanley Roeleveld August 12, 2012, 4:59 PM

    Mike, I feel for what you’re trying to do here and the sandbags people keep throwing in your balloon basket! It’s vital to have a discussion about what makes a great story told from a Christian worldview and to whittle it down to the presence/absence of a curse word or a closed vs open bedroom door is to miss the point. There have been “Christian” movies and novels that contained no cursing and no sex that I felt failed to represent a Biblical worldview because everyone was so sanitized and all the Christians succeeded, their prayers answered at every turn. That, in my estimation, verges on deceit and fraud, certainly not representative. I use the The Matrix film with teens to discuss the gospel and the decision every person has to make. I think it’s a powerful analogy for the choice between the Kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of this world and none of those kids every leaves the discussion more affected by the profanity than by the story. While I don’t believe it’s necessary to have characters curse to represent reality, I’m dismayed at how few people want to have the greater discussion about storytelling but simply distill it down to a question of G vs PG. Don’t give up. We’ll figure out a way to have this conversation if we keep at it. Forge on, brother.

  • Katherine Coble August 12, 2012, 5:36 PM

    My “favourite” part of the linked article was when he said that “a woman who claims to be a Christian” has no problem with swearing in books.

    So now we are free to cast aspersions on the faith and walk of another?

    This is why I don’t read Christian fiction. It sits in the same place dogmatically that various denominations do. Either you look like me or you aren’t REALLY saved.

    If you’ll excuse me, I’m now going to rererereread a secular book by a lapsed Roman Catholic. Sure there is swearing and alcohol and sex outside of marriage. But it’s a very good story about family, community, sacrifice and love.

    • Jill August 13, 2012, 11:49 AM

      This particular author sent me a nasty e-mail and refused to publish my comment, which I thought was polite. Oh, well. I guess the whole blunt but polite thing’s not working for me. I’ve got to stop entering conversations about this subject.

  • Katherine Coble August 12, 2012, 5:38 PM

    Oops. Before I go—
    You mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago that you didn’t think fiction needed to be theologically accurate. Now here you claim
    that your crusade is about (in part) ‘right theology’.

    I’m confused.

    • Mike Duran August 12, 2012, 7:19 PM

      Good observation, Katherine. I’m thinking more of the theological worldview that encompasses our approach to fiction rather than the actual theological tidbits one finds — or demands — in a story. Does that make sense? Readers who demand “clean fiction,” from my perspective, bring a specific theological worldview with them which sees cursing in fiction, even simply reading the words, as unholy. That’s more of what I mean by “right theology.”

      • Tim George August 12, 2012, 7:51 PM

        Group A – “DEMANDS” no cursing because in their minds all cursing is sinful. Group B – “DEMANDS” cursing because it is realistic and therefore necessary tell stories in a realistic and believable manner.

        Isn’t it possible there is a third group of readers not mentioned much in such discussions? Group C – Demands nothing from anyone but prefers stories that are told without such language. For them, it is a matter of personal preference. They don’t judge the spirituality of others and trust the same courtesy will be shown them.

        • sally apokedak August 13, 2012, 12:07 PM

          Tim, Tim, Tim. Dude, I’m losing all respect for you. You sound nothing like an arrogant, hateful Calvinist to me. 🙂

          • Tim George August 13, 2012, 1:52 PM

            I’m sorry to let you down like that Sally. They gave “frozen know-it-all arrogant nasty” lessons at Reformed Seminary but I didn’t feel it was per-ordained for me to attend on those days.

            • Teddi Deppner August 29, 2013, 7:45 PM

              Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Reading this a year after it was posted, and it still put a smile on my face. Great article, great discussion.

        • Lori Stanley Roeleveld August 13, 2012, 6:47 PM

          I just have to wonder, Tim, if group A won’t read fiction where someone gossips or tells a lie or defies God. I’m sort of in group C but if a curse word shows up in a story, it’s not my single measure for defining that story as readable or not. I’m not in any of the demanding groups but I feel as though it’s artificial to measure a story’s “Christian value” by the presence or absence of curses and bedroom scenes. It’s not so much that I want cursing and bedroom scenes as much as I think that measure lowers the bar for Christian fiction in other ways. We shouldn’t be defined by what we DON’T include in our stories as much as by what our stories DO say.

          • Teddi Deppner August 29, 2013, 7:50 PM

            Awesome point, Lori.

            I imagine this might be part of what Mike’s talking about with “right theology”. Christians have made seemingly arbitrary choices about which sins are taboo for fiction (or for in-church or for real life).

            They don’t bat an eye at books that have characters lying, gossiping, faithless, fearful, and any number of other sinful behaviors. But don’t let someone “give a damn”, or you’re risking your chances of publication.

            Great stuff, Lori. Thanks for making this so clear! (Even to those of us joining this conversation a year after the fact…)

  • Christa Allan August 12, 2012, 5:46 PM

    Some days I wonder why we have to have “Christian” fiction. There are no Atheist Fiction, Agnostic Fiction, Buddist Fiction, Jewish Fiction, blahblahblah sections in my bookstore.

    We say we want to get our message out beyond the Christian community, but I don’t think those peeps are cruising the ghetto real estate VGChristian section. Why would they?

    Maybe we could drop the whole CF thing, and use ratings…like G/PG/PG-13, and for the CF audience: VG (very good).

    • DD August 14, 2012, 5:46 PM

      The pros and cons of having one’s own religion category for fiction is another topic debated by Christian authors. There is a market for people wanting only books that are obviously and clearly Christian in nature. There are also Christian authors who are basically writing for everyone, but if they are only on the Christian shelf, will people find them? It’s easier in the age of electronic book selling. It’s interesting to note that Lewis and Tolkien are usually in the Fantasy section, not the Christian one.

      • Teddi Deppner August 29, 2013, 7:54 PM

        Exactly. I was fascinated (and a bit horrified) when I learned that not only is an author often categorized with this “Christian” label (even when they write things that could be enjoyed by non-Christian readers) but entire publishing houses are labeled that way. Bookstores literally will not put books from that publisher anywhere else.

        Which means that if you are published by certain publishers there is no way for your book to get off the “Christian shelf”.

  • Nicole August 12, 2012, 6:23 PM

    ?It’s about realism in art.
    ?It’s about a healthy understanding of holiness.
    ?It’s about not being bullied.

    These three points capture it all for me, Mike. Well done.

    My Stubborn Heart created an unnecessary controversy because it infuriated people who believe they can quote scripture verses to show how offensive four words and a couple of situations were in Christian fiction. Every complaint ignored the redemptive storyline, the courage of the heroine, the growth of the male character, and the realism of many characters. We applauded Bethany House for allowing reality to have a voice in Christian romance – or at least I did.

  • Laurie M. August 12, 2012, 7:37 PM

    I understand both sides of the argument and will not bother to tip my hand as to which side I lean toward. I think that either writer on either side of the argument should write as his or her conscience dictates, that each publishing company should adjust its standards in similar fashion, that each purchaser/reader should be likewise conscience-bound, and that the chips, then, be allowed to fall where they may.

    What I find most disconcerting in this discussion is the language the blogger you linked used to refer to a woman who disagreed with his position: “a woman who claims to be a Christian”. This “claim” seems to be called into question merely because she is not offended to find a cuss word in Christian literature. Is this really, I ask, a matter over which to call a person’s Christianity into question?

    (The blogger also throws in there the mention that this woman would not be offended by “sex scenes” either, as if to shed extra doubt. But this added information takes us beyond the scope of the original discussion, which is cuss-words, not sex scenes. Besides that, what this woman meant by sex scenes is not addressed, so we cannot fairly evaluate that matter either.)

  • Kessie August 12, 2012, 8:53 PM

    I find it interesting that what Christians think is appropriate for Christian fiction, the rest of the world sees as appropriate for juvenile fiction.

    • sally apokedak August 13, 2012, 2:02 PM

      mmmm, not sure this argument works. The rest of the world see x-rated bookstores as suitable for adults, but I think xxx stores are juvenile–for men who haven’t learned self-control and who still act like middle-schoolers.

      There is nothing about the use of bad language that marks a man as mature.

      I do think when we write sinful, immature characters, we should use sinful, immature language in their dialogue, but I don’t think we should say that language is for mature Christians.

      Or did I totally misunderstand your point?

      • Jenni Noordhoek August 13, 2012, 6:39 PM

        I’m not entirely sure. It might’ve been related to the fact that kids in public school hear a lot of words that are not allowed in Christian fiction books…. so it’s not like *grownups* reading don’t know the words already.

      • Christian August 13, 2012, 8:12 PM

        To say that porn is only a problem for men would be disingenuous. Porn shops don’t cater exclusively to men.

        • sally apokedak August 13, 2012, 8:40 PM

          🙂 Of course that has nothing to do with the point I was making, which is that clean language is not juvenile and foul language is not mature.

          • Jenni Noordhoek August 13, 2012, 8:43 PM

            Heh, as seen at my college, I think foul language tends to come from the immature… though I’ve seen it used to pretty good effect by mature people who used it to drive their point home.

            (For example, my dad uses the full version of BS when the term really does apply to the situation and he needs a little bit of shock to wake people up mentally…)

          • Michael ST August 14, 2012, 4:32 PM

            While I’d agree with the simple statement that clean language is not juvenile and foul language is not mature, an inability to deal with foul language in fiction is juvenile, and the desire to use foul language in your fiction should the situation call for it is mature.

        • sally apokedak August 13, 2012, 8:45 PM

          And…how many women shop in porn shops, do you think? I’ll agree that they don’t cater exclusively to men, but I’d be surprised if the vast majority of their customers weren’t men.

          • Christian August 15, 2012, 12:59 AM

            Having never frequented one, I wouldn’t have a clue but yes, I’d imagine the majority of their customers are men. Women are attracted to different forms of porn. We all know how well “50 Shades of Crap” is selling.
            I’d probably be in group D because I can do without swearing in fiction but if there’s some, and it has a purpose and context, it’s not a deal-breaker for me.

  • Oscar the Grouch August 13, 2012, 6:14 AM

    I prefer Arturo Fuentes.

  • E. Stephen Burnett August 13, 2012, 6:38 AM

    From Tim George:

    Group A – “DEMANDS” no cursing because in their minds all cursing is sinful. Group B – “DEMANDS” cursing because it is realistic and therefore necessary tell stories in a realistic and believable manner.

    Group B may be a caricature, but even the real reason people give, beneath the caricature, is only a derivative of the best reason: that realistic stories glorify God, and we do Him no favors by “cleaning up” people’s characters and language use apart from showing how His grace deals with the root sins under sinful swearing: anger and idolatry.

    Group C – Demands nothing from anyone but prefers stories that are told without such language. For them, it is a matter of personal preference. They don’t judge the spirituality of others and trust the same courtesy will be shown them.

    Then I’m in group D. I could go one way or the other on the Language Issue. A book or film with no nasty language doesn’t bother me; a book or film with some Bad Words, in the context of the character, story, and genre, also doesn’t bother me.

    Either way, the sin is not in the syllables, but in the character’s anger or idolatry. And thus if I imitated the Bad Words, with the same motives, those would be my real sins.

    Anyway, now, thanks to you, brother Mike, I have a venue to use the comment I had tried to write for that “Lowering standards” blog author who accused you. The comment did not go through, or he didn’t like something about what I wrote.

    Mark,

    Though I appreciated your piece (and you may guess how I heard of it!) I must issue this challenge that I hope will come across with grace:

    How come there is no Scripture citation, much less thoughtful exegesis of it, in your argument against Using Vulgar Language (or rather, recounting a character using it) or for Being Different?

    The closest you came was this:

    Christians are commanded in the Bible to not offend our brothers.

    … But what we need here is not a brief, “everyone knows”-style quip. What we need, to make any headway on this issue, is a serious wrestling with passages such as Romans 14, 1 Cor. 8-11:1, and other relevant passages.

    By contrast, “Christians are commanded … to not offend our brothers,” as you yourself note, is ripe for abuse — offensive abuse. I could abuse you right now by claiming that I Am Offended by your position here! Are you therefore obligated to shut it down and stop talking? Not at all. Neither, then, is the reader, author, or publisher who has seriously wrestled with this issue and has offered more-solid Scriptural objections to both frivolous, worldly swearing and against fear-based, non-Scriptural bans against such words in fiction.

    I will be the first to agree — in fact, I will beat you to it — that too much fiction, by Christians or others, seeks to imitate the culture rather than give glory to God. But the solution is not to imitate another culture, such as default-traditional evangelicalism, as a reaction. The solution is not also to fear the Object, as if it causes one’s sin, rather than the human heart from which sin arises (cf the words of Christ in Mark 7).

    Crucial to this topic is this question: What is the purpose of Story?

    Is it Moral Example?

    Allegory?

    Mindless Entertainment?

    No, no, and no. Like all else, especially “man’s chief end,” the purpose of story is to help us glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Thus a good story will be truthful (perhaps including about how people sinfully speak), beautiful, and good — like God Himself.

    That means we must think differently, from our very foundations, about the things our stories include. The “is this Offensive” basis is not relevant. Even Christ was offensive, based on His motives and His audience. That is why this basis for objection must be rejected. In its place we must ask, “Does this glorify God? Does it reveal truth, beauty and goodness about Him, His people, and His world?”

    Finally, claiming that “We’re to be different” is a very shallow argument (though I can appreciate the intent behind it). One can advocate the avoidance of anything with the reason: “We’re to be different.”

    Case in point: “Stay off the internet. We’re to be different.”

    Or, “Don’t read fiction at all, with or without certain words. We’re to be different.”

    Or, “Don’t write blog articles as The World does. We’re to be different.” You see, then, how this can be abused every which way?

    For further reading, I might suggest this exploration of the whys behind including certain words, or not including them, in stories. What matters is not a certain series of syllables, but the intent of a story and its teller — and to some extent, the maturity of readers.

    Stuff My Christian Fiction Doesn’t Say

    • Tim George August 13, 2012, 10:38 AM

      And I would join you in Group D.

    • sally apokedak August 13, 2012, 12:12 PM

      And I would also be in group D

    • J.S. Clark August 13, 2012, 3:57 PM

      Very well put. Everytime this comes up, I can feel myself getting tangled up, but when I come back to what the word actually says, I am reminded. This is not a sin issue. There is no commandment not to say this english word or that english word. Not even a topic. It is intents of the utterer that matter. What do I mean when I write a character saying or not saying this.

      Case in point, the Bible cuntains in the english a phrase that the Hebrew went out of its way to not say. In Job the English says “Curse God.” Can any four letter perjorative really match this? In fact in the Hebrew the words are actually “bless God” but the context gives the opposite meaning. In fact in the Hebrew the words “curse” and God or YHVH never appear side by side, it is said because a writer never wanted to get interrupted and have the meaning seem to be profanity. I’m not arguing that it would be profanity, but the English translation takes the intended meaning even though literally speaking it is profane.

      Or another, did not a pharisee tell Yeshua that his work was done by the devil’s power? Again what four letter word has more profanity in it than that? And yet, scripture considers it appropriate to glorify God.

      God is teaching me lately, that we must be very careful to discern the difference between what He said “Thou shalt not eat of the tree,” and what men have added “nor touch it.” God’s word is life, man’s word when binding always leads to division, doubt, and death.

  • Jason H. August 13, 2012, 9:42 AM

    E. Stephen – thank you for your comments. Some of your thoughts brought some other things to mind. You wrote…

    “What matters is not a certain series of syllables, but the intent of a story and its teller — and to some extent, the maturity of readers.”

    To me, this implies that intent is greater than the resulting action. Though our heart (and faith) is ultimately of greater importance than our misguided actions (and sins), the two are intertwined and cannot be cleanly separated. How we say something is extremely important, because words hold great power and influence over others. Jesus spoke first and foremost about people’s hearts being changed, but also spoke very strongly about the importance of their words and actions.

    Writing is a unique thing in that the author strings together otherwise nonsensical symbols into ideas that convey the mind of the writer. I believe the series of syllables, and words, and so on, ARE extremely important, because by them we have the power to influence others for good or evil. I believe the study of what profanity is and how it changes – as defined by God through scripture, and not man’s arbitrary definition – is extremely important if we desire to please God with our art. This is more important than what the world may see as artistic integrity.

  • John Robinson August 13, 2012, 11:59 AM

    People have joked about it, but perhaps in the end the answer really would be some type of rating sticker on books, the way films do.

    The benefits would be twofold: the reading public would know at a glance if the work contains profanity, drug use, or whatnot, and writers would know what houses might be open to which kinds of stories, saving everybody time.

    It’s not a foolproof scenario, to be sure (for instance, the word “crap” to one reader may be totally non-offensive, while to another it gives them a case of the vapors) but it may be a start.

  • Jenni Noordhoek August 13, 2012, 1:20 PM

    As sort of a side note to this whole discussion, I got a pretty good education on British language of the 1940’s (and apparently earlier, according to what I read later) from the Narnia books as a child even though my family heavily looked down on even ‘darn’ or ‘heck’ in childrens’ lit… even now that I have no problem using ‘hell’ as an ejaculative, I prefer blast or botheration just because I grew up on it.

    (I always did wonder if swearing “by Aslan” was okay. I always wanted to because my hero Caspian did. But I thought it might be too much like real swearing so I never did)

    I wonder if the Narnia books (of which I have an one-volume copy published by Zondervan!) would get published today if written new and sent to a CBA publisher with the language…

    (If anybody’s wondering, it varied from Narnian swearing as mentioned above to: by Jove, cockney (I think? the Radio Theatre version had cockney accents, IIRC) swearing, damn, hell, bloody, and, my favorite, Great Scott. The Magician’s Nephew had most of it as I recall because of the large amount of time in 1900’s London. I don’t remember if there was anything else. Guessing it’s not considered acceptable in Christian YA or JF currently…)

  • Allen Arnold August 13, 2012, 1:47 PM

    Thanks for raising this issue, Mike. It’s an incredibly valuable conversation, with no cookie-cutter formula or simplistic answers. After serving 8 years as a Christian Fiction Publisher, I have landed on a few thoughts that helped me and some authors navigate this topic: 1) “being relevant” to the culture is a slippery slope because our culture is growing more gratuitous and crass by the day. At what point, do we sacrifice a bit of who we are in Christ to appeal / sound like what others have decided to become?, and 2) ultimately, God is far more interested in our heart than in our art. Said another way – He cares for more about the story of who we are becoming than what we are writing. Wrestling through these questions puts the focus on the storyteller more than the words in the story…and focuses more on our heart than our art. I wish you the best with your stories!

  • Jeff Miller August 14, 2012, 5:55 AM

    Sorry to be a stick in the mud. But to read curse words in a Christian fiction novel would send shivers up my spine. There are better ways to bring honesty into Christian art — such as “so and so swore,” or “so and so pounded his fists into the wall and cursed” and so on. That would make it real while not tying a knot in my spirit.

    • xdpaul August 14, 2012, 6:45 AM

      Shivers up your spine and knots in your spirit are personal feelings, not biblical reasons. You are certainly welcome to use superstition as your guiding principle in discerning what you’d like to read, but it is a huge mistake to assume that should be applied to art in general, especially in a Christian context.

      I’m not saying your feelings are wrong, just that it is wrong to use physical sensations as a guide in determining Christian conduct. After all, Paul went blind after his encounter with Christ. Does that mean he should have used his physical response as a guide and avoided the cause (Christ) of his blindness?

      Of course not. Again, you obviously aren’t compelled as a Christian to read books that make you physically react, but you can’t possibly in good conscience expect that everyone follow your biorhythms in determining right conduct.

  • Regina August 14, 2012, 12:57 PM

    It is funny that a book is mentioned here and I am, er was reading it. I received it free from Kindle and thought, okay it is from Bethany House so it should be good! Was I wrong! I cannot believe how Christian writers are able to use these words. What happened to clean Christian fiction?

    • Christian August 15, 2012, 1:02 AM

      You judge a book’s quality by it’s publishing house? Oh.

  • joe sanders August 15, 2012, 8:23 PM

    For me it’s the context and the type of story. As an avid reader of both Christian and non-Christian literature, a negative word such as a slang that’s used for cursing is not necessarily wrong. As a Pastor when I study the scriptures there is a lot of potty mouth type of Idioms used in the original Hebrew and Greek that today could be questionable by modern Christians. So, I agree some negative language that supports the story and doesn’t cause it to weaken by having so much that it out minds off of the story line, is ok. There is a limit and there is reason.

  • D.M. Dutcher September 9, 2012, 2:31 PM

    I can see both sides of this. What I don’t think the edgy people realize is that a lot of Christians read Christian Fiction for consolation, solidarity, and uplifting, in the same way people read cozy mysteries. Those believers are often fragile, and need cozy books to recharge. Finding their heroine swearing as she tries to navigate a crack den might horrify them into a coma.

    But a lot of us do read books as art, and the very cozy and safeness that lets believers recharge isn’t enough for us. We need more relevant topics and more realism and risk taking, but we need it with a Christian focus. So you have two camps in the same category-Christian Fiction. Not an easy thing to solve.

    • Teddi Deppner August 29, 2013, 7:59 PM

      Dave — love this comment. Great point on who typically reads Christian fiction and what they’re looking for when they do.

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