One of the biggest objections that non-Christians have about Christian fiction is that it is, well, boring. Of course, much of that criticism comes from people who have never actually read much Christian fiction - but there is still a grain of truth to their assertion. What the most popular works of fiction, whether in print or on the big screen, generally share in common is that they dish out both violence and sexuality with a pretty generous ladle - and readers and viewers eat it up, hence the popularity of writers like Stephen King, James Rollins, Ken Follett, and others, as well as TV shows like GAME OF THRONES and BREAKING BAD.
As believers, we are called to walk a higher path than the world around us. But does that mean, for us writers who are believers and want to use our books to draw others towards a walk of faith, that we should ignore the realities of the world we live in? It's a vexing question.
For the most part, Christian writers and producers have a much higher tolerance for violence than they do for sex. It makes sense, on one level - after all, our salvation was purchased by one of the most horrific acts of violence imaginable! An innocent man - indeed, the only sinless man who ever lived - was savagely beaten with whips and hung on a wooden cross to die, then skewered with a spear after the life had left his body. Throughout the long history of the Church, martyrdom has been held up as the highest status a believer can achieve - laying down his life for the One who laid down his life for us. So millions of believers streamed into theaters to watch THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, perhaps the most graphic and brutal depiction of crucifixion ever brought to the screen, without a second thought.
I have been accused by some of being unnecessarily brutal in my storytelling, especially in THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE. My defense against this charge is simple historical accuracy - the first century Roman Empire was a very violent place, and life was cheap in the provinces. Judea was one of the most turbulent and rebellious provinces in the Empire, and Rome ruled it with a very firm hand. I didn't shrink from describing the scenes of battle, violence, and death that I chronicled in Pilate's story, but I didn't relish them either. I think the end result was a realistic picture of the world that Jesus and his disciples lived in, and of the government that they lived under.
However, when it comes to any description of human sexuality, it seems to me that many Christian writers who will describe in gruesome detail every strike of the hammer on the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross will flinch away from even the mildest description of a sexual encounter between characters - unless the sex is portrayed in a negative way, as that Awful Thing We Must Not Do. Parents who will take their seventh graders to see THE PASSION will flip out if those same students catch a brief glimpse of a bare human body on HBO at a neighbors house!
Now, let me be clear. I am certainly not advocating a whole new field of Christian erotica. (Besides, would anybody in their right mind want to read a Baptist version of "Fifty Shades of Grey"? Eeeewww!!!) However, to act as if the single strongest urge that God placed within the human body doesn't even exist is not good writing. God made us to be sexual creatures, and Jesus was perfectly clear that "a man should leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife." The very first command that God gave mankind in the Book of Genesis was "be fruitful and multiply." There is nothing inherently sinful in our sexuality, it's what we choose to do with it that makes it sacred or profane.
So why not, in our writing, celebrate the beauty of sexual relations in a Christian marriage? Not with graphic descriptions - I'm a big fan of closing the bedroom door, both in real life and in my books. But it doesn't hurt, especially when writing about characters who are married to one another and deeply in love, to acknowledge what is, after all, one of the most important and blessed aspects of marriage! So, in my stories, I create characters who have very human feelings and desires, who sleep together and have children together, couples who tease and banter with each other (just like nearly every married couple I know!), but who also love and honor God in their relationship with each other and with their friends. My unmarried characters wonder about married life, pursue their love interests, and some of them, before finding the Lord, indulge their desires in ways that are not particularly Biblical - only to realize later that such encounters are not fulfilling or meaningful. But the rule of thumb, in all my works, is to portray my characters' sexuality in a way that is consistent with Christian conduct and Scriptural teaching.
I did promise myself, when I started writing, that I would never write anything I would be embarrassed for my Mom to read. She's read all my books so far, and I haven't heard a word of complaint yet! In fact, in all honesty, I haven't had a single reader complain about that aspect of my writing. So I guess my final question is, how do you think I did?
Of course, to answer that, you'll need to read my books if you haven't. So, here's a link to my personal favorite - a historical novel set in ancient Rome, that recounts the origins of Christianity from the perspective of the man whose name will forever be associated with the crucifixion of Jesus:
Feel free to comment on this or any entry, and thanks for reading!