*rolls up sleeves*
Let’s do this.
I’m here today to talk about just some the many problems in the Christian romance fiction genre. From the outset, I want to make it clear that I’m not here to bash Christian values, the evangelical community as a whole, or the (few) actually good ChristFic books. Instead, I want to look at what I believe is wrong, horrible, and harmful in so much of the Christian romance fiction that’s being published today. (Full disclosure: I haven’t read a huge amount of recent Christian fiction. But in at least two of the novels that I have read, these are problems that I’ve seen crop up. If you’re more well-read in the genre and think I’m being too harsh, I’d appreciate hearing your perspective.)
Without further preamble, here are some of the problems I see in Christian romance fiction.
i. JESUS WHO?
For being a genre specifically catered to Christian women, ChristFic novels can be pretty light on actually talking about the whole reason Christianity exists in the first place: Jesus. If the two most recent novels I’ve read are any indication of the current state of things, God is only brought up as a vague sort of afterthought in many ChristFic novels. One of the characters might have a moment of realization that they can’t do [insert plot] in their own strength, they have to rely on God, and then everything works out perfectly. Or maybe they’ll think a few prayers throughout the story. But rarely do I see realistic Christian characters whose faith is a driving force in their life.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ll have (mostly) daily devotions, pray throughout the day (not in a formal way, just little thought prayers as things come up), and generally live with my faith. It’s an integral part of who I am. I’m not saying this to sound like some perfect super-Christian (ha! as if), but just to show that, if your characters are Christians, their faith should be more than just “please help me find a way to be with this brooding, unsaved, totally hot guy”. Christians who’ve lost their faith are a thing of course (though I don’t believe one can lose their salvation), but if your book is marketed as ChristFic and at least one of your mains is a believer, that should be easily evident!!
And side note, your Christian character(s) should NOT be perfect either. The Christian life is arguably harder than the secular one. So if the heroine is a Christian and she’s all sweetness and light and perfectly devout and nothing bad ever happens to her because of her own mistakes, I’m going to take issue with that as well. What I want (what I long for) is believing characters who mess up, face real issues (instead of just “which guy am I going to date”), and have Jesus as their mainstay throughout.
ii. 1 SAMUEL 16:7B WHAT?
It’s actually a little surprising how. much. emphasis. is put on physical attractiveness in ChristFic. “But it’s the romance genre!” you might protest. “Isn’t that what it’s all about?” Well…actually no. Of course it’s more aesthetically pleasing to have two gorgeous people gracing the cover of your book. And I don’t find anything wrong with that being the case! (Except that it’s unrealistic for every single guy in ChristFic to have dazzling green/blue eyes–complete with haunted expression from his Past!–plus chiseled abs and perfect hair.) But the thing is…romance is about more than just physical attractiveness. That should be especially true of a romantic relationship that involves one or more believers (see above Bible verse because it’s an actual thing that actual Christians believe).
In your average ChristFic book, the hero will probably say something about how it was the heroine’s quick mind and kind heart that really attracts him. But then he’ll rhapsodize about her stunning curves/figure (the only acceptable words to use in ChristFic, amiright?) and the way her silky hair cascades down her back. And then the heroine will think similar objectifying things about the guy. I’m not saying that two adults can’t have those kinds of thoughts about each other, but if that’s the main, ever-present basis for wanting to be in a relationship with a person…nope. Finding someone else physically attractive is often where interest begins, but then you have to actually find out what the person is like in order to have a chance of making the relationship work. But too often, ChristFic romances only ‘dive deeper’ in a shallow way, preferring to rely on the beauty and physical chemistry of their two leads.
iii. PURITY WHY?
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up nor awake my love, until he please.Song of Solomon 8:4
(Above verse may be a little out of context, but the principle is still so, so good imo.)
This is what actually made me angry while reading Come Back to Me, and why I set out to write this post in the first place. CBTM fancies itself another Outlander, just without the graphic sex scenes. But the stuff that’s left in makes it, as I mentioned in my mini-review, basically Christian erotica. From the heroine admiring the hero’s physique while he’s wearing nothing but tight pants (this happens at least twice!) to them riding on the same horse with his thighs hugging her tightly to all the mentions of desire coursing through him to heavy make-out sessions…need I go on? It’s disgusting!
How is this promoting a godly, pure mindset when it comes to sex and relationships? Sure, the guy and girl find themselves in a marriage of convenience (I was skimming, so I’m not exactly sure why they had to get married), so they’re fine do whatever, physically. But what’s NOT FINE is that we ‘get’ to read about it! There’s a way to write romantic scenes that is perfectly sweet and amazing and wonderful and will make me ship your hero and heroine. But then there’s another way that’s pretty plainly just there to get your readers all hot and bothered, and in my opinion that’s not okay. Not in ChristFic anyway.
Why don’t I think it’s okay?
We really don’t need to read all these intimate details of the guy’s desire (read: lust) for the girl, or all their kissing, or how good the guy looks shirtless. What if a young teenage girl picks up a ChristFic book because her mom thinks it’ll be perfectly clean and innocent and then there’s all this kind of nonsense going on, filling her head with stuff she hadn’t even thought of before? What if a woman who’s recently fought and won the battle over her pornography addiction reads, say, Come Back to Me and has her mind flooded with those images again? What if a woman who has a crush on some guy reads a ChristFic novel that’s filled with detailed kissing scenes and begins to imagine herself and her crush playing the lead roles? There’s so much damage that can be done!
As I said to a friend yesterday, give me Faramir winning over Éowyn’s heart with nothing but understanding and gentle words over “…his lips found the pulse in her neck beneath her ear. As his kiss landed there, she couldn’t hold back a gasp. Or another, as his mouth slid lower to her collarbone.” (*barfs*) (actual line from Come Back to Me) (it doesn’t get any better). I want couples who move me with the depth and strength and beauty of their feelings for each other. Feelings based on getting to know the other person and loving them anyway and facing hardships together and okay, yes, romantic chemistry.
Is it possible to write a romance that’s breathtakingly passionate and romantic and swoon-worthy without devolving into ‘almost erotica’? YES YES YES. I’ve read/watched so many!!! I ship those couples! I love them to death! Robin and Marian (BBC Robin Hood). Patrick and Emma (Eve’s Daughters). Peeta and Katniss (The Hunger Games). There are sooooo many more, but those are just a taste. Amazing fictional romances are out there. Even some in the ChristFic genre. But there need to be more of them…and less smut.
TALK TO ME! What are your thoughts on ChristFic? Did you think my third point was hopelessly prudish or do you agree? See you in the comments!