Friday, November 6, 2009

What is Your Responsibility as a Writer?

Something's been bugging me for several weeks now, and today, I'm going to toss it up for discussion here.

Awhile back, a discussion started in one of my writer groups about our qualifications as writers, and in particular as Christian writers.

That raised some questions in my own mind, but I dismissed them for a time. Then, within a short time, Phee and I have had to review two different books that left me confused, angry, and actually embarrassed that they presented themselves as "Christian" books. So, I decided it was time to address this issue here at Pix-N-Pens.

As Christians who happen to be writers, I think it's vitally important that we know who we are, and know what our calling is. To do that, we need to identify whether we are:

a Christian writer


a writer of Christian material (be it fiction or nonfiction, any length).

There IS a difference.

As Christians, we can be a Christian gardener, a Christian photographer, Christian neighbor, Christian baker, Christian barber, Christian butcher, Christian parent, Christian voter, Christian bowler, Christian whatever. But we may also be a writer for ABA - so that would make us, by this definition, a Christian writer. We can write nonfiction magazine articles that don't have a hint of Christianity in them, for general market publications, but by this definition, we are still Christian writers.

BUT, when we take on the RESPONSIBILITY (and it truly is one) of being a writer of Christian materials (fiction or nonfiction), presenting a Christian message through CBA or even ABA, we take on a RESPONSIBILITY to not be a stumbling block to our readers. If the words we write, the images we convey, the thoughts we cause the reader to develop, cause the reader to stumble, put bad images, words, or thoughts into their minds, then *WE* are responsible for that. We are accountable to our readers AND to God.

As a writer of Christian material, it is my job to shine Christ's light to the world, not spread darkness into an already dark world. How can I shine Christ's light if I use the f-word, or write such horrid gore that readers have those images put into their heads forever?

As writers of Christian materials, we need to look HIGHER and be BIGGER than the world. And yes, I realize that REALITY is messy and dirty - most of our lives testify to that. But we can write about life, write about evil, write about the darkness in such a way that the reader will look to Christ and will find Hope in the midst of the darkness.

One question I've asked myself since we received this latest book to review (Phee's earlier post today) is, "What has happened to COMMON DECENCY?" If I pick up a book published OR promoted by a Christian publisher or Christian organization, I want to know that it's a decent book. When it contains curse words or graphic descriptions of pure evil, the decency is gone. And so is my respect for that publisher, author, and promoter.

Many will question this - say that if we "clean" up our writing, then we're not writing realistically. I don't agree with that. I LIKE to pick up a clean novel. I LIKE to read a compelling story (most any genre) that is REAL, without have to block images of gore, or skip over pages of curse words.

I'll toss out three examples here, all from the ABA. Have you ever read any books by M.C. Beaton, Diane Mott Davidson, or Debbie Macomber? The first two MIGHT have an occasional curse word, but nothing major or overdone. The first two write books in the crime genre, yet their books aren't dark. All three authors write books that, in my opinion, are clean and "safe." Yet, at the same time, they are realistic.

So if these writers, spiritual condition unknown by me, can turn out clean books bought by millions, through the general market, why can't we as writers of Christian books do the same? Why do we have to push the envelope? Why do we have to be edgy just for the sake of being edgy?

Why do some writers of Christian books WANT to share the darkness, rather than the Light? Why can't publishers take a firm stance and draw a firm line? What are they thinking?

As a reader of Christian books, should we support the publishers and authors who publish this questionable material?

What do you think?

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Deborah said...

As I was reading this, some verses came to mind....
Matthew15:18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and defile the man.
Poverbs 23:7a For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he:

It would seem to me that who we are is going to come through no matter what we write. As christians, we may not write exclusively christian material, but we also won't write anti-christian material. IMO vulgar language and scenes of immorality have no place in christian writing or film. There are ways to present the facts of sin and evil without vivid details describing them.
I've seen some 'christian' film makers pushing that envelope too, supposedly in an effort to reach young people, when what we really need are filmakers who will make great movies without stooping to worldly tactics. Thankfully, we are seeing more of these every day.

Great post...and discussion starter!

Andi said...

I think this whole thing is being blown way, way out of proportion! I have three daughters and I would've given anything to have some of the edgy Christian fiction that is written now written when my two older ones were growing up. Also, I think some need to get their heads out of the sand and realize that real life is happening and affecting the lives of our children and grandchildren, and I for one am thankful that Christian writers are bold enough to write what they do.
Did you ever stop to think that the book One Fine Season would be a good teaching tool or discussion starter with your young adult? I mean seriously . . . sometimes we need discussion starters with our children, and here is one example of one that could be used.

Carla Gade said...

Edgy, or over the edge? Topics considered edgy can still written responsibily - with a Biblical worldview. A Biblical worldview doesn't see the world through rose colored glasses, but with the heart of Christ. I think publishers, promoters, and authors who are following Christ need to keep one primary thing in mind - gloryifying God. Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love has very sensitive and raw real life issues that are handled well. There is sex, evil, language, etc. in it but it is not explicit in any manner. I think one really needs to look at the big picture (the whole of the book) to discern what is appropriate for Christian readers or those to whom they wish to share Christian hope with.

Maria I. Morgan said...

Just because sin is rampant in our world doesn't mean we're to graphically portray it in our writing for the sake of 'reality.' I agree with Tracy and Deborah on this one.

God's word is clear that we're not to take His name in vain and that we're not to commit adultery, so why would it be ok to include cursing and graphic immorality in our books.

As believers, we're to "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thess. 5:22). And beyond that we're to do all that we do "to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). Ignoring God's word and including curse words and/or sexual immorality in our writing does not bring honor or glory to the King of Kings. Let's not fool ourselves!

Amy Barkman said...

M.C. Beaton is one of my favorite writers - the Highland Detective Hamish McBeth series. They are totally clean and I know they are going to be clean and I won't get disgusted and stop reading half way through. That's a comfortable feeling.

I am sad when I read books that are supposed to be Christian and yet are obviously appealing to the darker side of the reader - salacious or horrific.

You can tell a realistic story without causing fear or lust. It amazes me that, though the Bible says "Fear not!" so many times, many of His children love to read things that cause them to fear. And the Bible warns against lust and yet many of His children love to cause themselves to lust.

It is dangerous. "Garbage in, Garbage out" is not just a cute saying. It is a truth about these souls of ours. What we input will eventually affect what we output, ie our actions.

And I honestly believe it is a sin to write in a way to cause fear or lust.

Phee Paradise said...

I’ve read your responses to Tracy’s post about the responsibility of Christian writers with interest. The books I’ve read over the last few months have had a lot of different approaches to this issue. I feel that some writers handle it better than others.

Andi, I’m interested in your comment about children to reading edgy books. Each parent must teach her child they way she believes is best, but I believe that our children don’t have to be exposed to evil in order to learn how to fight it. There are a lot of Christian books without the graphic edge that would make great conversation starters. Three that I have read recently are *Lost Mission*, *The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow* and *A Slow Burn*.

My main objection to *One Fine Season* is that it teaches a non-Christian worldview, but calls itself Christian. Anyone not grounded in the scripture could become very confused about what Christianity really teaches. Using it as a teaching tool would mean fighting bad ideas, instead of instilling good ones.

Finally, I want to give you a head’s up about a book I’ll be reviewing on Wednesday. *The Prisoner of Versailles* is a good example of a Christian novel that treats evil from a Christian perspective. The characters face real temptation and sin in their lives, but the author never has to resort to crude language or detailed descriptions. I’ll tell you more in a few days.

kc said...

Here's a very relevant post:

I side with Ted on this one.

Debbie Roome said...

Personally, I'm on the "Keep it clean" side. A number of scriptures popped into my mind as I was going through the comments: Avoid every kind of evil - I Thess 5:22

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil 4:8

To my mind, cursing and immorality may be part of life but we don't need to dwell on them. They can be referred to without graphic language and detail.

Even people who are not Christians, are tired of the language and low standards in books these days. I've heard through friends that unchurched people are looking forward to reading my book - because it is a romance without sex and bad language. They have had enough of crude writing.

Why lower our standards - we should be leading the way and setting an example.

Andi said...


I'll gladly answer you. Kids need real, because what is out in the world is FAKE, and it's coming out them at light speed. There are other beliefs out there and they're out to get our kids faster than you can say GO! We need to take books that have an "alternate" world view and use them to teach our kids. I homeschooled my girls for 7 yrs and I used everything at my disposal to teach; and when my health got to be so bad that I couldn't school them any longer and they went to the public arena I have to say I was glad that my girls had the foundation they did. What some call "lowering" standards I call being real, pulling the unchurched to us, and then showing hope. Call it what you will.