Marcher Lord Press And The Hinterlands Imprint

Blog | | Friday, January 11, 2013
Could I publish a book with vulgarity, nudity, and sex? That was the real question. What would my mom think, you know? What would all the awesome homeschooling moms who love MLP think? What would my other authors think?

The MLP Logo--OfficialSince our launch in 2008, my small publishing house, Marcher Lord Press , has billed itself as “the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction.” We were premier in the sense of “first,” and also, I hoped, in the sense that we would remain at the forefront even when other small presses eventually joined our ranks.

Our niche is that segment of Christians who love fantasy, science fiction, time travel, superhero, and all the rest of the wonderfully weird genres. We target Christians who love Big Bang Theory, Christians who shop at ThinkGeek.com, and Christians who would go to Comic-CON if given half a chance.

Since 2008, we’ve racked up three Christy Award finalist nominations and two wins, something like ten ACFW Carol Award finalist nominations and three straight wins, a number of EPIC and Indie and Inspie nominations and wins, and several positive reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and USA Today Online, including a coveted “starred review” in Publishers Weekly.

One of the advantages of running your own publishing company, especially one that doesn’t try to get its wares into brick and mortar bookstores, is that you can publish anything you jolly well please. It used to be that Christian bookstores (and, sometimes, the very conservative patrons of those bookstores) controlled what could and couldn’t be published by Christian publishers. One complaint from these folks, and a book could die. Multiple complaints, and there was big trouble. But with a small press selling online, this is not an issue.

That’s both good and bad. The good is that you can publish any book you want to publish. The bad is that…you can publish any book you want to publish. It used to be that those folks at bookstores were drawing the line in the sand about what could and couldn’t be published. Now, there is no line. Now it’s up to the individual publisher as to what will be published. The mantle of censorship, so to speak, has now been placed on my shoulders and on the shoulders of any indie publisher.

In late 2011, one of my MLP authors came to me with an idea. He was disappointed with the latest volume in George R. R. Martin’s hugely popular secular epic fantasy series that began with Game of Thrones. My author wanted to produce “the Christian answer to Martin.” He wanted to write an epic not only in scope but in actual size—he wanted a book as big as Martin’s. A typical novel runs around 100,000 words. A typical MLP novel runs around 125,000 words. This one was set to be more than 200,000 words (and ended up being even larger, as you’ll see).

But the story idea was going to push the boundaries of Christian fiction. It was to be a warfare book, so there would be lots of violent content—but that wasn’t a problem for me. I often laugh that traditional Christian fiction is allowed to have so much violence. You can have a body count as high as the sky…but you can’t say dang or have a couple French kiss. Anyway, I wasn’t bothered by the prospect of violence in the book.

What threw me was that the author felt very strongly that the book needed to have vulgarity (which, he informed me, is different from profanity), nudity, and even sex. He had one scene in mind especially, the reunion between a husband and wife when the man comes home from war. He wanted his book to be a corrective to secular fantasy fiction, which almost never shows sexual conduct between married people but seems rather to glorify adultery.

Indeed, much of his novel was imagined as a corrective to secular fantasy. He wanted to show the Christian faith as a positive influence, for instance. He wanted to show Christian clergy as real people—some good, some bad—instead of as the uniformly sinister and corrupt hypocrites that secular fantasy shows them.

In many ways, this epic fantasy was designed to be the fiction equivalent of a Christian standing up in the middle of, say, Comic-CON and saying, “I love all the things you guys love and are doing, but you’re missing the most crucial aspect, the aspect that matters for eternity. Come over to my booth, and I’ll explain what I mean.” It was, in a sense, a work of apologetics (which has nothing to do with apologizing, btw).

So then the decision fell to me. Of course I wanted to create the Christian answer to Martin, not just for the large audience we’d be sure to attract-slash-irritate, but also because of the author’s noble intent.

But could I publish a book with vulgarity, nudity, and sex? That was the real question. What would my mom think, you know? What would all the awesome homeschooling moms who love MLP think? What would my other authors think? I tell you, this decision drove me to my knees. I spoke to my wife, my advisors, and my stable of authors.

I ultimately felt that God was allowing me to go forward with it, so we did.

In terms of the mature content, about the only thing I changed in editing was to scale back that husband/wife reunion sex scene. The author wrote it out explicitly, leaving it to me to decide where to draw the line. Ack. I scaled it back a couple of times until I could read it without freaking out.

Meanwhile, during the editing of the book, word was getting out that we were heading toward the launch of this book. One woman wrote me to say that we were no longer a Christian company and when I came back to God I could drop her a note and she’d think about supporting us again. I expected that sort of thing.

What I hadn’t expected was the support I received. I had a number of authors—some were my own authors and some were folks who had despaired of ever finding a publishing outlet for their mature Christian novels—privately tell me how much an answer to prayer this new development was to them.

Things were going along pretty well until two days before the book was to release. I got a note from the folks at a prominent Christian fiction writers group in America saying that if we released this book, they would take MLP off their list of approved publishers. That meant that all MLP books would not be eligible for their annual award.

As much as I believed in this book and its author and our goals, I was not prepared to let one book sabotage the chances of all my other authors receiving an award I think has value.

Oh, the drama. Was I going to cancel the book? Was I going to go through and remove everything this organization found objectionable? Was I going to hurt all my other authors? Was I going to succumb to what some folks said amounted to blackmail? (I didn’t think it was blackmail, by the way. I saw it as them adhering to their guidelines.) Remember, this was all happening 36 hours before the book was set to release.

I finally asked the organization if it would change anything if I created a new imprint and released the book under that imprint. They said, “Oh, yeah. If you did that, the problem would go away.”

“Really?” sez I. “All my other books would still be eligible for the award?”

“Sure.”

And thus, Marcher Lord Hinterlands was born, a brand new imprint for one book (so far).

Nook--A Throne of Bones CoverA Throne of Bones by Vox Day released on December 1, 2012. It weighed in at just under 300,000 words and over 850 pages in hardcover. It is currently our overwhelming bestseller both in hardcover and in e-book.

Now I’m looking to release more titles in the Hinterlands imprint. I’ve got some good prospects, but nothing solid yet, except further books in Day’s series.

Hinterlands LogoWhat came to us like a crisis—the sudden need to form a separate imprint—has resulted in nothing but good. Instead of trying to re-imagine all of MLP with this book in it, we can keep these “mature” books separate. People had suggested the imprint idea to me previously, but it wasn’t until this came up that I was willing to do it.

What does it mean to be a Christian? Does it mean to not smoke, not drink, not cuss, not play cards, not dance, not have tattoos or piercings, not watch R-rated movies, and not do a hundred other things? Does it mean to do certain things, like always tithing and always being in church whenever the doors are open or wearing the right clothes and hairstyles or listening to the right radio stations or voting the right way?

I contend that Christianity is not about the do’s and don’ts (including the do’s and don’ts of what a Christian publishing company might release) but about what Christ has done for us.

My pastor has been on a journey of discovery of grace these last eight months, and it has been an amazing thing to travel it with him. His most recent sermon talked about how well-meaning Christians like to raise the standards for who can “get in” to Christianity, but only after they’re already in. Most of us wouldn’t be allowed in if the standards we want to apply to others had been applied to us. But Christ was all about lowering the bar, about welcoming to Him anyone who would come. He didn’t even cast away people who came for the wrong reasons.

Does Christianity consist of the thou-shalt-nots we can think of? Or does it consist of loving Him right in the middle of our imperfections and sins and bad habits? Do we have to become purified before He will take us? And after He takes us, do we have to purify ourselves or He won’t keep us?

I know it sounds like I’m saying that sin doesn’t matter. I’m not. But what I’m saying is that Christianity is more than rules. It’s about grace.

That’s all been helpful to me as I’ve contemplated Marcher Lord Hinterlands. Yes, it’s an effort to be evangelistic, to get those without Christ to be exposed to the gospel through science fiction and fantasy. But that’s not all Hinterlands is. It’s also a desire to publish what I like.

Many Christians need to avoid R-rated movies, but some Christians can watch such movies and not stumble. That doesn’t mean anything about who has more or less worth to Christ, because that’s the same for both. It just means that there are Christians who can handle, and even desire to explore, stories with this sort of content. They can be grittier and, in some senses, more realistic.

I know this is a lightning rod. (That’s probably part of why I like it.) I’m under no illusion that all Christians will approve of what we’re doing here. That’s okay, because it’s not before them that I’ll stand in judgment. But I’ve been pleased that Hinterlands is giving encouragement to so many who have heard of it.

I think it might just be touching on a need that some of us, myself included, didn’t even know was there waiting to be filled.

– – – – –

Jeff GerkeJeff Gerke trains novelists how to better do what it is they’re trying to do. He trains through his three books for Writers Digest: Plot Versus Character, The First 50 Pages, and How To Write a Novel in 30 Days—and What To Do with It Next. He trains through his online video training program called FictionAcademy.com, a part of BestsellerSociety.com. He trains through the many writers conferences he teaches at all over the country every year. And he trains through the freelance editing he does for his clients. Jeff is the founder of Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and three children. Contact him at www.marcherlordpress.com, www.FictionAcademy.com, www.BestsellerSociety.com, or on the Marcher Lord Press Facebook page.

Get once-daily email updates for each new Speculative Faith blog column.

Jeff Gerke trains novelists how to better do what it is they’re trying to do. He trains through his three books for Writers Digest: Plot Versus Character, The First 50 Pages, and How To Write a Novel in 30 Days—and What To Do with It Next. He trains through his online video training program called FictionAcademy.com, a part of BestsellerSociety.com. He trains through the many writers conferences he teaches at all over the country every year. And he trains through the freelance editing he does for his clients. Jeff is the founder of Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and three children. Contact him at www.marcherlordpress.com, www.FictionAcademy.com, www.BestsellerSociety.com, or on the Marcher Lord Press Facebook page.

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105 responses

  1. Jeff,

    Readers may discuss and debate the exact method of execution (pun unintended, given the novel’s themes). Yet I appreciate Marcher Lord’s motives for this project and the care, caution, and Biblical basis you’ve outlined here. I look forward to the below discussion. Thanks for touching base here! Godspeed to you and all the MLP team.

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  2. This is so refreshing, and all I can say is: Finally! Grit and realism = real life, at least for me. The Christian book industry as a whole seems to thrive in a bubble. I’m an avid reader and a devoted Christian, yet I rarely pick up Christian titles anymore. As a writer, I’ve crossed over to those “unapproved” publishers because they’re willing to launch my books with mature subject matter yet retain a definitive moral outline. It’s about time someone stepped out. Kudos, Jeff Gerke! Congrats on the new line. May it flourish.

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  3. When I first read the news of the new book and the new imprint, I was encouraged. For years, I’ve been told I write too much violence and such into my fantasy novels, there’s drinking and everyday life (body functions, childbirth, and such), and that I can’t include these and still write God into the story in a glorifying manner. That criticism has sent me to other projects that might be more acceptable. However, I keep coming back to the works that actually made me want to finish writing a complete novel and not just short fiction. 

    I’m not a Martin fan–tried his stuff, acknowledged his writing, but never got into the stories–but keep hearing or reading positive things from folks who do like his work. Maybe there’s something I’m missing.

    That aside, I’ll definitely be giving Throne of Bones a go this spring. (I’ve promised not to add any books to my library until after I move in March. It’s a promise I’m having difficulty keeping.)

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  4. A lot to unpack there, Jeff. But I applaud you for the premise of what you are doing.
    My “line in the sand” was to show sin, as long as I didn’t glorify it or for it to come across as encouraging others to do it. But marital sex isn’t sin either, though there is usually a level of intimate detail we are not comfortable with. Most of us, if our friend  sat with us, and he started describing in detail his last sexual encounter, would go, “TMI!” Problem is, everyone’s line is different there.
    Hope it goes well.
     

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    • But marital sex isn’t sin either, though there is usually a level of intimate detail we are not comfortable with.

      Having read the Throne of Bones scene in question, I can say that it stops just short of that detail — if anything the description seemed more “medical,” and I mean that in a good way. But I must say it was “medical” with some instruments just washed in boiling water, if you get my drift. Now I can see a steady hand that helped “cut” it a bit (see what I did there?). More details would have been TMI and perhaps “salacious,” despite being between a married couple (which I do appreciate).

      As a personal reaction, my first response was, “Huh.” I was neither titillated nor tempted. Later, however, it did feel awkward, though I appreciate motives behind it.

      Like you, R.L., I don’t want to hear such details, or “see” the scene, between a married couple. I’d rather know it’s going on, see the aftereffects or coinciding romance, and just smile, knowing it must be happening behind closed doors and that God is glorified by that. Our standard, methinks, should be the Song of Songs.

      Either way, I fiercely dislike attempts to write in sex scenes Just Because Everyone Else is Doing It, or because It’s Realistic. (In the latter case, why not have detailed descriptions when characters are afflicted with diarrhea?) Rather, the reasons ought to be the same as the reasons behind Christ’s incarnation and storytellling: to meet people where they are and yet not sin, and to circumvent their “watchful dragons” by telling stories that will either conceal truths or make them clearer. Thus I again appreciate the fact that Jeff’s reasons here are Gospel-based.

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      • Stephen, I’m more in agreement than not, but I have to say, I don’t think it’s anybody’s business what happens between a husband and wife in the intimacy of their sexual relationship. It’s called intimate because it’s between the two of them and not for the public. I don’t see any difference between peering into the bedroom of a married couple and an unmarried couple. That the couple isn’t sinning doesn’t make it right for me to be watching!

        So why do we think we need to put this bit of realism into our books?

        Yes, by all means, show that the husband and wife have a loving and pleasurable physical relationship as well as a wholesome emotional and spiritual connection. That’s great. But it can be accomplished without making us stand beside their bed while they’re having sex.

        “Medical” or not (and more so if it is stuffy and stilted), I don’t see that it belongs. I don’t know if reading the “sex scene” would change my mind on this because it’s the idea I object to–being where I have no place being. I don’t want to read books that take me there.

        Becky

        Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/CussingMy Profile

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  5. MLP was the gateway that lead me to discover the internet Christian speculative fiction community.  I haven’t read every MLP book, but I’m sill a fan. ;)
     
    I have not read George R.R. Martin’s series, but I’ve been a fan of The Wheel of Time since before I heard of MLP.  I read a few other secular epic fantasy novels, as well.  I’ve been hoping for a high fantasy novel from the CSF community capable of accomplishing the same scope — the same ambitious and coherent worldbuilding, deep realism, and somber intensity.
     
    Earlier today I was reading the novella A Magic Broken by Vox Day.  I think it’s a prequel or something.  I’m 70% of the way through, and I think I’ve encountered some of the content of concern.  I feel that the novella is both graphic and not at the same time.  Vox Day must be the master the “fade to black,” because we always know exactly what is happening.  It is not glossed over or mentioned in passing.  But, thankfully, we don’t see the details of what it would really be like for the characters.  The pain experienced by the characters is not explicitly described, nor are the screams, and even the blood and gore is not much more than acknowledged.  On the other hand, the “fade” is not very pronounced either; there’s less of a moment where you can tell what is  happening but know that the author/editor didn’t want to show it.

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  6. I scaled it back a couple of times until I could read it without freaking out.

    And I really don’t know what else a person can do, because to leave it out is not honest either. There are tactful ways to do these things (says the homeschool mom). And I think error of omission can occur as well as error of commission, when it comes to reflecting life’s truths.
     
    The more I get involved with the refugee population in our province, the more I see how backwards our own culture is. I sit down to dinner with a man from the Congo who’s literally lost his eyes, and it doesn’t seem right that we treat extreme violence as an entertaining non-reality.
     
    The same should be true of faithful love in marriage. It’s not an entertaining non-reality either.
    C.L. Dyck’s recent blog: When friendships don’t workMy Profile

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  7. Yes! I can stop reading Christian novels about pioneers, and fantasies for children! Thanks Jeff and MLP! :) 

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    • Somehow the way you wrote that, I think of an infomercial testimonial subject humanoid, breaking the fourth wall:

      (In cheerful monotone) Yes! Now I can stop reading Christian novels about pioneers, and fantasies for children. Thanks, Jeff and Marcher-Lord-Press!

      Not sure why I thought of that.

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  8. As a reader, I appreciate the separate imprint as well. I’ve read Song of Fire and Ice, but with the knowledge it was going to be graphic. Fore-warned is forarmed, as the saying goes, and I like the idea of knowing those things will be in certain titles but still might chose to read them.

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  9. I’m confused by the comments that say to leave the sex out would be dishonest. I believe you, Jeff, have sex with your wife, but I don’t want to see it, thank you very much. Nor do I want to watch characters engage, married or not.
    Why would it matter if the people were married? We aren’t to watch other people having sex. Just because Christians watch r-rated movies, doesn’t mean it’s OK for Christians to make them. 
    And Christians ought no watch sex on the screen or read it in books. Just because God loves us even though we sin doesn’t excuse the sin. 

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  10. Jeff, I have so much admiration for you and MLP. I truly believe that many Christians are embracing a faith that runs to grace rather than rules and seeks to include rather than bar others from the love of God. I’m impatient for a change in focus to spread from the church out into other endeavors under Christian influence (i.e.  businesses, publishing.) It seems so slow in coming, but I believe it will come if we don’t grow weary and give up.
    I’m glad that you found a way to blaze forward with this novel (which I will be purchasing for my husband, btw) while also protecting the other authors in your fold. Your handling of the situation shows leadership, compassion, and vision. Bravo!
    I’m excited to support the Hinterlands and looking forward to seeing what God does with MLP in the future.

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  11. I haven’t read Game of Thrones either, but I do enjoy the show. All my siblings are addicted and they’re dragging our dad onto the bandwagon.

    I jumped into writing SF last spring, but the story I have can’t be told within CBA confines, so I’ve been pursuing ABA options. My CP pointed me over here and I’m glad she did! Hinterlands puts a Christian publisher back on the table for me, if the major SF imprint that has it right now decides to pass.

    Thank you, Jeff, for realizing that there’s another level to be tapped, and being willing to go there! More graphic depictions of stuff doesn’t bother me, nor does it cause me to stumble. I know I’m not the only writer who’s felt somewhat stifled by the requirements of CBA, and by the certain writers organization you mentioned.

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    • Here is the part where I finally get to ask, with the greatest respect possible, if there really is (as is rumored) full-frontal nudity in that show. That’s the one thing that Scripture would ban — apart from enacting or witnessing acts of violence or even Bad Words. Flee sexual immorality is much less ambiguous! Given those limitations, how do you and your family address that? Fast-forwarding past scenes?

      (That is how I handle such bits in Iron Man and other otherwise fantastic films, but even those are much tamer than full-on nudity or overtly pornographic scenes.)

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      • Christian Jaeschke says:

        There’s nudity in Iron Man? That’s news to me.

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      • Not nudity but a sex scene, and then strippers in his plane. It’s something I prefer not to see, though I understand other folks — especially women, but including some men — not having difficulties with it. The threshold to personal temptation varies, but I believe not looking on others’ nudity-in-a-sexual-situation is a Biblical rule.

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      • Oh my word, is there ever! Kicks off with a bang in the very first episode.  They didn’t leave anything out with Dennaris and Drogo’s wedding either, according to my bro and sis. It’s HBO, nothing is off limits. As a Big Love fan I knew that going in.

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      • So what’s your Secret Method for dealing with that stuff? Perhaps you as a woman would not struggle with it, but dudes (honest dudes) inevitably would. Even for the “milder” stuff in our favorite films — such as James Kirk in Star Trek (2009) writhing around with a green bikini babe — I get help from my wife. And it’s right about then, because they usually front-load this stuff in movies, that it’s a good time to go microwave pizza or enchiladas or whatever the movie-night dinner is!

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        • I had no idea there would end up with so many comments on this!
           
          We don’t watch Game of Thrones as a family. My mom wouldn’t watch it, I doubt my dad would. It’s me and my siblings that watch it together, on DVD because we don’t have HBO. We don’t fast-forward through anything on it, because you really can’t. It’s usually in conjunction with dialog moving the plot forward.
           
          I don’t have a Secret Method for dealing with any of it. I guess it’s partly because I am a woman and part of a different generation than my parents. It honestly doesn’t bother me on TV, because it’s not “real”. I wouldn’t want to see it on a stage, for instance, or parading down the street in front of me.

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  12. Above, Sally wrote this:

    I’m confused by the comments that say to leave the sex out would be dishonest.

    This does seem to be a lame reason to write in any kind of Sex Scene. (A better motive, as Jeff wrote above, is to counter the world’s glorification of illicit sex. But as I wrote above, I’m still uncertain we can cross lines the Song of Songs doesn’t.)

    We need to include these scenes because it’s honest.”

    Versus this claim, I ask: why then not include detailed and graphic scenes of characters relieving themselves? Possible answer: It won’t further the story; a sex scene will. I counter: anyone with a little imagination can easily come up with a story-based reason to include a detailed, Gritty, and Realistic scene of a character afflicted by some poison that causes, say, constant attacks of horrific diarrhea. :-)

    Note that I’m not opposing this book’s scene, necessarily — rather, I strongly oppose the claim that we must include Sex Scenes because a) it’s Realistic, b) it’s Honest, c) (most likely) Everyone Else is doing it. All those are bad reasons.

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    • Versus this claim, I ask: why then not include detailed and graphic scenes of characters relieving themselves?

      I wouldn’t put it past the mainstream to do that either.  I think one of the trends in “artistic” literature and film is super-realistic grittiness in everything.  Most of the time, I think that is a cheap tactic for getting shock appeal and critical acclaim as an edgy writer/director.  I think it can undermine the better themes of a work.
       
      However, there could, hypothetically, be a legitimate artistic reason to include such body functions.  I’ve wondered why God made us to do such disgusting and undignified things as relieve ourselves.  Gastric disturbances are a part of life.  I’m sniggering as I write this, but I shouldn’t be.  I read stories of people doing great deeds and living wonderously significant lives, but then I go back to reality, and I have to bend over the toilet with a stomach ache.  Why is real life so disgusting and undignified?

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    • Look at it this way.

      I want you to write a book about a police officer or department. Let’s say a mystery or a thriller. You know that they have guns, because part of being a cop means at times you deal with firearms.

      Now I want you to write it without them ever taking a gun out and firing it.

      Not only that, I want you to have them refuse to even talk about it. I don’t want to see them practicing about it, complaining about it, having rivalries over marksmanship scores, joking about it, or really even mentioning they exist. Yes, maybe some cop at some point makes an offhand remark about shooting someone, and shows regret, but that’s about the only mention you’ll have of it.

      As far as you are concerned, guns don’t exist in the book. Now would this be an honest description of a police officer’s life? 

      Of course, even an  honest description isn’t Dirty Harry. Police officers may not fire their weapons, or may act with the strictest care in using them. You may only have one scene in the book where your rookie cop faces down a junkie and needs to decide, once and for all, to pull the trigger on him. It may even be clinical, and with very little detail about the wound; all the scene can do apart from the barest detail is focus on the emotional states of the people involved in it. But you need to have it, because it works in the context of the story.

      It’s not a perfect analogy, but sometimes you have to talk about sex in books, or it just gets so unrealistic that you notice the lack. It’s not for all genres, and many books can do completely without it. And even with it, you aren’t doing this to write play-by-play; that’s erotica and that’s totally wrong. You may even worry that even restrained, you might be glamorizing something you don’t want to-Truffault saying that there is no such thing as an anti-war movie since to show war is always to glamorize it. But even if you don’t write a gunfire scene, you have to have people at least talk about it or acknowledge the reality of it to get the honest sense of your subject.

      It’s really a judgment call. Yeah, it’s ironic for me to write this, given the genre I want to write in, but maybe this might help with the discussion some.

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      • If I understood Jeff correctly, DM, the couple in question did not just talk about sex or about having sex or about how it felt to them when they had sex. The scene actually shows them having sex. I can’t think of one situation where I think that’s OK for the rest of us to look on.

        Becky

        Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: Did God Really Say … ?My Profile

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      • The scene actually shows them having sex.

        It does. I’ve read it. It didn’t cause personal temptation for me. However, I’m still leaning toward the fact that if we should not “legally” (that is, Biblically) witness such a thing in real life, why “witness” it in fiction? regardless of the level of description? If anything, there’s a better argument to be made for detailed and Gritty descriptions of a diarrhea attack, as that’s something to which a Christian doctor or nurse legitimately be exposed.

        The same is true for nudity — Christians in the medical or law-enforcement fields must see this — but not (and this is the difference) others’ nudity in a sexual situation. That is wrong for a Christian to watch, and I can cite Scripture proof of this one single “rule” for reality and fiction.

        Whether any specific scene crosses the line into making a reader “witness” such a scene to the level of personal sin is another issue. I could argue that I read this scene myself because I’m a Professional (or aspiring professional) critic of Christian fantasy novels, or because I needed to be informed for this Spec-Faith discussion, or what-have-you. But either way, I’ve made some exception.

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        • It’s shown. It’s not particularly explicit. Beforehand the husband ogles his wife and has a mild case of wandering hands. The actual sex happens off camera, and if you read a PG romance it’s about this kind of description. I’m not saying this to say it can’t be an occasion of sin for a believer, but to put it in some context. If you read books like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you’re going to wonder what we are all fussing about. 
          Stephen, I really can’t say “no, he needed to show it.” You can always rewrite any scene and make it work if you try hard enough. But, if we’re going to argue this specific scene crosses a line, you’re pretty much arguing sex as a nonentity in Christian fiction. I don’t think this is realistic for many themes or books. I’m not sure it’s good for believers at times either, but that’s an argument I think I’d really need to think on and set to paper. 
           

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  13. Just as the “everyone else is doing it” reasoning may not be sufficient, neither is the knee-jerk morality that kicks out anything that doesn’t appear to fit into its box.

    Not having read A Throne of Bones, I cannot comment on the specific contents. However, I will give it a chance before pronouncing judgment. There very well may be content with which I cannot agree — happens all the time in other, non-Christian books I read — but would we say the Sistine Chapel paintings do not glorify God? They show nudity, including the famous “Creation of Adam”.

    Because something may make someone (ourselves included) uncomfortable, must it therefore not be done? We can dress up our arguments (for or against) in Biblical language, but can we step aside and allow God to work in a medium we do not choose for ourselves? After all, Michaelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter, and yet look at his masterpiece.

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  14. Let me be part of the unexpected support by saying that I am a teen reader and writer and I am heartily in favor of this idea. I don’t include profanity, nudity, or sex in my writing because (for one thing) I don’t have much if any experience and probably couldn’t portray it realistically and (for another) my writing is for a younger audience than the Hinterlands imprint seems to target. However, if Christians wish to be taken seriously (especially in the realm of fiction) we need to stop publishing fluff.
    I encourage people to read responsibly. Know when your mind takes a scene or a concept too far and know when to stop. Just because you must have absolutely no language and no scenes where somebody takes their shirt off doesn’t mean everyone else should read the same stuff.
    I want to extend the same caution to the writers of the “edgier” stories, too, though. Like the reader – know when to stop. Don’t fall into the trap of pushing the envelope just because it’s fun, or because it shocks people, or because it appeals to a bigger or better audience. Keep the goal in mind. Stay on the path you started walking.
    Ok, I’m done rambling now. ;)

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    • However, if Christians wish to be taken seriously (especially in the realm of fiction) we need to stop publishing fluff.

      I appreciate this; yet we also need to be careeful of thoughts that start with if only.

      As in: If only Christians wrote better, pagans would love our stories.

      Or: If only did didn’t talk so much about homosexuality and instead offered more well-rounded activism in the world, including fighting the sex trade, then secular activists wouldn’t hate us. (Not true, most recently shown in the case of Louie Giglio being banned from the Obama inauguration; he made a Biblical yet loving reference about homosexuality 20 years ago and he was still pressured out.)

      Saying, People won’t like us anyway is no excuse for lousy art. But the primary motivator to improve our storyteling is not to impress readers — either Christians or non-Christians (many of whom hate even well-written Christian novels just because they are intolerant). The primary motivator is to glorify God more.

      Reading and writing isn’t for the sake of entertainment, or moral exhortation, or overt evangelism, or being Gritty. The purpose of a story is to explore God, people, and His world, by applying truth to an imaginary situation based on what if?

      I encourage people to read responsibly. Know when your mind takes a scene or a concept too far and know when to stop. Just because you must have absolutely no language and no scenes where somebody takes their shirt off doesn’t mean everyone else should read the same stuff.

      Agreed. Some of this is subjective. I would only issue overt challenges to Christians who enjoy, say, watching Game of Thrones through (without fast-forwarding): are you not enjoying pornography? (And don’t call me “legalist,” it won’t work! :-D )

      I want to extend the same caution to the writers of the “edgier” stories, too, though. Like the reader – know when to stop. Don’t fall into the trap of pushing the envelope just because it’s fun, or because it shocks people, or because it appeals to a bigger or better audience. Keep the goal in mind. Stay on the path you started walking.

      Amen. And that path should be walked with goal of glorifying God proactively, rather than responding to other stories, or trying to impress readers, or trying to fight previous Christian-publishing standards reactively. God never bases His appeals to love and holiness on reaction to Bad Guys — either fear of The World or fear of Those Dastardly Fundamentalists. If we deal with any of that, it’s secondary. First we look to Him, to His Story of His revealed Word, and in our joy, create more.

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    • Elizabeth, I was in a critique group with a number of romance writers, some not Christian. Sex scenes are a lot more than someone taking off their shirt.

      Also, do you consider Lord of the Rings as “fluff”? I mean, no sex in any of the three books. None in The Hobbit either.

      Becky

      Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: The Hedge Of GodMy Profile

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      • I know. I was using an extreme example. Different people have different tolerance levels, and that’s okay.
         
        I never said The Lord of the Rings was fluff because it didn’t have any sex, which is what you seemed to draw from my statement. I happen to be a rather large fan of the series, but the point is, we as Christians need to become known for our…our depth. We need to be unafraid to explore the dark, the gritty, occasionally the uncomfortable. Some or most of the Christian Fiction being published today – unrealistic, superficial, and sometimes downright bad writing – is giving us a bad name. That’s what I meant by fluff.
         
        Whether we can go deeper with our writing and how far we can go without causing others to stumble is completely subjective. It depends on each author’s individual style and each reader’s individual tolerances. Whether we can explore deeply into today’s issues – and reach out to today’s unbelievers – in the same way Tolkien did (with the same level of intensity, description, darkness, grittiness, whatever) I don’t know.
         
        1 Corinthians 9:19-23 comes to mind. I’m not sure how it applies to this situation, but it’s something to think about.

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        • Elizabeth, I brought up Lord of the Rings to point out that there aren’t only two positions–“realistic” or “fluff.” I think there are a number of writers falling between those lines, Tolkien being the one I thought would make the point clearest.

          Tolkien, in fact, did explore “gritty” and dark subjects. It really doesn’t take sex or profanity to get that done. It’s a fallacious idea that the deep thoughts and intents of the soul can’t be looked at in fiction without getting down in the pit and wallowing in the muck and mire. Tolkien was dark, I think, but he didn’t do any wallowing.

          Becky

          Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/CussingMy Profile

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    • Or, more recently, the Harry Potter series, a general-market fantasy first primarily intended for children, then teens, and always adults. A “secular” author wrote these books and included nothing more sexual than “snogging,” and even that with little description and mostly mockery. It has no “realistic” sex scenes or exploration whatsoever. And yet the Harry Potter series is the most popular in recent memory.

      So where are the critics, Christian-Gritty or Christian-“Clean” or “secular,” who insist that the Harry Potter series is not “realistic” because of its total lack of sex scenes or even sexual references beyond snogging? I am still looking for them. Certainly the children weren’t put off, or the teens, or even the adults.

      Example B: The Hunger Games, the past year’s bestselling YA series, includes no sex whatsoever to the point of absurdity. A teen girl and her male friend cuddle in bed together for warmth and comfort in the midst of their dystopian society’s demands and the resulting depression. That I found “unrealistic,” even while appreciating the author’s very commendable restraint. Is this hampering sales? Making critics howl?

      (Perhaps the sex-crazed readers are all into those others books that, sickeningly, made the bestseller lists in 2012 alongside Hunger Games novels and a few others.)

      That gives the absurdity and lie, to the claim that Christians must do things like put More Sex into their stories to be Realistic and be taken seriously by readers, especially secular readers.” If anything, by pushing this view we look sillier and more desperate for personal validation from others than ever before.

      Of course, that argument is second to the vital Biblically based holiness arguments. Sex-scene advocates do need to address those, beyond their unhelpful and even fundamentalist-style reactionary reply: “to think otherwise is the sin of legalism!”

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  15. Well, I’m probably not the sought-after audience for your newly published book, since I don’t think watching The Big Bang Theory is all that healthy. Admittedly, I’ve only seen 3-4 full episodes, and while there were some LOL moments, the majority of the show had to do with fornication.  Not something I want to sit with Jesus on the sofa and watch.
    That said, I agree with some of the posters here that yes, married sex is a beautiful gift from God but I don’t want to read about or envision the steamy, intimate moments between husband and wife.  What goes on between a husband and wife should stay between a husband and wife. Allusions to or mentions of the sexual act, without drawn-out descriptive details are all I want coursing through my brain.
    About language ~ not sure what the difference is between vulgarity and profanity (maybe someone can clarify for me), but neither one sounds appealing to me. An occasional blip on the radar screen in order to reveal or enhance a character’s…well…character…is understandable, but I don’t enjoy reading books that are littered throughout with offensive language. In fact, if I know in advance that the books are ‘fouled-up’, I won’t even bother.
    Yes, life can be gritty and grimy, and Christians shouldn’t stick their heads in the sand and pretend all is rosy. But I don’t need to encounter excessive grit and grime in my reading material to know it exists.  Just my two cents.

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    • I’ve only seen 3-4 full episodes, and while there were some LOL moments, the majority of the show had to do with fornication.

      I’ve seen clips and enjoyed them, and I did see the first few episodes.

      My main objection to Big Bang Theory is more “style,” but still Biblical, I think:

      1. Sex jokes are not only nasty, but boring. And cheap. (Sin is often boring — at least when the same sins are referenced over and over for cheap laughs. Look, folks, it’s not interesting or fun unless I’m actually doing said sin myself — and even then, of course, it’s nothing compared to the infinitely greater joy in and from God. )
      2. I don’t like boring stories. They make me bored. Yawn. Next.

      Still, I know enough about the show to have accidentally quoted it on at least one occasion. And I also enjoy catching up with clips from the Star Trek guest star appearances — though Brent “Data” Spiner making a stupid sex joke about Star Trek action figures was just a dumb cheat. Stupid boring sex joke is stupid and boring.

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  16. Interestingly enough, I was just thinking about this very sort of thing earlier today. In the end of my own thinking time I discovered that, at least from my perspective, Christian fiction usually ends up with too much world or too much church in it, both in attempt to draw in the unsaved to the truth. But after thinking about it, I’m pretty sure everything in that sentence is missing it. Christian media shouldn’t be trying to present Christianity so much as it is trying to live Christianity. Let’s face it: a non-Christian is not going to pick up a book or a movie that markets itself as Christian. Christians will, though–so spare them the cheezy and painfully unfitting gospel message that does more harm than good to the Christian cause. Christians know the real thing. They don’t need the gospel awkwardly stuck in the middle of a gospel un-oriented story. That’s the “putting in too much church” approach.Then there’s the “putting in too much world” approach, which I think we are in danger of getting into in this discussion: attempting to draw in the world with the world’s ways (even if they have a Christian twist). And let’s face this as well: if the world could be won with the world’s ways, it would have won itself to Christianity long ago. What you win people with is what you win them to. If you attempt to win the unsaved to an appreciation of Christianity because, hey, we have Christian novels with all the same stuff as non-Christian novels…but different, all you’ll end up doing is proving to the unsaved that they’ve got no need for Christianity. After all, they’re basically the same.The solution, I think, is avoiding that paradigm entirely. Don’t attempt to present Christianity. Present the Christian life. That would mean that while, yes, morally difficult situations will occur, the response will not involve vulgarity, nudity, and sex. If those things would be part of a Christian’s real life, they need some serious growth. Therefore, they shouldn’t be in a Christian’s novel, either. And trust me: I know. It’s easier and seemingly more realistic and weighty to just go ahead and use the curse word. But just because it feels good does not mean it is good. Even freedom involves self-restriction, else it is anarchy and not freedom at all. We can’t use those arguments (freedom and feelings) to support misrepresenting the Christian life in our novels. Our job is not to answer all the worldly messages of other novels with our own twists on the same issues, but to replace all the subtle worldly messages/philosophies/ideologies with subtle Christian messages/philosophies/ideologies. Replace. Not just twist.I firmly believe you can do that and have a mature and awesome story attractive to Christians and non-Christians alike.

    Even if you’re writing about sex in marriage as it falls under Christian standards, would you not also hold to the standard that intimacy in marriage is sacred, and is for two people…without spectators (which is, essentially, the reader)? That’s another issue entirely, but it is worth thinking about.My main point is, you shouldn’t attempt to just answer all of the world’s sins with somehow holier versions of the same. You probably shouldn’t attempt to explicitly answer them at all. Just be who you ought to be and let that flow out of you in your writing. The subtle ideas of the world will be answered with subtle ideas of the Bible. That’s the way of the conscience, and even though we’re normally tempted to want to be just as loud as the world, being quietly correct is often the better approach. And again, if you’re attempting to answer the world’s sins with basically the same, but supposedly holier versions, you’ve got no reason to be loud in the first place.

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    • Luke, well said. My first reaction to Jeff’s article was, A Christian George Martin story? Didn’t we try that with Harry Potter?You explained what I was thinking better than I could. We ought not to be twisting what’s already made, trying to give it a Christian slant. We should replace it with what has eternal significance.

      In particular love this part of what you said.:

      If you attempt to win the unsaved to an appreciation of Christianity because, hey, we have Christian novels with all the same stuff as non-Christian novels…but different, all you’ll end up doing is proving to the unsaved that they’ve got no need for Christianity. After all, they’re basically the same.The solution, I think, is avoiding that paradigm entirely. Don’t attempt to present Christianity. Present the Christian life.

      I’d only change or add one thing–“Don’t attempt to present Christianity. Present Christ.” In so doing, I think we would have to present the Christian life. I’m not saying ever novel has to have Christ, or in the case of speculative fiction, a Christ figure. But what separates us from other people is nothing less than believing in Christ.

      We can influence our culture and prepare the way by telling stories that “till the soil.” Those are worthy, desirable, necessary. But ultimately, it is Christ who we must present if someone is to be changed.

      Becky

      Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/CussingMy Profile

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  17. This just reminds me of the issues that arose in discussions over whether or not Christians can perform “death metal” (typically called “light metal” instead) as well as more “goth” oriented music. The question was always “if we worship the Light, why show such darkness?” Some people still debate this, and others do not.

    As Jeff has had his Message Board Forum “The Anomaly” up for some time now this sort of discussion has come up before. Frankly, I was the one that raised it, although I do not know for sure that no one else has raised it.

    I’ve always been supportive of Jeff Gerke and his MLP project since the day I met him online. I met him about a year before the first three books were released and I was quite excited about the potential, especially considering my own plans. When the novels by Mitchell Bonds, R. E. Bartlett and Theodore Beale came out, I was one of the people that bought all three right away.

    Now with this new venture I give him my support even more. I have always contended that Believers should be as realistic as possible in fiction. It doesn’t always mean throwing in a curse word just to have one, but if the character is that way then when the time comes that the character is to say one then the writer shouldn’t stifle the character just for “religious” reasons and being “holy”. What the characters do or do not do in the story is not what reflects on whether or not Christ is being glorified, it is the story itself.

    What people tend to forget is that the stories or “parables” of Jesus rarely actually had any spiritual or preaching content in them. They were about farmers sowing seed, people finding treasure in land they didn’t own, merchants being told they didn’t have to pay a fine and then turning around and demanding a smaller fine from someone that owed them money, banquets being thrown and the invited not coming. Yes, when He then explains these to us we see the spiritual content, but what about the ones not explained? There are still debates to this day over what some of the parables of Jesus mean.

    You may say, “but Jesus never cursed when telling His stories”, and that may or may not be true, but do not forget that this is the Man that used such harsh language as “whitewashed tombs” and “brood of vipers” when speaking to the Pharisees that wanted to keep everyone under their thumbs. That may not seem all that bad to you nowadays considering what passes for cursing, but back then that was some major cursing.

    Below I include a copy and paste of what I had once posted in The Anamoly to discuss this very item. If you want to get there right away and read both it and the discussion that followed you can click here – http://wherethemapends.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=spacebar&action=display&thread=939 – I include it in my post here as I believe that what I said then is still true today.

    BEGIN QUOTE

    This post has the potential to be controversial, so be forewarned. Even so, I hope you find it very thoughtful as you read it through to the end. It is drawn from my observations over time of how we as Believers in Christ pick and choose our fiction and what we will and will not read, as well as what we will and will not write. This can easily translate also to what we listen to or create musically as you will see momentarily.

    Shortly after midnight this morning I had the chance to listen to a podcast on Jake Chism’s Fiction Addict website called Reader Expectations – http://fictionaddict.com/category/podcast/

    In this podcast Eric Wilson of The Jerusalem’s Undead trilogy and Robin Parrish of The Dominion trilogy were featured. Jeff Gerke has interviewed both of them in his ongoing series of interviews of authors writing in the Christian speculative market.

    One of the things one of them brought up that the other agreed to was that they choose not to have sex or cursing in their novels, yet they have no qualms about violence as long as it “has a purpose”. Yet some would go so far as to not include violence either. In this same interview they talked about stretching the boundaries that Christian readers have and how Christian readers are squeamish about the things they do in their novels, yet when other writers do these other things they have a problem.

    Why is it that as Christians, when Jesus tells us to “judge not, lest ye be judged” we are consistently so judgemental, yet we don’t want to be judged our own selves?

    Consider a discussion on another forum I frequent:

    A band I’ve been listening to for a long time had a particularly hard time in the U.S. when they first got started in the early nineties and as a result still have a hard time to this day even though in Europe they were a big hit.

    In the early nineties their first album was banned from Christian bookstores because of one line of lyric on a song that is clearly a Biblical song.

    See for yourself and decide which line of lyric may have been the line:

    Legion

    Legion moves over the land
    Softly he whispers, his forces command
    Naked she lies on the crucifix crying
    The tears of the innocent die
    The dragon slides between her thighs
    The dragon breathes the fire
    As blood drips from her eyes
    Until delivered of the child
    And as the leaders of the nations follow single file
    And all the brothers of the legion drift upon the Nile
    To face the beast in all its ecstasy
    And dreams of our betrayal
    As love will die within the force
    That drains it from the grail
    She drinks the blood of the prophets
    And she drinks the blood of the saints
    Between her legs they crawl in torment
    For the souls they lay to waste
    Upon the altar, the sacrifice begins
    The dragon takes another, and feeds upon his sins
    To live and breathe again
    Under the night, under the liar
    Into the night, into the fire
    Is this the coming of the day?
    As the alliance of the dragon takes its prey
    Is this the call of revolution?
    Is this the fall of revolution of the soul?
    Is this the cry from all corruption?
    Or is corruption just a fortress we bestow?
    And if you are looking for the answer
    And if you are looking for the light that leads the way
    Take my hand and I will lead you
    Where the torture and the pain will drift away
    Stay with me….

    So going from some questions someone had about this and why the band had been banned from Christian stores in the U.S., one person posted that the people who had banned the band “Obviously they haven’t read Ezekiel 23, especially verses 3, 20 and 21.”

    I print those here for you in the New American Standard Version since so many people are reading that nowadays:

    Ezekiel 23:3 and they played the harlot in Egypt. They played the harlot in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and there their virgin bosom was handled.

    vs. 20 & 21 “She lusted after their paramours, whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys and whose issue is like the issue of horses. Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom because of the breasts of your youth.

    I would have posted the whole chapter, but I limited what I quoted to just the verses he pointed out. You can read the whole chapter here: http://bibleresources.bible.com/passages….=57&Submit.y=12

    So after that person mentioned Ezekiel another person posted something that when I mentioned I would be doing this thread on here he said I could copy:

    BEGIN QUOTE

    yeah, i’ve thought for a long time that those passages made the Song of Songs lyrics seem so tame….

    the hypocrisy is so thick in most of mainstream churches concering such content.

    just imagine:

    the scene is a typical sunday church…
    head deacon Brother Stewart finishes with his list of announcements and the report on the offering recieved for the Lottie Moon fund, and then says,
    “Now if you would please welcome Brother Melvin as he brings us special music inspired directly from the holy book of Ezekiel….”

    the well-dressed man steps onto the stage, centers himself behind the stained oak pulpit, and proceeds to sing in a stirring baritone voice:

    (the organ plays softly)

    Let me tell you of two sisters, wives of a husband true.
    they could not bear to remain faithful, so what did they do?

    they left the comfort of his love because they wanted more.
    into the world they wandered, and they both became a sleeper.

    but these sluts were different, for they paid for their tricks.
    they immersed themselves in lust, in filth to get their fix.

    on every corner they spread their legs to every passerby,
    offering their flesh to fill cravings they would not deny.

    by the members of their well-hung lovers they were mesmerized,
    and of the copious seed of all their trysts they forever fantasized.

    so judgment will come hard unto these sisters of the night,
    and they will find themselves naked and cold in the darkest night.

    but the loving husband will take them back and clean them of their sin.
    he will rinse them free of their lovers smell and take them to him again.

    at this point Brother Melvin lets the last note fade into the silence of the sanctuary, as the congregation sits in stunned silence. here and there a throat is heard being cleared, and people look nervously from left to right, almost not believing the words of the song that have filled this “holy” place.

    nothing more is said, of course, but afterward a deacon’s meeting is called to decide what must be done about this lewd man and his sorrid words — in a manner that will leave them all free from any hint of hypocrisy, of course.
    let us pray.

    END QUOTE

    Just how sanitized is your reading of the Word of God?

    So the question is this: Where can we draw the line when writing (no matter if it’s non-fiction, fiction, or songs) when the Bible itself is so graphic in nature?

    The issue isn’t “Are we being allegorical?” or “Does this have a purpose?” The issue should be “Are we being honest in our storytelling?” If a person is a bad person and does something wrong, why is it okay to show him as a violent person, but not as a fornicator? If the hero of our story, or a secondary character that is basically “good” (have you taken the “good test” lately?) goes astray in his or her faith, why is it okay to show them as a thief, but not as an adulterer or a foul mouthed person?

    Where can we draw the line, and should we?

    By turning more and more to “Christian” fiction and turning away from so called “secular” fiction, have we not created another “god” for ourselves and not erected an idol of “holiness” that doesn’t meet God’s standard of true holiness?

    Isn’t true holiness admitting our sin – all of it – so we can be free from it? If we are afraid to face it, are we truly free?

    I just think that we should be careful where we draw the line, as well as where we expect others to do so.

    Thank you for your time, I hope this gives some food for thought.

    END QUOTE

    In the end I have decided that for some people they find it better to not have things so “gritty” and “real”, and if that’s what they want to read, then that’s fine for them. I just happen to think it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to be the same way, just as I don’t expect everyone to believe the same way I do about this.

    And because I’ve been reading from a different version lately called the Concordant Literal Translation, I now in closing include those same passages from Ezekiel again from that version:

    Ezekiel 23:3 – 3 and they committed prostitution in Egypt; in their youth they committed prostitution. There their breasts were squashed, and there the nipples of their virginity were handled.

    vs. 20-21 – 20 She doted on concubinage with them, whose flesh was like the flesh of donkeys, and the effusion of horses was like their effusion. 21 So you revisited the lewdness of your youth when those of Egypt handled your nipples, squashing the breasts of your youth.

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    • David, unless you’re saying that cursing isn’t sinful, I can say with confidence, Jesus never cursed–not the way people in our society do, to vent their anger or fill up the silence with their mindless babble.

      Ezekiel’s description of the two sisters who prostituted themselves is also, in context, allegorical. It isn’t the depiction of prostitution for the sake of showing the sin of prostitution. It is showing the waywardness of Judah and Israel running away from God, their true “husband.”

      Are we aiming to accomplish the same in our “gritty” novels, or are we doing what Luke mentioned–trying to use the way of the world to bring the world to Christ?

      Two things here: I think most Christian novelists today think it’s perfectly fine to show Christians struggling, even sinning. That doesn’t mean the sin has to be the centerpiece of the story in glorious color.

      What’s more, there’s at least one novelist who’s doing it well. I’ll give you a scene from Travis Thrasher’s newest book Hurt, last of his four-book Solitary Tales series (Christian horror published by David C. Cook). The seventeen-year-old protagonist, Chris, is a new Christian. He’s struggling with an evil, manipulative pastor who is essentially blackmailing him into doing things he doesn’t want to do. The only bright spot of his life is his girl friend, Kelsey. Then this nearly half way through, the beginning of the chapter “Lost for the Moment.”

      “Stop it, Chris.”

      The three words slap me over the face and yank me off Kelsey.

      I suddenly feel awful and wonder whats wrong.

      I sit next to her feeling like a complete jerk.

      She takes my hand and holds it.

      “Listen—I’m sorry—it’s just . . .” Kelsey’s eyes are big and bright and sad. “This just doesn’t feel right.”

      “I didn’t mean to do anything—”

      “You didn’t. It’s fine. This is fine. I just—I’m afraid.”

      “Afraid of what?”

      “Afraid of where this is headed.”

      Obviously she knows that the cabin is empty. I told her that my mom wasn’t coming home tonight, and Kelsey accepted my lame reason why. Visiting some relatives down south. Oh, okay.

      “it’s not that I—Chris, you know how I feel.”

      I nod. But I already know what she’s going to say, and I realize that I’ve been pushing it.

      “I'[m sorry,” I say.

      “I’m just—this—I don’t feel comfortable.”

      I hate hearing this.

      “If there’s anybody—anybody—I want to feel comfortabl around me, it’s you,” I tell her.

      “I’m not talking about being around you.” Kesey seems to be closing up like a folding table. “It’s here—now. I just—I can’t.”

      I shake my head. “No—I know. I wasn’t asking. Or wanting. I’m sorry—I just for a minute—I’m sorry.

      She sighs.

      “What?” I ask.

      She’s wondering what she’s doing with a jerk like me.

      “Nothing.”

      “No, what?”

      Her hands cover her knees as if she’s trying to hide the fact that she’s wearing a skirt.

      Oh I’m such a moron. A typical guy jerk.

      Any doubt about what took place? Yet not one graphic element in the scene, which continues for a few pages.

      My point is, good writing–realistic storytelling–doesn’t require turning readers into voyeurs. Thrasher handles cursing the same way. It’s in the novel without making readers participate.

      Personally I think that level of writing requires a deft touch. I’m sure it’s something he’s worked hard at.

      Becky

      Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/CussingMy Profile

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      • Rebecca,
         
        First, let me say that I’ve always respected you. I am always glad of the way you present your arguments and all of our discussions in the past (and it’s been a while since we’ve talked, hasn’t it? ;) ) have been very enjoyable even when we have points where we disagree. As such, I salute you for the way you respond to people like me promoting this idea. It’s much better than other people I’ve had to deal with in the past have responded. For that I am quite grateful, both to God and to you. Thank you. :)
         
        Second, in response to your reply here:
         
        One thing I should probably point out that I don’t see anyone saying is that these are made up characters. This is fiction and we are not really seeing anything other than what’s already in our own minds on the matter. This is not film and is not voyeurism in real life. It’s fiction. Made up people. Period.
         
        And you can always skip past the scenes by turning the pages past the scene just as you do on the DVD when your kids are in the room when playing some PG movie that suddenly shows too much. ;)
         
        Another aspect is that I am not one that is a proponent of sex scenes and cursing and violence to occur in gritty detail in “every” novel out there. That seems to be a misunderstanding of those of us with this stance. Maybe some think this needs to take place, but I don’t.
         
        As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s a matter of story first.
         
        Stories such as Harry Potter do not require that sort of thing, so whomever it was earlier that suggested people weren’t complaining about the absence in the Potter books was taking the wrong route as far as I am concerned. I still haven’t finished reading the Potter series quite frankly as I’ve had plenty of other things to read that have been much more pressing, but if I was reading it to finish it and knowing it had been geared for kids and I suddenly came upon a sex scene or intense violence or some sort of profanity that didn’t fit the mood of the book, then I’m going to have a problem with Rowling. You shouldn’t market to and pull in the kid audience and then put things in there such as that. That’s just wrong.
         
        (and I’ve heard the rumors about Dumbledore’s orientation; I am waiting to see how she handled that one when I get to it to decide what I think about it)
         
        So, when it comes to Potter, Hunger Games (also marketed to kids from my understanding), or this Hurt novel you talked about (I presume it’s YA, but do not want to assume it for certainty), if the story isn’t one that would call for “realism” in the scenes, then anyone should, and probably would, be quite upset at the books being marketed to their kids.
         
        But when the story is to be a gritty story with heavy realism to begin with, then when a moment arrives where violence occurs, then I expect detail and scenes which are extremely violent. When a character that is a roughneck and very gruff bangs his thumb, I do not expect him to say “Sweet mercy!” and start sucking his thumb without another character pointing out the inconsistency and therefore maybe adding another layer to the character, and then I don’t expect this to occur with EVERY roughneck character in the novel or it would just become silly and unrealistic. Likewise, when a scene of romance, or passion, occurs between characters (married or not, straight or gay), then if the novel is already gritty in other areas, I would find it quite unrealistic for the novel to suddenly stop being this way for this one scene. It would completely go against everything else already established.
         
        Again, this is all dependent on the story being told, and what scenes present themselves as the story progresses. There’s a reason Stephen King would write some stories one way and other stories a completely different way. Not everything required the same level of intensity to it.
         
        I don’t think that people writing stories should put in scenes just to have the scenes, but I do believe that when certain elements present themselves, the writer has to determine what is acceptable for the type of story being told and what is not acceptable.
         
        This works both ways. I think it’s safe to presume almost everyone reading this thread has probably read Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness (and if you haven’t, you should! ), so I’ll make this generic so that I don’t “ruin” anything for anyone that may not have as of yet.
         
        Let’s say that Frank was writing this amazing tale of angels and demons fighting behind the scenes while the humans have to deal with the evil brewing in town. Now let’s say Frank decided to throw in a comedic scene just to have some comedy. Let’s say that he got one of the angels to appear in a tutu and started dancing while one of the demons sang in a deep baritone. Clearly, a comedic scene (especially one as outrageous as that) would be totally unlike the story being told. It doesn’t mean he can’t put humor in an intense novel. I seem to recall some of the characters finding humor with each other, but it wasn’t comedy in the middle of a suspense filled book. That would be unnecessary and as much as some of the “sex scenes” I’ve seen in some mainstream novels just because it seemed almost tacked on.
         
        I hope I am making some sense here. It’s rather late and I’ve got a big day ahead of me tomorrow. Anyway, that’s about all I think I need to say right now anyway. Once again, I appreciate you Becky. You take care, and have a happy new year! :)

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        • Thanks for your kind words, David. I always appreciate a rigorous, thoughtful discussion, and it means a lot when we can disagree without rancor or disrespect. I think this particular conversation is a good example of just that kind of exchange. Thank you for your part.

          I understand what you’re saying about the characters being made up. The thing is, the reader’s response is not made up. When a favorite character dies, some of us cry real tears. When something crazy happens to them, we laugh, releasing real endorphins.

          Several of us here at Spec Faith (and Rick Copple is one in his recent guest post) have referenced some recent brain studies that show how reading a scene that invokes our senses (the scent of cinnamon, for example) actually registers in the brain as if the reader has had that experience.

          This ought to be sobering information to novelists, and Christian novelists in particular. What experiences are our readers entering into vicariously?

          On the other hand, if we write in a clinical way so that they are not entering into it, maybe that’s not good either. I mean, do we really want to give the message that this loving, monogamous husband and wife are having clinical sex?

          Why not do a better job setting the scene up and following it through so that readers can imagine however they are comfortable imagining?

          Becky

          Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/CussingMy Profile

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          • Good to see your reply, Becky! :) I find a lot of what you say to be valid, and I could definitely go into length on the way God created the brain to create things with our imaginations, but I think I’d wind up really creating a rabbit trail on here. So I’ll just keep that part to myself and just say that……oh, well, I wound up writing about three paragraphs about the brain and imagination and was ready to write a fourth when I realized what I was doing. ;)

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      • Yeah, I have to say Rebecca always has some really good writing both here and on her blog. I may not comment as often there as here, but whenever a new post comes by email notification, I always read it and think on it.

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      • Stories such as Harry Potter do not require that sort of thing, so whomever it was earlier that suggested people weren’t complaining about the absence in the Potter books was taking the wrong route as far as I am concerned.

        In bringing that up, I specifically address the implication, and sometimes outright statements, that If only … Christians put this stuff in our stories, then we’ll a) write better fiction, b) be more Realistic, c) get more people to like us. That’s what I was rebutting. The argument that adding, or at least not banning, certain words or even scenes was outside my rebuttal there (you would have counter-rebutted it in your answer about the Potter series’ audience and genre anyway).

        (I’ve heard the rumors about Dumbledore’s orientation; I am waiting to see how she handled that one when I get to it to decide what I think about it)

        I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed/surprised. That’s not in the book. At all. In the books Dumbledore is asexual, though he does dance with female teachers at the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire. In Rowling’s case, her announcement may be the first documented instance of an author writing “fanfition” for her own books. :-)

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    • You have to be a little careful with Ezekiel. Ezekiel was kind of a “shock jock” in that his prophecies were often designed to transgress to get attention. A modern Christian example would be the Orthodox idea of the holy fool, as described here. I mention this even though I agree with your points, even death metal, but it’s dangerous to try and give Biblical sanction for this. Content is an artistic decision based on the specific work, and Ezekiel did what he did during the appropriate season and specifically by God’s command. We aren’t always so favored, and there will always be this kind of dialectic between purity and reality.
      Also, what are some good Christian death or goth bands? I’m in a big musical slump at the moment and would love to try some new music out.

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      • D.M., I’m slightly out of touch with some of the newer bands (Theocracy comes to mind because it’s the favorite of a friend of mine), but two classics from the 90s that are still occasionally putting out things is Mortification and Saviour Machine. Just be sure you order from them so you know they are getting the money. Lots of people out there doing bogus copies of discs and downloads and whatnots. Too bad, but that’s reality in the modern technological age, even for bands that aren’t too well known. ;)

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  18. I think LukeLC and David James both make good and true points.  I have no idea what the balance is.  Maybe we’re trying too hard.  Maybe if we just put story first — meaning God’s Story above all as the true archetype of all stories — then as both creators and audience, we won’t go too far wrong.  I hope.

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  19. I suppose if we’re shut out of bedrooms, we ought to be shut out of minds, too. That’s where the real scary stuff exists. But then we might not have much of a character or story, if we don’t know his/her haunts. It’s often about the journey, right?
     
    What is right for one might not be for another. I get that. As with music and film, maybe books ought to have a rating system.

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  20. Tessa, I would have to disagree on such blanket reasoning (“if we’re shut out bedrooms, we ought to be shut out of minds, too”). There’s no reason to be all or nothing about it. But since you brought it up, aren’t we supposed to be renewing our minds daily, not leaving them to the, as you put it, scary stuff? There has to be a filter, there. That fact–that we must filter what we allow in our own minds–is realistic. How much more should we filter, then, what we allow out of it?

    There’s no blanket response to it. Each thought has to be filtered and tested individually. It’s a totally different matter than the bedroom, which is significantly much more limited in its scope and purpose. But if you are intent on applying the same response to both areas, then wouldn’t you filter the bedroom experiences, too?

    It isn’t so much about if you’re strong enough to handle it, or if your readers are. It’s about renewing the mind. Anything that will not raise the bar higher for that mental filter’s standard should be treated with caution both for creator and for consumer.

    It also isn’t at all the same thing as, for an easy example, violence. That can create one of those ‘necessary evil’ type experiences for the character which, while not renewing the reader’s mind in itself, can very well further the journey which as a whole will do so. Difficult experiences have a way of growing us, even if they must harm us in the process. Using curse words or making love does not fit into that category at all.

    Now as a sidenote, I probably should clarify that I am much more picky about this stuff as an author than I am as a reader. What I consume does not represent me as much as what I create, and while I may be able to be responsible over what I allow to happen in my own mind, I cannot exercise the same control over what happens in my readers’ minds. I want there to be as little opportunity for reproach in what I write as possible, that I may represent Christ well and show love for my readers by not offering a chance for them to stumble–and in fact simultaneously demonstrate to them a better way than the questionable thing I could have included.

    My novel is not yet published, but I’ve had around 300 test readers of both Christian and non-Christian faith, and I’ve heard nothing but good from them. You know what I haven’t heard any of them say? “It needs more violence.” “It needs more language.” “It needs a sex scene.” I have found a way to tell a deep, exciting, and yes, even mature story without compromising. I know other authors can do it, too.

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    • Sometimes, “seeing” the process is important—crucial, actually. It depends on the plot. For instance, if heavy duty injustices have been done to an individual, and the point of the story is forgiveness, pure and raw—the kind of forgiveness that the average person would say, “No way, I can’t do it,” it helps to understand by knowing, living, experiencing why this is so difficult. What this individual (character) goes through, how they came to the painful transition to forgive by the grace of Jesus Christ, is significant. Light is magnified in the depth of darkness. That’s not to say darkness is glorified or should be, but some circumstances need to be presented to understand the level of clemency. There is a decent way to do this. But then, that’s also subjective. Everybody has a different sensitivity level.

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    • Luke, I find it admirable that you are thinking so much to make sure that your fellow brethren are not offered a stumbling stone by you, for that I applaud you.
       
      I just want to remind you that we never can tell what is going to cause a person to stumble, especially strangers we never meet. Try as you might, you may inadvertently leave something in that you and the rest of us see as benign, but that some deranged person takes the wrong way (and I am not necessarily talking sex or language here).
       
      Ultimately you are not responsible for what other people do or do not do. When you stand before God you’ll be answering for yourself. No one (other than Jesus) will stand up for you. That may sound “selfish”, but it’s true.
       
      I would encourage you to write the story as you see fit as the story dictates. If that means such things are not needed, then even better! :)

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  21. I’m currently reading Throne of Bones–about halfway through. It is an excellent book, far better than I expected. The sex scene is both tasteful and necessary, in my opinion. It has to do with the joining together of the warrior archetype with the mother archetype. It signals a change in the warrior’s life. He’s come back home; he’s united with his wife, and now his life will be different. It’s an important scene.  

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  22. Several years ago, I was asked to read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, a revised version of a novel she originally wrote for the mainstream romance market. However, when the author became a believer, she revised her book, a re-telling of the story of Hosea. The material was heavy and (at times) uncomfortable, but that made the end of the story powerful and all the more uplifting. 

    It being a romance novel with a Christian view, I figured Mom might like it, so I gave it to her. She tossed it aside as pornographic. That bothered me, because then she must think that’s the kind of material I read. (It isn’t.) Then I realized that she could not handle the story itself. The lack of worth assigned to the main character mimicked her own lack of self-worth. The heroine didn’t know how to be loved; neither did Mom.

    The way sex is handled in the book isn’t graphic, but you know what happens when the heroine is raped. She doesn’t know how to be loved, but she knows sex.

    That twisted thinking can be applied to other things: someone doesn’t know love, but they know violence, so that’s how they approach the world. They don’t know honesty, but they know how to exploit it. And so on.

    I haven’t read Redeeming Love again, but it left an impression, clearer than many lectures on how to make my work real: Don’t shy away from the uncomfortable things, because that’s where reality lives. Jesus Himself did not live a comfortable life, and He consorted with folks who didn’t make society comfortable. My own life hasn’t been perfect, and there are things I don’t want to think about or confront — but, in doing so, I grow. I change. I hope I look more like Him.
     

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  23. Just tonight I found a mildly sarcastic yet helpful reminder, a rebuttal in case anyone is tempted (as I am) into the If-Only thoughts. By that I mean, If only Christians behaved better, people would like us. Or, If only we had more Gritty fiction, people would buy our books (and get saved or at least appreciate Christians more). Or, If only Christians did more to help people and were less hypocritical, we wouldn’t be hated so much.

    Other legitimate complaints about Christians notwithstanding, here’s the real underlying reason why non-Christians think that church and Christians are boring and not relevant.

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    • It would be great if that “survey” were true (yes, I realize it’s satire), but that mentality is just excuse making on the part of Christians.

      Yes, people will hate us because they also hated Christ. Yes, they are deceived by the god of this world (and so on and so on). But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t legitimate reasons to dislike things that Christians do.

      If you walk up to someone and spit in their face, they won’t hate you because you’re a Christian… they’ll hate you because you’re a jerk who just spit in their face. The “Christian” part doesn’t enter into it.

      If you write a book that is completely derivative nonsense and has no redeeming plot or character elements, then people won’t hate it because you’re Christian… they’ll hate it because you’re a lousy writer.

      Those scriptures aren’t an excuse for Christians to do a lousy job at everything and then blame their rejection on “being persecuted for Christ” or “the spiritual blindness of unbelievers”. Those scriptures are only referring to the times when we actually ARE being rejected because of Christ, not to any given time when we’re rejected for any reason.

      Being a part of several aspects of the creative world myself, I see this all the time… not only Christians who think that if someone doesn’t like their work, it MUST be because they’re being “persecuted for Christ”, but also people who feel that other Christians OWE it to them to enjoy (and even purchase) their work. It’s absurd.

      If you’re engaging in the creative world (whether it be music or literature or film or what have you), then your work should be able to stand on its own (with respect to quality). You shouldn’t have to rely on, “But… but… I mentioned JESUS!!” as a means to get people to like it. If all you can do well is “mention Jesus”, then stick to evangelism.

      And even then, you’ll have to remember what Paul said about evangelism… he was willing to be all things to all people in order to save them. He would be like a Jew to Jews, like a Gentile to Gentiles (and so on). And if you think I’m saying this means you need to sin in order to witness to sinners… don’t. But if all you can do is speak “Christianese” and quote Christian authors and relate to Christian culture, then how on earth do you expect to get through to someone who doesn’t know anything at all about Christianity?

      WATYF

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    • that mentality is just excuse making on the part of Christians.

      By that do you mean 100 percent entirely excuse-making?

      Or is there truth here that we also need to recall, lest we lapse into that “if only” mindset that ignores the fact that even if we do everything “right,” we’ll be disliked?

      As I introduced it, “Other legitimate complaints about Christians notwithstanding [emphasis added; and that is another truth and topic for another time], here’s the real underlying reason why non-Christians think that church and Christians are boring and not relevant.” That reason won’t go away, and Christians in our behavior and rejection of “niche” cultures should merely get out of the way, and not be “stumbling blocks,” that prevent people from knowing that truth.

      Often that will mean we reject made-up rules. But as the Apostle Paul is clear about in Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8-10, it may also mean rejecting our legitimate freedom.

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      • Of course I’m not speaking in terms of 100%. But most Christians are so far away from being able to relate to and communicate to (let alone entertain) their culture that “They just hate me because of Christ” should be their last assumption… not their first. First look at your quality and talent and stop trying to hide behind the Cross as an excuse for poor performance.

        The “real” reason our culture thinks we’re boring and irrelevant is because we are. I know this because I’m a Christian, and with my spiritual eyes opened, I can still see how boring and irrelevant many churches and most Christian entertainment is. Once we fix that, then we can find out who is actually rejecting the Gospel because they’re blinded by the god of this world.

        And Paul’s admonishments in Romans 14  and 1 Cor 8 (and again in 1 Cor 10) weren’t about throwing out freedom. They were about being aware of the sensitivities of other Christians who are present with you at the time. He makes this fairly clear in  1 Cor 8 and 1 Cor 10 where he elaborates on the topic . If we interpret it in terms of, “we should never do anything that could offend any Christian anywhere even if they just hear about” then we pretty much won’t be able to do anything at all (and Paul wouldn’t have been able to do half the stuff that Christians in Jerusalem had problems with, like eat with Gentiles). You can guarantee that most of what you do will offend some Christian somewhere (just remember there are still people out there who think that all “rock” music is of the devil).

        So, if I’m in a room with a Christian who doesn’t watch R-rated movies, then I’m not going to, for the sake of his conscience. I do this same thing with Christian friends who don’t drink. But that doesn’t mean that I never can, or that a Christian can never make an R-rated movie or make alcohol (or whatever) lest some Christian somewhere might find out about it and be offended. The last thing Paul wanted to do in those passages was put all of Christianity in bondage to the sensitivities of “those whose faith is weak” (Romans 14:1).

        In fact, the bulk of Romans 14 talks about how we shouldn’t be judging each other over “disputable matters”. That’s the thing to keep in mind here, not the, “If *I* don’t like it, then YOU shouldn’t do it” interpretation.

        WATYF

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        • Not doing “R” rated material and not drinking alcohol for fear of offending “those whose faith is weak” reminds me of how we have been told we shouldn’t speak out against homosexuality because it might “offend” them. Same concept, different situation. In both instances it is to put restrictions on someone’s freedoms.

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      • Or is there truth here that we also need to recall, lest we lapse into that “if only” mindset that ignores the fact that even if we do everything “right,” we’ll be disliked?

        Maybe both extremes contain the same error.  On the one hand, the traditional, culturally blind Evangelicals say, “If only we are sufficiently bold and direct in proclaiming the Gospel, if only we are brave enough to confront as many people as possible, if only we don’t dumb-down the message with worldly things, then souls will be saved and the church will flourish.”  Meanwhile, others say, “If only we can relate meaningfully to the culture, if only we can speak the same language and depict the same artistic style as unbelievers, if only we can distance ourselves from traditional legalistic arrogance, then souls will be saved and the church will flourish.”
         
        Stephen, thanks again for being a voice of balance.  Evangelicalism needs more of this kind of wisdom.

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      • Of course I’m not speaking in terms of 100%. But most Christians are so far away from being able to relate to and communicate to (let alone entertain) their culture that “They just hate me because of Christ” should be their last assumption… not their first.

        Maybe so, especially because Christ has commanded us always to be sure we’re being conformed to His image. It’s statements like “most Christians” to which I object, mainly because these claims are often founded on statistics that can be misleading. (For example, this comment is informed by the Bradley R.E. Wright book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told.)

        Trust me, I and other SF writers agree that real, going-to-heaven-and-then-the-New-Earth Christians are very bad at enjoying stories for the right reasons. If I didn’t agree with that belief, Speculative Faith may not even exist today.

        But appealing to Scripture, not to “X percent Christians are bad” or “people hate us because of Y” claims, is the best way to challenge behavior. Ironically, appealing to Scripture rather than “we’ve all been bad” quasi-lectures also avoids repeating the very same lovelessness we condemn.

        First look at your quality and talent and stop trying to hide behind the Cross as an excuse for poor performance.

        I agree. But I suggest one would have tried to justify his poor performance with bad theology, not extra-accurate (needless) theology. I say this here due to the often-false claim that Christians simply need to stop being so “theological” and “just tell the story.” Incorrect: it is this very impulse that has made Christian fiction less theologically true and more pathetic! Fidelity to God’s Word, the Story Prime, is what sets us and our stories free to explore.

        The “real” reason our culture thinks we’re boring and irrelevant is because we are.

        Can you give a Scriptural evidence that this is the real, by which I presume you mean primary, reason? At what point could we decide “okay, the problem is fixed; the Church is relevant now”? How do we measure success? Do you expect to (similar to the claims of theonomists!) in any way “take over the world”? :-)

        Bainespal wrote this bit of wisdom above, and I agree with it 100 percent:

        both extremes contain the same error.  On the one hand, the traditional, culturally blind Evangelicals say, “If only we are sufficiently bold and direct in proclaiming the Gospel, if only we are brave enough to confront as many people as possible, if only we don’t dumb-down the message with worldly things, then souls will be saved and the church will flourish.”  Meanwhile, others say, “If only we can relate meaningfully to the culture, if only we can speak the same language and depict the same artistic style as unbelievers, if only we can distance ourselves from traditional legalistic arrogance, then souls will be saved and the church will flourish.”

        My point is that we must not enact or subconsciously believe “if only …” statements that Jesus Himself never made. Christians are constantly doing this sort of thing, and it’s annoying. For example, Jesus only said, “Be holy”; He never said, “Keep trying, and you’ll achieve perfection even before the resurrection of your body.” Jesus was also the paragon example of Relevant culture-engagement and storytelling; He was declared “irrelevant,” then killed.

        I know this because I’m a Christian, and with my spiritual eyes opened, I can still see how boring and irrelevant many churches and most Christian entertainment is. Once we fix that, then we can find out who is actually rejecting the Gospel because they’re blinded by the god of this world.

        It does sound like you have a commendable zeal to “fix” it — but can’t say how. Against this I merely inject some realism: it’s not up to us to “fix” this secondary problem first, and only then (again, when?) discern who needs the Gospel.

        But let me not leave that sounding so negative. Speculative Faith, and many other sites and authors, exists to encourage in Christians a Biblical worldview of wonder and worship through storytelling. In Speculative Faith’s case, we urge God-honoring exploration and enjoyment of speculative stories. We would not be doing this unless we believed it’s vital for Christians to do.

        And Paul’s admonishments in Romans 14  and 1 Cor 8 (and again in 1 Cor 10) weren’t about throwing out freedom. They were about being aware of the sensitivities of other Christians who are present with you at the time.

        True, but then what action do we take — “faith without works is dead” — when we know that a Christian with us is sensitive to something? There’s one action: the command in Rom. 14:16: “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” For me, that’s why I take time to explain why I enjoy things like Harry Potter or superhero films: I don’t want what I regard as good to be spoken of as evil (often with good intentions, but ignorantly). But then there’s also this:

        Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

        [After more descriptions/defenses of the apostle Paul's and others' legitimate rights] Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
           
        1 Corinthians 9:1-12 ESV (boldface emphases added)

        With that in mind, I feel I must “check” the statement that Paul’s statements “weren’t about throwing out freedom.” I agree, they most certainly were not. But they were about putting our freedom in context — and that context is the glorification of God and the spread of the Gospel. If something we are doing is preventing that from happening, then we must sacrifice (not “throw away”) that freedom. Here is where things get tricky, we would likely agree, because how we do that depends on our context and audience. I touched on that in this reply.

        He makes this fairly clear in  1 Cor 8 and 1 Cor 10 where he elaborates on the topic . If we interpret it in terms of, “we should never do anything that could offend any Christian anywhere even if they just hear about” then we pretty much won’t be able to do anything at all

        That’s why I don’t define the “stumbling block” that way, and strongly oppose any abuses of this principle to do so. The word “offense” is key. Paul was not talking about “anything that could offend any Christian anywhere.” He meant a specific free-action that, if a “weaker brother” saw it done, could cause him to struggle and even sin. Love will come alongside that brother, help him to see that this is a freedom issue, but also stop doing this thing in that brother’s presence.

        You and I would likely agree on this very helpful article by author Randy Alcorn.

        So, if I’m in a room with a Christian who doesn’t watch R-rated movies, then I’m not going to, for the sake of his conscience. I do this same thing with Christian friends who don’t drink. But that doesn’t mean that I never can, or that a Christian can never make an R-rated movie or make alcohol (or whatever) lest some Christian somewhere might find out about it and be offended.

        Amen. Agreed. We don’t exercise in “preventive” stumbling block-removal. Rather Paul, and we, may only deal with such situations case-by-case. Anything else falls outside the purview of “so far as it depends on you …” (Rom. 12).

        The last thing Paul wanted to do in those passages was put all of Christianity in bondage to the sensitivities of “those whose faith is weak” (Romans 14:1).

        Agreed again.

        My point is mainly that we need to find ways to teach about Christian freedom while also making sure we are staying personally holy and equally encouraging that, and also appealing to glorification of God first, impressing others second.

        In fact, the bulk of Romans 14 talks about how we shouldn’t be judging each other over “disputable matters”. That’s the thing to keep in mind here, not the, “If *I* don’t like it, then YOU shouldn’t do it” interpretation.

        Agreed again. The Apostle Paul, empowered by the Spirit, was a wise fellow.

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  24. Timothy Stone says:

    My opinion quickly, is that we are dumb to worry too much about NEVER having any swearing, sex, or violence, as opposed to having it present with the correct moral and biblical philosophy.  I’ve read the violence in much “Christian” fiction, and the morality of the heroes is just as sadistic and filled with a hateful “bloodlust” as the violence in secular fiction.
     
    I’m not saying such concerns of too much of this stuff are not warranted, but I’m more bothered by the negative, unbiblical morality behind much of these issues in Christian fiction. If the use of darker elements is not gratuitous, but to have a worthwhile, perhaps even BIBLICAL point, then that is something to aim for, and far superior to most Christian fiction today, I’ll wager.

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  25. Timothy Stone says:

    An example, by the by. Anna Karenina has a small sex scene, and it is necessary to show the fall of Anna. It is not gratutitous, but has a point. Thus the reason I find it appropriate.
     
    Stephen, while I agree that the “for laughs” part of the sex clip in Iron Man between Tony and the reporter was not good, it wasn’t so horrible either, in that it wasn’t to make him look cool. It was to show he has no real integrity or moral center at that point. If they had left out the somewhat humorous tones they were aiming for with it, it would have been fine.

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  26. There are some distinctions I think are getting lost here.

    One, the “realistic argument.” It is true, we don’t include a lot of things in fiction that is realistic as it happens in real life.  We don’t mention every time someone goes to the bathroom, unless it moves the plot and character arc forward. Few people’s thoughts are as well ordered as our character’s whose heads we jump into.  Etc. Fiction is by definition not going to be realistic, because realism is too boring. Few are the number of people who live a life with as much wild stuff happening to them as my characters have.  If we did, we’d be in a mental hospital. Not galloping off on a horse to our next adventure.

    That said, we do attempt to give the appearance of realism to our stories. And part of that involves the expectations of our particular audience. In a particular situation, would a particular action or non-action come across as breaking the suspension of disbelief for a particular audience? The question isn’t are we adding in this content to make the story more realistic (that would be a bad reason), but to make it more believable. IOW, the question isn’t concerning realism, but making a quality story that will resonate with its intended audience, of which the absence of some things could make it less believable and therefore, lower quality story.

    For instance, I wrote a book this past November, in part which involves a couple who have been together for nine months plus at the beginning of this story as girl friend and boyfriend. In the previous books, they’ve gone as far as kissing, but that’s it.  I’m concerned that most teens (it is YA) reading that will go, “Yeah, right. Like anyone would still be hands off after nine months and only kiss.” Does it happen? Yes, because I’ve done it. But I know I’m in the minority. Many will not think it is realistic. And this is targeted toward general YA, not specifically Christian.  But having them go further not only damages the plot of this book, but the main character’s past actions and values.  Not to mention, for me, to have them go there would be sin, so would greatly change my character’s arc.  Sin happens, but not by him, but to him. So I’ve got to make a judgment call there, based on my audience’s expectations that will hopefully keep it believable for them.

    Two,  for me at least, I would not be more gritty and such for the purposes of trying to appeal to the secular person, but if so, to gain a hearing with them.  Goes back to above. If they would find something unbelievable, not real, so that it would cause them to reject the rest of the book, then I’ve lost the right to be heard with that audience.  Like Jesus, you’ve got to start where people are at if you want to move them forward toward God. Not all fiction can do it all either Some are seed plantings. Others are plowing the ground. If all one book does is plow, that is something worthwhile.  Seed thrown on unplowed ground, as we know, just gets eaten by the birds.

    In effect, if showing is necessary to move the plot and/or character arc forward in a believable fashion for a particular audience, then show only what you need to do that. There are some stories that would need that for them to work. I know, because I wrote one, and Splashdown published it last year (sorry Jeff, Grace beat you to it ;).

    Same principle Paul used in speaking to the Atheans. We all know he didn’t believe that idol was a god, or pointed to a god, but he preached as if it did. Not because he was attempting to be more realistic, but to be all things to all men that by any means, he might save some.
     

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  27. R.L., I’ve been appreciating your thoughts in the discussion! All of them, I think. :-)

    What may also be getting lost is the fact that in this book, the “sex scene” in question is not intended to be Gritty or Realistic or to show a Life Before the Character was Saved. Actually it’s a romantic scene, between a husband and wife.

    So the novel actually sidesteps the usual arguments and issues. While everyone here is, mainly, focusing on whether we can show certain aspects of sinful sexual interactions, the author has gone off and shown an interaction that is marital, romantic and right, but which is also, arguably, not something others should “see.”

    I’ve noticed that people haven’t picked up on the Naughty Words subtopic yet, or the distinction Vox Day made between “profanity” and “vulgarity” — an issue left mostly unexplored in the stuff-my-Christian-fiction-doesn’t-say debate. What do you think about that distinction, I wonder? And while we may (and should!) all agree that the Bible forbids blasphemy, foolish talk, and coarse jesting, what do we think about characters doing this, especially if it’s not clearly shown to be sinful every time (as in A Throne of Bones‘ scenes with bawdy soldiers in battle)?

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    • Hi Stephen,
       
      Pardon the slowness of the reply,  but Sundays tend to be my busy day.  I know, totally backwards. Anyway…
       
      You mentioned the type of sex scene in this book. I’ve not read it.  Not sure I will, not because of the sex scene, but a 300K word book is intimidating, and it would have to be a pretty good story to lock me in for that long. I have too much in my “to be read” pile as it is and limited time for reading. But from your and others description of what happens, it sounds overall positive and good. I have a similar scene in my book, Reality’s Fire. My belief is, if it is done well, it is a positive influence. This is because if we do not show positive and healthy sexual morals, then we by default leave the “battle” to the secular morals that are widely shown.  I think the fact we’ve done this is why among Christians, divorce, adultery, and pre-marital sex rates are not much different than the secular culture. It only goes down when you filter out the more “fringe” Christians, but is still way too big a percent to not be damning to our lack of moral teaching, including showing the healthy version of those morals in our fictional stories. Without, of course, going into too much detail than called for the plot to work.
       
      In that same book, I do have to go a little ways into a “sex scene” because a major event related to the plot happens at that point, and there is no way to not go there and have the plot work. And since I had to go there, I had to walk the fine line of doing so believably, without being any more tantalizing than necessary to be believable. My publisher did edit it back some to where she felt comfortable with it. But I know some will balk at that scene being in there. And if I could have made it work another way, I would have. But it is shown to be sin and consequences follow, so it in no way glorifies what was happening, indeed, shows it to be wrong and so stands as more of a warning than glorifying sin.
       
      On the cussing aspect between profanity and vulgarity, I’ve missed that distinction. I re-read Jeff’s comments, and he doesn’t mention it. So I don’t know what distinction Vox is making between the two to comment on it.
       
      I have written on the topic at my blog before, perhaps the most notable one being, “To Explic or Not To Explic.” (Note, explicit discussing of cuss words included) Personally, I don’t like watching a movie or reading a book full of cussing. But I recognize cussing in general is not sin in some cases. The previously mentioned book does contain one cuss word. Nor should the author using such be accused of approving of cussing in general, etc. It is a characterization call. Just as much as having a character gossip or murder someone in cold blood. Without showing sin, we’d have no conflict, and therefore, little story. The arbitrary picking of certain sins as taboo to show while others are fully approved of is born more by Christian culture than faithfulness to glorifying God and following Scriptures.
       
      But, as with sex scenes, even if not strictly sin, one has to consider their audience in deciding what to include or leave out and what the story requires to be believable. If you’re writing to predominately Christians, you’ve probably sunk your book’s chances of being read by them if it is laced with profanity.
       
      But if you have a link or can summarize Vox’s distinction on that, I’ll give you my two cents on it, if the aforementioned does not address it.
       

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    • Stephen, I responded to this but it didn’t show up. Maybe my content fell into moderation and will show up soon. lol. Or it was lost in cyberspace. If it doesn’t surface, I’ll respond again later.
       
      Meanwhile, can you point to a link or summarize what Vox’s distinctions are on profanity and vulgarity? I didn’t see Jeff mentioning it in the blog post and have not run across this myself. Thanks.
       
      Meanwhile, here is a link to my blog post a while back on the topic, “To Explic or Not to Explic”
      http://blog.rlcopple.com/?p=395

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    • Just fished out your earlier comment, R.L. It should appear here. (Yes, it wound up in moderation for some reason. You know, that’s Biblical: keep things in moderation.)

      So far Vox hasn’t shared that distinction that I can find, but perhaps he will during his guest spot next week. Without having checked about it, my guess is that there can be a distinction made between profanity (blasphemy; taking God’s Name in vain in speech) and vulgarity (scatological references, crudities, etc., that don’t include His Name).

      Blasphemy is forbidden, and the other stuff suspect, for the Christian. But that does not necessarily forbid “seeing” someone else, in reality or fiction, doing it — especially if you aren’t tempted by such a witnessing to engage in the same behavior.

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      • lol on the moderation. Probably because I embedded that link. Anyway…
         
        So, profanity is taking God’s name in vain, and vulgarity is something other than that, but, well, vulgar. I think the link to my blog post addresses that to a large degree. Not sure I agree with Kessie that d**m (bleeping for those who might otherwise be offended, even though we all hear the word in our head, so no real difference) falls into the profanity category. Putting God’s name before it would, but by itself, I don’t think so. It does, however, fall into my category of degrading God’s creation. It is the equivalent of “go to hell,” and we should not wish that on anyone.
         
        However, most cuss words are not meant to be taken literally. No one thinks in terms of calling something s**t as being literally so.  So if someone just yells out d**m when they experience something shocking, what or who are they calling for God to throw them into eternal damnation? Nothing. It is just a word used to express shock and how horrible something that is happening is.
         
        However, in fiction, having a character use a term, even a sinful one, isn’t the equivalent of the author using the term, and depending on context, promoting using that term. As I’ve stated on my blog, what makes a story and its characters a Christian story isn’t by were it starts, but by where it ends. Taken as a whole, does it promote God’s kingdom and bring Him glory? Or does it end up promoting sin and minimizing God’s love and justice?
         
        But it goes back to one’s market audience. It doesn’t sound like this book is being marketed to the CBA crowd. It is designed to be a cross-over title into mainstream. The many good reviews he’s gotten on the book probably attest to this, this one negative review not withstanding (there will always be those if you have any significant number of reviews).
         
        I hope that answered your desire to know what I think on it. Maybe not as organized and concise. ;)

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  28. I’m coming to this topic from having been reading and studying the YA genre, since I’m writing in it. Seriously, all this fuss over a bedscene between married people? I’m glad Vox Day had the courage to write it and Jeff had the courage to publish it!
     
    In YA, teens hop in the sack with anybody they vaguely like. There’s no problem with moral anything. It all comes down to how comfortable the teens are with it, and how much they want each other. I’m reading Shiver, and LONGING for some kind of moral struggle! But neither character had any kind of good home life, and they have no moral compass at all. Neither of them think that him sleeping in her bed maybe might not be a good idea. It’s all, “Well, this is the last summer he’s human, so anything goes!”
     
    I’d like to see some YA where the characters at least feel bad about sleeping together. Or (GSAP!) marrying young and then getting it on. At least then there’d be some commitment there. As for how graphic it is, does that really matter? The rape scene in Julie of the Wolves is just about G-rated in terms of graphic content. Yet you know what happened, and it’s disturbing.
     
    I applaud Jeff for taking this step!

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    • Kessie, I think this is why a number of Christians embraced the Twilight books–they saw them as “true love waits” books, and they want that to be OK for them. They want to be out from the pressure, to not be considered nerdy, and reading this in a popular book validated their belief.

      I think this is one thing Vox Day was attempting to do in his novel–validate monogamous heterosexual unions. I think that’s a great goal. I like that he wants to show Christians as not always the weird, creepy villain or the idiot patsy or however else the media tends to show us–bitter, angry, mean-spirited, greedy. We need Christians to be brought out from under the stereotypes.

      Becky

      Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/CussingMy Profile

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      • Rebecca,
        The problem with the Twilight books is, despite their abstinence messages, promotes the idea of stalking (Edward stares at Bella while she’s sleeping and she likes that) hurting yourself to get your loved one back (Bella does this countless times) playing with other’s feelings (Bella bounces back and forth between two men) and removing someone’s free will (Edward has his “family” watch Bella to make sure she’s stays away from Jacob, effectively removing her free will). So it’s one good message is kind of hindered by all the bad messages throughout it. And, despite the abstinence thing, Edward is perpetually 17. He will always be under age despite his years as an undead. That was a choice by the author.
        We definitely need books that show that kind of true love waits thing though. I just don’t think Twilight is really it.

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        • Rachel, I hope neither you nor anyone else reading the comments thought I was recommending the Twilight books. I’m not. I haven’t read them because I heard too much about them that made me think they were not books showing healthy relationships, regardless of the “love waits” message.

          But I do think it was that message that catapulted the books to the top of a lot of readers’ to-be-read lists. They wanted to know that there was a hero who would wait and a girl who wanted him to.

          And I agree. That’s a message Christians should be delivering–not just in a Christian context. That message is a good one for every teen.

          Becky

          Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/CussingMy Profile

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        • Gina Welborn says:

          As someone who has read the Twilight series, I must say, “Excellent assessment, Rachel!” And I do think there was far more to what drew girls to those books besides “true love waits.”

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  29. Timothy Stone says:

    Stphen, what is the difference he draws between “profanity” and “vulgarity”? I have the book (bought and downloaded it Friday night after reading this article, along with the short story and the Elvish debate novella by him), and will start it in a few days. But some clarification would be nice. Does he just mean to look up the difference in the words in a dictionary? Or is there a deeper philosophical understanding (or source I can read) you can point me towards to help me understand this?

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  30. Timothy Stone says:

    By the by, realism just to be realistic is not good. On that, some of the critics are right. However, we sometimes wonder about why folks don’t find us credible just may have something to do with this. Our characters have it easy, and if they do well, they suddenly win. We need to present stories that show trials, suffering, and realistic characters finding salvation in Christ (or fictional characters that point to Christ).

    Also, with the Hosea retelling example above, as well as the original Bible, much of it would NEVER BE PUBLISHED by a modern Christian publisher due to the violence and sex in it. Something to consider, I suppose.

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  31. After this issue has been discussed and argued by much more experienced authors then I am, I should just keep my nose out of it, but, alas, I can’t. :D
     
    One thing I keep seeing is an assumed link between sex and violence. I don’t think the two are linked in anyway beside how a movie is rated.
     
    Violence is an act of evil done by one person to another, or a sadly necessary act in response to the evil act. Sex is the uniting of two human souls in something that God has made to be uniquely beautiful and powerful. But because it has such a direct line into the heart and soul, it also can be the conduit, in our fallen state, to more pain and brokenness then anything else could cause.
     
    Because of that danger, the Bible repeatedly urges us to flee any thing that endangers that part of ourselves. And it can happen in the head and imagination as much as through the eyes.
     
    That’s why I think sexual content should be handled like a microbiologist deals with vial of the ebola virus in our writing. Not because it’s dirty, or out of a legalistic right and wrong, but because our sin nature can latch onto it and rot us away from the inside, one silent inch at a time. It’s not about what we should or shouldn’t do to make our stories “realistic.” It’s about protecting our hearts.
     
    So yes, some people may not struggle with the mind and imagination in this area, most do. And it can be equally destructive to readers and writers.

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    • How does that apply to secular books with sex in them? Do we just not read them at all?
       
      Again, I’ve been studying the YA genre and the flagrant immorality annoys the heck out of me. I wish Christians would write books about how romantic relationships should work and take back romance from the erotica writers.
       
      I still think the love story between Father Tim and Cynthia in the Mitford books is the sweetest thing I’ve ever read. It’s completely chaste, and yet realistic–he does want her. But his heart is pulled in so many different directions, he doesn’t know which way to jump, and he almost loses her in the end. It’s wonderful. I have yet to read another romance that even comes close.

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      • I’ve actually struggled with that question, and where the line is. I do know that while I can skip through such things when I’m reading a book, when I’m writing a story, I can’t. I have to be there in the scene to write it right, and I also know I’ve gone too far there in the past to the point where I’ve spent years struggling to come back and to be able to enjoy creating stories without that buzz.
         
        But even when it comes to skipping through parts, there are books I’ve considered reading that I’ve decided not to because I know how they will tempt me.

        Some may argue that they don’t struggle in that area, and so I’m being more careful then they need to be. Well. That’s funny, because I said the same thing once upon a time. Just like a romantic relationship before marriage, if we don’t set clear boundaries on our minds and imaginations, and enforce safeguards to keep thouse boundries, we stand on quicksand.

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  32. Joanna, I’m glad you spoke up. That seems to be getting lost in the discussion: the fact that we are at least playing with fire, or viral contamination, in your words. Scripture never warns against presenting characters or storylines in which people sin by acts of violence, hateful attitudes, saying nasty things or many other kinds of sin. But it does warn against sexual immorality, and I keep wanting to ask: what does that mean for our stories? We can talk all we like about what (we think) it doesn’t mean. But mere reactions against made-up rules can only go so far.

    What does “flee sexual immorality” mean to this issue?

    Some folks seem to be thinking, Well, a slightly-described scene of physical romance between the husband and wife is just the tip of the iceberg! I disagree. At the very least, we should proceed with just as much caution and Biblical motivations as Jeff has helpfully outlined here. For the Christian, it’s Realistic! and it’s not legalism! don’t cut it. We don’t base what we do on merely “avoiding the appearance of evil,” such as the evil of legalism (to take the verse out of context). Instead we should be basing decisions on whether or not such a thing will glorify God.

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    • Stephen, I’m trying to understand what you’re saying in the last part of this comment. Since I haven’t read the book, I want to clarify–was it “a slightly-described scene of physical romance”  in which the author/editor showed the characters having sex or was it only implied that they were having sex?

      I think when something is implied, the reader is released to his or her own imagination–to put the limits where they will. When it is shown, the author takes the reader to those places that … well, in the case of sex, I don’t think readers ought to go.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “tip of the iceberg” in this context. Are you thinking that some criticism is that husband/wife sex will start an avalanche of sex scenes in books? If so, I missed it.

      Are you saying that the standards a Christian should use to decide what scenes to keep are “Is it realistic” and “is it legalistic”?

      How does “the appearance of evil” fit into this discussion?

      Maybe I’m simply reading too fast and missed what these things referred to.

      Becky

      I still don’t think we’ve given a good answer to why it would ever be OK for a reader to be in the bedroom while a husband and wife are engaged intimately.

      Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/CussingMy Profile

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    • Stephen, I’m trying to understand what you’re saying in the last part of this comment. Since I haven’t read the book, I want to clarify–was it “a slightly-described scene of physical romance”  in which the author/editor showed the characters having sex or was it only implied that they were having sex?

      I’d say it was right in between. To risk going into details here, especially apart from context, Day wrote from the husband’s perspective, after he’d not seen his wife for a long time. This alone added some heat, I felt. With some distance, though with heat ripples (I felt) in the air across that distance, he took a paragraph or two to describe the interaction, at that point becoming more vague. It was not quite “clinical,” but certainly not detailed enough to induce this reader to sin.

      That’s what I must keep admitting: it didn’t make me sin, anyway, as far as I can tell.

      Still, I agree with you that while this scene was a better example, “theoretically” I felt had no need to eavesdrop on characters like that. But perhaps I wasn’t in the audience. If it can be shown that a Christian or non-Christian reader reacted more positively to the scene, if he/she saw it as God-glorifying bit that exulted in His good gifts rather than the nasty abuse of them, the pro-vaguely-described-sex-scenes argument gains strength. Myself, who already believes in the goodness of marriage and the permanence of physical creation, etc., didn’t “need” the scene for the story.

      I think when something is implied, the reader is released to his or her own imagination–to put the limits where they will.

      Which is why the scene is a challenge — I felt it lay (sorry!) right in between.

      When it is shown, the author takes the reader to those places that … well, in the case of sex, I don’t think readers ought to go.

      Amen, and that’s what’s missing from some discussion about this issue (though not necessarily here). I keep hearing (again, not necessarily here) implications that if you don’t like sex scenes in stories, you must be a legalist. Well, that in itself is a reactionary, even “fundie” legalistic judgment. It perceives someone’s action as appearing to be like a sin and declares it a sin: the very definition of legalism.

      Yes, we humans are sneaky. We can be legalistically in favor of sex scenes.

      (I’d pondered this for a while in imagining, for a since-delayed fiction project, a futuristic Christian-esque cult that believed in making it clear that men and women were different, and thereby legalistically required their women to show cleavage.)

      I’m not sure what you mean by “tip of the iceberg” in this context. Are you thinking that some criticism is that husband/wife sex will start an avalanche of sex scenes in books? If so, I missed it.

      Clever and original metaphor, wasn’t it? By that I meant that some people seem to think this is merely the start of a long and beautiful friendship between Christian novelists and sex scenes. They seem to imply: A vague romantic encounter between a husband and wife? That’s a fine start, but only a start. Let’s take it further; let’s get even more detailed and make sure people know that we know how it’s done.

      It’s the fiction equivalent of corny, stupid-headed megachurch pastors who climb on the roof or put stripper poles on the stage for “sex sermon” stunts. This nonsense is immature; they are clearly trying to compensate for something.

      Are you saying that the standards a Christian should use to decide what scenes to keep are “Is it realistic” and “is it legalistic”?

      Nope. I want to hear more based on the true purpose of fiction. Its purpose is not “to entertain,” or “to fight against certain sins like legalism” or “to be as realistic as possible” (if so, then write nonfiction), but: to help us glorify and enjoy God.

      How does “the appearance of evil” fit into this discussion?

      I doubt it does fit, at least not in that phrasing. (I’m addressing here the frequent  misquote of the verse to mean “even if it looks like it could be evil, avoid it.”) “Avoid the appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:17) means to avoid actual evil wherever it appears, especially in Christian teaching — as one pastor pointed out to me. More on that here. (Other translations say “avoid every kind of evil,” which Paul says while  encouraging people to test teaching. Other verses deal with something that seems to be evil — or would be a sin for one person — but isn’t intrinsically evil.)

      I still don’t think we’ve given a good answer to why it would ever be OK for a reader to be in the bedroom while a husband and wife are engaged intimately.

      The best reason I’ve seen is something like: it’s important in order to “take back” the glorification of sinful sex in other books. That, however, doesn’t do anything for me, because I haven’t read those other books and so don’t have that stigma. I don’t need any un-Biblical views of sex corrected through fiction (though of course that old man isn’t dead yet! [Rom. 6]). In fact, I believe I have a higher view of amazing, God-glorifying marital sex, to the point of wanting to stay the heck out of people’s way when they’re enjoying it. That’s their business, not mine, even if they are only fictional characters. A critic may say: But a scene like this can show how nasty sin is. Then that’s another issue. But the novel excerpt Becky posted above does a fine job without going into the sorts of who-did-what-where details people say we “need.”

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      • “Nope. I want to hear more based on the true purpose of fiction. Its purpose is not “to entertain,” or “to fight against certain sins like legalism” or “to be as realistic as possible” (if so, then write nonfiction), but: to help us glorify and enjoy God.”

        Stephen, I feel the above needs more clarification, for it doesn’t make much sense to me. I agree, for a Christian, their ultimate goal in the use of fiction is to glorify Him. And maybe that is what you are primarily saying. However, the reason people pick up a piece of fiction, generally, isn’t to glorify God, but to be entertained. While non-fiction can be entertaining, its purpose is primarily to convey information. And I doubt too many people would say the purpose of non-fiction is to fight sins like legalism (unless that was the topic of the book) or to be as realistic as possible, at least in the context of telling a story.
         
        But in order for a Christian to glorify God, they have to write a story that does the first purpose of fiction itself, entertain the reader. If it fails to do that, 1. low quality fiction that fails to entertain is not our best for God and does much to not glorify God if “Christian” is on the label, and 2. few will bother reading it and so you end up with few who will see/experience God’s glory through that story. I agree the purpose of fiction is not primarily to fight sins or be as realistic as possible, even though we must convey a sense of realism to not kick the reader out of the story. But I don’t think we can so easily divorce entertainment as a primary purpose of fiction itself. As far as fiction in general, that is its main purpose.
         
        I’d put it more like this. The primary purpose of fiction is to entertain. The primary purpose of a Christian author is to glorify God through that entertainment both by writing the most entertaining stories we can, and to do so responsibly including the avoidance of glorifying or promoting sin. That last part doesn’t mean we don’t show sin, but that it isn’t glorified when taken in context of the story.
         
        I should be clear on the sex thing. I described a scene in one of my books that goes a little ways into what appears to be a sexual encounter. But it stops short, for reasons that would be plot spoilers, before they get to taking off her clothes or into the act itself. But I had to go that far, and do so convincingly of her motivations, to get to a critical point when the plot takes a turn for the worst.
         
        I too would find it hard to imagine why I would ever need to show it all in graphic detail to make a plot work. I think it is a good thing, when in context, to show that married couples do participate in that act, and show it positively. But it would be a rare plot where I would feel a need to go into the bedroom and have the reader (or myself) experience the act in detail, or even lightly. If I did come across that plot, I’m not the author to write that story. Reality’s Fire is the closest I can ever imagine I’d get to that. Unfortunately, among general market YA, that is pretty tame.

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  33. Just found this older column at Christ and Pop Culture, and it has applications here.

    As Christians discern how to navigate through popular culture in a way that is edifying to themselves and their neighbors and glorifying to God, one concern that commonly arises is whether or not a particular cultural pursuit will cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble. We might personally have the freedom in Christ to watch a mature movie, but, for the sake of a weaker brother who might sin against his conscience if he sees this film, we might abstain from watching it for a time. Properly understood, this concern, which is essentially the decision to put the spiritual life of others before our freedoms, is beautiful and good. Misunderstood, abused, or misapplied, a concern for the conscience of a brother or sister in Christ can result in legalism, pride, and false condemnation.

    While Christians have often treated the conscience of a brother or sister as an essential consideration in discerning what is good and appropriate to watch, read, listen to, or play in popular culture, we have not spent enough time considering how our own “Christian” culture can be a stumbling block. It is easy for us to understand how a violent video game, a song with graphic lyrics, or a movie with suggestive themes might cause a fellow Christian to offend their conscience, but could our “Christian” paintings, music, and clothing do the same?

    Read the rest at Rethinking the Stumbling Block: Christian Culture as a Barrier .

    Our job just got tougher. Because we want to serve and love our Savior of holiness, we should also do our best (as far as it depends on us; Rom. 12:18) to live at peace with all and not cause unnecessary offense to other brothers or non-Christians!

    There are, however, two kinds of “stumbling blocks” we may put in people’s way.

    1. One “stumbling block” is unavoidable. People, especially “religious” people with their own Christless morality, will “stumble” over the message of Christ and especially His sacrificial death for dead-in-sins rebels, as Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 1:23 about the Jews. (Gentiles — for us this could include people with little Judeo-Christian morality, will think this message absolute foolishness.)

      We must not get rid of any part of this “stumbling block.” Christ and His epic Story is all that we have and all that we enjoy. But still I keep seeing books and “sermons” and material from well-meaning Christians who insist that we must downplay not only our “Christian culture,” but Christ Himself.

    2. The other “stumbling block” is the kind we typically associate with the phrase: an unnecessary offense. It’s something that may be within our freedoms, such as eating meat that pagans used in their ceremonies, or not celebrating religious holidays (Rom. 14), or bringing a wife who also needs support along on a missionary journey (1 Cor. 9). Eating meat and foregoing religious holidays could trip up less-mature Christians, and expecting people to support your wife could trip up non-Christians; to them you could look like just another itinerant philosopher/moocher whom they’d seen before.

      Therefore that’s something that the apostle Paul, backed by God, would sacrifice for the Gospel. I myself keep forgetting this, especially because people most often speak of things like “being all things to all people” in the sense of adding something (even naturally) to our appearance or lifestyle to make us “cool” in the world’s eyes. That issue aside, Paul spoke in terms of giving up legitimate freedoms to do perfectly acceptable things.

    Posting the above link at the Speculative Faith Facebook page, I commented:

    One of the better arguments for loosening limits on Christian fiction isn’t just that it’s Grittier or More Realistic, but that such limits make an un-Biblical “stumbling block” that barricades the Gospel from non-Christian readers. Biblically we must in love surrender such barriers, the apostle Paul wrote, even if we forego legitimate freedoms. Might this mean we may consider surrendering our freedom to want more “edgy” content, or our freedom to enforce bans on that content?

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    • Stephen, you’ve hit on a theme I’ve written about before. “How to Write for the Weaker Brother” http://blog.rlcopple.com/?p=667
       
      It is also true earlier in Rom. 14 that Paul tells the weaker  brother not to judge and condemn the stronger. But the context those verses are written in tend to be dropped. I point out what those are in the post. One main point, the writer/content provider (meat) isn’t the one Paul would be talking about in this context, but the discipler of the weaker brother.

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  34. One last bit: I knew I’d written more specifically on the sex-scenes issue, inspired by the fandom (and excuse-making even from Christian readers) for certain bestselling and boldly-read-in-public pornographic books. Here was that column:

    Sex in the Story: One Shade of Black

    Again, note that I’m quoting this here not to condemn, but to add to the discussion.

    First, Scripture itself refutes the lie that any practice is by default “neutral”:

    […] Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

    Romans 14:23

    Note: this applies even to things that are, by themselves, not sin-causing! How much more does this apply to something utterly un-redemptive!

    [Paul quotes the equivalent of Corinthian advertising slogans] “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!

    1 Corinthians 6: 12-15

    Note: Paul, inspired by the Spirit, never condemns us being exposed to violence or swearing or false beliefs — he only condemns exposure to sexual immorality.

    Some may offer Biblical defenses for certain kinds of scenes, and Biblically based opposition to legitimate legalism. But it would strengthen your case if you also condemn what you believe are abuses of freedom. That way, more people may be assured that you are also trying to take seriously Christ’s Biblical commandments, against sexual immorality and for Godly, joyous holiness.

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    • I agree with that in principle, Stephen, but that verse doesn’t mean to merely be exposed, but to commit it yourself. I think it is stretching the context to say Paul had a broader application than taking members of Christ (our bodies) and joining them to a prostitute.
       
      There are other reasons to avoid pornographic material and how it affects the holiness one lives, but joining to a prostitute isn’t one of them. Not unless it tempts one to go do so.
       
      This all gives me a good idea for a blog post. <evil grin>

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    • That’s a good point, and I’d actually thought of that before I quoted from the column. There I meant by “exposed” to commit the sin one’s self — not merely to see it being committed. Similarly, I could blame the miniskirt-wearing girl for “causing” me to sin, but ha — it would be my fault for that sin and no other. (Some Christian circles are notorious for blame-an-alternate-cause-ism rather than focusing on the heart.)

      The difference between “witnessing sin” and “doing that sin” does vary according to person. I submit the only inevitably-sinning “exposure,” which a Christian should avoid, is indulging in looking at other people actually naked and in a sexual situation.

      As I’ve repeated a few times, whether a description of such a situation can inevitably cause indulgence in temptation (it isn’t a sin to be tempted alone) is another issue.

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      • But isn’t the answer to the short skirt to look away? Isn’t that how you’d flee immorality in that case? So in the parallel you’ve drawn, it seems the right answer for the reader when coming upon a sex scene is to look away–to not read the scene. So why is it OK for the writer to write it?

        It’s the same question I have of the women who don’t think it’s their responsibility to dress modestly because the man is to blame for looking and thinking. Why would it ever be OK for her to wear something she knows he’ll have to look away from?

        Becky

        Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/CussingMy Profile

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        • It is wise and Biblically based for both sexes to dress modestly.  The catch comes in what is the current cultural definition of modest. In many countries, women in the US tend to dress like prostitutes (pants).
           
          However, even if a woman goes to church in a bikini, that does not release any man there from succumbing to temptation and raping her. Or desiring to do so and thus committing adultery. (Note: most people don’t understand what Jesus meant when He said if someone lusts after a woman in his heart. He wasn’t talking about a male sexual arousal response,, but thinking in his heart, “I would love to get her into bed.” But that is another subject.) A woman wearing a bikini in church or anywhere else wouldn’t be wise for doing so, but it isn’t her fault if a man fulfills the illicit desires of his heart because of it. He would be fully to blame.
           
          A related analogy. It would not be wise to walk around downtown Washington D.C. holding several hundred dollars of cash in your hand, fanning them. But that doesn’t let the robber off the hook for failing to resist that temptation. He’s the one who gets punished, not the victim who may have increased the temptation for the man, but did not cause him to sin.
           

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      • But isn’t the answer to the short skirt to look away? Isn’t that how you’d flee immorality in that case?

        It would be (though that doesn’t also excuse the “wearer’s” sin, if it is sin).

        So in the parallel you’ve drawn, it seems the right answer for the reader when coming upon a sex scene is to look away–to not read the scene. So why is it OK for the writer to write it?

        That is a good point, and one I thought I’d addressed in another reply, which I don’t see here. (I used another computer to write it, so maybe it didn’t post.)

        It’s the same question I have of the women who don’t think it’s their responsibility to dress modestly because the man is to blame for looking and thinking. Why would it ever be OK for her to wear something she knows he’ll have to look away from?

        I agree — it goes both ways. I’m not responsible for her sin, and she’s not responsible for mine. Each answers for his/her own sin. And that is a question I’ve had, and which I hope to explore more: how a Christian author may right even a marital “sex scene” and avoid sin. Per the it’s-not-real thought above:

        1. As Becky pointed out, studies show that the mind and imagination do react as if stories are real. We really do grieve, rejoice, or even lust while reading a story. (I don’t lust! … Others do. Seen any bad fanfiction lately?)
        2. If readers may be affected, authors may be affected even more so.
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  35. “Similarly, I could blame the miniskirt-wearing girl for “causing” me to sin, but ha — it would be my fault for that sin and no other.”

    Was exactly where I’m going with this. There are nuances one side misses, but should be interesting to get reactions, at least.
     

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  36. Timothy Stone says:

    I would say on the matter of swearing that if kind of depends. For instance, if someone swears casually, it is not good. Obviously. But if somebody swears in an extreme situation, I personally have no problem with it. Someone getting into a car wreck, or almost hit be a by bad driver, or loses their job, or cuts their finger, or other such extreme or surprising situations, and swears, I don’t mind so long as they don’t take God’s name in vain.
     
    I used to judge those I saw in such situations, including the military in scenes captured by embedded reporters. Then I was in a situations where the bad guys tried to kill the unit I was with, and let me tell you something: I swore up a storm that would make most folks’ on here’s ears fall off. To be honest, I really don’t feel bad about that. I think that there is a line on swear words between casual and off the cuff via which their morality is judged. Again. NOT INCLUDING TAKING THE LORD’S NAME IN VAIN, WHICH IS ALWAYS A BLASPHEMOUS SIN.
     
    On HP, their are sometimes in which the author intimated they swore, but alluded to it instead of saying them.

    Let me give you all an example of what I find to be the acceptance of violence with little morality behind it. For an example, in the books I otherwise enjoy, The Dragon Keeper Chronicles, by Donita K. Paul, there are some moments where the characters entirely enjoy fighting and killing the bad guys too much.

    In one example where Kale is lectured by her father for avoiding killing a bad guy, so she could find a way to spare him (which she did), the father was presented as right when morally he was wrong. To kill when you have no choice is righteous, but to kill when it can be avoided is truly evil. The father didn’t see that.

    This type of violence with no morality behind it is far more devastating in my opinion than more graphic violence with a firmer morality behind it. That said, I skip overly violent scenes as I can’t handle them well, but that is not moral, just my limit. I’m not accusing anyone here, but I wonder how many of the folks against this stuff (as a story element, not gratuitous violence, sex, or cussing) are those who are uncomfortable with it, and are conflating that (unconsciously or not) with morality.

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  37. Timothy Stone says:

    Stephen, I get what you mean by taking responsibility for our actions. But isn’t it a tad off to blame horrible sex scenes for bad thoughts, while excusing women in revealing clothing, or men in their idiotic, narcissistic muscle shirts, for that matter.

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  38. Timothy Stone says:

    This isn’t even just on lust but anything. If someone bullies someone else, and the person snaps, the person is responsible for snapping, not the one who egged them on. It would be naive to suggest the person who egged them on has no part in the outbust though.
     

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  39. Why follow the world? Let’s jump ahead. How ’bout gay bestiality in all its horilicious detail. We can justify it. It’s a Christian doctrine. Total depravity.

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  40. Timothy Stone says:

    You realize that your assertion is ridiculous, right? You seem to suggest that if anything is done to portray anything more “real” or what stupid term we argue about here on this comments section, that we will go to extreme lengths. That’s not a slippery slope you’re suggesting. That’s a slippery water slide.

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  41. Timothy Stone says:

    I must say that this is, from the first pages I’m reading, very realistically written on the conduct of a “good” military leader. It depicts some of these elements well. Too many authors either know nothing of the martial life, or else depict it all as the yelling and screaming that rarely actually happens outside of training (only the really bad NCO’s and Officers do that stuff). Good stuff so far.

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    • I’ve read most of these comments and its all been said quite well. But I do wonder why nobody is commenting on the bizarre inappropriateness of any writers’ organization forcing a particular business model on a publisher.
      Jeff doesn’t name the writers’ group, and rightly so. I would squirm to be associated with any such group. It’s not for us to dictate acquisition choices to any house. Far better to adopt a hands-off stance. Who on earth set this group up as gatekeeper to the publishing industry?

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  42. [...] Now for the controversial parts. Last week, your editor/publisher Jeff Gerke shared the story behind the novel. In part: “The author felt very strongly that the book needed to have vulgarity (which, he [...]

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  43. [...] Others answer this approach as LukeLC did in a comment to “Marcher Lord Press And The Hinterlands Imprint“: [...]

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  44. [...] I’ve met Jeff and respect his faith and his insights. I found his reasoning interesting, especially in today’s Christian publishing world. I’d encourage you to check out this article, Marcher Lord Press and the Hinterlands Imprint. [...]

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  45. [...] Faith has done a lot on Vox Day’s latest book, A Throne of Bones. Publisher Jeff Gerke wrote a recent article about his journey to publishing this very massive tome. And then, a few days later, Vox Day was [...]

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