Christian fiction is often accused of shying away from the issue of sex, even in marriage. It is one of the main charges as to why Christian fiction tends to not be “realistic.” In some circles, having a couple kiss is considered bold and daring. To insinuate a married couple is going to have sex is writing “edgy” fiction.
Early in our marriage, my wife used to enjoy an occasional romance novel. She felt convicted about all the casual sex frequently presented as normal in those books and so started reading some Christian romance novels. It wasn’t long before she just stopped reading them at all. She said the stories built up all this sexual tension that had no where to go since holding hands is about all you ever saw them do even when married. In short, it read too unrealistic for her on the sex front.
While that has changed some since the late 80s/early 90s when she read those books, sex avoidance is still the standard operating procedure among Christian fiction, especially in the bigger Christian publishing houses. So much easier to not bring the subject up than to risk losing your audience over it, even if it does make the story unrealistic.
I think there are two main reasons this attitude prevails among readers of Christian fiction. It is the reader’s rejection of such elements being in a story that keeps publishers from accepting more realism in regards to sex.
One, the topic makes them uncomfortable.
Many grow up in households where sex is never mentioned, discussed, or acknowledged. They’ve let the secular abuse of sex and marriage define how they think of it: shameful and dirty. Therefore, they prefer novels that don’t talk about it either. To do so is considered naughty and not Christian, often promoted as such by Christian leaders.
Two, they are running away from secular excesses by running toward “clean fiction.”
Consequently, any mention of sex feels to them like a slippery slope. “It won’t be long before we end up with Christian porn, and then what will be safe to read?” So it preserves the novel-haven to not even go there. One crack in the dike can cause the whole wall to collapse.
We don’t counter the excesses of secular morals about sex by ignoring sex, but by showing it in its proper context.
The proper way to run from secular excesses is by running toward showing a proper Biblical model. The way to obtain a Biblical attitude isn’t by ignoring sex as if the topic is dirty, but demonstrating a healthy model.
The problem is, too many Christians don’t have a very Biblical perspective on this topic. Too many actually believe that a marriage certificate from the state makes one married. Or a wedding ceremony at a church. This secular concept has promoted the idea that people get married in order to morally have sex with someone. It’s all backwards.
In the New Testament times, the state wasn’t involved in marriages. The only contract was between the two families. Having a rabbi at the wedding festivities was optional and none of it took place in the synagogue. When the couple united physically is when the two became one flesh. This is still highlighted symbolically in the modern Jewish wedding ceremony.
Sex unites two people into one flesh.
Paul makes this strikingly clear:
15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.
The two becoming one flesh—first mentioned in Genesis 2:24, reinforced by Jesus in Mathew 19:5-6; Mark 10:7-8, and highlighted by Paul in Ephesians 5:31—forms the foundation of what it means to be married: becoming one flesh through the physical, sexual union. As Paul plainly states, this happens even when the couple is not committed to a marital relationship, like sexual relations with a prostitute.
The sin is in treating that union lightly, as not serious. Having sex and uniting as one with another without the commitment to live out that union abuses what God has joined together. It is like buying a Rembrandt painting so your kids can have something to color on: a total disregard for the meaning and value of what has been created.
The implications of this Biblical model are counter to our culture. For instance, the term premarital sex is a contradiction. There is no such concept, Biblically speaking. The moment you have sex, you’ve joined with that other person as one. It is getting married without the intention of fulfilling that life-long commitment that makes it sin. It is treating a marital sacrament as just another way to have fun that is the error. But no one can have sex before they get married. It is physically impossible.
This is why fornication when you are married is committing adultery and tearing asunder that union created by sex, as Jesus described it. It isn’t the bill of divorcement that makes it adultery, but the remarrying to another through sexual union. Likewise, each new sexual encounter involves tearing the previous bond asunder and forming a new one, committing adultery each time before ever getting legally married.
If we want our stories to be more realistic, Christian writers have an obligation to make them Biblically realistic, not secular realistic.
By so doing we can take the shame and dirty out of sex by countering secular values with Christian ones. We can run from secular sex scenes by running to the Biblical, marital sacrament. Sure, we can show people sinning by abusing sex, but at least we’ll know what they are abusing and the natural consequences that will follow as a result, and hopefully display also a healthy, Biblical sexual relationship.
The question is, can anyone name off any novels, Christian or otherwise, that reflect these Biblical values as described above? The choice isn’t between reflecting secular realism or nothing, but secular realism or Biblical realism.