Friday, July 21, 2006

KB: Christian Romance: Christian’s Public Enemy #1?




Anyone listen to Christian radio talk shows? I don’t. Not usually. But when a bunch of my writer buddies starting buzzing about a recent broadcast of the Albert Mohler show, I had to take a listen. So I went to the link for the recording, and what I heard…

Well, let’s just say it’s a good thing there wasn’t anything heavy close at hand. My hubby has enough to do without patching holes in my walls. .

First, a caveat. The host of this broadcast was a guest host, Russell Moore. I don’t know what Mr. Mohler’s stand on this issue is, but Mr. Moore’s position was painfully clear. He dissed Christian romance but good. Or, more to the point, but bad. Claimed that those who write Christian romance do so for the almighty buck and little else. That these books “feed on sentimentality and portray an unhealthy idea of romance.” As for those who read this stuff, they are, in a word, pathetic. That the only women who read these come from homes where their moms and dads hated each other, so they need some kind of unrealistic escape.

Excuse me?

Ironically enough, when the show begins, the announcer says “this is your place for intelligent Christian conversation.” Um…not. Moore’s prejudice was clear from the start. Even so, I was astounded at the depth of his disdain for and ignorance of not just the genre, but the writers and readers as well. Now, to Moore’s credit, he talked with Karen Kingsbury first—and she gave wonderful comments and information, all of which he promptly ignored. He then went on to interview Kathryn Falk.

Kathryn Falk.

Okay, this woman isn’t a believer. And she said what you’d expect her to say (e.g., there may not be a Mr. Right, but there’s always a Mr. Right Now and he can be trained). So guess which comments Moore focused on as proof that Christian romances are harmful? Yup. Falk’s. He even went so far as to say that her belief that men could be trained wasn’t biblical.
Well…duh. The woman isn’t a Christian. Why would her words be biblical??
The capper came when he led back from a commercial by playing the praise song, “Draw Me Close.” As you may know, the lyrics are:
Draw me close to you, never let me go.
I lay it all down again
To hear you say that I'm your friend
You are my desire, no one else will do,
'Cause no one else can take your place,
To feel the warmth of your embrace;
Help me find a way, bring me back to you.
You're all I want, you're all I ever needed
You're all I want, help me know you are near

Moore’s comment when he came back on? That he hated that song. Didn’t know a man who liked it. Because it sounded like a song a woman was singing to Fabio.

“Intelligent Christian conversation”? Hardly.

By the time the show was over, Moore had questioned the intelligence, wisdom, and faith of anyone who read or wrote Christian romances.

So now I have some questions for Mr. Moore.

· Has the man even bothered to read a Christian romance novel? (I doubt it.)
· Has he ever had a serious, honest discussion with any Christian romance author or reader? (Again, serious doubts.)
· And, finally, has he ever read Scripture? I mean, talk about the greatest romance of all time! We even, as author Robin Jones Gunn points out, have the hero riding in on a white horse at the end to sweep up his bride. If that’s not romance, then what is?

Okay, yes. Romance has long been the “red-headed stepchild” of publishing, and Christian romances have been regarded with real caution and even suspicion. (Can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with pastors about the power and truth contained in Christian fiction and, yes, Christian romances. They usually look at me like I’m insane. Or possessed.) But I confess I had no idea there were Christian leaders who viewed these novels—novels, mind you, written by authors devoted to serving God, not manna, and helping their readers better understand themselves and their relationships to others and to God--as toxic to the body of Christ.

The show was a call-in. And there were, happily, two callers who spoke in support of these books. But all the others agreed with the host, saying how reading romantic novels is hazardous, that doing so detracts from what God intends in relationships and marriage. In response, may I just say “AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!” That, and where on earth were those who would speak out for the truth??

So I also have a question for us.

What can we do, in the face of such misinformation and prejudice, to share the truth of what these books are? Who these authors and readers are? Not the money-grubbers or borderline psychotics Moore painted them. But real life women who live and love and long to be cherished.

Interestingly enough, Moore had a solid question as the basis for this show: Why are romance novels so popular? He kept asking why women read these novels with such devotion, and what does women’s fascination with romance novels say about them, and the men in their lives. How can we answer that, and in doing so, help those like Moore to understand that Christian romances aren’t about creating unrealistic ideals. Not at all. They’re about representing the truth of relationships, of the need for being centered in Christ before you build a relationship with someone else. Of being anchored in God so you can face the struggles and pain inherent in living with another human being. That they’re about grace and kindness and God’s ability to use us to refine each other.

So what do you think? How can we get through to people like Mr. Moore? And should some of us take up the pen and let him—and Albert Mohler—know that shows like this do more to hurt the body than any romance novel ever written.

Karen


(Should you decide to write Albert Mohler about the broadcase, I’d urge you to listen to it first. That way you can avoid doing what Mr. Moore did: speaking out of ignorance. You can find it at http://www.albertmohler.com/radio_show.php?cdate=2006-07-07. But friends, if you decide to listen, be sure your blood pressure medicine is close at hand—and the crystal treasure from your great granny isn’t.)

Karen Ball lives and writes and edits in Oregon. http://www.karenballlbooks.com.

12 Comments:

At 7:50 AM, Blogger Gina Holmes said...

I hadn't heard that broadcast. Wow. There really is a lot of ignorance out there and not just on this subject. I have been guilty of passing judgements on things to which I knew little about. God always gives me a prompt, and usually painful lesson.

The scripture talks about being ready with an answer when people ask about the hope that is in us, and maybe the same principle applies here. If we're prepared with an intelligent answer when the unholy fiction debate comes up, that might help.

No matter what we do though, some people will never be convinced that there can be great truths in fiction. (Even if it's just entertaining, well, good grief, what's wrong with that?)

 
At 9:30 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

As I read your post, I got so stirred up, in many areas.

I'd like to ask:

Just who ARE you, Mr. Moore?

And who cares WHO you are, Mr. Moore? You're a lovebug on my windshield (and if you live in Florida, you know those nasty things go splat real fast) (GRIN).

Why'd you quote an unbeliever, as Karen pointed out? If you were sincere in wanting to help and influence your Christian listeners, you would've conducted objective research before blasting the novels. Which lets me know you really wanted to stir up controversy.

Or, maybe it lets me know you're just a big ol' bunch of hot air who likes the sound of your own voice.

Or, or should I say "and," I discern you've got some sexual issues.

You sorta remind me of Jimmy Swaggart (God love his soul, and I mean that symphatically). He blasted everything and everybody, and turns out, he was...well, we all know what he was doing.

 
At 10:13 AM, Anonymous vasthi said...

Why do women read romance novels? I'd counter that question with another, Why do men love kill em, shoot em up, books and movies?
I say, its because it calls to something deep within us. For women, maybe its the hope and desire to be loved. For men, I'd venture, its the hope and desire to be a hero, protector.
And, what is wrong with that?
NADA.

 
At 11:14 AM, Blogger Brenda Coulter said...

The fact that Mr. Moore chose to interview Kathryn Falk as an authority on Christian romance novels was by itself enough to quash any interest I might have had in listening to his program. Clearly, the gentleman's purpose was not to present a well-balanced discussion of the topic. But I think it should be up to his regular listeners to tell him whether they appreciate the directions he's taking his program. It's nothing to me.

Those of us who are published in inspirational romance regularly receive letters from women (and men!) thanking us for drawing their attention to spiritual matters and telling us that our books have encouraged them to draw closer to God. The inspirational romance market continues to grow, and I have better ways to spend my time than in attempting to correct the misconceptions of a small, shrill group of inspirational romance detractors.

All I have to say to Mr. Moore is that he probably ought to step aside, lest he be trampled by all the women rushing to the bookstores to buy Christian romance novels.

 
At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I'll have to link to that and read it. What is wrong with this man?
A young married youth leader once instructed her girls that they shouldn't read Christain romance novels (which she had) because it brought their focus to the wrong place. ???
That was the crux of why I wrote my third novel Sweet Release (unpublished as yet) with a foreword as to why they should read Christian romance novels if they are searching for romance. Then I explained about the godly view of love, romance, and sex as opposed to what everyone is viewing in magazines, movies, TV, secular books. It's inescapable. Responsible Christian romance is both informational, compassionate, honest, real, and, yes, romantic. What could be a more important source of discovering genuine love from God's point of view or healing from having made the mistake of buying into the world's view of love, romance, and sex (as I did before I met the Lord)?
I'm afraid the man is troubled in his own relationships and doesn't truly understand the merit of writing about romance in a fictional setting with the inspiration of God's loving touch.
Nicole Petrino-Salter
(I would've been hard pressed not to throw something as well and very tempted to turn the clown off. Sorry.)

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger LaShaunda said...

I learned a long time ago that you will not please everyone. When I first started reading romance, I had women say to me. That’s not real. Those men don’t exist. As a reader I like to think there were men in the world who believed in marriage, family and romancing their woman. I hated the idea that romance didn’t exist in my world.

I still meet women and men that say romance books aren’t real. No the books are make believe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have that type of life. You can fall in love and live happily ever after. You don’t have to settle for a man that treats you like dirt, just so you can have a man.

People like Mr. Moore exist in all genres not just romance. They’ve never picked up a book in their lives, but they have some comments on it and how they think it affects others. The sad part is people take their word as truth instead of finding out for themselves.

As my pastor says about the bible, READ IT FOR YOURSELF, don’t just take my word.

That’s my advice to those who have never read a romance, READ IT FOR YOURSELF then you can see if its good for you or not.

As for Mr. Moore, the best thing for him is for every Christian Romance Author to send him a copy of their book. Maybe he’ll read one and make a public apology.

OK, that’s the romance writer in me, imagining a happy ending. LOL

 
At 2:38 PM, Anonymous Andrea said...

I know I should listen to the broadcast and respond to this.....person, but I can't bring myself to purposely allow such aggravation. For some reason, my experience of talk shows have been that they seem to attract those who want to gripe about something and even if the callers never gave a thought to the issue at hand, by the time they are done listening, they are on the bandwagon and only happy to call in and "testify". Of course, the producers have a lot to do too with which callers get on the air. In any case - I heartily agree with you. If the man ever took the time to read Attachments by Clinton and Sibcy, DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley or Sacred Romance by Eldredge (sp?) and Curtis, he would understand that there is no greater allegory for Christ and His bride - the church, than the idea of romance! Jesus Himself communicated His most important ideas through storytelling. What rock is this guy living under?

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger Matt E. said...

Good Lord, cut the guy a little slack! Here's his bio...
http://www.sbts.edu/academics/theology/faculty/MooreRussell.php

He's probably quite brilliant. You don't get to be in that position at a seminary of that quality without being pretty sharp.

I listened to the whole interview and I don't think it was nearly as bad as some of you make it sound. He wasn't mean-spirited or overwhelmingly arrogant. It's one thing to disagree with him and another to attack his character or suggest he has relationship problems, etc. Why not present your arguments calmly and intelligently by calling into the show or emailing? Better yet, why not send him a kind letter with some complimentary copies of some of the best examples in the genre? I bet they'd do another show on it.

Let me say that I think he is more wrong than right about Christian Romance novels. I don't read that genre myself but I have no doubt that there are some excellent Christian Romance novels out there with great spiritual themes. For instance, I've heard nothing but good things about "Redeeming Love" and recently I picked up Siri Mitchell's "Kissing Adrien" because I heard it was witty and well-written. Obviously those kinds of books don't appeal much to Mr. Moore just as they don't appeal to a lot of other men. The argument he was trying to make is that a lot of Christian women turn to Romance novels instead of the scriptures and this can't be a good thing. He blamed it in part on the failures of Christian men to be decisive and committed. He also suggested that it may be an unhealthy escape for a lot of women in that it makes them more disappointed in their real flesh-and-blood husbands and it presents a lot of unrealistic "happy-ever-after" endings. (I bet Chip would give a hearty "Amen" to that.)

A lot of strong Christian men are frustrated with the "feminization" of the church and they see cheesy, sappy worship songs, an unbiblical "meek and mild" Jesus, and, yes, bookshelves full of Romance novels as part of the problem. (See "Why Men Hate Going to Church", "No More Christian Nice Guy", "The Church Impotent", "Wild at Heart", and "Jesus Mean and Wild" as part of the response.)

Someone made the reasonable point (I think) that a lot of men like books containing violence. How is that any better? Good question. Senseless violence untethered to a biblical worldview is no better than sentimental slush, though in some ways it may be more realistic in this messed-up world. I sometimes watch CSI and enjoy it, but I never feel like it was time particularly well-spent. Reading countless crime or war novels can be escapist also. Some men probably need to create a little adventure in their lives rather than live vicariously through books.

Some women criticize men who love sports. They see watching sports, or going hunting, or playing golf, etc. as a complete waste of time and further evidence of the shallowness of men. That kind of thinking is equally as misguided as Mr. Moore's dismissing Christian Romance novels out-of-hand without having read any or trying to understand why some people (mainly women) find them appealing.

As Andrea points out, romance is a strong theme in the bible. Eldredge's book does a good job of making that argument (though the theological nitpickers out there have problems with some of his ideas.) It is a point that could be further developed.

All this to say, I think the guy was a little unfair and wrongheaded but he still deserves some grace. (This is "Charis" Connection right?) After reading the comments I was expecting him to come accross as an obnoxious jerk but I don't think that was the case at all. He made some good points. He is a brother in Christ at an important institution that will help shape the next generation of pastors and teachers. Why not try to show him the error of his ways by gentle persuasion? Just a thought. Grace and peace.

 
At 7:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt E.

Suffice it to say "emotional" and passionate women think any man who can criticize romance, whether having read the best of the bunch or not, has relationship problems. Unless of course he's marrried to a woman who hasn't an ounce of romance in her makeup--and by that I don't mean she has to like reading Christian romance. I know Christian women who don't read Christian romance, but they desire it in their lives.
Any woman or man who substitutes the reading of self-help, nonfiction, or novels in place of the Word for their sole (and soul) source of information, solace, and excitement is ultimately hurting themselves and those they love. However, any amplification of the truths of the Bible whether in fiction or nonfiction can be valuable. Responsibility is key, and most are.
I read most kinds of contemporary Christian fiction, including suspense, mystery, romance, military, you name it. I don't read historical romance, fantasy, or sci-fi. I write literary/romance novels that speak of flawed, real characters who experience all kinds of struggles, joys, sorrows, whatever in their search for godly love. I find it hard to believe that those kinds of things aren't valuable to read about.
I have no doubt that to a woman here, either in person or on the telephone or even in a letter, we would've shown this man some grace. However, we're venting here!

 
At 12:50 AM, Blogger Matt E. said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for your response. I agree with most of what you had to say. Your comments about the value of the genre seem reasonable. Keep in mind that I'm not agreeing with Mr. Moore's position. Even so, I still think that the guy has been given some pretty shabby treatment.

Judging from some of the callers, not all women think reading romance novels is a good idea. Now you can chalk that up to there being a small number of strangely dispassionate women out there, but I don't think that's fair or accurate. Nor do I think that the host necessarily exercises such power over the audience that most people will call in just so they can agree with him, though there is some of that. (You didn't suggest that, someone else did.)

Again, I accept your well-stated explanation as to why Christian Romance is valuable. As you say, "responsibility is key". My whole point was that I didn't think it was fair to lambast the guy and make him sound like such a jerk. Deal with his arguments without attacking his character or intelligence. Obviously this is a sensitive issue for someone who writes or reads a lot in this genre. Still, having passion about something does not necessarily mean it should be "vented" in a public forum. It may be true that ""emotional" and passionate women think any man who can criticize romance, whether having read the best of the bunch or not, has relationship problems." It also may be true that they're wrong in thinking that! Since when are "emotion" and "passion" a substitute for reasoned (and gracious) argument? There are a lot of teenage boys passionate about playing violent, sexually explicit video games yet we would hardly accept their passion as a good argument for the value of those games or as an excuse for their venting at parents who disallow them. (I know, not a perfect analogy, but I think you get the point.)

Listen, I don't want to come across as a self-righteous, overly "logical" male who just doesn't understand. I did listen to the whole program, however, and I don't think he was nearly as bad as some of you make him out to be. As I said before, a guy in his position is not idiot. He basically said that he thinks women should try to learn about relationships from the bible rather than romance novels. (Incidentally, he would also be suspicious of those trying to integrate secular psychology insights into biblical counseling. He's quite conservative that way.) In the case of Romance novels, I think he's probably overreacting a bit to what he sees as another example of the feminization of the church. (Emotion driven and therapeutic rather than truth driven and redemptive.) In that regard, he actually had a lot of critical things to say about the weakness of Christian men today so I don't think he was just out to bash something that's precious to a lot of women. Anyway, I think it best to kindly show him where he's wrong through gentle, gracious persuasion.

Grace and peace.

 
At 1:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt,
You are articulate and generous in spirit.
I happen to have a prophet mentality. I don't feel anything unless it's passionately. I love the Lord Jesus Christ passionately. I can also be passionately wrong.
As much as I might admire a person who has impressive credentials, Christian or otherwise, those are of the least importance to me.
Although there are sure to be some points where even I might've agreed with the man on one thing or another, to use a secular writer in this genre for any kind of reference point is absurd. Romance via the secular route is pure sex, and it ain't pretty. And it certainly isn't godly.
Thank you for the correspondence via Karen's post.
You probably haven't had the opportunity to read her work, but she's an excellent writer and one of, if not the best, editors in the business. Impressive credentials, too.

 
At 3:23 AM, Blogger Pinky said...

A little caveat (sp?) to Matt E's suggestion we cut the radio host some slack because he's probably brilliant.

hmmmm...some of the most brilliant people I know have NO common sense. So....well....

 

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