KB: Why I Write Christian Romance (Part 2)
As I’ve pondered this whole issue raised by Russell Moore, the guest host of the Albert Mohler radio talk show, I’ve found myself doing some soul searching. Why do I love to read romances? And to write them? Here’s are some of my thoughts…
Mention romance novels, and what do people think? Sex. At least, that's what people who don't read romances think. But for those of us who read and enjoy this kind of book, it isn't the sex that sells romances. It's the wonderful, engaging, uplifting stories.
For women readers, what counts most is the relationship between hero and heroine, the power of their love, the ways they reach and emotionally save each other, the affirmation that "love conquers all," the sense that there is some man out there who is strong and virile and protective--the John Wayne of the 90s, so to speak--who will cherish and stand for and protect a woman.
Why do women love these books? For a lot of reasons. First, because God designed us to hunger for love. The first and greatest romance ever written is found in that book we call The Bible. There's the typical hero, coming to save us even at the cost of His own life, and He even rides in at the end on a white horse! Women read about such things, and our hearts long for that kind of giving, protective, warrior-heart, self-sacrificing love. You can find it in Christ, but many women don't know or believe that. So they look for it in men, and that's custom-designed for disappointment. Not because men are worthless, but because they are human and subject to the flesh.
Another factor is that many women today find themselves struggling with disappointment and a sense of longing they don't quite understand. Some women are in roles God never intended them to take on--financial, emotional, even spiritual heads of household. As a consequence, these women are weary and discouraged and too often lack respect for men. Many women, deep in their hearts, long for a man who will stand for--and, if need be, stand up to--them; men who will shelter and protect them while treating them with respect; men in whom they can rest. Those are the kinds of men readers find in the romance novels.
Romance heroes are bold and just a little bit dangerous; they are forceful, strong, overpowering, but always because of love, always because they want the woman and will do anything to get her. Women want to feel cherished and desired and held and honored. And too few of them find that in real life. So today, when life seems so far off the mark of the fairy tales, when so many men are unwilling to fill the roles God designed, when relationships are fraught with disappointment and hurt, when romance and sex are so very hazardous--even life-threatening--women turn to vicarious experience in these novels.
Is there truth in romance novels? Absolutely, when they’re based in Christ and Scripture. Which Christian romance novels are.
Many women readers are looking for encouragement, answers, truth. They've been told from childhood that love is wonderful; Prince Charming is out there; and you're never so complete as when you're with a man who loves you. Then they grow up and bam! Reality smacks them right between the eyes. That happens for Christian women as often as it does for non-Christians. Relationships are hard, full of hurt and loss, and a lot of work. Men aren't princes, and love is often hollow--especially when you think sex is the proof it exists. And all of that is exactly why inspirational romances NEED to be there, why we have to give readers truth in a format they already love and enjoy.
Is it wrong for women to read romances? No. No more wrong than it is for men to read westerns or adventure novels. They’re just stories. But women are, for the most part, drawn to relationship. They're going to read romances. That's a given. Just look at the success of Princess Bride, You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle...and on and on. So why are women so drawn to these kinds of stories. Because they are responding to the longing God has planted within them to be loved completely and unconditionally. The longing of a bride for her groom. Women long to be loved by a man who is all that God intended him to be: a leader, a warrior, a mentor, a friend.
That's what appeals to women, that's what they long for. Like so many, they want the void inside to be filled. And like so many, they're looking in the wrong places for the answer, which is Christ. So let's get in there, let's jump in with all our energy and strength, and give them the TRUTH instead of the world's lies.
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is the quintessential romance. It has it all. Every element you'll ever find or that readers could ever want in a romance--a best-selling, powerful, life-altering romance--is there. That book has enchanted and moved and inspired hundreds of thousands of readers. And it's a romance. It's a story that strikes at the heart of what women long for, what men need to know and be, and what God intended. And that's why it works. Those are the kinds of stories we need to give readers: powerful romances, stories that will transport the readers and uplift and inspire them. Stories where readers see romance in a whole new light.
So to all the writers I say let's give readers what they want: solid, powerful stories with characters they'll love. The ride of their lives. Inspirational romances can do that. But remember, when you step out to make a stand for God, especially when doing so takes you smack dab into enemy territory, opposition comes hot and heavy. So don't be surprised when people (nonChristians and Christians) fight us, when they make sarcastic or careless comments, when they say any woman who reads a romance must have something wrong with her. And the next time someone spouts off with: "How can you be involved in THAT market and call yourself a Christian?", square your shoulders, stand tall, and tell them the simple truth: Romance is the market to which God has called us. Which is why it's so important and exciting and powerful. And why we need to go in as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. This is where God has called us, and it's where we will go, whole-heartedly, equipped with God's armor and the sure knowledge that He's gone there before us to prepare the way and to prepare hearts for His truth.
Go get 'em, team. We're on the right side.
Karen Ball lives and writes and edits and expounds on life from her home in Oregon. See more of her work at http://www.karenballbooks.com.