Can a Christian Write General Fiction?

Christian FictionThis week I posted this passage on Facebook.

His hands wandered downward to caress her back, and lower still to her buttocks then smoothed over the gentle curves of her hips. As the song ended and another one began, he pulled back to look at her and his eyes were a deep, dark blue, burning with a passion that made her shiver. Bringing his hands up to bury them deep in her hair, he tilted her face up to meet his while his gaze traveled from her eyes to her mouth and back to her eyes again. Her heart raced, anticipating his kiss.

Leaning down, he slowly brought his lips to meet hers, gently delving into her mouth, tasting, capturing, savoring. His breath was hot against her lips and it was beautiful, soft and tender, totally consuming her with an unexpected intensity, setting her whole body on fire like a match to gasoline. And when his kisses began to travel freely from her lips down to her neck and shoulder, she leaned her head back and succumbed to his gentle assault.

Then I asked others if the passage was too much for an LPC novel (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). I wanted the author to see the sort of reaction that would come if we kept this scene in the book. Below are some of the comments.

“Maybe a tad much, but could probably evoke the same scene effectively while leaving out a few of the details like just leaving out “lower still to her buttocks” and go straight from the lower back to smoothing over the hips.”

“With the detail already given in the first paragraph, the last sentence above leaves the reader pretty convinced the kisses didn’t stop at the neck or shoulder. Even if our characters DIDN’T stop, and for the purpose of the story the reader needs to know that, the level of detail bothers me. Of course a romantic relationship should have physical elements. To piously leave a relationship devoid of that is naive and unrealistic (boring, pretentious, likely pharisaical, and more), but to take it into breathless detail isn’t necessary and can lead to other issues for the book and for impressionable readers. If a couple is married, most readers will accept more physical details in the relationship. But I think it’s important to maintain the line between secular and inspirational fiction in this area, and this one is dancing on the tight-wire.”

“Concerning whether or not it’s appropriate, I think it really depends on the context and the purpose. I can’t really tell just by seeing the excerpt pulled out like this. But if you do include it, you’ll get complaints from conservative people. No question there. Problem is, you can’t please everyone. So do what you believe is right.”

“What is the point you are trying to make and how can you make it in a way that does not mess with the minds of your readers? I know lots of single women, widows, divorcees, never-marrieds, who find this rendering painful and provoking to mental sin battles…and how many times are they your audience.”

I would be disappointed if I found this in an LPC publication.”

“Although the writing is excellent, I think it pushes that boundary. I recommend a less provocative approach.”

“I’m wondering how many people think it’s okay, but are afraid to speak up because of the 100% condemnation? What if something in the next paragraph cause both of them to suddenly realize where this was headed and have second thoughts? And yet without catching the reader up in the crashing wave, how can the writer also let them feel the sudden catching of breath, the sudden realization that the time and place aren’t right?”

“Nope. Too much. Reads like a Harlequin, especially if the two are unmarried.”

“It sounds like about 27 shades of gray, not 50.”

So here’s my question: Can a Christian write general fiction?  And by fiction I mean a novel that appeals to secular readers. A novel that has messy characters who don’t believe in or care about God.  What are the boundaries? How much flesh, passion, desire, violence, profanity can we show? Any, some? None?

Of all the categories in publishing, print book sales of Christian Fiction declined 25% from 2012-2014. As Ron Benrey notes in his book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Christian Fiction, “Readers of Christian Fiction in America are Caucasian women, of childbearing through “empty nester” age, who identify themselves as evangelical Christians.”

Should Christian authors be held to a higher standard than other professionals? Should a male doctor perform a general exam of a female patient? (Do not lust …) Should an attorney defend someone they know to be guilty? (Do not steal, murder …) Should a business owner sell goods or services on Sonday? (Keep the Sabbath holy) Should anyone run an ad for anything? (Do not covet). Perhaps these professionals can perform their jobs without committing a sin, but can we at least agree that they are close to, if not in, gray areas?

God called Peter to lead the Jews to Christ.

God called Paul to lead the gentiles to Christ.

How can Christian authors reach gentiles through story if we refuse to take off our robes and leave the temple in Jerusalem?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.