Good afternoon, Arrowheads! Today I’m going to be discussing a somewhat touchy topic in Christian fiction… the use of bad language. I’ve thought long and hard about this subject, and what I use in my own personal writing, and I’d like to share my conclusions.
Let me begin by saying that we live in a worldly world, meaning that the world often reflects its own standards of morality instead of God’s. In that regard, I totally expect worldly literature to contain foul language with the way society has strayed away from God nowadays. A common argument for including cuss words in fiction is to make the dialogue seem more realistic, as it’s commonplace in society. On the other hand, I write Christian fiction, and my aim is to exhibit Godly values in what I write. So, we reach a crossroads: should bad language be used in Christian fiction so that the dialogue sounds realistic?
Personally, I choose to not use the standard cuss words in my writing. By “standard”, I mean the ones that are commonly (or not so commonly anymore) bleeped out on television. This includes the a-word, b-words, d-word, f-word, h-word, and s-word, along with words that are vulgar names for body parts. My reason behind this is if it’s commonly accepted by worldly TV stations to not say these words, they sure don’t belong in Christian fiction. That being said, I’ve come across a few examples of Christian fiction that do include these mainstream cuss words, including one of my all-time favorite novels, A Walk to Remember. Do I think it’s appropriate for the genre? No. Do I think it’s necessary to make it seem realistic? No. But, if the end result is that the ugly-talking character comes to know Christ and turns away from cussing, I respect the author’s choice.
For the sake of making dialogue seem realistic, however, I do use euphemisms–replacement words–in my writing. Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl contains a couple, including “heck” and “crap”. Why am I okay with using these words? Well, that’s how I talk. That’s how my family talks. We say “gosh”, “darn”, “heck”, “crap”, the occasional “freaking” (my parents don’t like that one and I personally won’t use it in my writing), etc. Skimming reviews on Goodreads, I’ve noticed some Christians also regard replacement words as bad words forbidden from Christian fiction. Sometimes (not on my reviews, but on others), I’ve noticed decreased ratings due to the use of euphemisms.
To this practice, I want to drive point home that I’ve been stewing on: we are Christians, but we are not perfect. Sometimes, we slip and use these words. Sometimes (myself included) we slip and use bad words. But is Jesus still our Savior? Are we still redeemed? Can we still ask God for forgiveness? YES. Likewise, so can our characters.
The Rating Drop Mini-Rant
Now, do you honestly think it’s fair to give an author’s work (especially in a reviews which are critical to indie authors) a one/two/three star rating simply based on the use of a word or word(s) you deem are ill-fitting for Christian fiction, even though you enjoyed the plot? I certainly don’t think so. Imagine if you had slaved over writing a novel for two years, used the word “dang” in it for example, and someone posts a review saying, “while the plot was amazing, it contained an instance of foul language, and therefore I have to dock my rating.” How would that make you feel as an author, to have your work unfairly judged based on its word choice and not the overall quality of the writing itself?
I’m not saying you’re a terrible person for doing this. I did it once on a mainstream novel (2 star rating) because the main character cussed at her great-grandmother; however, the writing quality and pacing were also issues. I guess the point I’m trying to make clear to Christian book reviewers is that we shouldn’t play God and condemn authors with bad ratings because we judge their language to be unfit for Christians. Instead, as long as the work itself is scripturally sound, doesn’t promote false doctrine, and has the characters rely on God, I believe it fits the Christian fiction genre unless the characters are spitting out absolutely filthy language (see Cuss Words section above) after they’ve accepted Christ. If an author is trying to promote God’s love in their writing, PLEASE DO NOT CONDEMN THEM FOR USING EUPHEMISMS. What if it’s in God’s plan for a lost soul to come to know Jesus through a Christian fiction book that uses the word “crap” once in it? Does that make the reader any less saved? Does it make the author a bad Christian? Nope.
We write Christian fiction to promote Christ. If it’s labeled Christian fiction and it’s demeaning or falsely promoting Christ, by all means rate it low. If the book has other issues such as an abundance of typos, or makes you lose interest, by all means rate it how you see fit. But if it is accurately promoting Christ and redemption, take the words you don’t like with a grain of salt. Don’t deter someone else from it by offering a low rating for that reason alone. Encourage Christian fiction authors instead. We need more bold Christians writing about Christ in literature, not more people condemning their writing.