Bad Language Used in Christian Fiction

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.

BadLanguage

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?

Cuss Words

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.

Euphemisms

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.

-Allyson 😀

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As an author and blogger, my goal is to teach writers that there is a way to write realistic, thought-provoking, redemptive Christian fiction that honors God while not sugarcoating the realities of the world. 

14 thoughts on “Bad Language Used in Christian Fiction

  1. Good for you on taking a stand against language! The rest of this I have to disagree with and I’ll explain further in a second. I want to make it clear first that this is not against you, but my convictions on the matter.

    I get that some people are ok with euphemisms, but I’m not one of those people. Gosh, golly, OMG, are taking Gods name in vain. While dang and darn may sound differently from damn they are the same word in meaning and definition. I will not condemn a person for speaking, but I will rate a book for having language, even if that language is considered tame. It’s not about a book not being able to save someone or not containing the word crap. I’ve heard the same said about movies/ books with stronger words. Sure, God can use anything to touch anyone. That’s not an excuse to overlook our duty. “I don’t mind using these words in my writing because I say them in real life,” is also not a valid reason. Maybe a reason to look into why we aren’t weeding the words from our life? I have never been tempted to use a crass word, and not because I think “oh, I shouldn’t say this word” but because these words have never been a part of my vocabulary, they never enter my conscience. Words are like habits and thoughts. You choose and build. Sometime it takes more work, especially when dealing with anger, impatience, or other sins. Personally I think the arguments for mild language is as valid as the arguments for strong language. And that these words don’t enter everyone’s radar, they are offensive to many. And respectful toward none. I don’t know if that makes sense?

    I will add, I do read and watch literature with language (and other sins). My mind has learned to skim and not notice, but take note for reviews. For instance, I watch marvel movies, I’ll read Stephen King’s “On Writing”, though I’d note the adultery and language and bad character traits in rants or reviews. And my own writing would never look like movies or book.

    So, yes, reviews are meant to be the honest opinions of the receiver. It might have a great writing style/ or the movie was filmed amazing! Maybe we relate to those characters? Even the ones like us. While those are great things it’s no reason to not be honest. Just because someone put a lot of work and maybe even talent into their work doesn’t mean we can’t say, “This wasn’t right, and so I’m giving it a lower rating.”

    Ratings are so much more than just about art. It’s about content, message, quality, AND art. We aren’t judging their hard work, but the final product. And yes, reviewers are meant to judge the work. It’s scary, but it’s the job of a reviewer to judge and write from the judgment. (Hopefully in a kind way).

    ~ Keturah @ keturahskorner.blogspot.com

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, and I really appreciate the respectful way you delivered them! 🙂 Really, like you said, it all bubbles down to conviction and the individual’s relationship with God and those vary from person to person. I really like what you said about evaluating our own language; I’m prone to being impatient (especially in traffic haha) and have used language I shouldn’t have and want to change that about myself. As far as euphemisms go, I still feel it’s okay to use them in my writing but after reading a user’s comments on Goodreads I’m rethinking using “OMG” in my next release because I now understand the argument that it’s a form of taking God’s name in vain; before I wasn’t really considering that and was just thinking about it’s flippant use as a slang word. Thanks for sharing your point-of-view on reviews as well! You’re right, it can be scary for the author, but we’ve got to remember that the reviews of all kinds can hopefully make us stand out to our “niche” readers. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. To a degree it does boil down to conviction and individual relationship. Yet much is set in stone. I’d recommend looking up most of these words in a dictionary and understanding the full meaning/ etymology of the word before taking it for granted. I did a full study on all these words at one time and it really opened my eyes to what sort of words they are. Most “euphemisms” aren’t replacements but direct “ancestors” of the word they represent. Beyond that, even if they weren’t the idea is being expressed… and the idea is what’s dangerous more than anything else. Ideas shape everything, words are just the way we record 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

  2. “…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…”
    Exactly, as I wrote in a comment about a month ago. But I would not put my soon to be posted for download FREE PDF book within the genre of “Christian fiction.” Maybe within the spiritual genre (and really, I don’t have a genre in mind). The way I see it, Christians read Christian fiction. I want NON-CHRISTIANS to read the book and decide for themselves to accept Christ or not. I am not going to preach to the choir here. My job is to “preach:” to the non-choir or the wannabe choir. And, while many Christian do not cuss at all, sometimes some Christians do cuss out of habit, usually when pissed off or angry. My characters do try to stop cussing and do not want to cuss after they accept Christ, and Ephesians 4:29 clearly states using the word “edify” that when talking (or writing for that matter) about Christ cussing ought not to be done for obvious reasons. But while I agree with you and the folks commenting regarding works labeled Christian fiction, I have read Christian fiction with ministers or elders cheating on their wives and stuff like that only to repent…That is, if infidelity can occur in Christian novels, then it is no surprised that characters cuss as well. Regardless, if a fiction novel leads anyone to Christ, I am sure Christ will forgive the writer for having characters who cuss, or cheat on their wives, and repent of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Allyson, again thanks for liking the comment. You are a joy! Keep it up! Never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer, the song says. And I am still trying to find out how self-published authors can protect their works from pirates and Adobe Acrobat “editors”… 😉 I do hope you registered your e-books with the Library of Congress ($55.00) and registered as an agent with DMCA ($6).

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Please do that, Allyson! You really need to do two things (e-book or printed book)–one, register your book with the Library of Congress for $55.00–well worth it, especially if you find out someone has pirated or stolen from your work; two, sign up with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act program as an agent for your works for only $6.00, and that way if you find out some one is pirating or stealing your works you can sue them under DMCA. You may not be able to stop any piracy or copyright infringement, but with these two things you might be able to take the infringers for court (and likely you’ll need a lawyer, but still…). But you MUST copyright your works regardless. Don’t know if you have a sole proprietorship publishing company such as OmegaBooks like I do, but you should also get an ISBN set of numbers even if you don’t (again, for a fee, from Bowker or some other agent). Another problem I encountered when researching putting my e-books on Amazon Kindle is they do not require ISBNs…get them anyway! All of these measures at minimal cost are for your protection. Deb Lagarde

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This post is so thought-provoking! I like how you brought up this subject that so many of us want to skirt around. Personally, I choose not to use cuss words in my Christian writing (at least so far). However, like you said, just because a Christian book has cuss words in it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a Christian book. If it shows how a sinful character goes from a hardened state to a redeemed, Christ-like one, then I think it’s proven it’s point, and I think it would make the book more realistic in some cases.

    Liked by 2 people

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