I’m kind of piggybacking on my “Want Different Books?” post, here.
In conversations where fellow readers express why they enjoy Christian Fiction, I frequently hear readers say that A) they rely on ChristFic to be “clean”—to be free of material like profanity and sex scenes. (Granted, there’s a lot of “clean” fiction around that isn’t Christian, but that’s a topic for another day.) Some readers add that they read ChristFic because they don’t want to worry if their kids or grandkids get a hold of their books. Likewise, I’ve heard someone’s assumption before that the ChristFic genre as a whole is meant to be kid-friendly. I also hear readers say that B) they want relatable, realistic stories, and books that deal with tough, true-to-life issues.
I suspect that when readers who want A also want B, they don’t always consider that B books will typically need more room than “General Audiences” or “Kid-Friendly” ratings to realistically tell the stories.
In a spy or military thriller, an author will have to use more than vague, “safe” phrasing to develop a violent scene. (Then, an unfortunate incident took place, and Joe was wounded. It hurt.) I hear readers say they’d like to see more romantic ChristFic books about married couples, and yet, romantic married couples are often going to do what romantic married couples do. (Sue had been missing her husband all day. When she saw him at last, she hurried across their bedroom and heartily shook hands with him.)
Yes, I’m exaggerating a little, with unfortunate incidents and matrimonial handshakes. 😀 But I think in many cases, while ChristFic readers are reading or selecting a book, we’re simply trusting an author or publisher, trusting in the knowledge that the book is Christian Fiction, more than we’re worrying about what the literal content rating would be. If an author we know and love tastefully writes some mature material into a novel, we usually don’t deem it to be dirty or inappropriate. We trust the author’s storytelling and his/her reasons for including that material.
The challenge comes when we’re stepping out of our comfort zones, looking beyond the authors or publishers we already know. Then we may, consciously or subconsciously, fall back on tight restrictions, to be safe: “No sensuality, no substance use, little to no violence, please. And strong language? No thank you. ‘Strong’ might basically be cussing, and I don’t want to read cussing.” The prospect of mature material from an author or publisher we don’t know can feel rather risky.
Even me—I consider myself to be a quasi-conservative reader. I want reality. I want grit. And I generally don’t want salacious content, swear words, or stories that are gory for the sake of gore. However, when it comes to certain websites or book subscription services, and I, as an author, have to apply specified content ratings or levels to the books I’ve written, it makes me nervous. Not because I think my books are dirty or inappropriate but because I’m concerned that Christian Fiction readers who’ve never read or heard of me may be turned off by the ratings.
If my book has a romantic kiss that’s more than a quick peck, the sensuality or sexual heat rating has to go up. If my book includes a tough issue like a parent’s drug addiction, or even if someone smokes a cigarette or has a glass of wine with dinner anywhere in the book, it’s going to count as substance use. If my book addresses domestic abuse, then violence will be reflected in the content level or rating.
This can get especially tricky for rating-based book websites or emails if a ChristFic reader is thinking, “Christian = Clean = Mild. Since I’m interested in finding Christian books, I’ll only subscribe to see listings/receive emails about books with Mild content.” Yet, if an author is writing about some of the real-life, nitty-gritty issues that people, even Christians, have to deal with, it will likely require the content to be more than mild.
Besides, even if you’re a pretty conservative reader, let’s say you were going to objectively analyze the content in all of the adult, Christian books you’ve read that handle “deep issues.” Not depending on the authors or publishers of the books—just the content inside. If you, without bias, combed through all of the Biblical and Historical Fiction (including biblical battles, accounts of the Crucifixion, Christian persecution, World War and Holocaust stories, etc.), Suspense and Mystery novels, Romance and Contemporary Fiction, and any other ChristFic books you’ve read that include serious topics, it’s probable you’d find material in some of them that isn’t strictly G- or PG-rated.
Of course, everyone is entitled to read what they enjoy. Not every author’s style or level of content is right for every reader.
Still, if deeper or grittier Christian Fiction is what you’re after, know that even authors who write deep and gritty material take great care in considering their audiences. Because there are tasteful ways to write about all manner of true-to-life issues, it’s good not to assume that grown-up content means a book is “dirty.” Authors depend on your trust and maturity as they tell mature, realistic stories.