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The Balance Between Christian And Secular Romance

As you may know, I’ve been giving inspirational (Christian) romance a try. It is a genre that’s particularly prevalent online and I wanted to broaden my horizons. I was interested in seeing how they ‘work’ – the differences; it made sense to choose romance because I know a fair amount about the romance genre (ironically, as I read romance because of a previous broadening horizons project) and it’s easy to find Christian romances.

I can’t say I’ve read a lot of Christian romance; I’ve found it’s something I’d like to limit in my reading, but I’d say I’ve read enough to write this post.

This post comes from my questioning the gap between Christian and, for lack of a better word, secular romance. Secular romances have no/rare references to religion. Perhaps a historical will talk of church but not in depth. Christian romance uses religion, faith in God and Jesus, as a theme. What has struck me is the lack of fiction that fills the gap. By this I mean there are few romances wherein characters have faith but it’s just a part of their life rather than a theme of the book. Perhaps they go to church or pray before bed but it doesn’t inform many choices and isn’t written in detail. I feel romance is missing that, especially as I think it’s fair to say many people have a faith but wouldn’t consider themselves religious. To me it would seem normal to have such a book, for faith to be there but more in the background than it can be in inspirational romances.

It’s appropriate here to say I’ve noticed this partly thanks to Janet’s article on a similar theme. Janet wonders about romances that look at faith and/or values, morals. I agree with her sentiment that it would be nice to have more books wherein characters made choices based on their morals and that such books wouldn’t have to be a separate genre.

I’ve read both books where religion is included to an unnatural degree (in view of what I see in mainstream culture), and books in which it reads well, however even those that read well are of course subject to chastity. I have absolutely no problem with chastity if that’s what the author wants, but it’d be nice to see faith in a book that includes sex, too.

I have read such a book, and there is such an author. In Noelle Adams’ Married For Christmas, which the author notes is not inspirational, the characters are Christian, and there are sex scenes included in the required context of marriage. I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan of the book in general however this element was done well. But the fact that one character is a minister does mean that even if it’s getting there, it’s still not quite filling the gap.

I will readily admit that I realise part of the reason it seems, to me, religion is shoehorned in is because of the differences between American and British Christian culture, at least in the context of inspirational romance. Of course there are varying levels and sects in both places, but the devotion in American Christian fiction is not something I can relate to culturally. (I’ve not had experience of all the denominations but living in a country you obviously get a general feel for the religious culture.) Yet at the same time the extent I sometimes see religion included, and the way so many people actively avoid inspirational fiction, surely means a lot is the same across the borders. (I know my knowledge of American Christianity has been influenced by what I see and read; I’ve not witnessed it first-hand.)

To go back to my point, then, and to put my thoughts on culture into context, it seems to me that too often faith, in particularly religious faith, is included where it ‘shouldn’t’ be, at least from the perspective of the mainstream. It’s often obvious from the blurb if this will be the case, but not always. A prime example is The Butterfly And The Violin. It’s a nice story but I found the extent to which Christianity was included inappropriate for a novel set in Auschwitz. The religion overtook the Holocaust.

In contrast there is Erica Vetsch’s work (A Bride’s Portrait Of Dodge City, Kansas). I feel Vetsch is on the cusp of the balance, in a different way to Adams. Whilst there are a couple of places where religion sticks out, for example a character wanting to proclaim his faith to his boss at random, otherwise the religion is subtle. It’s included from the start but it’s in the background, the characters may discuss it but it reads as natural – people share interests so why not talk about their beliefs, too? And it of course informs the sexual content – kisses only. Vetsch is pretty good at showing you can have plenty of chemistry in a book without including sex.

So Vetsch is on the cusp but there is still that place Adams inhabits where faith in a book doesn’t rule out sex (when considering married couples if that’s what fits). There’s the place for fiction wherein people wait until marriage without faith being the backbone of the story (or being there at all), there’s the place for faith being part of a character just because it’s reality, and so forth. (I focus on sex and faith here because of the whole ‘clean read’ idea – a book doesn’t have to be clean to deal with faith.)

What I think is fascinating is that we don’t have this prevalence, at least not in English-language romance, with other religions. You’re going to see more of the traditionally western religions; I think there’s more hesitation to pick up Christian books than books that include other religions. But I can’t help but think that a Hindu romance, for example, would be better received as a whole. Perhaps it’s the ‘exotic’ factor or even the way people view a religion that isn’t theirs (thinking white perspective here) or that doesn’t come with the baggage of being something they turned away from, but there’s something. I also think, however, that it could be the way other religions have remained a part of the overall culture of those who follow them, which is something Christianity, in the main, has lost. There is also a learning factor. For many a book including Hinduism would mean a chance to broaden horizons. A Christian book would be reading what you may have been brought up with, or brought up near, and had enough of. Of course this is all from my white western perspective – I’d be interested to know how those of other ethnicities and religions view Christian fiction as well as hearing from Christians of a non-western background.

I’m likely to stay on the lookout for balanced romance and make a point of reading those I find, whilst acknowledging inspirational romance sometimes fits the bill and reading a couple of them. I would love to see more balance not just in romance and without a new genre being created – I think it’s as natural to include faith from time to time as it is to be diverse in general. Faith can be as much a part of a person’s identity as ability and sexuality.

Your thoughts are very welcome.



July 10, 2017, 7:38 pm

I’m struggling with this as an Irish author now living in the US. Being extremely practical, I don’t want to paint purple haze over life. and I don’t want to make my book fit into a Christian romance box because it’s not Christian, it’s a good book with a few mentions of God because of a death. Otherwise the book is very normal.

But then I come to face the knowledge that Christian romance is selling better than secular romance, so do I sell out and add in paragraphs to make it pasty white? No, but it still makes me wonder if I’m missing out on getting published because I won’t.

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