Friday, July 30, 2010

Profanity and Sex in Christian Writing

Several weeks ago, agent Terry Burns, who is a fellow-agent with my agent, Diana Flegal, posted a blog article on Hartline regarding Profanity in Christian Literature.

Another agent, Chip MacGregor, posted an article on this same topic on July 24, entitled Sex and Language in Religious Books.

Not only did I find these agents’ thoughts full of wisdom, I enjoyed the plethora of great responses from readers. Not all Christians embrace the same thoughts on this touchy subject.

What do you think of the use of swearing and sex in Christian writing? Do they have a place, if used to show a change from darkness to light in a person’s life? Or can one convey the same message by showing, not telling?


  1. My first response is to say "No sex or swearing!"

    Then I pause to rethink it and say, "Maybe. If..."

    One of the ifs is: If the story line is to be real life and the reader to identify with the character and story line, it would be necessary to add, but how much?

    It's a dilemma to consider.

  2. I really liked Chip's post on it. I'm all for characters being real, but I have big dislike for cussing in Christian books. It doesn't bother me at all in ABA books or movies, but I have different expectations.
    I def. think there are plenty of ways to show darkness without having a sex scene or having characters use profanity.
    It's a tricky thing...

  3. I've yet to write about sex, and I don't know that I ever will, since it surpasses my personal comfort level. It may at some point (in my fiction) be alluded to, if it fits within the context and is needed for the plot.

    I've a character who used a cuss word every so often. I'm okay with that. Because it's true to life, gives an accurate depiction of him, and it plain isn't me.

    Thanks for these links! This is something I've often stewed over.

    Happy Friday!

  4. Oh, you know what? That last answer maybe applies to fiction that won't have a Christian label. I say that as a Christian who writes, and whose novels aren't tagged as a Christian genre.

    If it's Christian in nature, and in theme, content, the cursing is probably a no-go, too. It just doesn't feel right, or keep the tone.

    Boy, I hope those are clear thoughts. I feel like I'm talking in circles!

  5. Sigh. My burning desire?
    To right REAL.
    To tell the stories of transformed people.
    If it involves WHATEVER, PUT IT IN.
    What I DON'T like? Whitewashed truth.
    Hey, our Bible didn't leave out the gore, sex, racism. Did it?

  6. So glad I'm doing kid's books for now. Don't even have to think about me writing any of that stuff. :O)

  7. I'm not a writer..just a Christian reader.

    Seeing foul language is a turn off for me. I live in a world with it blasting all around me and frankly a good writer can express frustration and anger without using curse words. I think it takes more talent to write without them actually.

    Describing a love scene doesn't bother me: the longing, the desire, the scenery...but again, I feel it takes a little talent to give us a 'picture' without giving us a porn show.

    Just my thoughts. Thanks for letting me share.

  8. Id venture to guess that when people pick up a novel under a Christian label, they expect no language or sexual content. We are in a competition for words out there and I have no intention of playing the secular game. That's just my preference. Ive heard many Christians tell me they didn't finish a book because it had profanity in it. I say error on the side of caution and respect for our target audience.
    Your CD will get in the mail today my friend. Hope you are getting my post updates now.

  9. No swearing. I was recently very surprised by a book I won on a Christian blog that had swearing in it, even by the main character. What do we mean by sex? That there can be no reference to it? I think that's unrealistic. One of the best Christian fiction books I've read is redeeming love, and it has many references to sex. In a manuscript I recently completed, a young girl who gets pregnant before marriage accepts Jesus on her wedding day. Her love for the Lord draws others in her new family to Him. Sex details: I vote no. To turn our heads and act as though it's not there: I vote no. Jen, this is a great topic, and I'm thrilled you have mentioned it.

  10. I don't like raunchy. I know it's out there, but I don't want to read about it.

  11. I vote no for raunchy too. I wish I could remove raunchy and swearing from the television set!

  12. Hi Jen -

    I read both links, and now I'm back here to comment.

    I can't go with the "realism" argument. You don't have to use gutter language or porn to write a realistic story. The Bible deals with issues in a real way but without resorting to these techniques.

    As a writer, am I looking to shock my audience, appeal to the lust of non-believers for the sake of sales or standing out from the crowd of unpublished authors?

    I have to think of: 1)Pleasing God and realizing I'll have to account for my words and actions. 2) Writing to call attention to the truth rather than sensationalizing and appearing to condone evil.

    I could go on, but I think I've made my point.


  13. I don't agree with the swearing in any book--Authors can say the same thing and leave it out.

  14. I think you can hint, or show after affects, but it is real life and must be dealt with in a way pleasing to God.

  15. I don't like swearing even in NON Christian books. I think it's unnecessary. It doesn't keep it "real". It distracts from the story.
    (In my personal opinion) :)

  16. don't use those words but plenty of people do and they seem to be a part of the world we live in. If I think it feels real in my work I'll go there. *yikes*

  17. I need to hightail it over to those blogs and do some reading! I think a good writer can finds ways not to use swear words in their fiction and still portray realistic, fallen characters. Same with sex. Don't show it on the page, but if it's who your character is in the beginning, there are ways to help the readers make these inferences without throwing it into somebody's face.

  18. I think with writing Christian literature you definitely want to be careful on how you portray everything.

    I think that great writers don't need to include swearing or sex but can still give an idea that it's what going on.

    Great blog, great post!


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