Eat, Drink, and Be Merry?

This blog entry is prompted by a response to a recent post, “What’s Wrong with my Book?

A reader commented about portraying characters consuming alcoholic beverages. She didn’t want to change an historical fact that alcohol was a beverage of choice in past times thanks to foul water supplies and the like. She felt it would be wrong to write otherwise. I certainly agree!

Still, I err on the side of caution when pitching to publishers. Just like individual readers, the houses that are strict are strict. The houses that aren’t, aren’t.

Today, many Christians are adamant about not drinking any alcohol, ever. I asked one of the many devout Christians in my life about her strict stance. She cited Ephesians 5:18, which does say not to drink to excess. She argued that if you don’t drink the first drop, then there is no chance of getting drunk. Although she didn’t cite Galatians 5:22-23, one of the fruits of the spirit is self-control. Refusing strong drink is one form of self-control.

Of course, anyone can look to the Bible and find advice on medicinal uses for strong drink, so if you like to debate, have fun.

As for myself, I am not taking a stand on alcohol consumption. I am only explaining what I believe to be an accurate and safe viewpoint regarding manuscript submissions.

I always suggest to go conservative because not mentioning alcoholic beverages won’t offend those who aren’t strict, but mentioning alcohol will offend those who are. In other words, why emphasize a character’s consumption of alcohol when there’s no need?

I was particularly addressing contemporary romance writers where the hero and heroine might have the opportunity to consume cocktails. Why have them do this and turn off some readers when the characters can just as easily drink soda?

Going back to history, though, what I would recommend is not showing characters drinking alcohol. If you say, “They supped that evening,” I see no need to give readers a complete menu. If you want to mention an entree, fine. But again, why mention ale and wine when there’s no need?

If you have a plot involving a drunkard, this could illustrate the harm that excessive use of alcohol can do, so that could be an exception.

I have written many historical stories and successfully avoided the issue. The exception is when a character from one book was rehabilitated in a subsequent story. But otherwise, if memory serves, (I wrote lots of books and stories), I steered away from portraying alcohol consumption in my work. Until and unless you get the go-ahead from your editor to portray alcohol consumption, I recommend you do the same.

Your turn:

How do you feel about characters being portrayed as consuming alcoholic beverages in Christian books?

Would you like to see Christian literature become even more edgy, or do you prefer to have the alternatives in reading that exist today?


72 Responses to Eat, Drink, and Be Merry?

  1. Cec Murphey August 18, 2016 at 5:53 am #

    The quote from Ephesians 5:18 seems like a good one. And I assume your friend applies that as a life principle. Which leads me to say two things. First, “I hope you never eat food.” If you start, you might end up a glutton. (Gluttony was one of the 7 deadly sins throughout hundreds of years of church history. Oh, we don’t like that term today, we call it obesity. So I wonder how that fits with Romans 12:1 of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices.
    Second, I’ve just figured out that Jesus and the apostles did miracles that I hadn’t noticed. Since they surely would not have drunk wine for fear of becoming alcoholics or offending non-wine drinkers, they must have had some kind of secret source of refrigeration. Yet I wonder what Jesus meant in his command not to put new wine into old wine skins, as in Matthew 9:17.

    My position is moderation in ALL hings.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 7:04 am #

      Cec, what an absolutely fabulous response! I won’t go back and pick an unnecessary argument with my friend, but I’ll keep your words in mind for future reference.

  2. Richard New August 18, 2016 at 6:11 am #

    If having your characters consume alcohol does not move the story forward, why include it? I believe I’d only use alcohol for medicinal purposes or for painting a picture of character degradation. Seen plenty of the later in real life.

    What’s wrong with tea, flavored water, or soft drinks?

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 18, 2016 at 6:40 am #

    I agree with C.S.Lewis that Christianity is not the teetotal religion – Islam is. I’ll show consumption where it’s necessary and in character.

    It’s also very hard to describe the behaviour of characters within certain cultural or social milieus without at least alluding to the use of alcohol. Same’s true for smoking; writing a historical set in WW2 with a full cast of nonsmokers would set a false tone.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 7:11 am #

      Andrew, I agree. I will say I once portrayed an amoral minor character smoking cigarettes in a novel set in the 1930s. As I wrote, I remember Bette Davis saying that (a paraphrase here) in some movies you see a character smoking and then not smoking again. She thought either the character smoked, or the character didn’t. She was right. Anyone who knows smokers sees that they usually smoke much of the time. Recalling that, I had my character frequently lighting up, blowing smoke rings, etc. The editor decided I had portrayed smoking too much. I suppose the character was having a bit too much fun with his habit. To comply, I didn’t argue, but cheerfully made the changes. Such is the life of a writer!

  4. Jeff High August 18, 2016 at 6:56 am #


    The topic of alcohol has been a central controversy for me. I am a follower of Jesus Christ and would love to have been published by one of the Christian publishing houses because I think they do a better job of marketing to the my target audience. Fortunately, I was published by one of the major houses out of New York.

    Although it is far for being a central theme in the story, drinking happens in my novels because it is realistic to the characters. One is even an alcoholic who later reforms. The key issue here is that I don’t celebrate this aspect of the character’s behavior but instead, demonstrate how their choices are unfulfilling and destructive.

    I accept that many of my fellow believers simply red flag as unacceptable any novel with drinking. But that would mean that they would never read the works of Faulkner, James Herriot, Hemingway, and a plethora of other great novelist.

    Any of the sewage of human behavior can be written about to extreme. But these writers found a balance. They walked close enough to the sewer to smell the stench without making us crawl through them. Conversely, nor did they pretend that sewers don’t exist.

    I know that Steve Laube has written eloquently on the dangers of sanitized literature and it grieves me that there seems to be no middle ground on this subject. I fear that many fellow believers equate ridged rule following to morality… a position that would appear to fly in the face of Jesus’s basic program.

    Ultimately, we as Christians must write stories that penetrate the conscience of the larger world. We must go to their house, to their world, and gently teach with characters that ring true to their reality. Otherwise, we will be seen as irrelevant and be relegated to the margins of enduring literature.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 7:12 am #

      Well said, Jeff. Thanks!

      • DR. Lin Stepp August 30, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

        Excellent thoughts Jeff High… and you manage these issues in a wise and realistic way in your books, too. I have enjoyed all of them.

  5. Rebekah August 18, 2016 at 6:57 am #

    I think it’s fine to leave out mention of wine in historical novels, especially since so much has changed over time. “Grape juice” as we have today – pasteurized and refrigerated – didn’t exist. There was old wine and there was new wine.

    New wine is what comes out of my juicer – piquant and unlike anything in the store. Makes you want to run a marathon after one glorious sip. Old wine was what Noah drank and brought shame.

    Unless we plan to go down a long boring rabbit trail in our narrative explaining such differences, it’s hard to show this to a modern reader. So many think of all wine as something that’s been aging for decades. Some was, some wasn’t. I imagine the wine Jesus served was as new as it gets. Literally 🙂

    I’ve been thinking about this a long time. Thanks for a great post. God bless 🙂

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 7:14 am #

      Rebekah, what a wonderful explanation of the difference between new and old wine. Hmmm, I might like to buy a juicer now! Thanks for your words.

  6. Susan Karsten August 18, 2016 at 7:09 am #

    I believe that there is a spirit of fear surrounding drinking alcohol.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 7:15 am #

      Susan, that could be true. I do know some precious sisters in Christ who have been hurt by the alcohol consumption of others. No one wants to be around an element that caused upset in life, or to read about it.

  7. Nancy Golden August 18, 2016 at 7:17 am #

    Hi Tamela and thanks for an interesting post. This has been a particularly interesting topic for me because of an appendix in a book that I authored on evangelism – The Second Greatest Commandment Meets the Great Commission: How to Love Your Neighbors to Christ. I intentionally (knowing I was taking a risk) addressed alcohol in that appendix. I sought pastoral wisdom on it and the general response was no response. I believe those I queried agreed with what I wrote but didn’t feel comfortable taking a public stance on it. I have since taught several courses on evangelism for (a ministry of Southwestern College in Kansas) using my book as the text and the appendix is one of the assignments – I have never received any negative feedback regarding it. For me, I felt it important that the topic of alcohol be addressed since it is a prevalent part of our society and if we want to reach our neighbors, we need to think through in advance our response to alcohol use since we may very well be put in a position where it is offered. I knew when I included it, I risked offending people and losing readership. If you are interested, I can post the appendix or email it for your review…just let me know. Thanks for addressing this issue – it is often hard to find a balance on what to include in writing but I believe being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading is the best way to find it.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 7:21 am #

      Nancy, feel free to post your link here. I’m sure many will be blessed.

      • Nancy Golden August 18, 2016 at 8:02 am #

        Thanks Tamela – I just converted it to a pdf and uploaded it to my website – the link to Appendix E is E_online.pdf

        I hope addressing this difficult topic provides some helpful insights for those who want to share their faith…

        God bless you and your ministry in providing such a valuable service in promoting books that honor our Lord.

  8. Bob August 18, 2016 at 7:35 am #

    I concur. Why focus the reader’s attention on the negative aspects of life? The world in which we live needs encouragement. People need to know they can be changed from the inside out. A new suit of clothes doesn’t really change a person but Christ can. Great post.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

      Bob, thank you! Yes, a heart change is needed, not just clothes. Good point!

  9. Martha Rogers August 18, 2016 at 7:39 am #

    Because my father’s family, my cousins, are of a different denomination than my Baptist one, they drink wine with their meals and an occasional cocktail. They are still strong Christians with great testimonies of faith. Because of that, I can understand a little wine or such in a story, but only if it fits the character, the situation, and the setting, and is not there just to be there.

    One of my favorite stories I wrote was never picked up by a traditional editor and recently Indie published. It deals with a recovering alcoholic and the effects her alcoholism had on her life. The ms begins with her trying to find a job after losing her previous one due to her drinking and she’s on probation for a DWI. She’s in AA and the whole story shows her overcoming her addiction and going through the steps to a final reunion with her family and finding love. She’s the prodigal daughter ready to come home.

  10. Nancy August 18, 2016 at 7:50 am #

    My sister married a man who drank alcohol. He constantly beat her and the two children and couldn’t keep a job. When he tried to kill her and the two children with a gun (thank God, he didn’t succeed!), she ran with her children and hid for two years. He put my father in the hospital during an alcoholic binge. We had no idea where our sister/daughter was during that time or whether she and the children were dead or alive. This man died in jail at the age of twenty-nine from a ruptured stomach due to drinking shoe polish or anything he could get this hands on that satisfied his raging thirst. My daughter married a man who drank alcohol. He beat her and terrorized the children. When we moved to a new location, a neighbor told us he hoped we didn’t mind him drinking one beer on his porch of the evenings. His one became many and he tried to shoot his wife and shot himself in the foot. Their marriage ended, and he later died from the effects of alcoholism. This week, I attended a funeral for a twenty-three-year-old young man who died in an automobile wreck while drunk. His cousin who survived the wreck is suicidal from the guilt of surviving when his best friend died. A granddaughter neglected her children and lost everything she had. She hit two parked cars and it woke her up. She now is alcohol free and has a good life. She once said, “There are no scriptures in the Bible against drinking alcoholic beverages.” After that, while reading through my Bible, I found several I had never noticed before. How does a person know that one drink will suffice? All these people started out with one drink. They never thought, “I’ll begin drinking and become an alcoholic and ruin my life.” If these I mentioned had never had that first one, I would have been spared much sorrow. Then why should I condone, in my writing, anything that causes such tragedies?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

      Nancy, wow — I’m not sure anyone would believe this if it were in novel form. I’m so sorry you’ve had these experiences. No, there is no reason why you should write in a way that favors strong drink. God bless you.

  11. Cynthia Herron August 18, 2016 at 7:51 am #

    Such a great topic today, Tamela! I agree with many of the points that others have already addressed. I wrote a blog post a few years ago that sums up how I feel about the issue. Bottom line: Christians aren’t fuddy-duddy, perfect (and clueless) wimps. We struggle with real needs, hurts, and problems (at times maybe even moreso than unbelievers). I think we can be realistic without offending.

    My personal feeling is: Does my story point others to Christ? Does my story seek to glorify God’s kingdom? Is the salvation message (subtly or directly) apparent? In other words–is there some redemptive value to the story/scene?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

      Cynthia, thanks for the reminder to be cautious when writing every scene of a story.

  12. Ruth T. August 18, 2016 at 8:01 am #

    I’m so thankful for this post! The alcohol consumption issue is one I’ve questioned for a while since both of my romantic thrillers include it. The first novel contains one scene where the couple is on a date and shares a bottle of wine. Novel #2 contains 3 scenes with alcohol consumption, one of which is a part of the prologue in a bad/suspenseful circumstance – it’s not my character who gets drunk.

    Drinking alcohol is not an important part of the plot for either stories, so I can easily take it out. I am considering publishing for the general market rather than strictly CBA, though. Not 100% decided, but I have a feeling Karen & Natasha’s workshop next week will help me make the decision! 

  13. Norma Brumbaugh August 18, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. Why offend when there is no need, is my takeaway from what you have written. People do feel passionate about this subject. In the world today there is movement away from the strictness of the past. However, we need to be sensitive and considerate.
    I recently read a novel written by a monk that has several references to sex and uses language that seems inappropriate given the source. It was off putting and I chose to not review the book because I saw a contradiction in its message/representation. Yet, others would have liked the trendy, modern, real way he portrayed his characters. I was making judgments (sorry) about him as a monk while reading its pages. So, there’s that. We can’t escape impressions.
    I was raised in a strict sense and find it stays with me even though I am less that way now; so I get it, the point you are making. We have a responsibility to our readership and to the publishing house. We need to be wise in our choices if we want to be read widely. But we also need to be who we are…and there’s the rub.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

      Norma, I think the Lord guides us to where we need to be. When an author and publisher are a good fit, it really is a gift to everyone. As for the monk? I’ll admit I would have been surprised by such saucy content, too!

  14. Janet Ann Collins August 18, 2016 at 9:37 am #

    Jesus turned water into wine and some churches use wine for communion, so it can’t be all bad. And in ancient times when water was likely to be unsanitary and wine wasn’t necessarily high in alcohol it made sense even for children to drink wine. But I agree that we don’t want our writing to lead others into temptation, so we need to be very careful how or if we include alcohol.

  15. Theresa Santy August 18, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    I would love to see Christian literature become more edgy, meaning I would love to see Christian authors become more daring to write fearlessly, pushing aside worries of offending, say, their Atheist mother, their family, Christian friends and markets, and non-believing friends alike. I believe every writer should write about that thing that resides deep inside their heart and is just pressing to come out. Write it, without fear, and without worrying about trying to fit inside any sort of box. Then, through the editing process, sit back and see what you have. Ask: What is the main message? Then deeply consider what it means to be respectful of the market for which your message is intended.

    For years, I thought I was writing a crossover novel, but when I landed a publisher by winning a writing contest, I was told my story was Christian fiction. Edgy Christian fiction. Kristen, my main character (a non-believer for most of the book) and her friends are heavy drinkers. This is a part of who she is, and if I pulled out the drinking, she would become an inauthentic character. Ethan, on the other hand, is the Jesus Freak love interest who comes in and tries to save her. Initially, I had him take an occasional drink. At first, when my publisher told me this wasn’t going to fly, I was offended. I polled dozens of Christians to get their take, and all but one said that it was ridiculous to have to remove the drinking. But then it occurred to me that “drinking” was not in any way the point of the story. My story was about love, mercy, and the power of God’s grace. I could still tell this story without alcohol touching Ethan’s lips. Authenticity was important to me, so to keep Ethan “real” I made sure he had his own set of issues. One, was his addiction to caffeine. I find it amusing that Ethan’s daily heavy consumption of coffee, though likely more physically harmful to him, was more acceptable to Christian bookstores, than the three glasses of wine he had consumed over a period of two years.

    But it is what it is, and like I said, the morality of alcohol consumption was not the point of my story. Grace was the point. So I focused on that, and I let go of everything else.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

      Theresa, that’s a great testimony to heeding wise advice. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Angela Strong August 18, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    I appreciated books like Kissing Adrian by Sirius Mitchell where drinking wine is a cultural thing, and the pastor in France will drink the wine his parishioners make so as not to offend THEM. I know some publishers would lose a lot of their readers if they mentioned alcohol so it is part of their business plan to avoid all things controversial. I respect that. AND I prefer the books that make me question my beliefs rather than keep me in my comfort zone by confirming everything I already believe. I don’t call that edgy. I call that realistic.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

      Angela, I appreciate the wide variety of Christian books available today, so each reader can find stories he or she enjoys. I will say that the character who doesn’t drink is just as realistic as the drunk because we encounter both types of people in the world. I also think that each reader defines “realistic” based on his or her own life and experience, so what seems realistic to one reader may not seem believable to another.

      There are plenty of challenging Christian books that make the reader think. Thanks for making an excellent point.

  17. Lois August 18, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    I’m writing historical westerns. Where did they stop to quench their thirst? What was served there?

    I wonder how many folks are aware that this is an American concern. My husband and I traveled the world as missionaries. In every country our Christian friends served wine or beer.

    I’m not much of a fan of alcohol myself, but I believe in being true to time and place. I have enjoyed a sarsaparilla (creme soda), though!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

      Lois, what a great point! It’s amazing how different some American Christians are from our international counterparts. Thankfully, there’s not much reason to make an issue of what your cowboys drink, so everyone can enjoy your stories!

  18. Timothy Fish August 18, 2016 at 10:52 am #

    My view on alcohol in stories is the same as my view on bathrooms. If it is relevant to the story then you include it. If it isn’t then you don’t. But I see a lot of people today who want to make a point of including it because they want to argue that Christians can drink. If they want to make that argument, that’s their business, but adding side arguments to a story isn’t the way to do it. The correct way to make that argument is to base the whole story around it. Give us characters on both sides of the issue and show us why the situation is improved if Christians participate in drinking. If you can’t do that, you need to rethink your position.

  19. Deb August 18, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    Having witnessed the ravages of excess alcohol consumption among immediate family, as well as friends, I confess that I tend to be a little right wing on ANY alcohol consumption. Our children were raised to abstain and are grown now and, a few years ago, one of them came to a self realization. He was involved in a community of believers that would have an occasional drink. But he held off – for very a long time. The he realized that, FOR HIM, “having never consumed alcohol” had become a source of pride and even maybe a bit of a license to judge, if he was being honest. Hmmmmm, now what’s wrong with that picture. Obviously, alcohol can be a stumbling block for a lot of people, as many things can be, so we should be sensitive to that and, just because WE are capable of drinking moderately, not be the cause for anyone to stumble. My husband and I still don’t drink alcohol because he was, and will always be, an alcoholic, but I believe that we should be seeking holy spirit guidance in ALL our choices. We don’t know if having a glass of wine at a particular moment in time might cause someone else to stumble, but God does. 1 Corinthians 6:12 : “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial.” It’s good to think about whether our choices may or may not be beneficial for anyone else, too, so I doubt whether I’ll be putting any potential stumbling blocks in my writing any time soon.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:50 pm #

      Deb, I appreciate you for sharing, because I think you are like a lot of other Christians. Your decision makes perfect sense. Happy writing!

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield August 18, 2016 at 2:13 pm #

      Beautifully stated, Deb.

  20. Janet Ann Collins August 18, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    I don’t drink because I have a family history of alcoholics. That tendency tends to be hereditary so perhaps it’s why people in some parts of the world don’t think drinking is a problem.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

      Janet Ann, a Christian friend I have has made the same observation to me about her family. And a person can be a functioning alcoholic — until he isn’t functioning. I appreciate you for sharing.

  21. G.J. Hoffman August 18, 2016 at 11:24 am #

    I think an excellent example of how to include this historic or otherwise cultural aspect of life can be seen within the Lord of the Rings, which many Christians have no problem reading or watching.
    Pippin: “What’s that?”
    Merry: “This my friend, is a pint.”
    Pippin: “It comes in pints?”
    No need to references what comes in pints, and also the resulting consequences of the consumption of the content of the pint is shown when their ruckus causes Frodo to nearly be caught with the ring and brings down the ire of Strider.

  22. Sheri Dean Parmelee August 18, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    Tamela, thank you for opening this conversation, which I think is very important. While I do know some Christians who drink “adult beverages,” most of the folks I hang out abstain, just as I do. If I were reading a Christianity-based novel, it would be a disappointment to me to find that the characters I was investing my time in were whoppin’ it up with a few beers! When I read a secular novel, I skip over the alcohol consumption if it seems unimportant to the story, but I can’t imagine the Left Behind series with all of the main characters three sheets to the wind! Just sayin……

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

      Sheri, I am particular about the characters I invest in, too. Your reference to the Left Behind series made me smile!

  23. Linda Riggs Mayfield August 18, 2016 at 11:30 am #

    Tamela, you brave woman! You certainly opened the proverbial can of worms–and definitely not a can of beer. 🙂

    Without refrigeration, the options in Jesus’ and Paul’s time would have been let the juice go sour naturally, which results in wine vinegar, or make it into wine that could be used to drink. Fresh juice doesn’t keep very long sitting around in a bottle–not even in my fridge, but wine will keep for decades–or centuries. They drank wine–wine with alcohol in it. That was the way to preserve the “juice of the fruit of the vine.”

    At the wedding at Cana, the guests had drunk all the prepared wine, which I assume was actually wine, since they had no refrigeration in Cana at that time. Then the governor said that wine which Jesus produced from water was better than the wine provided for the feast. Would he have said that about plain grape juice after drinking the customary wedding wine? I doubt it. It would be nice if biblical history always fit our 21st century cultural preferences, but it doesn’t. 🙂

    We don’t have alcohol in our home because of preference born of life-long habit and the long traditions in our family and church culture about giving offense, not because of a scriptural prohibition of it per se. In addition to the observations of contexts I mentioned, I think it’s difficult /impossible to defend total abstinence from alcohol from New Testament teachings, either. Paul told Timothy to stop only drinking water and also drink wine, since he had ongoing digestive issues, apparently from the water. He didn’t tell him to hide while he did it, or announce that it was only for medicinal purposes. Timothy wouldn’t have been drinking water by the spoonful, so I don’t think he meant a spoonful of wine, either. One translation does say “a little.” Paul often taught moderation. 🙂

    On a related point: Alcoholism is not higher on God’s list of sins than the numerous other sins that are included in Christian novels. Our heroines gossip and people lie, cheat, and steal. Men lead women astray and vice versa. People own slaves, and even mistreat them. Spouses desert each other. There are abuses and murders. No one seems to have a problem writing about those sins. But because alcoholism has touched some authors more personally than those, they react to even a single mention of wine in a completely different and stronger way from how they react to other sins, and project their aversion to future readers, while meandering their plots through many other sins without giving it a thought. And apparently some readers do look for that one little historically accurate reference to alcohol and pounce on it. That pouncing doesn’t seem reasonable to me: being historically accurate about something doesn’t endorse it. But publishers know that even the mention of alcohol affects sales, so some make rules that keep it out of their books. They’re in business to sell books.

    I don’t believe that someone reading about a family drinking wine with dinner in the early 19th century is going to become an alcoholic from reading that historically accurate tidbit. I also don’t think reading it would make someone rush out and take his first drink, then blame in on Alexander Hamilton, or whoever, then blame the author who wrote accurately about Hamilton, or the publisher who published the book.

    So I don’t accept that this discussion is mostly about what an author believes might happen to the reader–it’s about what the author believes about where his/her personal lines are between historical accuracy, book sales, his/her own image, and offending a weaker brother. (In his letter to the Romans [Ch. 14], and the first one to the Corinthians [Ch. 10], Paul defined the weaker brothers as the ones trying to follow the MOST rules of denial, not the fewest. We often get that backwards.:-)) But the strong are not to offend the weak. When we decide where our personal lines are, it will impact how we write.

    I always write too much here, Tamela, but your posts always make me dig into the Word to be sure that my opinions are based on it, and think deeply; and I enjoy sharing my thoughts. Please feel free to read and delete. 🙂

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 18, 2016 at 11:43 am #

      Exactly, Linda.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

      Linda, I would never delete your beautifully stated comments. Your words are thoughtful, and your points are worth pondering. Thank you so much.

    • Brennan McPherson August 18, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

      Great insight, Linda. Your point about picking and choosing sins is right on the money. I’ve gotten significant flack for describing violence in my writing, but CAIN is not nearly as gory as the Lion of War series. My mother, who can’t watch most PG-13 movies because the violence disturbs her, read CAIN and gave it the green light. And at it’s core, CAIN is anti-violence. People like criticizing what makes them uncomfortable.

      But as writers, aren’t we sometimes called to make people uncomfortable? Rather than pander to people’s comfort level, I think we should (within the boundaries of what’s appropriate) push people to grapple with reality. I’m a proponent of appropriate censorship. But when we go overboard and censor reality out of our work, we leave our young people grappling for truth in other places.

  24. Deborah August 18, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    Jesus first miracle was turning water into wine. And the host was asked, why save the best for last?

    Why steer clear of a subject because of right wing preferences?

    I ask this yet I come from an alcoholic family and believe it wise for some to completely restrain from the first glass.

    The big joke in AA is there are no addictions in heaven!
    I am not making light of a serious subject, just pointing out it is a human condition.

    Writing about appropriate alcohol consumption is real world. Fantasy is avoiding all mention. So says this Christian alcoholic.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 2:03 pm #

      Deborah, congratulations on your strength and courage. God bless you.

  25. Cindy Byrd August 18, 2016 at 1:29 pm #

    Some interesting replies on this subject! Personally I don’t think I would be offended if alcohol was included in a novel I was reading, but then again I think it would depend on if there was a reason for it being there. However, I have to wonder about other cultures that drink alcohol in their countries like we drink tea or soft drinks here. As a matter of fact, some cultures are offended by Christians who drink coffee because it’s a stimulant. This is definitely a matter of opinion – and culture – and as an author if I knew it was going to be offensive I would probably omit it. I would have to say, however, that the word “edgy” kind of bothers me. My bottom line would be that I not compromise my beliefs that are based on the Word of God.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

      Cindy, indeed, I think one of the best aspects of Christian fiction is that we Christians don’t have to compromise. We don’t have to throw in cursing, sex scenes, or alcohol consumption and the like to sell a book. I hadn’t thought my coffee consumption would bother others, though. Bottom line? Everyone probably offends someone somewhere, just by breathing!

  26. Tisha Martin August 18, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    This was an insightful post, Tamela. Thank you! In light of the CBA market, Christian authors and readers, and varying house standards, it would be best to err on the side of caution when writing edgy fiction. However, in light of the depth of writing that our readers enjoy characters who possess the same struggles as they.

    The days of perfect characters, hopefully, have vanished — thank goodness! 🙂 Yet, in the same breath, characters who continually have a “problem” that they don’t see the need to make right should be left out of Christian fiction, because how does this kind of characterization encourage the reader to live in a right manner before God? (Unless, of course, the author chooses to make the character exercise poor decisions and a consequence comes as a result.)

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 19, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

      Tisha, that makes sense. Who wants to read about perfect characters doing nothing but going to worship services? There has to be some conflict for the story to be effective.

  27. Peggy Booher August 18, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

    It might be a bit of a turnoff for me if I read a Christian novel in which the characters were drinking, but it would depend on the characters, the time period and the situation.

    One movie in which overcoming drinking plays a crucial part is “Rio Bravo”, a Western starring John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson. Since it’s a Western, I understand the characters drink, either coffee or alcoholic beverages. However, Dean Martin’s character is an alcoholic. The movie clearly shows the bad effects of alcohol–the sheriff (John Wayne) can’t depend on one of his deputies (Dean Martin), Dean’s character shows the physical effects of alcohol, etc. Then trouble comes to town, in a gang of gunmen who are willing to go to any lengths to spring a member from jail. The movie portrays in some detail the fight Dean’s character has within himself to overcome the urge to drink. He finally wins that fight and goes on to help the sheriff. Because the movie shows the inner battle, and then the character overcoming his enemy, I consider it an “inspirational” picture. The movie would not have the same effect on me if there was no need for an inner battle.

    For me as a writer, the movie gives an example of how to approach showing drinking (if it’s even necessary to the story)–don’t glamorize it, show the bad effects, show the changes within the character to overcome it, show how life is so much better without it.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 19, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

      Peggy, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this movie and it is a good example of showing the negative effects of alcohol. Great example!

  28. Diana Harkness August 18, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

    I have a friend who thought I was offended because I disagreed with her about a political issues. I explained that disagreement isn’t offensive. It’s part of a civilized society. So realistic characters will both drink alcohol, dance, smoke, talk about Santa Claus, and do many other things that some people may disagree with, but that shouldn’t make it offensive. If the character wants to drink or do any of those other things and if it makes sense in context, then then give the character freedom to act.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 19, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

      Diana, that’s true, and writers must plan to weigh the consequences of the readers either liking or disliking the character as a result.

  29. Megan Lee August 18, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

    I think the Lord guides our writing. Sometimes He may have us include alcohol for historical purposes or if it’s important to a character’s struggle. To me, writing–even Christian writing–should be authentic. There will always be someone who is offended by something, but Jesus called us to be real. Readers are real people with real problems. Some of them may want to read about other people with real problems and understand how the Lord delivered them. Others may just want light entertainment and that’s okay too. Again, the Lord calls us all to different purposes. Freedom in Christ. Amen.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 19, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

      Exactly, Megan, and readers can pick and choose which lines and/or publishers they enjoy most!

  30. Christine L. Henderson August 18, 2016 at 9:35 pm #

    Thanks for bringing up this topic. It’s one that I’m a bit uncertain about. At this point, I have two scenes in my newest manuscript that talk about drinking. In one scene, I say they filled their wine glasses, but I never specifically say it was with wine.

    The second scene has my main POV coming home and thinking about how great it would be it she could throw back a few stiff drinks to ease her frustration, but she never pours a glass for herself.

    Where would those two scenes stand in the Christian marketplace for acceptability? Which publishing houses have the strict no alcohol stance?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 19, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

      Christine, if you say “wine” glasses, the assumption is that they will be filled with wine. As for the character longing for drinks, that sentiment reveals the character’s heart. Why does she wish for cocktails as opposed to, say, a jog? Of course, exercise can be addictive, too. Just consider the context and see if those statements fit the characters and story, and why.

      The best way to see how publishers stand on any issue is to read as many of their books as you can. Again, not making references is always the safest way to go overall.

      And you’ll want to consider the type of writer you want to be, too.

      I think our discussion here has revealed how complex this issue is. Readers’ comments have caused me to think more about it, too. Thanks for your questions. They are good ones.

  31. Loretta Eidson August 19, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    Thank you for sharing this valuable information, Tamela. I’ve encountered Christians with different opinions about Christians consuming alcoholic beverages, including wine. I opt not to get in debates over the subject. My heroine agrees with me. 🙂

  32. Tamela Hancock Murray August 19, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

    I love that, Loretta! It’s great when your heroines agree with you! 🙂

  33. Vicki Gann August 22, 2016 at 1:00 pm #

    Being a drunkard and drinking with self-control is about two different levels of drinking with two different meanings. If someone wants to argue that meaning then I quickly bow out of the argument personally. I do not drink now for two reasons.

    The first and foremost reason is because I want to experience only His Spirit and not the spirit of alcohol any given time or at any level. I know the spirit of alcohol on a few levels, but never was addicted. This is a personal conviction, and I do not condemn anyone else if they do not follow it.

    The second reason I do not want to drink is for all of those who are addicted to show them anyone can gain so much more from His Spirit than the spirit of alcohol. Too many rely on it today to give them what they need.

    I also do not write about it in a story that does not clarify the two different levels or meanings. I weave in the different meanings with my character life styles, and let the reader see the difference. I leave the reader to make up their own minds God’s truth in their own lives as His truth is told through my characters I am painting with His words in my books whether they are fiction or nonfiction.

  34. Sarah Sundin August 23, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    In my WWII novels, I would be naive not to “show” alcohol consumption. I’ve chosen to have my heroes/heroines not drink alcohol, although I show side characters drinking (and smoking) to show the realities of life during the war – and some of the consequences of over-consumption. Personally, I believe it isn’t sinful for most Christians to consume alcohol in moderation – never to drunkenness. However, in my writing, I choose not to be a stumbling block for someone who might be predisposed to alcoholism or to offend someone with more conservative views on alcohol.

  35. BethD September 6, 2016 at 10:46 am #


    I enjoyed this article the week it was published and came back to it today after finishing a book over the weekend that really surprised me. It came from one of our major CBA publishers and while the particular issues you mention here were not included, it did include strong spiritism and religious pluralism. In fact, it says, “whether through smoke or through song, passages or prayers, I believe our message gets through. We forgive. We are forgiven.”

    While I appreciate that we authors and our readers enjoy many different styles of worship, I would expect us to generally agree on salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And perhaps that’s my first question – is that assumption incorrect? I’ve certainly read many agents who say outright, “Don’t send me any alternate theology”.

    If you’re writing to the market (and to the publishers’ demands) wouldn’t you want to avoid any of these behaviors or beliefs that would alienate large portions of readers?

  36. claire o'sullivan June 4, 2018 at 10:51 pm #

    Hi Tamela,

    It’s only been two years since you posted this… I go through my folders and articles rather slowly. Ahem.

    I have read a million (could be an exaggeration) Christian novels and any character who drank even a glass of wine was considered anathema and had to be purged of the evil.

    OK. So, that being said… I agree with so many comments. Why put it in there if it doesn’t push the plot along or address the dangers of alcohol? Why offend someone when something else could be done?

    I went to a Lutheran Bible college, and during that time, alcohol (and dancing…) were verboten. Afterward, you couldn’t find a real Lutheran without his/her beer. As much as Southern Baptists say they don’t drink beer… they do. I am generalizing. If there is no alcohol, what happens when someone takes communion and it’s wine?

    One character in one MS cannot tolerate alcohol (or caffeine, or pain medicine when in the hospital) in any amount. This plays into her decision-making and her near-actions and how her love interest, who isn’t against having wine merely tells her she shouldn’t have alcohol. I might add here, that I don’t drink high doses of caffeine and no alcohol and no pain medication for the same reasons.

    One character in another is a die-hard Lutheran (pastor’s kid) who enjoys her native state’s best beer. Her love interest is a Baptist, who also enjoys his beer. But again, it plays into the story, not alcoholism, but the dropping of defenses. I don’t want to be legalistic but I also don’t want to offend.

    The many stories I have read with characters that are quite pure don’t address issues we all have dealt with. They have no flaws. Or the flaws were addressed years ago, even though they may deal with some degree of angst. Many of these stories written by proven authors, I end up putting down because the characters become stick characters.

    Similar with violence. There’d be no suspense, military, or law enforcement novels. No PI mystery with the poor slob getting into a dangerous situation. Although, I liked Sue Grafton’s method of dealing with a violent situation. The suspense was there…. would the murderer find her? When he did, all Sue G. said was “I blew him away.” End of it.

    Swearing… I allude to, though I admit when I fell and sprained both ankles (at the “you-should-go-to-the-hospital stages-for-a-cast”) and sliced my thumb open, I am pretty sure I did a significant amount of swearing.

    Sex, there’s none. I don’t have anyone in a novel yet that are married and I still don’t care to know what goes on behind bedroom doors when they do tie the knot.

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