To Romance or Not to Romance

According to St. Teresa of Avila’s biography, the battle over romance novels has been going on at least since the 1500s:

Teresa’s father was rigidly honest and pious, but he may have carried his strictness to extremes. Teresa’s mother loved romance novels but because her husband objected to these fanciful books, she hid the books from him. This put Teresa in the middle–especially since she liked the romances too. Her father told her never to lie but her mother told her not to tell her father. Later she said she was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong.

Those of us who write, represent, and publish Christian romance novels can be made to feel the same way when our brothers and sisters in Christ object to our efforts to provide readers with God-honoring entertainment.  I have spoken with authors whose pastors have derided their writing, read negative blogs, and heard conference speakers criticize Christian romance novels.

Why?

Some feel that romance novels are too frivolous. I ask those who make this charge if they are willing to give up everything in their lives that could be considered frivolous. And if so, I maintain that would be a mistake. God created the Sabbath for rest and recreation. For further reading, The Baptist Press addresses what the Bible says about leisure time.

Another reason detractors cite is that these stories set the bar too high for marriage because no hero can live up to the Christian romance hero. Really? The Christian romances I read show the heroes as flawed but doing their best to follow the Lord. Isn’t this the type of man you would want for your daughter? Isn’t this how you are teaching your son? Consider many of the alternatives in secular literature. Even some of the most noble heroes in literature don’t have a relationship with Christ, nor do they desire one. And Christian romance heroines are the type of women readers can admire. By struggling along with the heroines, women can learn how to deal with their own personal conflicts.

These stories show role models in the context of romance. Those who disagree with the idea of role models should stop going to church if they look up to their pastors. And this viewpoint makes teaching Sunday school dangerous. Wouldn’t want to be a role model for anyone.

On a related note, I have heard that reading romance novels depresses some women, making them unhappy with their own marriages. This observation pains my heart because no one I know involved in any aspect of publishing Christian romance hopes these stories will bring sorrow and unhappiness to readers.  Regrettably, unhappy marriages will exist whether or not Christian romance is published.

If reading these novels makes you depressed, you have a choice of two actions. One, you can stop reading them.

I prefer the second option. That is, you can ask yourself why the story is bothering you and ask God what He is telling you through the book. You may be embarrassed that God is using a lighthearted story to reach you, but no one else has to know how God talks to you. That is between you and God. The point is to listen to His personal message to you and pray about what He would have you do.

The Christian publishing industry has so much to offer. We publish books across all genres and for all tastes. Rather than cut each other down because we don’t like a certain type of book, why not build each other up?

Paul wrote in Romans 14:19:  Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

Peace be with you; and whatever your taste, enjoy your leisure reading.

 

[A previous version of this post ran in June 2011.]

29 Responses to To Romance or Not to Romance

  1. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott November 14, 2019 at 5:55 am #

    I try to have one light-hearted uplifting book in progress at all times. I confess there are moments I read it to avoid something less pleasant I should be doing. That’s my fault, not the book’s. There are many other moments granted by God to unwind, relax and restore. I’m thankful I have options to happily fill those restful moments.

    • Avatar
      Floss Craig November 14, 2019 at 8:24 am #

      I just finished my first Chr romance because I needed something quiet, light before bed. It didn’t work. I was laughing out loud or wanting to shake someone by the shoulders. I’ll probably read a few more between my political thrillers.

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    carrieturansky November 14, 2019 at 5:57 am #

    Thank you, Tamela, for this thoughtful post! Good points! I’ll be sure to share this.

    • Avatar
      Cynthia Godwin November 15, 2019 at 4:34 pm #

      Thank you so much for this post Tamela. Preach it sister!!

  3. Avatar
    Crystal Caudill November 14, 2019 at 6:30 am #

    A Christian romance novel is a part of my personal testimony. Until I read one, I had never seen a Biblical relationship played out, and when the series continued through marriage, I finally saw what a truly Godly marriage looks like. Romance novels are not for all, but they can be a powerful tool to reach people in ways they wouldn’t think.

    • Avatar
      Daria November 14, 2019 at 9:14 am #

      This is a really great point, Crystal.

      Without a Christian role model for how to treat a marriage partner, we’re left with what the ungodly want to put on display. People just aren’t romantic at all nowadays. Even films labeled as romantic comedies are mostly neither. Seeing the makings of a strong foundation for marital bliss really make that other stuff look ridiculous as well as predatory. At least with a Christian romance you don’t have to immediately pity the offspring of such a union.

      Christian romances demonstrate love for family. Why would we object to that?

    • Avatar
      Laura A November 14, 2019 at 11:35 am #

      Love, love, love this article! Coming from a household where my parents did not become Christians until later in life, this spoke to my heart. I read clean historical romances today. Loved Grace Livingston Hill as a child.
      Role models and appropriate behavior are things non-Christians and Christians should see and do. Just because it’s in a book and not real, doesn’t mean it’s not possible. This may be the only way to reach some non-Christians and it may be the first seed that God plants in their hearts to know that all behavior does not need to be full of cursing, drinking, coarse jesting, etc. They may say it isn’t real, but God has planted that seed.

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    janeduquette November 14, 2019 at 6:34 am #

    I was encouraged to read your very wise, poignant, instructive post. I believe women’s souls crave the nurture and comfort provided by Godly romantic stories. In our lost, dying world, they lift our hearts with hope. Thank you!

  5. Avatar
    sharonkconnell November 14, 2019 at 7:26 am #

    Tamela, I’d like to add to your post here today about Christian romance novels and people who think they are frivolous. I’d like to know what they do to entertain themselves? Would others call their form of entertainment or method of relaxation frivolous? How about comedy? Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Cannot romance be just as merry as laughter?

    A lot of people find entertainment in sports. I’m not one of them, but I certainly wouldn’t tell anyone they can’t watch a football game because it’s “frivolous.”

    And then there are movies, TV, DVDs. What about those? Are we to avoid all of those “fivolous” things and stick to non-fiction books and programs? Just a thought.

    In my Christian Romance Suspense novels, I have a strong romance going with all the other elements of the story. A romance that is pure is a good thing. As the story evolves and you see the couple devoted to one another, it’s a good example of God’s love toward us and how a marriage should be. A strong spiritual lesson is also included in my stories of love, fear, and testing of faith.

    There are times when reading about romance can depress someone who has lost a loved one, or gone through a divorce, but that’s not everyone, and eventually (hopefully) those few will get over it. I’ve been there.

    Romantic suspense is my preferred read instead of strictly romance, and that’s why I write in that genre. I add the suspense and a good dose of humor to break up the mushy romance. LOL For those of you who love my kind of romantic novels, or strictly romantic stories which warm the heart, go for it. Enjoy them.

  6. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray November 14, 2019 at 7:37 am #

    It amazes me that the guardians of orthodoxy feel the need to inject themselves into everything with which they disagree. “Lighten up, Francis!”

    People like what they like, and while romance novels are not appealing to me, I am thankful that there are God-honoring authors who write in that genre offering wholesome, enjoyable stories to those who DO like romance novels.

    My wife enjoys mysteries. I don’t. I’m not threatened by that, and she’s fine with me not enjoying what she finds relaxing and engaging.

    Though I am not usually a fiction reader, I recently finished The Books of Mortals trilogy by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee, simply because I like the way Tosca Lee writes. the Books of Mortals is a trilogy that is borderline Christian SciFi. For the most part, I found it engaging and enjoyable, but did find myself thinking that there is probably some segment of the Christian community that finds the story-line offensive, and even blasphemous. I didn’t think so, but understand there are those who stand ready to pounce at any and every opportunity. Pity them…

    As writers, we need to understand that this is the way it is. We expose our most vulnerable selves when we choose to publish. I decided long ago that if I’m not getting under somebodies skin, I’m probably not doing my job.

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 14, 2019 at 7:57 am #

    It’s not that romance isn’t true,
    but it does not portray
    the times when love will turn on you
    like a golem forged from clay.
    The casually cutting cruel remark
    doesn’t make it to the pages;
    nor does enchantment’s fading arc,
    nor blind lost-penny rages.
    The worst of days are never grand;
    they’re like stinking diaper-pails,
    filled with what we cannot stand,
    chalkboards scratched by fingernails.
    There may be no happily ever after,
    but with God’s grace, that doesn’t matter.

    “Rage Over A Lost Penny” is a rondo written by Beethoven

  8. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson November 14, 2019 at 8:11 am #

    I agree, Tamela, and I appreciate this article.

  9. Avatar
    Lila Diller November 14, 2019 at 8:50 am #

    You basically said it all. I totally agree. That’s why I still write contemporary Christian romance. And I love to read it.

  10. Avatar
    Daria November 14, 2019 at 9:05 am #

    What a great post, Tamela.

    I think a lot of people believe romance is synonymous with sex or sex scenes, and that is part of the problem. Or, because fiction is, well, fiction, romance reads are just not realistic enough. Anyhow, I greatly enjoy frivolous stories. For me they’re necessary to counter my serious profession.

    And not all books have to be serious, either. Sometimes we want to think and ponder and pray. Other times we just want to enjoy watching an amusing spectacle or see something good happen to someone instead of the bad, bad, bad we’re confronted with each day.

    I like to read Jen Turano’s Gilded Age novels, and those are extremely frivolous. Laughter really is like a good medicine and there are no side-effects except maybe a few sideways glances from people around you if you’re reading in public.

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    Amanda Wen November 14, 2019 at 9:12 am #

    Wow, Tamela! This post is exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it. My own pastor derided Christian romance novels from the pulpit less than two weeks ago. It hasn’t made me doubt my calling to write Christian books with heavy romantic elements, but it has made me question how much responsibility I bear as a writer for how readers respond to what I write. All I can do is write prayerfully, edit carefully, and then trust God with the results. He will use my books in the lives of those who read them however He sees fit. Thank you so very much for this needed encouragement.

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    Regina Merrick November 14, 2019 at 9:36 am #

    This is such an encouragement to me! I’ve been blessed that the men in my life have not put down my call to write Christian Romance, but I know that’s not always the case – and it may yet happen! I had one former pastor (in his 70’s) that read my first book, and a week after he bought the book at my book signing emailed me with questions about the characters and plot, even making suggestions for a sequel. He was hooked! LOL! That and the young mother, whom I had never met, who came to a library event and hugged me, thanking me for writing a book that she would someday be able to share with her daughters who were about 7 and 9 at the time. God blesses what he inspires, and we have to hold on to that fact when we wonder if we’re writing “important” literature. If it is God-inspired, it is important. We’re in this for the long-haul – the KINGDOM – not the short-term.

  13. Avatar
    Cindy Fowell November 14, 2019 at 9:52 am #

    One of the reasons I love Christian fiction/romance is the possibility of a sermon lived out. My life and marriage were changed forever while reading a Christian romance years ago. I can still hear God whisper in my ear, “That character is you.” I instantly knew what needed to change in my life. Now I am trying to write historical romance for God’s use in a life someday.
    I continue to recommend Christian fiction for those who are looking for a book to read and when a particular book fits with a Sunday School class I am teaching. Sometimes I am surprised who is writing down the titles given. Many passages in the Bible are clearer to me because I read Biblical fiction.
    Thank you, Tamela for your encouragement and sound advice.

  14. Avatar
    Josephine Johnson November 14, 2019 at 10:16 am #

    True! I appreciate how the blog from this agency consistently points back to our Lord.
    I am thankful for romance stories which focus on Christ, he is our bridegroom and wrote the ultimate love story. Why should we be ashamed of stories that try to emulate?
    When I am extra cranky with my husband, I have a go to Christian romance novel. There is a focus on why they fell in love and the importance of choices and attitudes. By the end, my heart is usually softened toward my wonderful husband.
    Thanks Tamela!

  15. Avatar
    Kathleen Freeman November 14, 2019 at 10:37 am #

    Thought-filled and excellent, Tamela. We all need light and gentle on occasion, a moment to breathe and laugh. I wrote my first Christmas romance after writing a rip my heart out scene. It was therapeutic, and readers have found it so, as well.

  16. Avatar
    Frenchy Dennis November 14, 2019 at 11:27 am #

    My thoughts exactly. Thanks Steve.

  17. Avatar
    countryauthor November 14, 2019 at 11:32 am #

    This is such a great topic. In my experience, I’ve seen two types of romance readers: Warm and fuzzy or real-life, tackle-the-hard-issues. I prefer to write the latter. While there are plenty of readers who wish to be entertained by a fluffy, safe romance, I’ve run across many who appreciate an author who isn’t afraid to address controversial and other trending topics. They want and need to know God cares for us no matter what we get ourselves into, and He always provides a way out.

  18. Avatar
    Martha Whiteman Rogers November 14, 2019 at 11:58 am #

    What you say is so true. I’ve had people tell me they don’t read Christian fiction because it’s a waste of time. They don’t learn anything or gain insights into life. One one woman even went so far to say that story telling like that was a sin. Another woman overheard and snapped her head around to say, “So Jesus sinned because He told stories to make His points about Christian living easier to understand.” The woman speaking to me had no answer but turned on her heel in a huff and walked off. Christian books can give our readers so much because there are so many types from seat-belt suspense to heart-warming sweet romance.

    I am so fortunate to have a pastor who is always asking about my books and what I’m writing at the moment. His wife reads my books as well, and our book store sells them. Just the other day we were talking and a third person complimented Pastor Gregg on the release of his new book. He then told that person that five books were nothing and looked at me. “This lady has 55 books to her credit, and I don’t know how she does it.” I laughed and told him that mine were made up from stories God puts in my head, but he had to get his right from what God had already said and written years before.

  19. Avatar
    Necee L November 14, 2019 at 3:38 pm #

    Tremendously beautiful article. I love CF! Thank you for sharing this!

  20. Avatar
    Dr. MaryAnn Diorio November 14, 2019 at 9:29 pm #

    God is the Author of Romance! The Biblical story of redemption is the greatest romance ever told. 🙂

  21. Avatar
    Terri Weldon November 15, 2019 at 1:11 am #

    Excellent post, Tamela! It really bugs me when Christians devalue Christian fiction.

    Shouldn’t we want to read fiction that glorifies God? Absolutely! Christian romances are wonderful and I wish more people would give them a try.

  22. Avatar
    Pearl Fredericksen November 15, 2019 at 2:14 pm #

    Well said, Tamela! I hope that the Christian Romance novel that I wrote will help people along their way, not only as light entertainment, but that the protagonist will be a role model in the way that she leans on God. The characters, like real people, have their flaws! My husband liked it because the father of the protagonist was a biker like him, and a redneck.

  23. Avatar
    erinstevenson1212 November 18, 2019 at 5:49 am #

    I write Christian fiction/romance in part to add to the options for clean, wholesome, uplifting reading material. Readers have told me that they appreciate being able to recommend my books to their teen daughters. As a reader, my own walk has been strengthened and encouraged by seeing how some characters deal with conflict and tragedy in their lives, whether it’s a verse of Scripture or seeing how they wait and trust the Lord.

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