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.
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.]