And They Said Speak Now - In Defense of Christian Romance

My first Blog Hop is with an awesome group of bloggers I've come to *know* virtually over the last month, spreading the word about Nadine Brandes’s new dystopian novel, A Time to Speak, which released earlier this month. As you may gather from the name/hashtag, #Called2Speak, we were encouraged to speak out for our passions or against injustice.  Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for autographed copies of Nadine's books!

Similar to what my fellow launch team member, Andrew mentioned in his post, I usually leave my blog and other social media for geeky, fangirl types of ramblings and book reviews.  However, these are topics that have been on my mind for the past year or so:  How the Church handles sexuality and why a broad spectrum of passion/sensuality is important for Christian Romance.  Obviously, the following are my personal views and are not necessarily reflective upon my professional practice, school, workplace, etc.

Sex.  It was a scary word.  A three letter word that might has well been a four letter word.  As a Christian teenager, it wasn't avoided at my church --but basically all that was said about it was that sex was meant for marriage and while a good and wonderful thing, anything outside of that was wrong.  My parents tackled the issue in a similar way.  While I don't disagree, I think this common approach is not the most beneficial to young Christians. 

When you look at everything else around us: the culture, people, and media such as music, movies, television shows, novels --the world is telling us a different story.  At best, they say that you should wait to have sex with someone you really love and care about.  However, while we're being bombarded with how fun, pleasurable, wonderful, or amazing this physical intimacy can be, the Church often stays silent.  Blogger Phylicia Delta writes about how there's sometimes such a stigma regarding sex, that young Christians avoid asking the questions they have about it.  Yes, the Bible gives us examples of people who faced similar temptations such as Joseph, or tackles the sensuality and feelings of love in a marriage relationship (like in Song of Solomon), but oftentimes teens today can find it hard to relate to: That was in ancient times --Do you know the struggles I face?  Do you know what it's like to feel like I'm the only one not in a relationship like that?  By not talking openly about the nature of sex or these desires (physical and emotional) or feelings we all face and struggle with, the only other place we feel we can turn to for information (or the only place that seems to have information) ends up being the world. 

I'm going to get really personal here.  As a teen, the idea of sex was gross.  If I though a mom sharing chewed up food with her baby was gross, the actual mechanics of sex scared and disgusted me ("stick what where?")  It wasn't until I read more Christian romances on the more "edgy" or "passionate" side of the spectrum that I began to see a full picture of the beauty God has intended for romance and marriage relationships.  As a college student, I was really hit with the realization of how different my mindset towards sex and romantic relationships as a Christian was compared to the culture around me --Christian romance novels help strengthen my resolve and helped give me a more balanced view of  romance and physical intimacy compared to my teenage imaginings and what I've been exposed to in the media and the world around me.

Julie Lessman is one particular author that comes to mind.  I first came across her in a guest blog post, where a portion of what she said inspired me to look for her novels:

So many young girls today equate strong sexual feelings with love, so they move in with their boyfriends for a while, may or may not get married and then wonder why the marriage or relationship doesn’t work. Because although sexual attraction is nice, it doesn’t sustain a marriage or a relationship and will eventually fade when the marriage or relationship does. Not only that, but I truly believe young women cut themselves off from God’s blessings in a relationship when they go against God’s precepts ...
I believe this so strongly, in fact, that I drummed it into my kid’s heads from little on. Imagine my joy and shock when my college-age son told me what he said to his roommate, a Christian young man who was sleeping with his Christian girlfriend. “But I thought you loved her?” my son told his friend, and the friend answered, “I do, which is why it’s so hard to stop.” My son’s response? “No, because if you really loved her, you’d want God’s best for her instead of cutting off His blessings by giving in to your own lust.”
Julie's novels are a little more sensual than your typical Christian romance (e.g. a bit more description, more kisses, but still appropriate).  At the time, it shocked me a little --In high school, the only Christian romance I had read were authors such as Janette Oke.  Others have used the descriptive term "realistic" because Julie doesn't keep her characters from experiencing physical or emotional desires.  But the spiritual threads in her novels are also strong.  Also, her depiction of the realities of marriage relationships is also something that encouraged me.  Most romances depict how a couple comes together and while it often ends with an engagement or marriage (especially in Christian romance), you don't always have the opportunity to really follow that relationship after the "honeymoon period."

In an earlier #Called2Speak post, Christian speculative fiction author Zachary Totah wrote about "darkness" in fiction and argued that there are times that elements such as violence, sensuality, or swearing can be appropriate in Christian fiction.  I agree with his assertion that that these topics shouldn't be glorified in these types of novels.  Neither am I saying that all Christian romances should be like Julie's.  The body of Christ is a diverse group.  We have different temperaments, foibles, needs, etc.  To paraphrase one of the great library & information science theorists, S.R. Ranganathan, "every reader its book and every book its reader." "Sweet" romances like Janette Oke's or Amish romance isn't for everyone, neither are more "passionate" romances such as Julie Lessman's or Susan May Warren's.  There shouldn't be one type of Christian romance (except perhaps being pleasing to God) and to me having a spectrum of sensuality in regards to Christian romance is a good thing.  I enjoy reading the entire range of sweet to more sensual, yet still appropriate for the market.  I think novels like Julie's can be great ways to start crucial conversations and discussions among Christians young and old about sex, love, and romance.

It's time for us as the Church to start the conversation --whether it's through discussing the novels we read or being open and willing to talk honestly and candidly about sexuality, desire, relationships, and the importance of our relationship with Christ.

So, am I totally off-base or am I on to something?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and perspectives!

Read more:
"Life on the Edge" - an editorial by Julie Lessman on why she writes Christian romance. - an amazing blog on purity, sexuality, and womanhood from a Christian perspective. Her "The Other Virgin Diaries" series is excellent and clearly articulates what I attempted to convey in the first part of this post. A few of my favorite posts are: "I Waited ... and It's the Best Thing I Ever Did," "Virginity is Not God's Goal," "The Purity Ring is Not the Problem" and "Why Your Homeschooling, Modesty, and Virginity Will Never Save You."

The Artist Librarian's #Called2Speak on Christian Romance
(c.) 2015 Enclave Pub.
Here's a bit about A Time to Speak, the book that inspired this #Called2Speak blog hop:
What happens when you live longer than you wanted to?
Parvin Blackwater wanted to die, but now she’s being called to be a leader. The only problem is, no one wants to follow.
The Council uses Jude’s Clock-matching invention to force “new-and-improved” Clocks on the public. Those who can’t afford one are packed into boxcars like cattle and used for the Council’s purposes.
Parvin and Hawke find themselves on a cargo ship of Radicals headed out to sea. What will the Council do to them? And why are people suddenly dying before their Clocks have zeroed-out?
Read about the first book, A Time to Die, here.

You can learn more about Nadine and her Out of Time series on her website or connect with Nadine on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, or Pinterest.

Check out Some of the Topics Covered in the #Called2Speak Blog Hop Schedule:
9.28.15 – Gretchen Engel (Pt. 1 - Profession & Vocation)
9.30.15 – Nadine Brandes (Dear Teen ... I See You)
10.01.15 – Jason Joyner (Human Trafficking)
10.05.15 – Gretchen Engel (Pt. 2 - Mission & Passion)
10.06.15 – Tricia Mingerink (Christian YA Speculative Fiction)
10.08.15 – Gretchen Engel (Journey to Success)
10.09.15 – Emilie Hendryx (Silence Isn't the Answer)
10.11.15 – Janeen Ippolito (Disabilities & Chronic Illness)
10.12.15 – Zachary D Totah (The Dark Side of Fiction)
10.14.15 – Brittany Valentine (Adoption)
10.15.15 – Andrew Swearingen (Racism)
10.17.15 – Megan Besing (Failures)
10.19.15 – Angel Roman (Youth)
10.20.15 – Charles Franklin (Thankfulness in Struggles)
10.21.15 – Lisa Godfrees (Truth)
10.23.15 – Shantelle Hannu (Harmful Attitudes)
10.27.15 – Natalie Walters (Faith Through the Storm)
10.29.15 – The Artist Librarian *you're here!*
11.02.15 – Rosalie Valentine (The Lost)
11.17.15 – Amanda Fender (Living Loud for Christ)

Bonus: J.L. Mbewe (Fearless)

GIVEAWAY info (congrats for making it all the way down here)! a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I agree the church needs to address the uncomfortable issues. No more burying the head in the sand! Thank you for this timely post!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Caryl (I love how your name is spelled, BTW)! Uncomfortable issues are ones I think we really need to talk about as the Church. It's already out there --We can't pretend sexual temptation isn't a real part of what we all (whether young or old) face regularly.

  2. I, too, think there's an important place for "edgy" romance. I don't think we do anyone any favors by acting as if sexual temptation doesn't exist. How does that equip a person to resist it and maintain a health, integrated view of chastity (as opposed to merely abstinence)? I've written about it here:

    1. There was a debate over the abstinence-only sex education in the public schools in my area a couple of years ago. Of course, those against this program claimed "abstinence doesn't work" --Frankly in the culture we live in, I agree up to a point: If you don't have a personal and higher motivation or purpose, like a personal relationship with Christ, why should you wait until marriage? Everything else in our world is saying if you love each other (or just feel attracted), you can engage in physical intimacy. In other words, I don't think abstinence-only will really work unless you have that personal motivation (and support from God). It can't just be a rule you're not supposed to break. :)

  3. I write Christian YA for older teens through adults, and I've come under a little bit of fire for including that sensation of early sexual awakening in my books. But I feel if we don't explain it to young women in the correct Christian context, who will? One of the things I feel strongly about, is that I don't want girls to feel guilty or dirty over natural responses their bodies might have. I want them to have healthy views about sex, and then make good quality decisions about waiting until marriage. I'm not backing down from this stance. In book 3 of my Valiant Hearts Series, I'm going to talk about it even more directly, when a young girl who wants to be a nun is confused by her responses to a boy. Hopefully those who have complained in the past will better see my heart for this issue by the more direct approach.

    1. "If we don't explain it to young women in the correct Christian context, who will?" Dina, I completely agree. While I can understand and respect wanting protect children, teens need to be able to begin to explore these types of topics while there are adults in their lives to help them navigate and build their personal ethics and stances. Similar to what I said to Carolyn, I'm beginning to see how important it is for that personal, Christ-centered motivation. If it's just rules that guide you, what happens when the "rule enforcers" or your guardians aren't a regular part of your life? I think novels like yours can encourage young adults to think about these issues and hopefully spark discussions with the adults in their lives. If I had children, that's definitely one way I would use fiction. I don't want to sound too much like a librarian, but fiction, while entertaining, can also be a powerful tool. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Great post! I agree. And I like how you put it. Especially that one type of story is not for everyone, and both can be equally enjoyed. Thanks for sharing on such a sensitive topic.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jennette! Exactly. I don't think Christan Romance has to be either/or --why can't we have both and variations within that spectrum? It also can be that a novel might not be appropriate for you in a certain time of your life --As a college student, Julie Lessman's novels are relevant and impactful in a good way, but ten years prior, it wouldn't have been appropriate for where I was at the time. :)

  5. Great post! You should check out Beth Steury's blog about abstinence and renewed abstinence. She shares a similar passion to yours and clearly she's meeting a need because her posts get ten thousands of views.

    1. Thanks for the link, Lisa! I'll have to check it out. I stumbled upon Phylicia Delta's blog and I've been recommending her writing to all the Christian young adults I know. Been looking for more authors ...

    2. Thanks for the mention, Lisa. I can't say YES loudly enough for candid, relevant discussions about sex and temptation and GOD's design for what HE created. We must be willing to not only approach the subject but encourage the asking of questions and engage in the personal conversations that will prepare our youth and young adults to make wise decisions. Christian fiction is an excellent place for all of that to happen.

  6. I totally agree!! I'm quite a bit older than you, but not only were there no discussions about sexuality through my church when I was a teen-ager - but none at home, either. One of the reasons being a teen-ager was more difficult than it should have been. Why are churches so afraid to discuss a topic mentioned so many times in the bible??

    Just one of the many reasons why I love Julie Lessman's books so much - it always surprises me when I hear of someone opposed to her books for the appropriate sensuality in them. Makes me wonder how happy they are in their marriages. I only wish Julie's books had been around when I was a teenager many years ago.

    Thanks for your excellent post - shared!!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Bonnie! I know we all have different levels of what is "appropriate sensuality" --but that doesn't mean that books like Julie's aren't Christian. I remember seeing one reviewer call her books smut --perhaps to her it was, but it really not an accurate description when you look the romance publishing industry as a whole.

  7. Great thoughts! Thanks for writing this post! ^_^ I agree that Christian authors can totally show romance in a beautiful, wonderful, and godly way! I think certain romance books, (like Julie Lessman's), are definitely for a mature audience ... and we should be careful about that. But otherwise, it great when this topic is approached in a lovely, godly way in Christian books! :) :)

    1. Thanks Shantelle! I agree, we need to keep the reader in mind and I like how you said "mature audience" rather than naming an age. I might not recommend Julie's books to, say myself at 14. However, if there was a Christian girl who attended a public school and regularly read general market YA romances, I would consider recommending Julie's work.

  8. Thanks for the excellent blog! I agree that the subject of passion/sensuality should not be avoided or buried under the carpet.I think we should teach that it should be handled in a godly way,that these feelings are nothing to be ashamed of but,are not to be cheapened either. I also totally agree that Christian Fiction Romance books should be as diverse as the reading public As long as it`s done in the proper way I think there can be a good balance between the "sweet and the "passionate" types of romance.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Lynne! I think there definitely is a line as to what is appropriate in a romance novel, but the Christian fiction books I've read have never crossed it ...

  9. I agree! I've read some great contrasting examples in Christian books recently where sex is treated as a cheap commodity by the world, and yet still portrayed as a passionate and desirable experience in marriage. Francine Rivers' book "A Bridge to Haven" comes to mind. I'm glad there are authors tackling this subject even if it might make some uncomfortable. Thanks for bringing up such an important issue!

    1. Thank you for commenting, Jebraun (and for the book recommendation)! I actually haven't read any of Francine Rivers' books yet --I know my mom has some of her titles. I should check and see if "A Bridge to Haven" is one of them. =)


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! Comments are always welcomed and appreciated.

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