[This is a repost of a blog entry I wrote a few years ago, but I rediscovered it the other day and felt like bringing it up again!]
Ugh. A topic that I am both dreading and dying to talk about. Obviously, this is something that both interests and impacts me personally, as a popular YA author in the Christian market. I’m also a teenage girl and huge reader, so this is a topic that has come up probably a million times among my friends. So obviously I’m going to have opinions on the subject and I figured it’s about time I wrote about it!
So this is the great debate: Should Christian girls read “Christian” romance novels?
(I guess you could add guys in there, too, though I’ve yet to meet a teenage guy who likes reading romantic fiction, although maybe they do and they just don’t like to admit it. Who knows?)
I have heard both sides of this argument. Some of my friends argue that unmarried Christians should have absolutely nothing to do with any type of romantic fiction because it leads them to wish for unrealistic things and spend all their time dreaming about the future, which can be very harmful for their wellbeing. Others believe that it’s absolutely fine to read romantic fiction as long as you remember that no one’s perfect and don’t get carried away by silly daydreams.
So what do I think? Hmmm… You’re not going to get a definite answer out of me that easily. Because, truthfully, I don’t think it’s a black and white issue. I believe it’s something that has to be carefully thought-out and considered, and a lot of prayer has to be applied. We don’t want to be legalistic and absolutely condemn something that God hasn’t forbidden us to do. I mean, the Bible certainly has its share of love stories and I’d say there are quite a few things in there that might even be considered highly romantic. Just saying.
In thinking through this topic, I want to refute five statements that Christians make about romantic fiction, and then ask a few questions to help everyone come to their own opinion.
Statement Number One: When young women read romantic fiction, it opens them up to desiring a whole new world of things they’d never thought of before.
Um, not true. While filling your head with thousands of pages of romantic stories and dialog may obviously cause you to obsess over love a little bit more than a girl who spends all her time solving calculus problems, romantic fiction isn’t what makes teenage girls desire romance. That’s just the way God created women. They don’t need to read books about Amish women giving up their community to be with handsome outsiders with sweet motorized vehicles to want a romantic relationship. Just put a teenage girl in a room full of guys for more than three minutes and she’ll start to realize that all on her own. That’s just the way God made us! While fiction may not always be helpful in this area, it most certainly isn’t what causes young women to desire relationships. That’s a natural thing.
Statement Number Two: God doesn’t want us thinking about marriage until we’re actually ready to get married.
God certainly doesn’t want us spending all of our free time dwelling on what our lives will be like when we’re married and how much happier and holier we will be then. However, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to think about the future! In our family, we’ve always openly talked about what our lives might be like as adults and prayed for our future husbands together. Our parents ask us what we think of the young men in our lives and we have reasonable, God-focused discussions on what attributes we would like in our husbands and what tendencies we want to stay away from. It’s an open topic and it’s not something that we shun until we reach the magical age of 18, or 21, or whenever it’s suddenly appropriate to discuss marriage.
However, there’s obviously a difference between thinking about the future and obsessing over it. If reading romantic fiction causes you to think an unhealthy amount about your future husband, then don’t read it! Use common sense, people.
Statement Number Three: The men in romantic fiction don’t exist.
Um, obviously. That’s why it’s called “fiction”.
Seriously, though, I’ve heard this one a million times. So many, in fact, that I’ve made it my life goal to go and find an exact replica of Rhett Butler just to parade in front of the world (just kidding!). And, I have to admit, I’ve struggled with not being happy with men in real life too, which may prove that this statement has a bit of truth in it.
HOWEVER, just because the men in novels are incredibly good looking and sweet and funny and charming, that doesn’t mean we have to dismiss them as utterly unrealistic and evil. Why shouldn’t we have high standards? I don’t want to marry someone spineless and lazy and rude. That kind of man doesn’t deserve my love. It should be the same for all of you young ladies! No man is perfect. But neither are you. We all have faults and flaws, but that’s what marriage is: Two sinful people trying to glorify God together. Plus, if you’re really in love with a guy’s heart and character, he’ll be attractive to you, okay? Just because Gilbert Blythe doesn’t exist in real life, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect our future husbands to be sweet and godly. We shouldn’t let fiction raise or lower our own personal expectations.
Statement Number Four: Sitting around and reading silly novels is a waste of time.
Can I get an amen? I mean, obviously if sitting around and reading is all you ever do, you’re wasting a good amount of time! You should be spending your unmarried years serving and learning and working, doing your best to glorify God with your time. Reading novels isn’t exactly up there on the list of priorities.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with sitting down and enjoying a good, edifying book in your free time. If you’ve been working hard all day and you’ve spent time with the Lord and your family and all you want to do is unwind with a great story—then do it! I know my sister enjoys reading for an hour in the evenings, after everyone has gone to bed. How is that a waste of time? I personally like to read after supper, or on Saturday mornings, or during finance meetings at church (okay, I need to kick that last habit). In other words, whenever all my other duties are done and I have some free time.
However, even after all of that, I know that some Christians will still have questions and arguments on this topic. So here is what I think: You should make your own decision, and just stick to that. Okay? I don’t think it’s a big enough issue to try to convince everyone to come to one ”right” decision. Just pray about it and let the Lord lead you in this area.
When deciding whether or not to read a book, I would encourage you to ask the following questions (this is my checklist):
- Does this book meet with my standards of purity? (For example, my books don’t have any kissing in them because I want to be sensitive to my readers, but since I don’t think it’s a sin to kiss before marriage, I don’t mind reading a book that includes kissing. Just no further, please!)
- Does this book reflect Biblical principles of love and marriage?
- Is God at the center of relationships in this book, both romantic and non-romantic?
- Is reading this type of book going to cause me to change my opinions of the young men in my life now?
- Does this story cause me to feel discontent about my current situation and where God has me in life?
I think that as long as you’re asking those questions and keeping God at the center of your life and thoughts, you’ll be just fine. Luckily for me, all my favorite books were written a hundred years ago and don’t contain any more than a few innocent kisses and wishy-washy speeches. But the guys wore suspenders and danced waltzes, which makes it infinitely harder for the men of today to compare, so maybe I am doomed, afterall! Haha…