By Martin Roth
I’ve been a little taken aback by an interesting discussion at the local Aussie Omega Writers forum. It started as a debate on when – or whether – it is appropriate to include sex or swearing in Christian fiction. But then the question turned to violence.
In the words of one participant:
Personally I never use swear words in my fiction…Though, having said that, there are perhaps words other people would consider swear words that I am totally unaware of. Swear words are so subjective in a sense you will never please all of the people all of the time, particularly when it comes to the very mild ones.…To be honest, I have a much bigger issue with violence in Christian fiction. We’re divided over swear words, we don’t tolerate sex but it doesn’t matter how high the body count rises.
That struck a nerve. I never include swearing in my fiction, even though I think the context – I write mysteries and action thrillers – would at times justify it. Nor do I include sex scenes, even though my first novel, “Prophets and Loss,” involved the murder of a man in a brothel, and included scenes with the hero visiting the premises to interview one of the prostitutes there.
But violence? I have lots of that. My Johnny Ravine private detective mysteries have a hero who killed innumerable people as a freedom fighter in East Timor, and, even though he came to Australia to escape his past, he keeps finding himself in brawls.
My Brother Half Angel international thrillers have as a theme the persecuted church, with a team of fighters helping to defend churches from attack. Here’s a very brief excerpt from one of them, “Festival in the Desert:”
Bobby was not sure what happened next. It was all instinct. In one swift movement he dived to the ground and seized his father’ gun. Then from his position on the ground he pointed the weapon straight at the gunman and fired. He fired again. And again. And again and again.
The gunman slumped forward, hitting his head on the windscreen, and leaving behind a smear of blood. For an instant it seemed that the steering wheel was supporting him, but then his body twisted sideways and he tumbled out of the vehicle to the ground, right in front of Bobby and his father.
Bobby sprang to his feet and aimed his gun squarely at the man’s head. But he lay inert, blood streaming from his body.
Bobby helped his father to his feet. Then John cried out from inside the SUV, “Dad, is that you?” Brother Half Angel had removed John’s blindfold and was cutting away his bindings.
“It’s me,” said Harry. Blood stained his shirt, and his left arm hung limply.
I do not include swear words because I believe we are saturated with them – just turn on the television – and they degrade our culture. I do not include sex scenes because I believe that they provide stimulation and temptation to weaker members of our society, whom we as Christians should be protecting.
But violence? I lived in Tokyo for 17 years, the most peaceful of major cities, even though television, books and manga (comics, read, it seemed, by at least half the men on the trains each day) were full of the most graphic violence, far more gory than anything I had seen before my arrival in the city. So I don’t have an issue with violence in Christian fiction.
But I’ll leave the final words to a couple of participants at the Omega Writers forum:
* Justice without mercy leads to violence in a broken world, as by the way, does mercy without justice. Righteousness without peace leads to violence too. Peace without righteousness leads to tolerance. (Which I do not see as a good thing, since it leads to toleration of evil.) I already think Christianity has too much of a warrior mindset. When that unbalance happens, the default filter has a tendency to move towards violence and a warfare model.
* I agree that the warrior mindset can be taken too far….But by the same token, men are called to be courageous, and if anything, passivity is a bigger problem among us men than it has ever been. We are told to stand firm. If having a warrior mindset encourages more men (and women) to have the courage to stand up for the truths of the bible rather than conforming to this world, then I would suggest that is a good thing. We seem to agree though, it is about balance, and anything we do needs to be motivated by love for God and love for people, particularly their eternal destination.