Monday, October 6, 2008

Stepping Over the Line?



Three or four weeks ago, I came across an ad for a book by an inspirational author and acquaintance on one of the Christian social network sites. Eager to show my support, I clicked on the link to learn more about the book and was taken to a publishing-competitor's Web site. The promotion for the inspirational book was there, it's true. But at the top of the screen were also tabs that clicked through to a wide range of romance selections--from the squeaky clean romances of the inspiration line. . .to the steamiest of written porn.

Ever since then, I've been waging an ongoing personal debate. On one hand, I understand the motivation for Christian authors to get their inspirational stories into the hands of readers. I am also aware of the fact that most Christian publishing lines are under the umbrella of secular companies these days. I just wonder how far we can follow that shifting line in the sand and remain true to our Christian values and morals without going too far? In the midst of weighing all these questions in my own heart and mind, I came across this verse in THE MESSAGE. Although this passage is typically used to encourage believers not to marry non-believers, I wonder if it doesn't speak to the publishing business as well?

Don't become partners with those who reject God. How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong? That's not partnership; that's war. Is light best friends with dark? Does Christ go strolling with the Devil? Do trust and mistrust hold hands? Who would think of setting up pagan idols in God's holy Temple? But that is exactly what we are, each of us a temple in whom God lives. God himself put it this way: "I'll live in them, move into them; I'll be their God and they'll be my people. So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good," says God. "Don't link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself. I'll be a Father to you; you'll be sons and daughters to me." The Word of the Master, God. --2 Corinthians 6:14-18, THE MESSAGE

Please don't misinterpret my intentions here. I am not crossing my arms and scowling derision down on anyone, or crusading to put any line out of business. More of my writer friends have published with this particular line than not, so I am not passing personal judgment. Please know, also, that these opinions are strictly my own and do not necessarily portray the opinions of my employer. I would, however, be interested in knowing what other authors are thinking on these issues. Am I out in left field on this one? Have I touched a nerve?

25 comments:

JoAnne said...

Let me be the first to say how proud I am of Susan for having the guts to write this. She and I have had several discussions about this topic in the past, and I am not ashamed to say that I agree with the opinions and questions she's posed here. I'm anxious to hear other thoughts, too, and praying this discussion will be honoring to God!

CHickey said...

These issues are the reason I chose to write Christian fiction. I don't want to have a niece, nephew, or grandchild reach for a book of mine and have me say, "You have to wait until your older." Of course, that's my personal conviction.

Kim S. said...

Thank you, Susan, for your honesty and your courage to be "black and white" instead of gray. Jesus said He would spit out the lukewarm, and so often we become lukewarm in an attempt to satisfy both sides. As Christians, though, we can't be lukewarm. If we aren't FOR Him, we are AGAINST Him... So thank you for your stance--you are not standing alone.

Beth Goddard said...

I think I can guess what line you're speaking of, though that's not the point. I considered this very issue several years ago when I first started writing. This same concern arises for those who choose to write outside of the Christian market and musicians who put their music in the secular market.
Some thoughts I have, and I'm still considering, are that such things must be decided within the heart of the writer and with the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Some are asked to shine their light in the darkness. Consider those who aren't Christians who might not otherwise see Christian fiction. Still, it's a struggle because I wouldn't want my grandmother to see my book alongside an offending title, nor would I want it to hurt my Christian witness.
Still I think all things come back to the motivation of the heart. Why is an author there? Is it to be a light shining in the darkness? Or is it a compromise of Christian values?

JoAnn said...

I’ve enjoy reading THE EDIT CAFÉ for quite sometime, but I’ve never written anything before. However, this question is one I’ve asked myself as well and wrestle with. I’ve appreciated all the comments that followed your post, particularly Beth’s. What she said made a lot of sense to me. Especially, in view of the fact that this past week in Sunday School we were looking at Luke 15.
The question that the Pharisees essentially asked was, “Why does Jesus welcome and eat with sinners?” The Pharisees did their best not to get “dirty” by mingling with them. However, this was the exact way Jesus showed his love for them—for us. He joins us where we are. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Sometimes I wonder if I’m too much like those Pharisees—not wanting to associate with other folks who don’t share my faith, lest I look “dirty” too. Now, of course this needs to be balanced. Scripture admonishes us to be in the world but not of the world—and also the passage you quoted. But, like Beth, I wonder. Just like you stumbled upon some not so nice titles through that publisher, are there equal opportunities for God to use that page to lead other’s to tiles that give Him honor and glory? I also think of the editors that read the story. Will their lives be impacted?
I don’t know all the answers. That’s for sure. (I wrestle with this even in the schooling of our children. Public –vs- home school.) What I do know is that Jesus is coming back. I can’t help but think He’d want us to use every opportunity and means to reach the lost. I guess what we need to ask ourselves is, does it or would it compromise my faith to list a title with such a company? If not, I guess I need to ask myself why I wouldn’t –is it so I don’t look “dirty” to my Christian friends?

JoAnne said...

Like Beth and Joann, I’ve thought a lot about how this line potentially shines a light in a dark place. What keeps tripping me up before I can really get on board with that is this question: Is shining a light in this format worth the very dark advertising that often goes along with it?

I can’t help but think of a scenario like this: Ruthie Reader enjoyed a God-honoring romance story and wants to read another one like it. So she follows an ad page at the back of the book to a website where she finds prominent advertising for books that glamorize sexual sin. Shocked at first, Ruthie lingers anyway, and what she sees looks kind of appealing. Sex is appealing and tempting! That's why the Bible tells us to FLEE from sexual immorality. So is Ruthie Reader more likely to stick with the God-honoring stories or be lured by the glamorization of sexual sin? I don’t know the answer for sure, but I do know that if Ruthie is a sinner like me, she might have a hard time sticking with the light.

I would like to hear if some of you think that yes, shining a light in this format is worth the dark advertising and why. I’d also love to hear if you’ve heard testimonies from readers who have seen the light shining in a dark place and followed it out. It would help me understand this side of the argument. Please, don't be afraid to comment! Let’s keep this discussion going. It’s a good one!

JoAnne Simmons

Beth Loughner said...

What a great discussion. This is a topic that has whirled around in my head from time to time. First, I have to define my focus for writing...besides enjoyment.

My goal: To invite others to know and follow Christ. Then I look at how that can be done while still honoring Christ.

Will my goal be served if I use a particular secular publisher? In the same way, would I be able to eat at a Hooter's Restaurant if my sole purpose was to show Christ's love to the waitresses? The first time I read this in a book called "Outflow" by Steve Sjogren and Dave Ping, it made me really rethink some of my ideas.

Like Joann, I don't want to be like the Pharisees and refuse to associate with "those sinners". But I also want to stick to God like glue if I'm going to venture into the darkness very far to reach others for Christ. And I need to stay away from areas of darkness where I might be weak. For me, this means staying away from sexually explicit materials. It's difficult for me to rid my mind of those thoughts and images..even when I was only studying the writing techniques of some best selling authors.

So, to keep it short (I know it's already too late), there might be times when an author might choose such a publisher, but they should be very sure this is God's calling and not a ego/financial boost issue. It's also worth mentioning that the availablitity of good Christian publishing companies like Barbour make the goal of reaching others for Christ very possible, and in many cases eliminates the needs of using secular publishers. The more we support Christian publishers, the greater our audience can grow.

Beth L.

Margie Vawter said...

Thank you, Susan, for putting this topic out there for us to consider. It's one I've struggled with over the years as I get closer to publication. Yes, getting published by a Christian line under the umbrella of a secular house could be the light in the darkness JoAnne speaks about, but personally I can't get away from what 2 Corinthians 6 says. So . . . I'll continue to think and pray about this until I have an answer specifically for me on this issue.

Kim S. said...

I am not at all criticizing Christian writers who are writing in the secular market. If that's where God has called you, go forth!!!

My concern has to do with CHRISTIAN titles that have watered down the gospel or use scenarios that do not glorify God for the purpose of appealing to the secular market. If the book is purported to be CHRISTIAN, then it should be CHRIST-LIKE. Yes, bad things can happen (goodness, life is tough on everybody!), but the story shouldn't glorify the bad stuff or lead one into temptation with innuendo or inappopriate speech. There should still be, at the very core of the story, light.

I believe Christian fiction should entertain and EDIFY. I don't think that can fully be accomplished while straddling the fence.

Okay, I'm done spouting. :o)

Susan Downs said...

Let me join in here again and add a couple more comments. First, let me assure you that I firmly believe we Christians are to use whatever means available to reach the lost and shine light into the darkness--even going so far as to publish MURDER MYSTERIES (of all things!) that incorporate spiritual lessons, themes, and truths. It's my prayer that something in each story we publish will cause unbelievers to consider spiritual things and allow the Light to shine in the dark places of their hearts and believers to draw closer to Him. Hopefully, we are able to accomplish this without coming across as too preachy or put-offish to anyone in terms of our religious themes. I am not promoting the idea of separating or insulating Christians from the "world."
The concerns I outlined in my blog post this week spring from a couple of issues. One, would I be comfortable knowing that profits from a book I authored are DIRECTLY funding the publishing and distribution of materials that promote sinful lifestyles and leads readers into unhealthy thought patterns?
When I was a teenager, there unfortunately was no such thing as "inspirational romances." As an avid reader, even though I considered myself a Christian, I found myself drawn to the bodice-ripper romances. I can say from experience that those books led me to lustful and sinful thoughts, which should have had no place in a young Christian's mind and heart.
Even though a Christian author writes a wholesome and Christ-compelling book, if she contracts with a company that produces written porn, isn't she inherently joining forces to promote and financially support their unsavory lines as well as her own work? Does she not give tacit approval to the company's agenda?

Susan Downs said...

Beth said: Will my goal be served if I use a particular secular publisher? In the same way, would I be able to eat at a Hooter's Restaurant if my sole purpose was to show Christ's love to the waitresses?

Beth, I think the analogy I would draw might be: Would I be able to become a shareholder in Hooter's, even a minor one, if my sole purpose was to show Christ's love to the waitresses? Is there no other way to accomplish that goal?
Just food for thought. . .

Susan Downs said...

Let me add one more note and then I'd better get back to work before the boss comes calling at my office door. . .

I worry that I may be coming across as Miss Goody-two-shoes here. Believe me, I know myself well enough to know that if I were in a position of trying to find a publisher for one of my manuscripts and received an offer from a publisher such as the one I've been discussing, I would have to really, really think long and hard and pray even longer and harder about whether or not my convictions in this matter outweighed the prospect of publication. I'd like to think that the Lord would honor my convictions if I remained true. Actually, I KNOW HE IS FAITHFUL. It's MYSELF I'm not sure I could trust to do the right thing when faced with a real-life decision.

Rachel Overton said...

Okay, I'll join in. I'm not a writer, I just help polish stuff you guys write. But I have always been a reader! Like Susan, I read whatever was available. At first when I went looking for something new (I'd read every book Grace Livingston Hill and Emilie Loring had written 25 times each at least!), I was hesitant to pick up the racy ones, but the allure quickly overtook me. I was a very naive, protected country girl--but I worked at a library and it was simple to hide what I was reading from my parents. I certainly wasn't going to learn anything from them about this stuff, so...bring it on!

I read some very nasty stuff. I didn't know it was called porn at the time, but that's what it was. (Told you I was naive!)

It is 20 years later, and I have confessed what became an obsession and I have had discussions with my pastor about this, and I have asked God many times to remove the residue from my mind. But Satan knows where my weakness is, and he uses every single possible opportunity he can find to just pop a line or an image from those books back into my head at any given moment. And I have to consciously fight and pray against following that image or that line into places I DON'T WANT TO GO!

If you're one of the "lucky ones" (haha!) whose books I've content edited, you might have noticed I kind of have a mind like a steel trap--once something's in there, it doesn't leave? That's why I can catch small discrepancies. Your books stay with me long after I send my review to JoAnne. Just like those others did.

My point is, I didn't go looking for evil--it found me. And it took me places in my mind that I knew I should never have gone. All because one book looked just a little more exciting than the ones I usually read. And the next level was even more exciting. And the next.... But it was just reading. It wasn't real.

But I am scarred, just the same.

It is such a blessing to freelance for a company that I know publishes trustworthy materials. Books I can hand my daughter and not worry about where they will take her. And a place where I have a tiny bit of influence to help your books be relevant and interesting and accurate enough to keep readers from going to the "next level." (It's a drop, not a climb!)

I've bought some of those other Christian books. They're okay. But you have to look hard through the others on the shelf or website to find them! Which means your eye and mind are titillated and Satan has the chance to whisper in your ear "Come on, those are boring. Why don't you get THIS one?!" If you think about it, few of us go looking for evil. So if it's looking for us, shouldn't we make it as hard as possible for it to find us?! :-)

Sometimes you have to look pretty hard to find anything that makes those books "Christian" other than the fact that no one's actually having sex, too.

I just wish Barbour's books had a better distribution in our area. Christian stores are the only ones I find them in.

Anyway, this is my opinion. I'm sure if I were writing and looking for someone to get my work out there, this would be a dilemma for me, too. But maybe my experience will speak to someone who needs to hear it.

Sarah said...

There's a lot I don't know about publishing, so I can't say I would never publish with a house that wasn't a Christian publishing house. However, I do know what will never be on the inside of one of my books.

After having spent considerable time researching various publishing houses, I really love the idea of publishing with a house that doesn't just let me write stories that reflect my faith because they've found there's a market there, but instead comes alongside me and works with me toward the same goal.

Beth Loughner said...

I need to clarify my previous note about the Hooter's Restaurant. In the book,"Outflow", a group of Christian men visited Hooters and asked the manager if they could give the workers free gifts to show them that God loved them. I'm not sure, but I don't think they were regular visitors for this purpose. It just made me rethink some of my ideas on how to share the Gospel. It's a book worth reading.

Personally, it would take a direct e-mail or phone call from God for me to visit Hooters. I would, however, do it if I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt God wanted me to show God's love this way.

Susan, your comment on which businesses we support with our money is well taken. This is one reason why I rarely (once in 10 years) go to the movie theater even for a G-rated movie. But I would support a Christian movie (Fireproof) at the theaters. I just wouldn't frequent the market with my financial support.

Hopefully, I've made my position a little clearer...and not worse. :-)

Blissful said...

Look at it this way - many of our books are on the shelves at Barnes and Noble and on another shelf in the same store are the porn books - are we then aiding the profit margin of a secular Barnes and Noble by having our books available there? Same as their availability on Amazon and other sites which are making money off both our books and unsavory titles. Is that wrong? Or is it giving a godly choice in a sinful world, even if one makes mammon off of it?

God tests our hearts. Nothing escapes HIm or surprises Him. He has us in the palm of His hand. And if you choose to publish a Christian book under the umbrella of a secular publisher because that is where you believe you are called, to be salt and light and to give the editors and readers a godly example, then you should do so. The same as having our works available in Christian and non Christian outlets. We are in the world, not of it. You can probably come up with many times in which you spent your money in unsavory places that promotes ungodly things. Many companies out there produce products we buy and use every day, then use their profits to support such institutions as Planned Parenthood. We render every April unto Caesar who at times promotes ungodly legislation. But I believe we serve a God who is greater than all this. The Holy Spirit will convict and lead as He feels is right for each of us individually. And in the end, every knee will still bow, no matter how much money is in each pocket, Praise God!

Jennifer Johnson said...

Whew, ladies...what a discussion!

Rachel (who has edited a few of my books) said, "Sometimes you have to look pretty hard to find anything that makes those books "Christian" other than the fact that no one's actually having sex, too."

That statement is why I don't try to write for that particular line. I also don't read that particular line for pleasure for the same reason. I want to be encouraged, uplifted, confirmed, and even convicted from the Christian stories I read...that simply doesn't happen for me when I read that line.

I don't know the answer to Susan's questions...is it wrong for EVERYONE to write for a line who sells other books geared toward the very secular...I don't know...I just don't know. I teach in a public school believing I am a light in an often very dark world, and I have a lot of friends who feel public schools are the worst place in the world to send one's children.

But my writing and my reading... which both are done as a means of my pleasure and encouragement... well, I'm also simply not sure.

JoAnne said...

Here are some more scriptures God has brought to my mind midst this discussion:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:1-4

…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:11-13

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:15-17

There has been some great discussion here! I hope this has everyone thinking and digging deeper into God’s Word.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

This is a great discussion. While I see the purpose of being salt and light in a dark and lost world, I do believe there are lines we have to draw for our own protection and accidental misrepresentation to others who may be less seasoned. The problem is we all have different ideas of where the line should be. I believe when we start to feel uncertain about something (uncomfortable) and we start questioning it so much, we've probably come to the line.

As an author who wants to maintain a certain image for my readers and my books, I would not want an ad for my books to be with other porn romance. This is not a criticsm of others, but a verbal statement of where I draw the line for myself.

I believe associations are strong and as authors we have influence on others--especially our young readers. Our associations should not be disguised as "ministering to others". They are two completely different things, and yet, I've seen this often among Christians, especially less seasoned Christians. Often, we misguide ourselves with the best of intentions.

Susan, thank you for blogging about this. I think authors and pre-published authors need to be thinking about these personal lines. We need to know where we personally stand as individual authors, and how we will react when we are tested--because we WILL be tested. It is unavoidable in this world.

Susan Downs said...

Thanks to ALL of you who shared your thoughts. I believe the post did what I intended--caused us all to do a bit of soul searching as to our true motivations for writing and publishing and helped us to explore our own personal lines of conviction. As iron sharpens iron, we work together to keep at the task of offering our best service for our King.

Darlene Franklin said...

What an interesting topic, Susan. And a tough one. I appreciate the nonjudgmental approach everyone has taken to this discussion.

In reading through the comments, a central question seems to be: are we concerned about tempting Christians to sin? Or are we shedding light in a dark place?

The truth is, few unbelievers are going to stumble across Christian titles. They're either not available through secular outlets, or they're sequestered in the "inspirational" fiction section.

As a child, I felt called to full-time Christian service. But things changed and I have spent most of my working life in a secular environment. There are analogies.

My employer (a large satellite TV provider) actually produces soft porn. Yuck! But my own job--reconciling payments to retailers--is honorable. I would never have had the same opportunities to share (and LIVE) Christ to Hindus, Muslims, gays, and atheists on a church staff.

I see Christian titles from a secular publisher in the same way. They offer light and hope and witness to many who would otherwise never search for it.

Anonymous said...

I've read this post with interest, and have a number of things to respectfully point out to everyone. I agree with the ones stating that we just need to be aware of what we do as individuals. As long as what you all write is glorifying God, then you can't needlessly worry about things that you have no control over. As someone else pointed out, you could be in a day job, and your company's beliefs MIGHT not necessarily line up with yours, but, as long as your job is noble, then just do it and continue glorifying God.
ALSO, it's hard to keep publishing companies TOTALLY SEPARATE - CHRISTIAN AND SECULAR. Why? Because, for starters, since you are a publisher, you are dealing with the secular world through book stores, contributing to their profit margin, which is what you'd mentioned in an earlier post.
ALSO, I BELIEVE Barbour is already in business agreement with a secular publisher as far as their book distribution is concerned. I've found Barbour's books in Crossings catalogs. Don't you have to sign some sort of agreement with Crossings to sell your books in their catalogs??
Crossings is part of a secular publishing company, I believe? Isn't it owned by Bertelsman/Doubleday (or it used to be?) which is a publisher that also owns book clubs that may carry some unsavory titles?
I understand both sides of the argument, though, but, again, just make sure your words glorify God and don't worry about the rest---
I'd like to end this post with a question to the Barbour editors...
If Barbour were purchased by a secular publisher (which has happened to some Christian publishers before) what would you do? Would you immediately start looking for another job? Would you quit? Just a thought...
May God bless you all...

Becky said...

Still some good commenting going on over here a week later.

You can't be a totally isolated Christian in this world -- and we aren't called to be that. We do have to do business in the secular. The secular stores our company works with are family oriented stores (including Crossings book club) where questionable material is a small portion of what draws people in. It is not the destination. Porn or witchcraft or whatever doesn't bombard the seeker at Borders and Wal-Mart like it does at some of the specialized book sites.

And if Barbour experienced a secular buyout? It would be a hard thing because right now I have the freedom to talk direct to upper management about company mission and such. I'd have to wait and see who the buyout company was and how the management was handled. Many Christian divisions of secular publishers are given pretty much free rein to maintain a high standard of Christian content. They also maintain separate web presence, CBA status, etc. But as JoAnne shared her experience with a CBA publisher, if God says go, I'd have to go.

JoAnne said...

In answer to Anonymous's question:

If Barbour were purchased by a secular company and started forcing me into practices that would make me cross the lines of my convictions (say, for example, having ad pages in the back of Heartsongs that point to websites that glamorize sin), then yes, I hope God would help me have the courage to quit. Even if it meant going without an income for a while. I’ve done it once before (read Friday’s post) and I hope God would help me do it again.

Susan Downs said...

I don't think any of us at Barbour are promoting isolationism for Christians, even if that were possible. We are, after all, called to be in the world but not of it. Over my 35 years in the workforce, I've had more than my share of jobs in secular companies. One of the distinctions I've been trying to draw through this discussion is where does secular leave off and obscene begin? Like Becky and JoAnne, it would depend of the particular company as to whether or not I would immediately resign in the event of a buy-out. The fact that it is a secular company wouldn't be the determining quotient--UNLESS it were a company such as Hugh Hefner's or Larry Flynn's publishing ventures that actively promotes an agenda that goes against everything I stand for.