I remember seeing Russell Moore’s Facebook status the night before he posted his controversial post on Christian romance novels. It read, “Wondering whether posting my blog in the morning is worth all the hate mail it will bring!” While I don’t know how much hate mail he received I am sure it was a lot.
Moore’s post created a fire storm of responses from across the board (just google them). Notably is the response of Caryn Rivadeneria over at the her.meneutics blog on the Christianity Today web site.
The basis for Moore’s post stems from the findings of Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam in their recent book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire. While the authors are primarily going after the porn industry they do make comments, conclusions and parallels between the marketing and commercializing of porn and romance novels. Moore states,
The research explores further what the commercialized romance industry tells us about what it means to be a woman (at least in a fallen world). Women are much less likely to be drawn to visual pornography (although more do so than one might think), but are quite likely to be involved in such media as Internet romantic fiction or the old-fashioned romance novel.
The romance novel follows, the researchers argue, a typical pattern. The hero is almost never, they say, a blue collar worker, a bureaucrat, or someone in the traditionally feminine occupations (hairdresser, kindergarten teacher, etc.). He is competent, confident, and usually wealthy. He is, in short, an alpha male.
But, they argue, this alpha male is typically a rough character who learns to be tamed into kindness, kindness to her. Thus, you wind up with not only the strong silent cowboys with the soft interior life, but also these days vampires and werewolves and Vikings.
Moore’s greatest concern with romance novels, more specifically Christian romance novels, is that they seem to draw women out of the reality of their marriage into the world of another. Moore concludes,
How many disappointed middle-aged women in our congregations are reading these novels as a means of comparing the “strong spiritual leaders” depicted there with what by comparison must seem to be underachieving lumps lying next to them on the couch?
This is not to equate morally “romance novels” with the grave soul destruction of pornography. But it is worth asking, “Is what I’m consuming leading me toward contentment with my spouse (or future spouse) or away from it? Is it pointing me to the other in one-flesh union or to an eroticized embodiment of my own desires? Is this the mystery or a mirage?
It is in response to the claim that women compare their “real” marriages to these imaginary marriages that Caryn writes her response. Caryn states that even after reading two of these type novels she “wasn’t compelled to rush out and buy more. I may be hooked on reading, but not on romance, per se.” Caryn interviewed Allie Pieter, a Christian romance novelist, about how she as a writer and other women who read her books view romance novels. Allie states,
Most women are smart enough to know that real life has no violins swelling behind the drop-dead-gorgeous hero professing love in a dramatic sunset. They can be entertained by the ideal of the story without turning it into some kind of impossible relational checklist.
Caryn agrees and even cites some Scripture to support her point:
Of course, some might try this logic with porn: that pornography viewers (or readers) understand it’s not real. But there’s a difference still, and it lies in Scripture. Philippians 4:8 says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.”
Simply put: romance is lovely, among other things — or at least can be. Romance can and does get corrupted in our fallen world, but even God uses romance in his Word as an image to help us understand his love for us and what our love for him might be. God never uses images of lust and degrading sex to do the same.
I strongly encourage you to read the rest here.
I still have some more thinking to do on this but after talking with my wife about it last night I find myself backing away from some of my original thinking. After all, my wife is level headed, wise and well she loves me and not the men portrayed in the books she reads.