In another comment on our blog, someone suggested I might write the alternative Christian romance, one that didn’t feature a simpering protagonist whose only desire in life is to marry a man who can save her: from her dark past, from her impure thoughts, from her loneliness and pain and despair. I laughed at the comment, imagining a Christian romance on my list of publications, my author’s portrait—with big shellacked hair, naturally—on the back of my latest book. In my response to the commenter, I said I couldn’t write a romance, since I wasn’t familiar with the genre.
So here’s an admission: I’ve been given plenty of Christian romances as Christmas presents. You know, because I’m an English professor + I like reading + I’m a Christian = a Christian romance is the perfect gift!
Here’s another admission: Two years ago, I read a bunch of Amish romances for an academic presentation I gave, and so am familiar, at least, with that very popular but not-very-steamy subgenre of Christian romance. Some of the Christmas books I’d received, but had not yet read, proved very useful in my research. Because, a Christian romance is the perfect gift (I’m a Mennonite + Mennonites are close to Amish) = you can’t miss by giving me Amish romances for Christmas.
And thus, I’ve actually written a page or two of an alternative Christian romance, a small experiment I embarked on shortly after reading all those Amish romances, just to see if I could—write a romance, that is.
The truth is, I can’t: Maybe because I lack the ability to write fiction. But also because the Christian romance genre, by its very nature, requires its readers (and, I suppose, its writers) to assume a worldview very much different than my own.
And at the core of any Christian romance is the sense that a woman will be unfulfilled unless she enters into romance and can be saved by a man.That a woman with an independent streak is in need of taming. That, in the words of one Amish romance I read, “Two hearts are always better than one.”
If these truths, so foundational to Christian romance, aren’t enough, there are also the minor plot twists and premises that drive me crazy: the (relatively) slutty protagonist who becomes more beautiful in her modesty; the handsome-but-plain man, who is upright and pure and even smells like integrity; the adoptive parents who lie and deceive; the preponderance of cancer, buggy and car accidents, and other maladies; the Jesus prayers that always save the protagonist from an awful life.
So could I write a Christian romance that avoids these theological quagmires and flimsy plot devices? I suppose, but then I’d probably just be writing something called a novel, the kind of text I love to read and to teach in my classes: where the narrative of hope and loss, grace and redemption, brokenness and healing is knit through a plot and with characters who more powerfully reflect the world in which I live. And I don’t write novels.
Still, thinking about the possibilities of an alternative Christian romance is pretty fun. Imagine the potential titles one might construct: A Heart’s Longing for Independence; Satan Is In My Bloomers; One Heart is Just Fine; The Bride Wore Coveralls. (Oh wait, that title is already taken.)
I’m sure we’ve not written the last on Christian romance novels, though. In fact, I know we haven’t—in the upcoming weeks, I’ll have a completed post on the Amish Romance, and what’s wrong when two Amish in a buggy go a ’courtin. Just a hint: the smells of integrity might get in the way—of true love, that is.