Taboos in Christian fiction?

DURING A DISCUSSION with other Christian writers within a Facebook group, our attention was directed to this post by Kara Isaac (h/t Fiona Vetch Smith), which was met with incredulity, amusement and some despair.

It cites a list of terms (and situations) that cannot be used in inspirational romance novels (Steeple Hill Women’s Fiction) from Harlequin publishers (USA). (Now, I should say first of all that these are supposedly CBA guidelines, not Harlequin, who publish a whole variety of imprints.) I don’t write Christian fiction, but my NaNoWriMo novel would surely fall foul of the censors anyway.  I’m sure my heroine may have said something along the lines of “gosh” on occasion.  Yes, “gosh” is out, as is “heck” and “golly”.  Neither can you talk about bishops.  Backside or derriere if necessary (!) but never buttocks, and certainly no undergarments. Even more bizarre are the situations in which ‘Christian characters’ cannot be involved e.g. waltzing cheek to cheek.

Sheesh (that one is allowed, apparently).

Let me quote:

Bodily functions, like going to the bathroom, should be mentioned as little as possible and some euphemism may be necessary but we don’t want to sound quaint or absurd.

Er.  Too late on the absurdity front, I think.

I should add that I can’t actually find this on the Harlequin website now – have they taken it down?   The closest I could find was this page, which states (in relation to its ‘Love Inspired’ range):

Because Love Inspired sells to both CBA and ABA bookstores, we must adhere to CBA conventions. The stories may not include alcohol consumption by Christian characters, card playing, gambling or games of chance (including raffles), explicit scatological terms, hero and heroine remaining overnight together alone, Halloween celebrations, magic or the mention of intimate body parts. Lying is also problematic in the CBA market and characters who are Christian should avoid lying or deceiving others. Exceptions can be made but must be approved by an editor.

Trying to find CBA guidelines (conventions?) proved unfruitful, although I did hit upon this post at in which the author (“Contrary Texan”) relates an email exchange with Eric Grimm, who is CBA Manager of Strategic Partnership.  He  said:

CBA is a trade association and does not publish or sell books. We also do not create or publish any guidelines about creative content…The idea that there is some censorship body that controls content in Christian publishing is incorrect…

I suggest you read the whole post to get the drift, and then come back and explain it to me, please.  The plot thickens, certainly.  Gosh, you might say.

This is what happens when you research a blog post as you go along!  What was meant as an eyebrow-raise over a list of allowed terms has become a ‘who controls what’ kind of question. Are the Trade Associations* casting a shadow over the publishers?  Or are the publishers making assumptions?  Or…is it the buyer who is driving the whole thing? Is it purely a USA issue?



*The whole Trade Association thing has got me thinking of Star Wars, now. Yes, I know that should be federation…


8 thoughts on “Taboos in Christian fiction?

  1. Sipech (@TheAlethiophile) says:

    It does all sound rather ‘Mary Whitehouse’ though it was only a few decades ago that BBC newsreaders were not permitted to use the word “bottom” even in the context of “down the bottom of the garden.” Though we shouldn’t necessarily rule out that the author of the post you link to may have been trying to invoke Poe’s law (though possibly at the expense of a libel case from the publishers!).

    If it is true, I just wonder what the publishers really hope to achieve. Such unnecessary strict moralism and nitpicking is more becoming of the Scribes & Pahrisess than any disciple of Jesus.


    • Lucy Mills says:

      The blogger in question links to another blogger who links to the page on the Harlequin site….the url still exists, but there is no content. This implies there was something there – but of course we can’t be sure what!


  2. angalmond says:

    I am amazed that “Sheesh” is allowed, as I have always understood it to be similar to “Jeeez” – i.e. an abbreviation of “Jesus!”
    Is this list genuine? or is it some sort of modified story which has become urban myth ? [as in the comment above re BBC bottoms]

    My husband was taken to task once by an elderly church member, following a sermon on 1 Sam 24. He’d explained WHY Saul was in the cave. and afterwards this lady was most offended as she said she was sure that in OT times, people never went to the loo!!


    • Lucy Mills says:

      Is it me, or was there a translation that actually said Saul ‘went to the bathroom’ at the back of the cave in one of its versions? Always amused me – I want to ask – what colour were the tiles?


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