“Why do people feel the need to add things like that?”
I love the writing and reading community, especially those committed to telling a good story from a Christian worldview. But every so often, you run across something like this out in the wild.
At first glance, the post wasn’t anything bad. It caught my attention because the book in question was by one of my favorite authors. I couldn’t recall any inappropriate content, and had even handed the book to my brothers (at the time, fourteen and twelve) without a second thought.
As it turned out, all these dramatics were all about a character’s backstory, where it was implied this character had experienced sexual abuse. “It’s a terrible thing,” the original poster said. “But why does it have to be in reading material? I don’t want to read those things. Christian authors shouldn’t put that in their story. Purity has really gone down the drain.” (*While I have shortened the comments, this is word for word what they wrote.)
I tried to scroll on, but I couldn’t quite move past it in my own mind.
Were trauma survivors truly so impure and dirty that they didn’t belong in stories? Did representing their struggles dishonor God somehow? Did those characters deserve to be sacrificed just because some readers didn’t want to think about the hard things?
Maybe you’ve felt the same. Representation comes in all shapes and sizes—race, body type, disability, mental health, trauma, and more. And for each of those things, there are readers saying it doesn’t belong. Maybe you’ve run across comments like this in the wild and wondered the same things I did.
I didn’t comment on that post. I didn’t trust myself to have the words. But I’ve let it rest for several weeks now, and I wanted to share my thoughts.
It is a hard thing, and that’s why it needs to be in books.
We were watching an interview with an actor from a favorite TV show, when the actor explained that he was autistic. I was sitting next to an autistic friend at the time, and they lit up when they realized this talented actor who was showing us how they learned to do all these voices was in fact, just like them.
Life is full of hard, challenging, and things that are just different. In the hard parts of my life, I have clung to books that represented what I was struggling with. Representation matters. Seeing yourself in a story matters, especially when no one else in your circle has experienced what you have gone through, knows what your struggles are, or understands.
Because fiction is powerful. The stories we tell ourselves, whether true or imagined, affect what we think, what we believe, what we feel. If stories, especially Christian stories, will not include a sexual abuse survivor (or anyone else who is different), then slowly, reader by reader, our homes, churches, and world won’t either.
We need to read about these things.
One of the hardest parts of that problematic post above was the “I don’t want to read about that.” How selfish did one have to be to tell an abuse survivor that they didn’t deserve to be in a book because they themselves didn’t want to read about it?
But the longer I thought about it, I realized, you know what, I’m selfish, too. I don’t want to think about the hard things. And that’s why I need to read about them. Reading them in a book forces me to confront truths that I would have otherwise left alone.
About a month ago, I read Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The book is a negative character arc, so instead of watching the main character get better and stronger, you watch him spiral downward. You know that going into the book.
But Coriolanus seemed so sympathetic. I felt bad for him, knowing what he would ultimately become.
Until I reached the last page. No spoilers here, but in the end, it comes full circle and I realized Coriolanus had truly been that evil all along.
Not only that, I realized I had sympathized and related to him at some points. I had to admit that there were selfish things inside of me.
I didn’t want to read about that. But what if I didn’t?
*One important distinction: especially when it comes to trauma, a person may not want to read about a certain type of content because it triggers them. That is totally fine and normal and very responsible. I’ve always respected people who know that something’s not healthy for them mentally and set those boundaries.
But just not wanting to read about something uncomfortable isn’t responsible, or healthy.
Christian authors should put things like that in their books.
Christian authors, more than any other authors, need to be putting those things in their books.
We know the God of the universe, the Creator and Ruler of all things. We know where our world is going, and what our eternal destinies will be. We know a Savior loved us enough to die for us, and we know how wonderful life can be now with Him. Why on earth would we not share that with the people that are hurting the most?
If we say they shouldn’t put sexual abuse survivors in their books, we are believing the lie that sexual abuse survivors don’t deserve Jesus. We are believing that people from a different race than ours don’t deserve Jesus. We are believing that disabled or mentally ill people don’t deserve Jesus.
Representation is not impure.
“Purity has really gone down the drain.” Why? Because a Christian author dared tell a sexual abuse survivor that they were seen? That Jesus was there for them too?
Sexual abuse survivors (as well as other trauma survivors) are not dirty. They’re not impure. No one asks for these things to happen.
Blaming impurity on representation is not only ignoring the real problem, but it is reinforcing a false narrative. Unfortunately, the majority of fiction, as well as in general, reinforces it as well.
Trauma survivors are often told or implied to be to blame for whatever happened to them, that they must have brought it on somehow, and they’re just being overdramatic. Do you see how hurtful that idea is?
The clean fiction movement, while at its core has good ideals, can cause this. At times, it teeters dangerously on the edge of cutting out everything uncomfortable, rather than truly cutting out graphic or explicit content.
A sexual abuse survivor is not necessarily explicit content. (Of course, it can be written in an explicit way, but representation in Christian fiction usually doesn’t go this direction.)
I am not explicit content. Neither are you.
We can't agree to disagree on this.
When several commenters gently called out the original poster on their problematic comments, the original poster responded with, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
With all due respect, we absolutely do not. This isn’t a matter of personal preference. It is not personal preference to tell a hurting person that they don’t belong, that they are dirty, and that you don’t want them. This isn’t something we get to agree to disagree on.
These comments made my heart hurt, because I see it everyday. Christian books largely don’t tackle issues like race, sexuality, trauma, disability, or mental health. While we may not have bad intentions, they’re big topics, and they make us uncomfortable, so we just don’t write about it. And by not writing about it, dozens of people don’t feel seen in the number one place that they should feel found.
These comments made my heart hurt for the person who posted them. What must it be like to go through life with such a self-centered outlook, missing out on so many good things God has given them in favor of their own preferences? It forced me to look inward and see the ways I’m exactly the same.
But this conversation also encouraged me. Because I watched person after person, writer after Christian writer step up and say, “This isn’t right. This isn’t how Jesus would treat people.”
*Quick note: luckily, the post was reported and an administrator in the group responded to the situation. I also learned today that the person has decided to no longer be a part of that particular community, so luckily, we won’t have to deal with that kind of hate anymore.
I’m grateful for everyone who stepped up. I want to be one of them, which is why I’m sharing this. It gives me hope for Christian fiction. It gives me hope that one day, everyone will be able to see themselves in a story and to know that Jesus sees and loves them, too, no matter what has happened to them.
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!