I have a problem: I’m not sure if I’m allowed to swear because I’m a Christian.
Actually, let me clarify that. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to swear in my fiction because I’m a Christian. (We’llleave the ethics and theology debate for another time.) This is something that I’m really struggling with, and it bugs me because I can see it affect my writing.
As a Christian, I tend to divide the world into 2 categories: NonChristian and Christian. In literature, this is adapted into Fiction and Christian Fiction.
What do I mean by Christian Fiction?
I mean all of those Amish romance novels that you really only find in the Christian section at Barnes & Noble. I mean stories that always, always end with a come-to-Jesus moment for at least 1 character. I mean novels that tend to follow the horror film rule: you had sex; therefore, you must die.  I mean novels that include a deus ex machina moment.
I want to write fiction that features realistic, fleshed-out characters. But I am a Christian. What do I do?
What if my “good” characters don’t swear but my “bad” characters do?
Will Smith once said that his grandmother got on his case for swearing in his lyrics: “She found some of my early expletive-littered lyrics and wrote on them, ‘Dear Willard, intelligent people do not use these words to express themselves.’”  What if my “unintelligent” people swear? What if my characters who are uneducated, low-income, country bumkins swear?
Wait… that’s a large majority of my characters. And stereotyping.
Okay, how about this—if writers are supposed to be conscious of every word they use, with each one building character and advancing plot, then a cuss word could reflect character or emphasize conflict, right? Right?
Does it depend on my audience? I don’t want my target audience to be just Christians, and I don’t want it to be just nonChristians. Can’t it be both?
Am I A Christian Author, Or An Author Who Is A Christian?(This is a spin on the question that every musician whomever so much as hints at Christian theology in his lyrics is asked.)
Do I have to pick a side? I do? Seriously?
Fine. I’m a Christian, and I’m a writer. There.
If I’m a Christian, do I Have To Write Christian Fiction?
C.S. Lewis wrote for Christians and for nonChristians. Can’t I be like C.S. Lewis?
Or at least try to be that good?
John Marsden is Young Adult writer whose characters indulge in all manner of vices, yet he’s managed to create one of the strongest Christian characters I have seen in a very not-Christian Fic—Robyn. Her faith permeates her entire role in the story, yet she never comes across as a goody-two-shoes or a nagging hypocrite. In fact, it’s because of Robyn that Ellie finds herself becoming increasingly religious, even if she doesn’t know much about Christianity.
“I don’t know if Robyn or an angel or even God himself was in the boot, but I was starting to suspect that whenever I wanted Go, he was there. Only not necessarily in the form I wanted, or doing what I wanted. Very inconvenient and self-willed of him: I was fairly sure I knew better than everyone about everything, and when I say everyone I include God.”
Ellie in The Night Is For Hunting, Chapter 9
Can I be a writer like Marsden?
I mean, how do I write Christian characters without turning them into Mary Sues or giving them stories with no action? And if I decide that I am writing Christian Fiction, do I have to send my goodies to heaven and my baddies to hell?
Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
The thing is, this isn’t just about profanity. Sex is a problem, too. I’m writing romance, and darn it, my characters have hormones and urges. Do I just ignore that and hope no one notices?
I once read somewhere that Stephenie Meyer refused to let Bella and Edward get it on until they were married in Breaking Dawn because of her Mormon faith. If that’s true, I commend her for sticking to her beliefs, but her characters are obsessed with sex I feel like she failed. Plus that honeymoon in Breaking Dawn is so bad. So, so bad. The only time I have ever laughed that hard was when I watched Pamela’s Prayer with a group of friends.
I literally laughed while rolling on the floor.
I don’t think sex itself is sinful—and honestly, I don’t know many Christians who do, so if Hollywood could get with the times, that would be great—but I do believe that the way people treat sex can be sinful. That’s because I think sex is sacred, but I know that not everyone agrees with me.
My Name Is Gladiator
Christians frown on swearing and sex. Is that why we’re so in love with violence? I mean seriously, how many Christians do you know who love movies like Braveheart and Gladiator? And The Passion of the Christ—that movie is really, horrifically violent.
Why do we enthusiastically embrace stories with violence, murder, and betrayal?
I blame the Book of Judges.
Maybe I Should Just Write A PG-13 Novel
According to the Motion Picture Association of America, a movie receives a PG-13 rating when it contains the “single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive.” In addition to this,
[m]ore than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context. The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous. 
So… If I just limit myself to swear words that aren’t sexual, can I get away with a “hell” or a “damn” here and there? As long as I just make sure that everyone knows that my book is PG-13?
(Honestly, some books should come with ratings.)
The truth is, guys, that I don’t like swear words. When I read a book that uses a lot of them, or I watch a movie, or even if I’m just around someone with a potty-mouth, these words get stuck in my head and eventually make their escape when I stub my toe or spill my coffee or almost get hit by an idiot driver.
At the same time, my characters sometimes have a mind of their own. I’ve noticed that when I’ve restrained them and kept their mouths clean—or at the very least written something like, “He swore,” without actually telling you what he said—I find my characters become detached and flat. When I allow them to speak freely, I discover more about them. And sometimes they swear.