Twelve Responses to Abuse Accusations in Christian Conferences, Part 1

Listen to abuse victims. Don’t respond with these lines. Reconsider whether victims must “forgive” the accused. Don’t make judgments about salvation.

Four professing Christian men, in the Christian writing industry, have been accused of committing abuse of power to different degrees.

Two of them have been previously named and featured here on Speculative Faith.

Publishers Weekly’s website proclaimed the story last week, 1 although women have already been carefully sharing these accounts around Christian writing and conference circles for years.

It should matter to us where these stories come from. It matters that any man, professing to be a Christian, has been accused of this kind of behavior. It matters that any person who associates his name with Jesus Christ (the literal meaning of Christ-ian is “Christlike person”) also has his name associated with these evils.

(Sensitivity alert: it’s necessary to describe these acts to understand them.)

  • Physical sexual assault
  • Begging women for sex
  • Proposing sexual hookups by email
  • Soliciting sex in exchange for career favors
  • Lying and covering up these abuses of power
  • Insisting that patterns of abuse are not typical or no big deal.

Just as the torrent of accusations against abusive leaders in entertainment call for prophetic Christian engagement,2 so do accusations against “our own” people require serious attention. And serious consequences. And serious challenge to ourselves, to determine what, if anything, we can do to glorify God, protect victims, and challenge any person who is tempted to abuse his power in creative industries.

I’ve written twelve do– and don’t–style ideas about how Christians may respond to claims of abuse. Part two will release Monday, and part three will release Tuesday.

Note that although these may apply to the article’s specific situations, I’m thinking in general terms about how Christians respond to claims of abuse committed by other Christians. But first, some personal housekeeping:

  • First, these accusations affect victims of abuse and harassment. Set aside all the doctrinal or professional factors. Real people, mostly women, have gone through a lot to tell their stories. I’ve asked several of them, along with Lorehaven magazine staff and supporters, to give early feedback on this article. They might also arrive here to comment. They might share the article and repeat part of their stories. Take great care and courtesy in response to their openness.
  • These accusations affect Speculative Faith. As I stated above, some of the men mentioned have written articles at Speculative Faith. At this point, we won’t take down the articles (see my sixth response in part 2). No one’s made such a call of us. But, it’s worth noting that if we could have known these individuals were accused of this behavior, we would have, at minimum, declined to publish.
  • These accusations affect our spinoff magazine, Lorehaven. Last fall, based on early and partial knowledge about these accusations, we changed the leadership of Lorehaven I’m now the sole publisher and editor-in-chief of this web magazine, which aims to help Christian fans find truth in fantastic stories.

With that in mind, let’s explore twelve Christian responses to accusations like these.

1. Listen to abuse victims.

This should go without saying. A lot of this should. But often a Christian who learns of these accusations3 behaves just like the naïve Christian who hurls a quote of Romans 8:28 in the direction of the grieving parent who just lost her baby in a car wreck. “Well, ‘all things work together for good …’!”

With the greatest possible respect: these folks must shut up.

Listen to the victim. If this isn’t someone you know in person, but whose words you are reading in an article or social media comment, pay attention to her account.4 Don’t talk. Just listen. You can work through your responses later. If you don’t yet believe her, maybe because you know or respect the person being accused, maybe you can say, “I listened to what you said and I’m so sorry you are hurting. I’m thinking about it and I’m also praying for you.” That’s it.

2. Don’t respond with these lines.

Every time I think maybe we’ve gotten past this nonsense, I see new examples of it:

“Why is it always about sex?”

My answer: Nonsense. It’s not about abuse of sex. It’s about abuse of power. (If it were about sex, he can get that just by going to the internet and watching porn.)

It’s not just social science that supports this claim. So does the Bible. All sin comes from our abuse of power. It’s our failure, going all the way back to Genesis 3, to steward our gifts and role as God our Creator intended. That’s idolatry. And it’s pride. Pride, which C. S. Lewis called “the utmost evil,” is an abuse of power.

“Wow, but he never did that sort of thing to me!”

My answer: Congratulations. No, really. It sounds like God protected you by some means, either because you were not that person’s “type” or because you were not vulnerable in this area. Very often, abusers target women who already struggle with poor self-image, or depression, or previous abuse, or thoughts of suicide.

Target, groom, push, defend, push more, suggest it’s her idea, lather, rinse, repeat.

If you’re strong, use your strength to support that vulnerable woman. As a Christian who is emotionally or spiritually strong in a particular area, that is your sober duty.

“Well, the way women dress these days …”

I actually saw someone say this. It’s an old and bad notion. It brings to mind the disciples’ mechanical cause/effect view in John 9:2 of “someone’s sin always causes human suffering.” This is not a thing godly Christians say to people suffering abuse, any more than we would say, “Well, he should have been buckled in” to the parent of a child killed in a car accident. That argument presumes there is something to the notion of “ladies who dress modestly5 won’t be sexually harassed.” If I had space here, I’d fiercely contest that notion also. It’s false, and fails to account for a man’s responsibility.

“None of us are perfect.”

Repetitions of this confuse me. At best, they’re awkward attempts to change the topic, and redirect to safer, thousand-foot views of general “mistakes” and human “brokenness” rather than specific acts of human evil. At worst, they’re an attempt to ignore these potent and terrifying biblical truths: that each of us is guilty of sin, and sin brings God’s judgment and damnation to Hell, and sometimes we must confront specific sins against specific people and make tough decisions how to respond. That goes triple when the power-abusers will, if unchecked, hurt even more people.

“None of us are perfect (so what’s for dinner?)” is not how Jesus replied when facing specific instances of power abuse, or the reality of sin in every human heart.

“Maybe she started it.”

This utterly fails to take into account the power dynamics of the relationship: pastor/church member, mentor/conference newbie, publisher or agent/writer. In any relationship like this, it’s the leader who is more accountable, not the follower.

“If men and women could just avoid each other …”

This is often called “The Mike Pence Rule,” although the concept was first associated with Billy Graham and I’d prefer the late evangelist keep it. In certain contexts, such as those involving a fearful or spiritually weak man, avoiding one-on-one meetings might be wise. But at best this is a remedial solution, not an ultimate solution.

The Bible talks about treating “older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:2, NIV). It does not encourage us to avoid one another based on fear, and does not lay out a Billy Graham/Mike Pence rule.

Now, in my case, I have spent lots of time in virtual “one-on-one” rooms, with several women, preparing this very article. In my editorial roles at Speculative Faith and Lorehaven, I simply must do that—it’s my job and it’s their job! However, my wife and I also have guidelines in place for similar purposes as the Rule. She has my passwords, and we frequently talk about the results of these discussions. Thus, in a world that’s confused and fearful about how the heck men and women can avoid nonsense while also getting things done and respecting/loving one another as spiritual family, we can take precautions while not going overboard.

“You’re forgiven, [name of accused].”

It’s not our place to say this. Literally, this is like saying, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20). When even the Pharisees have better theology—that God alone can forgive Person A’s sins against Person B (Luke 5:21)—we’re in trouble.

Nor is it our place to flock first to an accused person’s defense to assure him of God’s love and forgiveness (now or in the future). This presumes far too much about the accused person—that he is (1) already saddled with enough guilt as it is, (2) caught up with his real repentance to the victim (or usually, a group of victims), (3) a member of a local church that has begun a biblical process of rebuking and restoring him (1 Cor. 5), (4) is already hearing from some imaginary force of nasty Bad Cop Christians that he’s a terrible, terrible sinner, freeing us up to be the Good Cops, (5) an actual member of Christ’s body and therefore included in the warnings and promises of those who share our faith—a fact we technically cannot prove or disprove based merely on a long-distance or professional relationship with him.

That’s a lot to presume, especially over the internet. So let’s not presume that.

3. Reconsider whether victims must forgive the accused.

Here I must be very careful, and acknowledge that early feedback to this article included hearty disagreement with this concept. I’ll choose to proceed this way.

When Christian A accuses Christian B of abuse, others often give two responses.

Response One (Vengeance) says, “What an evil person. Never forgive him.” Some Christians may imply that the accused is outside God’s grace, or will go to Hell. (Pagans—or Christians who behave like pagans—do even worse then they gather and say things like, “Let’s ruin his career and send him death threats over Twitter.”)

Response Two (Cheap Grace) says, “You need to forgive him immediately. Then you act like the sin never happened, because ‘love keeps no record of wrongs,’ and also, ‘Jesus said to forgive anyone seventy times seven.’ To do otherwise denies grace.”

I suggest that both these responses show extreme notions of cheap condemnation or cheap grace, and both fail to capture the complexity of the biblical picture.

Further complicating the picture is this: Christians often use the word “forgiveness” as a shorthand to describe several biblical concepts. These include the concepts of (1) fighting the urge to become bitter or resentful, (2) fighting the urge to slander and take revenge on the offender, (3) reflecting that God in his grace has saved us from the chiefmost offense of prideful idolatry against him, (4) overlooking the offense of a brother—meaning someone (perhaps a family member) in otherwise good relationship with us, who has a besetting sin that he’s already fighting, (5) leaving the offense to God (Romans 12:19) and trusting him to avenge the wrong.

Here is a hard yet biblical saying: If victims of sinful abuse don’t want anything to do with these biblical ideas, then they’re in the wrong. They must consider “forgiving” this abuse, and healing to a point of wanting to offer this forgiveness. There is no room for the Christian to harbor resentment and choose the way of vengeance, either against an abusive nonbeliever or a believer who falls into abusiveness.6

Therefore, insisting “I’ll never forgive him” is not an option for the Christian. People who have stated this may fall to the Dark Side very quickly. According to Jesus, they imperil their own claim to live in light of God’s forgiveness of them (Matt. 6: 14–15).

Recommended in case you have ever needed to ask or give forgiveness.

However, I do not believe that Christians should use the word “forgiveness” to refer to this biblical choice of rejecting vengeance and only wanting to forgive offenders. I don’t say this only because the word “forgive” has been used so often, along with “… and forget,” to silence victims and make them feel terrible for being wounded. I say this because biblically, the word forgiveness describes, as Chris Brauns says:

a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.7

Among Christians, this real forgiveness is always a mutual arrangement between offender and victim. And it will always leads to actual reconciliation, if not in the present day, then in the future after Jesus has returned to make all things new.

Scripture, however, never calls us to “forgive” a person who has not repented.

This does not contradict Christ’s insistence that we forgive our brothers “seventy-seven times,” that is, offering unlimited forgiveness. (Most recall Christ’s words from Matt. 18: 21–22, but see the parallel text in Luke 17: 3–4, in which it’s clear Jesus is talking about situations in which the offending brother is first offering repentance.)

Nor does this contradict the Bible’s assurance—which many Christians believe—that any Christian is eternally secure. God’s word assures us that “no one can snatch” someone out of Christ’s hand (John 10: 28–29). Yes, that’s true, and yet we cannot ignore biblical warnings such as “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3: 8–9). The Bible also teaches that real faith will inevitably show the fruit of good works (Eph. 2: 8–10), and that people who have “tasted the heavenly gift” can fall away (Hebrews 6: 4–8). Such warnings are part of the way God corrects and preserves his people, and cheap grace would get in the way of that.

In fact, this is affirmed by the very biblical teaching that God himself does not forgive people who do not repent. Hell is not full of forgiven people who simply refused to repent after God forgave them. (The very fact that Jesus said the Father will not forgive people who don’t forgive [Matt. 6: 14–15] shows that God does not forgive everyone—and that no Christian is outside God’s warnings about holiness.)

This is also affirmed by biblical teachings that reflect human frustration with power-abusers who get away with it. See the imprecatory Psalms, or Revelation 6:10:

They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”8

Yes, Scripture calls on us to be willing to forgive and to love our enemies. But loving enemies does not mean we gloss over their pattern of offenses against others, or even ourselves. By God’s standards (and often by the civil-law standards of our own regions, which I haven’t even touched on in this piece) we must confront the behavior. And if the person does not repent, we cannot (yet) properly forgive him.

Every time I contend for this view, someone presumes I’m automatically excusing grudges or bitterness, or justifying the person who abuses this truth to withhold a willingness to forgive an enemy. Not so. I’m simply saying we ought to use words properly, as God does. And God has given us a great phrase to use for what we mean by “letting go of the offense.” Instead of the word forgiveness (which, again, means an exchange between two willing parties), Paul says leave it. But finish the apostle Paul’s sentence: “Leave it to the wrath of God” (Romans 12:19). He does not say this is merely a feeling, or even a personal choice. He says this is based on the entirely practical truth that we trust God as the avenger. If your enemy is a Christian who refused to repent, God will discipline him. If your enemy turns out to have been a fake Christian, God will avenge the wrong and punish this enemy for eternity.

"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19, KJV).

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19, KJV).

If I’ve been abused, I ought to want to forgive the abuser as soon as possible. But this is not simply a case of offense between brothers, spouses, or church members. Instead, this is a case of egregious sin, when one professing Christian for years has shown a pattern of acting more like the devil than like a true follower of Jesus.

At the very least, such a person needs to demonstrate true willingness to repent, which will require facing consequences (including potential loss of leadership positions and careers).9 The rewards, however, will be great indeed. He will have received real forgiveness (all the better if it’s nearly instant) from the persons he has wronged. That pattern of sin will no longer interfere with his relationship with God and claim to faith.

In any case, victims of abuse, and those who love them, must cling to the gospel, in which Jesus forgives people who repent. Don’t let people imply you must be more spiritual than God. But pray hard and train hard so you can forgive the offender as soon as possible. Meanwhile, try to leave it—the offense—to God, and find healing not through fake “forgiveness” but because you know the chief Avenger.

4. Don’t make judgments about salvation.

Two very difficult facts arise when we’re talking about professing Christians who are reputably accused of patterns of bad behavior like this: (1) that real Christians do terrible things, up to and including acts of fornication and abuse of power, (2) that God is the final judge of a person’s faith and pardoner of his sins.

That’s highly inconvenient for us. It means that we don’t get to decide who is and is not a legitimate Christian (now or future) because it is ultimately God’s place to judge. It means that we live in light of perfect future justice that may not take place until eternity. It might mean that we end up letting the guilty “go free” in this age, or might end up spreading untruths about an accused person. God will sort it all out. He will uncover all nasty truths we’ve hidden and fix all the lovely lies we’ve spread.

Knowing this, we deal with accusations as best we can, in the various settings to which we’re called—which includes local churches and other Christian groups.

On Monday, we’ll explore four more responses to abuse accusations, and how Christians might address ethics and abuse reports in churches versus other organizations, such as Christian writers’ conferences.

  1. See Ann Byle, “Sexual Harassment Uncovered at Christian Writing Conferences,” Publishers Weekly website, Sept. 12, 2018.
  2. See my own article “Harvey Weinstein and Sexualized Pop Culture Call for Prophetic Engagement,” Christ and Pop Culture, Nov. 10, 2017.
  3. I’m aware that it’s not just many Christians, but people in general, who respond in terrible ways to news about power-abuse claims. But in this article I specifically address biblical Christians.
  4. I’m also aware that men are often victimized too. For ease of reading, and for direct relation to this specific account, I’m sticking with male pronouns for abusers and female pronouns for victims.
  5. That is, prudently, because “modesty” is a poor word choice here.
  6. Remember that many of our most famous fantastical stories intentionally warn us against the dangers of vengeance, which will inevitably lead us to the Dark Side.
  7. Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, page 72. For more about biblical forgiveness, and its differences from common “therapeutic” notions of forgiveness, Brauns’s book is an excellent resource. Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung also summarizes this book, with Brauns, in this free article.
  8. Revelation 6:10. Note that these saints are in heaven, unable to sin, and yet they carry a fierce and holy desire for God to avenge their own deaths. No one is insisting these Christians forgive their offenders.
  9. Half-apologies, or apologies for single offenses when the abuser has actually committed a pattern of grooming and other nasty actions, don’t count. Crucial here is the role of the local church to whom the offender ought to be held accountable. Of course, many churches have no idea how to handle this, and some have enabled abusive leaders. But all this is even messier without churches.

Speculative Fiction Writers’ Guide to War, Part 3: Levels and Types of War

As Star Wars: Rogue 1 showed, warfare normally happens at three levels: tactical, operational, and strategic. And has many different types.

Travis P here. We started the discussion of warfare by first looking at basic motivations for war, what essentially causes fighting. Then we followed up with a higher level of causes of war by looking at the types of calculations a nation must make in regard to other nations, especially in relation to balance of power, before deciding to enter a war.

But when a nation goes to war, what exactly does that mean? It’s helpful here to define warfare itself a bit as broadly as possible, while still making it clear that armed conflict happens at different levels and includes different types of fighting.

The most ancient concepts of warfare really involve two different levels of war–strategy and tactics.

Tactics means how to use combat power in the best way on the battlefield in a single fight or single engagement. Tactics is heavily focused on weapons systems and how to employ them most effectively. Of course issues other than weapons feed into tactics–tactical supply is an issue. Troop training will manifest itself in tactical situations. Tactical situations also require troop movement and the ability for units to communicate with one another.

Strategy is the use of combat power at a national level, looking at all the forces a nation can muster. Strategic considerations are thoughts a ruler could have such as, “How can I make my enemy surrender? How will I keep my troops fed all winter? Where will I get new troops next year? How can I leverage my alliances to help me get draw the enemy from a key mountain pass I need to take?” Things like that.

While the strategic level of thought about war is by nature focused less on weapons systems than the tactical level is, weapons systems still matter. Though strategic considerations of what a good weapon system is may be quite different from a tactical level analysis.

For example, during World War II, the German Army’s Tiger tanks were far superior to the US Sherman tank at the tactical level. They had better armor, a better gun, well-trained crews, and an excellent communication system. They were very deadly to Sherman tanks–US tankers dreaded going up against Tigers.

However, at a strategic level, the Tiger was a terrible tank. It took much more time to produce than a Sherman tank; it also required more maintenance, and used more fuel. The US could produce and supply five Shermans for the cost of one Tiger–and while a Tiger tank was better than a Sherman, it wasn’t five times better. The United States Army overwhelmed the Germany Army with sheer numbers as a result (though most armies try to build weapons which are effective both at the tactical and the strategic level).

Modern warfare has defined a third level of warfare, the operational level. Operations develop campaigns–note a campaign is a series of engagements linked together. At the operational level, military planners assign specific units to specific missions that fall in line with the national strategic plan. This is where generals and admirals and other senior military personnel work most of the time in a modern military. (As opposed to the top leaders of government, who in modern democracies are civilians, who are in charge of the strategic level of warfare.)

Note that the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of warfare can be used to talk about nearly everything that happens in a war. Tactical communication is focused on the radio in a soldier’s hand–at the operational level communication concerns how separate units get in touch with one another, whereas a strategic look at communications would look at how the entire military communicates–such as by satellite systems. Tactical supply might be the amount of ammo in the back of a military truck; operational might be supply depots, a system of trucks, and routes and movement, while strategic could be movement of ships from the home country to ports in a distant country, national rail assets, national food production, etc.

You may have heard nuclear weapons called “strategic weapons” and the reason why is that even a single “ordinary” nuclear weapon affects an entire country at the national level. While there have been efforts to develop extra-small “tactical nuclear weapons” (which might be used to destroy, say, a single aircraft carrier), generally speaking, nuclear weapons form a special case in which a type of warfare really only exists at the strategic level. There is one nominal outcome. With nukes, there are no campaigns for operations to be involved with and no specific engagements to win. Not in our current world.

By talking about nuclear warfare, we’ve slipped into talking about warfare types. Though there are many different types of warfare that can’t really be given full consideration until we talk a bit about the psychology of war. But for now, let’s look at some types of war through the lens of the levels of war, as we already did with nuclear weapons.

Worth mentioning first because it helps make the difference between strategic and tactical levels even clearer is aerial bombing. A single aircraft (or a few) dropping bombs to help a ground unit defeat an enemy in an engagement is the use of tactical bombing. The type of bombing that happened in WWII, where hundreds of bombers would go out and destroy entire cities to reduce enemy industry nationwide were examples of strategic bombing.

The operational level of war becomes king during maneuver warfare, which is where armies attempt to take valuable terrain and supplies behind enemy lines (i.e., maneuver to gain an advantage). Maneuver warfare also seeks to destroy an enemy’s willingness to fight by separating them from what they need to win the war. Operational planning is vital to maneuver warfare–oh, of course tactics and strategy also matter, but maneuver war is won and lost with the kinds of plans that top commanders develop and execute. Think Erwin Rommel or George S. Patton.

A war of attrition, in contrast to maneuver war, is where opposing armies seek to destroy their enemy’s ability to fight with greater numbers. This is how zombies fight–or in far too many science fiction movies, aliens. It’s also happened in the real world. In World War I, a great deal of attrition warfare happened, a specific example being when German commanders decided that the way to break the stalemate on the Western Front was to send so many troops at Verdun that the French would be “bled white.” The plan didn’t work, though it did kill about 150,000 soldiers on each side of the fight.

In ancient and Medieval times, the siege of a city qualified as attrition warfare. Sun Tzu recommended against besieging cities, by the way (The Art of War book 3, 3-4)–and in fact, most military commanders would agree with the idea that attrition warfare is best avoided, except as a last resort. Note though if used, a war of attrition will usually be won for strategic reasons, i.e. who can afford to lose the most troops.

A form of warfare that’s quite different from a war of attrition is a guerrilla war. Guerrilla means “little war” in Spanish and the term developed after Napoleon’s France invaded Spain (1807-1814). Spanish guerrillas (and those who fight like them since then), who were more often than not civilians, employed hit-and-run tactics, seeking to keep larger forces off-balance, and won not by eliminating the enemy’s ability to keep fighting, but by making the enemy’s presence so costly that they were unable to stay.

This kind of war is more commonly called “Asymmetric Warfare” in modern military terminology (because the two sides of the conflict don’t have equal or symmetric power) and is closely related to a war of revolution or a counter-insurgency. The still-ongoing war the USA has in Afghanistan is this type of war. In this kind of war, all the fighting happens at the tactical level, since there are no masses of enemy forces to maneuver around operationally and there are no centers of industry to bomb strategically. Yet while all the fighting in a guerrilla or asymmetric war happens at the tactical level, the decision of the more powerful opponent to leave or go is actually a strategic decision.

Note there are many other types of warfare, from cyberwar to chemical war to psychological war and numerous others. Yet by talking about the basics we hope to impart an understanding that war happens at different levels, with different considerations at each level. And that different types of warfare have particular strengths and weaknesses across the different levels of war.

Travis C here to continue the discussion. As Travis P opens this topic, we see three common levels that we describe warfare: strategic, operational, and tactical. We also describe several types, or “flavors”, that you as an author might want to consider, and as a reader you may encounter. To some degree, every story that involves war has these three levels playing in the background. You may not see it, may not need to show it, but the big gear is turning the little gear all the way down.

For this week, I want to analyze the Star Wars story world through the lense of one particular movie, Rogue One. We should be able to show a wide variety of levels and types all in one compact unit, with the advantage of knowing the broader story. For anyone who hasn’t followed Jyn Erso’s story, be forewarned… spoilers follow.

Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebels gained the technical plans for the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate planet-killing weapon system. Jyn’s father, a weapons developer turned pacifist, has been taken by the Empire and made to complete the Death Star. The Rebels learn that an Imperial defector knows the location of Galen Erso and has a message for his daughter, and so bring Jyn into the plot. With a trusty band of untrustworthy misfits, she goes to the moon Jehda to learn more.

We see Imperial troops conducting patrols through Jedha City, followed by an extremist group of Rebels who conduct insurgent (or guerrilla) attacks against the Empire. Constabulary duty mixed with insurgents? Beautiful.

Tactical action. (Credit: The Wrap–from a scene deleted from the film)

We later see the tactics of a small unit attempting to infiltrate the research facility on Eadu, as well as the technical storage vaults on Scarif. Troop movement, calls for fire, aerial support (what we call close air support), and employment of various tactical weapon systems are all on display.

While we witness several convenings of the Rebel leadership, military and civilian, it’s on Scarif we also see the operational level of war play out. While the Rebel leaders debate what actions to take since learning the Death Star is operational, the Admiral Raddus deploys the fleet to Scarif to aid Jyn’s party and attempt to take down the Empire forever. Movements of this type, especially when supporting major vessel-on-vessel action while maintaining support to ground operations, are good examples of seeing the operational level in play. Multiple missions on-going, largely coordinated (or at least monitored) by a central command station.

Operational action. (Credit: Business Insider)

Lastly, we recognize the strategic element at play. If the Empire has a strategic weapon system like the Death Star, it’s game over for a Rebellion. We see several Rebel leaders effectively bow out of the fight when they learn the weapon system is operational. If the Death Star can be taken down though, if the weakness placed within by Galen Erso can be exploited, then the Empire can be shown to be defeatable. An alliance of like-minded people can bring down the giant.

While chronologically we must wait for Episode IV, A New Hope, to see the plot run to fruition, the foreshadowing of the Death Star’s defeat leaves us on a high note.

The Death Star–a strategic weapon (Credit: Expandedart)

For science fiction authors, you’ll always be in good shape to begin from the three major levels and derive your campaign actions from there. Certainly you will have technologies more advanced than today’s modern standards, but you can probably find a relative place for them at the strategic, operational, or tactical level. A recent example I’m reading is John Ringo and David Weber’s March Upcountry. What happens when every junior Marine has a kiloton-sized explosive projectile at their disposal?

If you are a fantasy author, you may not need to consider the operational level of war at all. When the king or queen marches with the army and commands from the front, there is a natural marriage of strategic and operational concerns and activities. King Theoden is able to make decisions for all of Rohan while in the saddle as well as direct the Rohirrim on the front. You may need to consider what role, if any, magic has on warfare. Is it the equivalent of a strategic nuclear weapon, or is it so commonplace that it blends into tactics like any other weapon? One of my personal favorites is Glen Cook’s The Black Company series, where the company has wizards embedded with them who are capable of doing pretty powerful things, but are often overshadowed by greater thaumaturgy at the strategic level.

Next week we’ll pick this topic up again as we introduce a spectrum of conflict and a progression, or escalation, of war. We’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate the shades of gray that lie between the simple levels and types described here.

Monsters and the Heroes Who Fight Them

Thriller novelist Randall Allen Dunn: “Heroes who fight monsters will stop at nothing. That’s why I love them.”
| Sep 18, 2018 | 4 comments |

When I was in high school, I was cast as Jonathan Harker in the play, Dracula. I told my friends I was playing Lead Victim.

By the time of our final performance, I came to love the way a vampire story works. An indestructible and deceptive demon threatens to destroy all of mankind, and it would take an army to stop him. But since no one will believe them, a small handful of dedicated vigilantes rely on themselves alone to stop the threat. And because of that, they become desperate. Normally kind and law-abiding citizens suddenly have no qualms about breaking and entering, stealing necessary items, threatening violence, and even committing the most unthinkable acts—like driving a stake through someone’s heart.

This week we feature Randall Allen Dunn and his novel The Red Rider in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about these stories.

Heroes who fight monsters will stop at nothing.

That’s why I love them.

When I began to write The Red Rider, about a 16-year old Red Riding Hood fighting evil werewolves, I was surprised at how easily the story flowed. It was the sort of story I had always hoped to write. A girl in peril, who rises to become a skilled Robin Hood-type superhero, striking fear into the hearts of those who once bullied her.

It also had monsters.

I have no interest in most horror movies (they creep me out), but I have come to deeply appreciate horror literature. Great stories have great conflicts, and horror is the purest form of that struggle. It is through horror that heroes are made. Through the deadliest and most mind-bending challenges, everyday people rise to face monstrous enemies and beat them back, by whatever means possible.

Because they have to. To survive. To protect their loved ones. Or even to find peace for themselves.

The Red Rider, Randall Allen Dunn

“The Red Rider bears teeth, but horror fans will find it gives an exciting chase.” — Lorehaven Magazine

We all face monsters in life. Some people call them challenges. Some call them inner demons. And some of them actually are demons.

In the fairy tales we’ve grown up on, fictional monsters are not there to give us nightmares, but to give us hope. Hope that dragons and witches and evil sorcerers can be defeated by good people.

By those who choose to become heroes.

It’s even more encouraging to recognize that these heroes don’t start out as heroes, but as everyday people like you and me. They become heroes when they choose to do what’s right and necessary, even if no one else will.

In Jaws, Chief Brody doesn’t start out as a hero. Just a man trying to hold down a job as the sheriff of a quiet town. But the monster shark teaches him to face problems instead of pretending they don’t exist, like the rest of the town. He learns to face his fears and risk his life in order to solve a problem instead of hoping someone else will clean it up for him.

In Jurassic Park, Dr. Alan Grant doesn’t plan to be a hero. He simply wants to critique a theme park for a large sum of money and avoid children at all costs. But the monster dinosaurs running rampant force him to choose between serving himself and saving two helpless children. Once he rescues them, he discovers a heroic fatherly nature that he never knew he had. He determines to protect the children and lead them safely through the park, as if they were his own kids.

Many people shy away from scary stories because they can’t stomach the ideas and images of those horror movies I mentioned, which emphasize the monster itself. I prefer to read stories which show monsters in all their ugliness and evil …

… and the heroes who defeat them.

“The Red Rider bears teeth, but horror fans will find it gives an exciting chase.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Read our full review exclusively from the summer 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!

Let’s Talk Fiction

We have to pass along our recommendations to others. We have to write reviews, we have to talk books up on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or wherever you hang out in cyberspace.
| Sep 17, 2018 | 9 comments |

I think one of the things that disturbs me most in the various speculative forums I visit, is the fact that so few talk about the fiction they have read or are reading.

In one such spot, someone asked for recommendations for a certain genre written for a certain age, and you’d think they’d asked if the members wanted to go to the dentist. I envision a lot of head-scratching before a few answers trickled out, most naming some classic, written by an icon.

I couldn’t help wondering, are there no good contemporary books, or are speculative fans not reading?

I happen to know there are good books because I’ve read some. But are self-professed “geeks” reading them? Back in June I wrote a couple posts about reading speculative fiction: “Where Do You Find Your Speculative Fiction,” and “Christian Speculative Fiction: What’s Wrong With This Picture?”

I realize that one of the conclusions I came to from the poll that ran and the comments that followed is this: we don’t read lesser known books because they are lesser known. We stick with the popular and the much-talked-about, not because they are better or the best (though they might be) but because out of all the thousands of books now available to us, we don’t know which are the best.

Contests can help, no doubt. When a book wins an award at Realm Makers or at ACFW Carol in the Speculative category, or a Christy or from one of the conferences such as Blue Ridge or Oregon, we should take note. We should put those books on our To Be Read pile and make note of those authors to see what they write next.

Personally, I find recommendations from people I know to be even stronger. I also find reviews on Amazon or at Goodreads to be helpful. I don’t need to read a book only if it is in the top ten or top one hundred, because I understand how hard it is to get the word out about a good book. But somebody needs to tell me about a book if I’m going to look at it more closely, if I’m going to consider buying it, and if I’m actually going to read it.

Let’s face it. We’re all busy. And books are not simply competing against other books for our time. They’re also competing against TV and movies and games.

I maybe am repeating myself ad infinitum here, but I’m going to do it anyway. We have to pass along our recommendations to others. We have to write reviews, we have to talk books up on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or wherever you hang out in cyberspace. The fact is, we each have more opportunity to influence people all over the world than we’ve ever had before. Used to be you had to work for a news outlet of some kind to have an influence beyond your immediate circle of friends. But no more. We can have a much broader reach. We can touch people with our recommendations like we never have before.

So here’s what I’m asking. Have you read any speculative fiction in 2018? If so, what book or books? How would you rate them? If they are titles you could recommend, pass them along to us. And then put that same recommendation somewhere else on the internet. Maybe write a review for Amazon or B&N, mention it in a group on FB, put up a review on your blog. You know, anywhere that other readers might see what you think about this good book.

Here’s another option. Why not make a list. You know, you see them all the time. Why not make your own. What are your top five speculative books written in this century? Or this year? Or make it top ten or top three. Maybe make your own award with you as the judge. What book would win?

The point is, spread the word. The only way some books will get noticed is if YOU do the talking.

Faith in a Grimdark World

Novelist Aidan Russell: “As Christ’s followers, we are called to fight, and we cannot fail.”
| Sep 14, 2018 | 8 comments |

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortably, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

—C. S. Lewis

My first and favorite fandom growing up was Warhammer 40,000. Judging by how much trouble I get in with my wife by leaving miniatures scattered throughout the house, it’s probably safe to say I’m still a pretty big fan.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the setting of 40k, I will do my best to summarize it in one sentence: It is the year 40,000, the God-Emperor of Mankind is a rotten husk in a vegetative state who is kept alive only through the daily sacrifice of a thousand souls, and everything is pretty much horrible.

To put things into further perspective, the tagline for their products—“In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war”—is where the genre grimdark got its name.

This week we feature Aidan Russell and his novel Road of the Lost in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about these stories.

In 40k, Mankind is overwhelmingly united by one thing: unwavering faith in the Emperor and strict, non-negotiable adherence to the cult that worships him. It is an over-the-top caricature of medieval Christianity. Witches and heretics are heaped upon the pyres with no tears shed. In fact, if one were to shed a tear for their lost loved one, they would soon find themselves next to them in the flames. Entire worlds are eradicated and populations snuffed out at the first sign of mutation or treachery. It is, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out,” but the body is a galaxy-spanning empire and the eye is a world full of a billion lives. It is a universe that no sane human, let alone a Christian, would want to live in.

There’s just one problem in the 40k universe: the cruel enforcement of the Emperor’s edicts and adherence to his faith are the only things holding back a galaxy of bloodthirsty aliens who seek to conquer or slaughter mankind. The righteous fervor is the thin, precarious phalanx that holds back an alternate dimension full of demons and laughing gods1

If you’ve read Myke Cole’s recent novel (warning! spoiler) The Armored Saint, you probably rooted against the Order in the beginning. Then you found out something horrible: they were right, and all the cruelty and bloodshed seemed a small price to pay to keep the demons at bay.

Road of the Lost, Aidan Russell

“Aidan Russell creates action-driven fantasy of all the good old things.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Now, what does all this have to do with the above C. S. Lewis quote?

In 40k, regular humans are given meager weapons, meager armor, and ordered to near-certain death against armies of towering horrors. When they march against alien hordes and legions of demons, their most potent weapon is the indomitable will to fulfill their duty to a God-Emperor they’ve never seen and have never known. That is certainly no easy task.

When you and I wake up every day, our duty to God is to be the light in a world of shadows.

We don’t have to face off against demons and monsters. No, we wouldn’t be so lucky. Instead, we must fight a war with our souls and our hearts. The only weapons we have to hold back the darkness of this world are our charity and kindness, and in our every failing, the shadows encroach on us more and more.

There is no front line to which we can go and fight against sin. That battle follows us every minute of every day. It seems even most prevalent when we are running late and overworked. When our own lives seem to be spiraling is when it seems God always sends us a stranger that needs a helping hand or a relative who needs our time. And we must fight these tiny battles, for what other choice is there? To give in to our apathy and selfishness is to invite into ourselves the wages of sin: death itself.

But there is one weapon we as Christians have that Mankind’s soldiers in the 41st millennium do not: Christ himself. When our lines break before the devil’s assault, he will strengthen us and rally us to his cause. When we fall, wounded by the wickedness that surrounds us, he will heal us and send us back into the fray.

I live in Las Vegas. We don’t have a seedy underbelly of sin. It’s part of our namesake. The part of our city that no one talks about, that receives little recognition, are those that go our every day to feed to hungry, shelter the homeless, and ease the pains of the suffering. Yet every day they go out do God’s work, armed only with the faith in their hearts. They keep back the shadows, battle against demons, and prepare for the day our Lord returns. For what other choice do they have?

“No army is big enough to conquer the galaxy, but faith alone can overturn the universe.”

—A quote I saw once in a Warhammer 40k rulebook

“Aidan Russell creates action-driven fantasy of all the good old things.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Explore Aidan Russell’s novel Road of the Lost in the Lorehaven Library.

Read our full review exclusively from the summer 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!

  1. For any 40k fans out there, I know how I spelled “demon” and I’m sticking to it!

Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War, Part 2: Balance of Power

Balance of Power–a key factor in how nations reason through whether or not to go to war with each other, in both fact and fiction.

Readers, the Guide to War continues! With Balance of Power this time–though the title doesn’t quite mean what it seems to mean.

Note that I will be leading off these topics with commentary that fellow author Travis Chapman (who, by the way, is an instructor of Nuclear Engineering and Thermodynamics at the US Naval Academy) is going to review and tweak, to which he will add specific “case studies” or illustrations that I will review and tweak, my words at the beginning of a post that will transition into his words at the end.

To get back to “balance of power,” please remember that the first post I wrote on this topic I now wish I’d called “part 1, Basic Drives” (or maybe “Basic Impulses”) because I tried to identify the root urges that cause people to organize themselves to fight. That is, what it is they are trying to achieve or obtain.

With the title “Balance of Power” I’m picking out the key element of what I may call in the book “Reasons for War” (or maybe “Reasoning Leading to War”)–but which I won’t do now because I used “Reasons” in the last post. The particular phrase “balance of power” is getting special attention because something happens to groups of human beings, whether tribes, kingdoms, or large modern nations, when there are a number of them in contact with one another and war is a possibility.

Nations (or tribes, etc.) in such cases have to pay careful attention to not just to what they want, what drives them in the direction of seeking war–they have to pay careful attention to their own relative power verses their enemy or enemies. That means they need to be able to evaluate the nation they plan to go to war with in terms of its ability to fight–but they have to keep in mind what other nations around them are doing, in case any of them might intervene, lest their declaration of war end in disaster.

This kind of reasoning is briefly alluded to in the New Testament (Luke 14:31-33), in which Jesus mentions how a king calculates if he can beat an army of 20,000 with 10,000 soldiers and sends off a delegation of peace if he can’t (Jesus used this kind of calculation to illustrate a point about being a Christian disciple). This case is representative of the simplest possible kind of war–one nation against one nation.

Credit: Hendrik Willem Van Loon

Note though that it was absolutely normal 2,000 years ago (and even long before that) for nations to engage in calculations of war regarding a wide variety of things, including in particular the balance of power. A great deal of military strategy involves (and has historically involved) considerations of how one particular nation sizes itself up against others–the minimum calculation stemming from one nation verses one other, but which in most cases extends to include other nations (tribes, etc.) in the area. Because with very few exceptions, humans fear all their neighbors uniting against them.

This leads to a number of observations, the first of which was alluded to by in Luke 14:

1. A nation will generally negotiate with an aggressor nation because of fears of losing a war. Or if they feel they could win the war, but the cost of winning is too high.

So while some people claim human beings naturally negotiate and then go to war when the negotiations are unsuccessful, the actual situation is more complex. Just going to war without any negotiation seems to be the first impulse of warlike nations–but a rational analysis that they could lose the war (which provokes healthy fear), brings them to the negotiation table. And only then, after negotiations are developed as an instrument to avoid the bad consequences of war (but not to avoid conflict itself) does a breakdown in negotiations start a war.

2. At the risk of sounding obvious (but for a purpose), nations generally choose to engage in war when they believe they can win, when the balance of power is in their favor. No human group goes to war simply because they have a military that’s superior (or perceived superior) to a potential enemy. But once the basic impulses (or reasons) for war as explained in the last post come into play, nations with superior military forces are much more likely to engage in war than weaker nations. This idea brings a couple of interesting corollaries:

a. Totally pacifistic groups that survive as such generally have little impact on the balance of power among surrounding nations–that is, often enough, being weak reinforces being meek.

b. Nations are more successful with negotiations when they don’t need them (because they are strong enough to win anyway).

c. Assessing the power of one’s own nation versus that of other nations is a major activity for military planners, because it’s vital to know if ten thousand really can beat twenty thousand.

3. Nations sometimes decide to go to war because they miscalculate the balance of power, especially in overestimating themselves against their enemy(ies). This is why Sun Tzu in the classic Chinese work on warfare, The Art of War, lists spies as the most important part of any Army (The Art of War, chapter 13)–because a good spy network can determine if circumstances justify warfare (or if they don’t).

The WWI Balance of Power Chain Reaction–from a public domain cartoon of the period.

4. Nations often seek alliances with other nations if they perceive themselves to be too weak to maintain a balance of power on their own. Once a balance of power is established among groups of nations through alliances so that both sides or all sides see themselves are roughly equal to one another, they are less likely to go to war. Yet, as in World War I, this creates a situation in which a single relatively small incident can cause an entire alliance to go to war over any particular friction between any of the various parts of the coalitions involved. (As the number of relationships grows, the chance of a spark does not grow proportionally, it’s more like exponential growth.)

So a great deal of activity among nations, both in the real world and in fiction, seeks to establish or maintain a balance of power–and when they fail to do so–or even if they succeed, the problems stemming from balance of power considerations often lead to warfare.  

Note when we’re talking about balance of power at the national level, there are three basic ways a nation can evaluate itself: 1) Below average to some degree, 2) at parity with surrounding nations, and 3) being in a state of greater power. “Power” might not be limited to ability to conduct warfare–it can also mean economic power, perceived cultural or ethical power or position, numerical power (greater population or controlled territory), or geographic power (i.e.,holding territory that has the most value, like key mountain passes or navigable waters). Obviously a nation (or any group of nations) might possess a bit of any of these, or all of them.

So with the three basic tiers mentioned above, we see the following inherent conflicts:

  • Lower nations trying to bring down those in higher positions
  • Lower trying to achieve parity with others
  • Lower fighting for the scraps between each other–or adopting a pacifistic attitude
  • Higher stations trying to hold their positions against internal disruption
  • Higher stations trying to eliminate potential competition from below
  • Parity nations try to climb one rung higher than a peer
  • Parity nation trying to pull up a lower nation to their level (often via an alliance or coalition)

This complex set of relationships above is in fact based on one nation against another at any given moment and doesn’t list every possible situation: the dynamics of alliances and coalitions are generally even more complicated, but have many of the same elements. Both sides of a potential conflict have a story to tell about why they chose to go to war and their own perception of how things reached the point of conflict–which provides plenty of story material for any author.

Travis C here. Any nation (and we’ll assume a nation here, but it could be any organization of entities) will have a certain calculus going on as they consider their position on the hierarchy of power. You should realize it’s calculus too, not just basic algebra, and a good deal of statistics. In the modern world, it is often literally math, with military planners doing calculations of force, weapon effects, measuring changing conditions, and mapping varied courses of action and their likelihood of success or failure. For fantasy literature the calculus will likely happen at the planning table and in the minds of key stakeholders weighing the odds (think of King Theoden stating Rohan will not risk open war). I propose that in most science fiction settings you might add an element of AI support to our modern practices (cue C3PO calculating the odds). Only you will know to what degree you’ll need to analyze all sides of the conflict to determine the impact it has on your story.

The desert between Calormen and Archenland.

One of my favorite examples of this calculus is found in C.S Lewis’ A Horse and His Boy. We witness a peek behind the curtain as Lewis truly shows, not tells, the analysis of nations when we meet Shasta in the company of the Narnians while in the nation Calormen’s capital, Tashbaan. The Narnians suspect Prince Rabadash of ill dealings and speculate what might occur should they escape Tashbaan. Narnia is no match for Calormen sword for sword (differing relative positions of martial power). However, Narnia and ally Archenland are protected from the brunt of Calormen’s army by geography. To launch a major campaign against Narnia, Calormen must either cross a vast desert (logistically challenging) or embark by sea for an invasion (likely to be met with resistance ashore and hard to pull off at such a distance). The Narnians conclude the risks associated with escape are worth it; they doubt Calormen will retaliate in any meaningful way.

Now we jump ahead and learn the Tisroc, supreme ruler of Calormen, will back a minor expedition by Prince Rabadash to take the small kingdom of Archenland by way of the same desert. A small force may successfully cross the desert and maintain sufficient strength to overthrow an unexpecting Archenland. The Tisroc, without Prince Rabadash’s knowledge, accedes the venture may not carry, but if it does and Rabadash conquers Archenland, then Calormen can slowly build up a military force on Narnia’s doorstep, making way for a future campaign. He also weighs his relative political strength in Tashbaan when he admits that should Rabadash fail, he’ll write the whole thing off as a boy’s rash temper. Surely he knows the Calormen news cycle to assure himself of an evening headline “Wild Prince Rabadash Goes Off The Handle; Archenland Protests Military Exercise In Desert” is one he can recover from.

The Tisroc…

Lewis uses the varied geography between Tashbaan and Castle Anvard to drive the major characters until we reach a satisfying conclusion. We see the roles of individuals, small units, and ultimately three major nations, two in alliance, all collide in a beautiful story that displays evidence of a well founded conflict between nations.

It’s also worth noting that Lewis plants a seed here. The argument of the Tisroc, that Narnia can be taken by seemingly unnoticed infiltration, comes to pass in The Last Battle. Small gatherings of Calormen, under the guise of merchants, slowly gain a foothold in Narnia and ultimately allow the receipt of Calormen’s army by sea in the taking of Cair Paravel. A strong analog to the way that seemingly minor, yet persistent, sin can gain a foothold in our lives.

Since Travis P opened us, I’ll close this one out. We’ve combined efforts and hope to bring you an outstanding series on the nature, conduct, and consequences of the spectrum of conflict we call war. We have an outline of topics to cover in a shared voice. We hope to do this through two contexts: first, as writers of speculative fiction, and second, as authors of fantasy and science fiction in particular.

Hopefully you can keep your Travises straight. It’s going to be a great journey together!

A Dark Little Tale

This dark little tale demonstrates – all the more powerfully for its lack of greatness – the power of stories.
| Sep 12, 2018 | 2 comments |

Last week I discovered that my Amazon Prime subscription includes several seasons of the original Twilight Zone. So I came to watch “Judgement Night,” an episode that opens on a civilian ship creeping across the Atlantic Ocean in the unhappy year 1942. I would be reluctant to recommend this dark little tale to many people; I would be afraid they would find it merely unpleasant. Yet it left me thinking. It is a story that demonstrates – all the more powerfully for its lack of greatness – the power of stories.

First, the story itself (and if anyone needs a spoiler alert for a sixty-year-old story – well, consider yourself alerted). We begin with a man standing at the railing, looking out at the foggy sea; he is persuaded to enter the dining cabin, where people carry on civil conversation despite the silent, hanging dread of being stalked by German U-boats. Our protagonist is the most afraid of all, and with reason: he cannot remember getting on the ship, knows nothing but his name and birthplace and an awful sense of familiarity coupled with a crippling dread. “Judgement Night” follows the Twilight Zone pattern – tiresome elsewhere, but not here – of a bewildered person growing more and more distraught until he finally understands the trap snapping over him.

One of the awful things about this story is that the protagonist spends it just on the wrong side of understanding, where uncertain fear and sure misery converge. He’s not at all surprised when the U-boat attacks; he’s not even very surprised to see himself on the U-boat’s deck, directing the torpedoes that spill him into the ocean to drown. Neither is the audience very surprised, but the show holds its final punch until the end. We see our protagonist as the Nazi captain he always was, deriding a younger officer’s discomfort at the slaughter of men and women, but then slowly subsiding into unease as the man worries that God will damn them to a special hell – a hell where they are forced to share the fate of their victims, except that the people they killed only died once and they will have to die a hundred million times …

And we see again a man staring at the foggy sea, quiet in his confusion, and for him it is always 1942.

Probably the full strength of the story eludes us; we can’t receive it, today, as they received it then, when World War II was a living memory for most adults. “Judgement Night” aired in 1959, only seventeen years after 1942 – the same length of time between us and 9/11. To its first audience, it wasn’t just history. But if it can never be as immediate or visceral as it once was, the story still weaves its spell – the quiet, dreary atmosphere of the ship, the thick tension of fear, the frantic, useless resistance to the end. It’s chilling to see the Nazi captain again at the railing, knowing it will be exactly as it was, but there is also a grim sense of justice. God sent him to hell, but he made it.

The old-time preachers tried to evoke the horror of hell, and the rational apologists tried to justify it, and this brief story makes you feel both the horror and the justice. It’s not a great story, obvious in some ways and oppressive in others. But it possesses the power, innate to stories, to slip by arguments and intellectual proofs to make you feel truths you might not even believe. And what you feel is easy to think, for that is the power of the heart over the intellect, and of the story over the mind.

Who Wants to Kill Christian Fiction?

Right or wrong, people keep claiming Christian fiction will die. Who’s guilty of wanting to kill it?
| Sep 11, 2018 | 13 comments |

So for those of us who just enjoy reading great stories (even better if they’re fantastical), and don’t keep up with all the bookmaking politics, here’s the scoop.1

Apparently the Christian Booksellers Association, or CBA, is getting a shakeup.

The case

Agent Steve Laube, a friend of SpecFaith (and Christian fantasy fans anywhere),2 first noted this yesterday:

Key staff people in CBA (aka Christian Booksellers Association) are no longer working for the association. In what appears to be a purge, Curtis Riskey, president for 11 years, is no longer working there.

Laube noted that CBA had not announced any transition or put out a press release.

Then Publishers Weekly did some checking and discovered this:

[Dallas-based entrepreneur Edward] Roush is drastically reorganizing the CBA’s staff and services in order to “build a trade association that is strong enough to meaningfully help the industry,” according to Deborah Mash, president of CBA Media, a subsidiary of CBA Service Corporation.

“CBA has been a poorly managed debt machine for many years, so Mr. Roush’s efforts to restructure the organization were imperative and unfortunately indicative of many of the problems in the industry as a whole,” Mash said in an email to PW.

Important comical fact: the outgoing president of the CBA’s last name is “Riskey.”

More important fact: the Christian Booksellers Association is long-running professional group that helps member Christian bookstores trade goods, including movies and books.” The CBA was formed in 1950.3 And lately it’s been struggling, like any business based on physical stores and traditional publishing in the 2010s.

Many news stories and blogs about failing regular bookstores, however, seem to lament the Passing of an Era. They’ll take shots at Amazon.com, or write clickbait-type articles with titles like “Millennials Are Ruining Mayonnaise and the Library.”

Yet with the Christian book industry, I wonder if some Christians could care less.

The charge

Here’s what I mean. When I see news about the CBA struggling or about a bookstore chain closing, or one agent’s 2017 predictions of market shrinking, the loudest reaction isn’t much like regret. If anything, a lot of people seem to gloat.

Narrowing this to books and then again to fiction books: If the news (rightly or wrongly) comes out—“Christian fiction is dying”—and people say, basically “Good riddance,” this arouses my suspicion. I want to know if they had any involvement with this potential crime. I want to put on my best outrageous Hercule Poirot mustache, adopt some hybrid Euro-accent, and drag in folks for questioning.

The suspects

So. Christian fiction appears to be dying. Where were you on the night of X?

“I was watching the latest prestige streaming drama on Netflix,” says the youthful Christian collegian and/or sort-of-hipster academic type. “Critics were really raving about this one. But I don’t read Christian fiction. Didn’t know it well—other than the fact that it is corny, sentimental, and bound by silly conservative rules.”

Really. Were you aware that (1) a service like Netflix started out offering abysmal streaming fare, which is an inevitable stage of a new media source’s early growth? (2) plenty of Christian fiction, with labels, content restrictions, and all, is actually awesome?

“Well, I just don’t prefer that mass-market Christian stuff no one’s ever heard of. I’d rather see TV shows that are esoteric and indie, which everyone’s talking about.”

So. Christian fiction appears to be dying. Where were you on the night of X?

“‘Christian fiction’?” guffaws a Millennial. “That still a thing? I read some when I was a kid. But it has all those rules. People in those books can’t even cuss! Let ‘em die.”

Stop to consider, my friend, that every medium has its own content restrictions, either as a matter of good taste or service to most of its diverse audience. Sure, on YouTube you can say the F-bomb all you like. But try dropping the N-bomb; it’ll blow up in your face.

“[Bomb] that. Reality isn’t real unless people are cussing. I’m all about really real reality with real things. Which means in the real world, everyone cusses all the time.”

So. Christian fiction appears to be dying. Where were you on the night of X?

“I left that behind—get it?—along with the conservative nonsense that ignores the Bible’s call to justice,” says the sober young activist Christian ministry leader. “Christian fiction does not actually help us connect with our neighbors. I prefer to engage secular fiction that helps me connect with them.”

So, the purpose of fiction is solely to help us evangelize people? Some Christian fiction also assumes that. You agree? You just think it doesn’t evangelize effectively?

“Keep talking. I’d like to write a blog about how Christian culture is just the worst.”

So. Christian fiction appears to be dying. Where were you on the night of X?

“‘Christian … fiction?’” says the middle-aged mother. “Oh. I only read Christian nonfiction about important things. Like about how there’s actually a secret code about the United States hidden in the book of Isaiah. Or about how small children actually take routine trips to paradise, and unlike the apostle Paul, are permitted to tell what they saw. Or about how I’m the hero of my own story, girl.”

Would you like to answer further questions with your attorney so you can avoid a possible future charge of perjury? You clearly stated you do not read “Christian fiction,” then proceeded to give several of your favorite examples of the same.

“Am I being detained? If not, then I must go. I’m late for my fellowship group about the new nonfiction book, Jesus Calling to Heaven is for Real So Wash Your Face.”

So. Christian fiction appears to be dying. Where were you on the night of X?

Christian fiction,” sniffs the young conservative whippersnapper sort-of Calvinist preacher. “So we’re talking about that now? I haven’t been to a Christian bookstore in years. It’s full of not only terrible heresy but ridiculous kitsch. The music is carnal. The books are worse. They keep all the important, thick, historic theology books on the back shelf! In the very front they put out only the ridiculous stories for women and children. It’s all just fiction. All make-believe entertainment. Sure, that’s fine and maybe there’s nothing wrong with it—maybe—but in a world where the so-called churches are constantly compromising with the truth, we don’t need fantasy. We don’t need stories. We need God’s word. And by ‘God’s word,’ I mean preaching. Only preaching! Like the kind that I do. And like some of my friends do. Meanwhile, all these shallow people who claim to follow the gospel but instead get all distracted by this popular-culture nonsense and think that they can ‘exegete’ the world instead of expositing the—”

Sir. I doused you with truth serum when you weren’t looking. Who is your audience?

“My … audience?”

Yes. In your own imaginary world: who listens to you? Real people? Real people who like fiction? People could really benefit in their heads and their hearts from active, creative,  thoughtful, excellent Christian fiction—the kind you refuse to support even in theory?

“N … no.”

No what?

“No, that’s not my audience.”

Who’s your imaginary audience, then?

“Other young pastors. Only other young pastors.”

Yep, we really need to scoff at that escapist, non-real-world fiction stuff.

“And only people who have the same personality as me, who only prefer nonfiction and doctrine and podcasts about preaching. Say, do you have any more of this truth serum? It’s quite relaxing. Being a young conservative whippersnapper sort-of Calvinist preacher is hard.”

I can imagine it is. (muttering to self) But it may go easier if you didn’t spend all your free time blogging against heresies.

“Hm? What’s that?”

Nothing.

“How could I … relax? Take a Sabbath rest … that would be really nice …”

As if God didn’t make humans to work seven days a week? To spend all our time teaching and evangelizing and whacking heretics? As if we actually do all those important things in anticipation of a day when we rest and enjoy adventures on New Earth under Jesus, our creator and King of all good imagination? Then here. Try this Christian novel.

  1. Lorehaven Magazine, and its guest writers, have been filling the space I’ve normally filled. Today I’m returning to Speculative Faith for a full guest article. I’ll try to share a later update about the magazine and my future writing plans.
  2. Steve Laube is also the publisher of Enclave Publishing, an imprint of Gilead Publishing, which offers exclusively Christian-written fantasy, science fiction, and other speculative genre novels.
  3. The CBA’s website says: “We are a long-standing international trade association who believes unity is imperative for Christian businesses – because it is a biblical mandate and because we are all more successful when we work together. Our mission is to supply vital connections, information, education, and encouragement to enable Christian product providers to reach all people.

    “We support and connect the entire global Christian products industry, which includes retailers, suppliers, publishers, distributors, authors, artists, filmmakers and others. We value and support the widespread distribution of Bibles, Christian books, curriculum, apparel, music, videos, gifts, greeting cards, children’s resources, and other materials to communities worldwide.”

Is Speculative Fiction A First World Pastime?

Is speculative fiction only for the first world, and are we to accept the idea that no one apart from first world individuals will benefit from science fiction and fantasy?
| Sep 10, 2018 | 24 comments |

I doubt if there are any studies to prove or disprove the idea that speculative fiction is a first world pastime. To clarify, “first world” according to the Urban Dictionary refers to an informal classifications of countries:

The world classes (first, second, and third) have no official definition, but are often times used to describe the economic position of a state. The differences between the classes has less to do with the economic well being of the nation, and more to do with the geopolitical divides that emerged during and after the cold war.

First world is generally defined as a western style state that is usually capitalist and democratic, which has a high standard of living.

I’ve lived in a couple third world countries, one underdeveloped and largely agrarian, the other developing with a greater mix of urban and rural society. What do people from those nations think of speculative fiction—from gaming, comic books, movies or TV, and novels? Do they engage with science fiction? With fantasy? With horror? Or are those broad-brush genres only interesting to first world countries?

At the level of literature, speculative fiction depends on a literate society, so that must be in place for a country to have any awareness of the stories that are available. Second, a certain level of economic achievement seems necessary for people to spend money going to the movies, buying TVs, DVDs, computers and computer games. And finally, a significant amount of time seems necessary for people to spend reading or gaming.

But I have to wonder. Speculative fiction, at its core, involves the struggle of good against evil, so doesn’t that idea indicate that our stories are for everyone? Aren’t people in Sudan and Nigeria and Ukraine and Bolivia and Yemen concerned with despots and evil empires and heroes and struggle?

I think those elements and themes are universal, so I want to say speculative fiction is for everyone. But I wonder. Are the day-to-day conditions for people not living in a first world country perhaps too close to the pretend conditions of our speculative fiction. I mean, many don’t have to imagine a government depicted in dystopian, or war shown in epic fantasy or ostracism or alienation portrayed in a science fiction. They live with despotic governments, the dangers of war, unfair treatment based on ethnicity. Why read speculative fiction if you only have to look out your window to see the clash of good and evil.

Add in one more factor. Many of the third world nations have a greater awareness of the supernatural than do those of us in the first world. For instance, in his books Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Quereshi, of Pakistani descent, pointed out that many Muslims put great trust in dreams as a guide for their future.

Of course, Hinduism is predominant in India, and that belief system relies on any number of supernatural elements. Buddhism likewise starts with the the ultimate goal of spiritual enlightenment, achieved over many lifetimes of rebirth.

Other places in the world believe in animism, a kind of pantheism that sees all things as possessing a “spiritual essence.” Still others cling to a form of indigenous beliefs that have been labeled as “superstitions.”

While the latter can identify with the ultimate struggle between good and evil, some of the other religions see the world through a different lens. What does speculative fiction say to them?

And should we care? Is speculative fiction only for the first world, and are we to accept the idea that no one apart from first world individuals will benefit from science fiction and fantasy?

I suspect that some who love these genres will argue that “benefit” is not the goal. That speculative fiction is nothing more than entertainment, that we are to let every culture find their own entertainment and not concern ourselves with what they do or don’t do in their free time.

I have to wonder about that position. I mean, as many have pointed out before, Jesus told stories. The Bible is filled with stories. And at least on two occasions someone in Scripture told a story that would have to be identified as speculative. The Bible, remember, was not originally written to first world cultures. Jesus didn’t come and live during the internet era, or during the industrial revolution.

He spoke to third world Middle Easterners and He included stories that they understood but that we today also can understand.

I realize that no one who writes fiction is writing Scripture. Nor are we preaching sermons. But as we engage in the thematic base of speculative fiction—the struggle between good and evil—I wonder if our reading audience might not reach beyond our own borders. Is there any better way to bridge the gap between disparate worldviews than through story? And particularly through speculative stories?

We Need Fantasy, and Fantasy Needs God

Novelist C. S. Wachter: “Fantasy stories with Christian themes do not only entertain; they also touch our hearts and leave footprints on our souls.”
| Sep 7, 2018 | 2 comments |

When did this happen to me? This insatiable need to read?

Probably when I was in fourth grade. I was home sick one day and my mother bought a book for me.

I still remember my excitement and the desire to read that book again and again.

This week we feature C. S. Wachter and her novel The Sorcerer’s Bane in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about this story.

Subscribe to Lorehaven Magazine for free to download our summer 2018 issue. And be the first to get our fall 2018 issue, releasing next month.

Why do people read? Gaining information, learning something new, or increasing knowledge about a favorite topic can draw seekers to read non-fiction.

But, what about fiction? Entertainment, leisure, escapism tend to top the list for reasons to read fiction.

But is that all there is to it? I wonder. If non-fiction can give us facts and true stories that touch us in certain ways, can fiction, especially fantasy, help us to flesh out our beliefs and expand our perspectives in ways non-fiction can’t?

The heart-power of story

I found this to be true nearly fifty years ago when I first read The Lord of the Rings. If nothing else, the returning king who came offering healing touched my young Christian heart and ignited my imagination, fleshing out truths I had read in the Bible. The story moved me on an emotional rather than intellectual level.

Stories have impact, leave impressions on people’s spirits. Emotions are messy and yet they have enormous control over our thoughts and decisions.

C.S. Lewis said:

At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.

Fantasy without God?

After reading C. S. Lewis in college, most of the fantasy I read seemed to be lacking something important. Then, a few years ago, I stumbled upon Karen Hancock’s Legends of the Guardian-King series, and like a bolt of lightning, it hit me. If I was seeking relevancy in an engaging story, I would not find it where the ultimate truth of a creator God is ignored.

In the realm of entertainment today, that concept of a divine designer is sadly lacking. For example, I began watching Supernatural, a series about two brothers who fight demons and other nasty supernatural beings. Like in other similar series and books, holy water, crosses, and assorted defenses are used, but their origin, the reason why they possess any power over demons or vampires, is lost in irrelevancy. If we need to battle a strong demon, we don’t turn to God. No, we turn to a nastier, stronger demon. And when angels enter the picture, they aren’t any better than the demons they fight.

The Sorcerer's Bane, C. S. WachterIt’s disheartening enough when God is ignored, but some series very specifically attack Christianity. Integrity, family, the covenant of marriage, honesty, and faith in God are all dragged out as anachronistic left-overs from a past we’re encouraged to leave behind. We, as human beings, are on our own. And, therefore, we must decide what is right for us individually in any given situation. Once we throw out absolutes, where is the bedrock for relevancy?

Exploring The Sorcerer’s Bane

“Write what you want to read.” I don’t remember when or where I saw that quote, but in July of 2015, I knew this is what I was being called to do. I hadn’t written anything before this except for college papers and some three-page pieces for a small writing group in my neighborhood (three people). But when I got home after meeting with my neighbors one afternoon, I sat at my laptop and began to write. Of course, me being me, it had to be fantasy. And, of course, God would not be banished to the background or ignored; instead, he would be a powerful presence throughout.

Though The Sorcerer’s Bane has been called dark, and I admit it is, there are shafts of light that pierce that relentless darkness. Could I have written a less dark tale? Possibly, but by the end of the roller-coaster ride that spans all four books of The Seven Words series, when the Son speaks in The Light Unbound, it is to a Light Bringer who has become part of us. We’ve been with him through abuse and pain, doubt and fear, and moments of radiant joy.

The voice of the Son permeated Rayne’s spirit and he knew the voice of the Son was also the voice of the Father One that he had heard so often. It swelled within him. ‘Beloved Light Bringer, chosen of the One. You have suffered much, and your faith has been tested by fire, refined like fine gold. Are you ready now to be our agent of judgement against the darkness consuming the worlds of Ochen?’

‘Yes, my Lord. What would you have me do?’

We cry out with Rayne, united in his answer that now carries the authority and relevancy of one who’s stood at the edge of the abyss and yet still trusts even when the trusting comes hard.

I’ve been told by a beta reader that The Seven Words books strengthened his faith. Fantasy stories that move us add dimension to life rather than just commenting on it. They transport us to other worlds and touch us on a deep level. It is only by his journey into the depths of darkness that Rayne’s words gain the authority to carry us forward into the light. Yes, it’s just a fantasy story. But for those of us Christians who are curious enough to read speculative fiction, the insatiable need leads us to seek out fantastical stories grounded on God’s truths because they not only entertain us, they impact our lives.

“C. S. Wachter flings thematic windows open to sunlight and storms.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Explore C. S. Wachter’s novel The Sorcerer’s Bane in the Lorehaven Library.

Read our full review exclusively from the summer 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!