Is it Christian, or is it Heresy?
The questionable teen novels of Melody Carlson: Part 1
Review by Linda Harvey, Mission America
If your daughter curls up with a novel from her favorite Christian bookstore, that’s something to celebrate, right? Well, not so fast. Christian teen novels are now just one more influence parents need to monitor closely, particularly since they claim to represent the faith truthfully. Unfortunately, we’ve discovered some that may be sowing powerful seeds of deception.
I recently spent some time with three novels by Melody Carlson, a prolific author of Christian teen fiction. First, the good news: Carlson weaves interesting narratives delivered through realistic but appropriate teen dialogue. Her plots provide convincing snapshots of American Christian adolescent culture and priorities. And also on the positive side, the two heroines in the three novels I examined use sound judgment for the most part, coping with teen struggles in admirable ways ...to a point. They attend a youth group, take abstinence pledges, try to be honest, kind and forgiving. They don’t drink or do drugs, they do their homework and usually respect their parents. They even have tame, sweet dates with boys, and use common sense—more than their parents ( moms in both cases). So what’s not to like?
Well, you can exhibit personal sexual morality and civilized behavior and still be in a lot of trouble relative to obedience to the Lord. How about always relying on the authority of Scripture versus a secular worldview? How about what behaviors you justify or accept in other people? How about which “Jesus” or “God” one worships, or has spiritual contact with? I get e-mails from purportedly moral teen Wiccans—so appropriate sexual behavior isn’t the only element one should admire in a Christian teen hero or heroine.
Part One: Deception about Homosexuality
Carlson’s book Bright Purple (2006, THINK books, NavPress ) deals frankly with the subject of homosexuality. Ramie, a biracial teen raised by a single mom, reacts badly to the confession by her longtime best friend, Jess, of lesbian feelings. Both girls are Christians, yet Ramie’s initial repulsion and distance from her friend start a series of events that contribute to some very un-Christian outcomes, including gossip and name-calling by other girls on their basketball team. Eventually Ramie does the right thing and asks Jess’ forgiveness, while still firmly standing against homosexuality. She tells Jess she was not born a homosexual and that the behavior is a sin. Jess rejects this, however, and while there is a truce, the two friends remain distant. At this point, the story is pretty solidly on biblical ground.
There are some good things about the initial plot. One is that Carlson deftly reveals how confessed homosexuality explodes in the teen social environment like a hand grenade. Ramie is now afraid her friend has “those” feelings toward her, so it calls into question their entire friendship until Jess assures her it’s not a factor. And Ramie and other girls on the basketball team are revolted by the idea of undressing in the locker room in the presence of a self-labeled lesbian. The right to not be sexually ogled is real but seldom admitted complication that schools usually ignore in the climate of ever-expanding rights for homosexually-practicing students.
Ramie is eager to disprove any guilt by association, so she welcomes a relationship with the pastor’s son, who ironically is not yet a believer. Happily, there is no sexual involvement or even close. Ramie is repulsed when Mitch takes her to a mature movie, and the romance is suddenly on the rocks. Meanwhile, her friendship with Jess, briefly repaired, is jeopardized once again when Joey, a homosexual boy from school, tries to commit suicide. The members of the school’s “gay” alliance, including Jess, gather at the hospital (Joey recovers), but it soon turns into a staged media event engineered by homosexual student activists, who Carlson depicts quite honestly.
You are probably thinking, “This is a terrific book! The truth for a change!” I was, too, until about two- thirds through the story. Then the plot began to take a predictably deceptive turn.
The youth pastor at Ramie’s church, as politically correct as most youth pastors are these days, proposes a forum at their church on homosexuality, even inviting Joey and Jess to speak. They are going to “share Jesus’ love and acceptance,” he says ( p. 160). Would they have a similar forum on, say, pornography? Or adultery?
The “gay” alliance claims Joey was the victim of bullying, which led to his self-destructive act. While Ramie herself had teased him at times, Joey tells her later she was not to blame in any way, that he values her friendship. Nonetheless, Ramie begins to believe that maybe “we” ( all non-homosexuals, especially Christians) are the cause of homosexual bullying. The book gets preachy at times, sometimes presenting a balanced point /counterpoint, but more often leaving the characters persuaded that Christians just aren’t loving enough to homosexuals.
Ramie eventually comes out on the side of seeing more fault in Christians and “straight” society, giving credence to homosexual victimhood. Ramie even comes to accept some of her mother’s liberal ideas. As a family counselor yet an unbeliever, the mom firmly maintains that Jess’ homosexuality is not a choice and she advises her daughter: “...get over your homophobia” (p .45). She tells Ramie she knows Christians who are “gay,” even a same sex couple who are “married.”’ Since she’s been skeptical of Ramie’s Christian faith all along, she chides Ramie over the possibility that the youth group will now exclude Jess: “How can churches turn their backs on people like that. People in need” (p. 23). Even after Ramie tells her mom Jess was sexually abused by a female soccer coach when she was twelve, the mom dismisses any connection to Jess’ later lesbian identity.
Here Carlson sets up a scenario that just screams for the obvious — showing the cause/ effect between sexual abuse and homosexual feelings— but she lets the characters dismiss the link. Not only that, but once this past abuse is revealed, no one—not Ramie’s professional counselor mom, not the youth pastor, not even Jess’ parents—calls for contacting the police, for tracking down the abusive woman and prosecuting this crime! They do call it sexual abuse, and both the youth pastor and Ramie’s mom recommend Jess get counseling . Yet readers are left with Jess’ distorted perception—that it was her first sexual experience and not the origin of her later homosexual feelings. “I wouldn’t have liked it if I wasn’t gay,” she tells Ramie (p.134). This non-Christian assessment is the elephant in the room none of the adults in this book are willing or able to deal with. Like worldly teen novels, Carlson does not rely on biblical truth in these difficult questions, but instead depicts teens as junior adults, empowered to make their own largely inaccurate judgments.
The forum at the church inappropriately gives a platform to those involved in sexual sin. Ramie summarizes the event as free-for-all where both the homosexual activists and some Christians behaved badly. Ramie sums it up:
“... One of the best moments, albeit brief, was when some members of the Christian youth group tried to express their desire to show Christ’s love to gay teens in our community. Of course, this totally annoyed those who had hoped that the purpose of this meeting was to condemn all homosexuals and their evil influence, and perhaps ban them forever from our schools and our town and maybe even our country forever “(p.200).
So homosexual advocates should have full access and rights to misinform and even corrupt kids in schools? And of course, there’s no such thing as a “gay” teen—just the practice of homosexuality. By the end of this book Carlson is touting the homosexual activist party line. What Scripture calls an abomination is really a much tamer sin as Carlson presents it here. Ramie even argues for acceptance of Jess by the other girls, using the analogy of her own biracial identity. This confusion is never cleared up, and the impression that somehow, homosexuality is probably biological, remains with the teen reader.
While Jess does consent to Christian counseling, it’s not necessarily to change the homosexuality—just to start a vague process toward an unnamed end. Accountability seems non-existent. Jess even tells Ramie she wants her parents to get counseling—by Ramie’s mom—so they “can see outside of the box” (p.197 ). Christian truth is now reduced to a “box.” Jess’ mom gets a gentle rebuke by Ramie when she calls homosexual behavior a perversion. ”I’m just trying to love Jess. Trying to be her friend...” Ramie responds. “I figure it’s up to God to show Jessica what’s best for her life” (p. 196).
Yet in His Word, God has already clearly shown every Christian the truth about homosexuality. If Jess is a real Christian, she should at least admit His truth. Her parents, fictional though they are, ought to be sure enough—and supported—to stand up for the truth before their child. Jess also tells her mom she doesn’t always feel loved. The adults and the pastors act like worldly believers in the true gods of counseling and political correctness. By the end of the novel, Jess has morphed into a victim in need of her parents’ and friends‘ understanding—not a grave sinner in need of repentance. And any Christians who dare to stand up firmly for the truth are the real offenders.
Carson has led teens smoothly into flawed, unbiblical territory, and most will not suspect a thing.
Go to Part 2, "Deceiving Spirits"