In our Untangled feature, we answer questions posed to us from our readers. Today’s submission comes from “M”:
What are your thoughts on shipping? I ask because there is a shipping pair that I have grown extremely fond of since seeing the anime and I have written some and read quite a bit of fanfiction about them. I try to stay away from the erotic stuff because I feel that in my walk as a married Christian it is inappropriate, but it has become a struggle for me lately. Do you have any thoughts about loving a story, a pairing, and a hobby without it reaching idol status or becoming inappropriate. I feel like I could use some feedback. My husband is wonderful and incredibly supportive of me during my struggles and encourages me to reach out when I need to.
Thankfully, Beneath the Tangles has the amazing privilege of housing a diverse staff of writers, each of whom come from different walks of life and approaches to Christianity. Being a single male, and somewhat unfamiliar with the shipping and fan fiction scene, I posed this question to two of these writers, one of whom is married and the other female, who I felt could better empathize with M’s situation and interests. Here’s what they had to say:
The first thing you need to ask yourself about anything related to media, writing, or anything is – do you feel it drawing you further away from the Lord? Do you think it harms your walk with Christ or your marriage? If you answer yes to either of those questions, as a Christian you should radically cut it out of your life. Christ said in Matthew 5:29-30 that if your eye or hand cause you to sin, cut them off. This includes anything you feel in your life harms your walk with Jesus. If you feel it is inappropriate, that may be the Lord nudging you in a certain direction. Pray about that to start.
Second, the line as to when something goes from an interest into an idol really is specific from person to person. One person may enjoy an anime series fully and love to tell others about it, but still place the Lord first and foremost. Another may place the anime before God and make the choice to watch anime over Bible study, time in prayer, time with their spouse, or time at church. When you find yourself ready to cut off things you were prepared to do for the Lord in favor of something else, that something else you have placed before God. The question becomes this – what do you put first? Is it the ship or is it God.
Third, where do your thoughts go when you are imagining shipping the characters? Is it similar to reading a story? Or does your heart race more, you begin to feel nervous, and it draws into a feeling of lust? Do you imagine yourself inside of the story wishing you personally were a part of it? Or are you merely sitting back and thinking “aww, that’s so cute?” Our thoughts betray our heart, telling us exactly whether we are sinning or not. In both Mark 7:20-23 and Matthew 5:28, Jesus reminds us that sinfulness begins within and that even our very thoughts can be sinful.
Our thoughts betray our heart, telling us exactly whether we are sinning or not.
All this said, do I believe what you are doing is sinful? For you – I do not know. For some, it may be sinful. For others, it may not. I know I can watch and enjoy an anime series with a love story element without it causing me to have sinful thoughts. For example, I love the story of Your Lie in April. I love the characters and the romantic story as it unfolds, but in the end – it isn’t my life, it isn’t my wife, and the love story that is God’s love for me is far more amazing than anything I saw on a screen.
I’m not much of a shipper myself. This is more because I tend to be loyal to canon than anything else—I’d rather learn more about the author/creator’s characters as they write them. There are a couple of pairs, of course, that I do ship in a mild way, and I’ll periodically search for clean fanart of them. However, I find the fan work surrounding shipping difficult to maneuver, since so much of it is erotic, morally offensive, and even socially concerning (most of the characters being put in these situations are young teens, and they’re often drawn, written, and fantasized about by even younger teens).
So that’s my experience and initial thoughts. Now, onto your current situation, and on loving stories/pairings/hobbies without it becoming idolization or otherwise inappropriate:
Some Christians can handle a fair amount of erotic content without spiritual or emotional harm, and they’ll skim through it in order to enjoy an otherwise good story. Some shouldn’t even try. So staying away from the erotic fanfiction is certainly important—and difficult in the shipping side of fandom. I sympathize. It can be difficult in any romantic corner of online writing, especially once you’ve read all the decent clean stuff (I used to spend a lot of time on Wattpad). Actually, the same applies even to anime.
I’d say that a hobby/pairing/etc. has become an idol when you start prioritizing it over your relationship with God and your responsibilities—whether that’s in the little decisions or the bigger ones. If your appetite for more of this pairing causes you to ignore your conscience and click on something with a mature/erotica warning, that’s a problem. The solution might be as simple as getting away from your computer when you feel in your gut that you’re about to click on something you shouldn’t—a short break to switch the laundry, talk to your husband, pray, etc., might be enough to give you the perspective you need. Or you might need a longer break—a week without anything to do with that pairing or hobby. I know that for me, in the moment, my appetite for more anime or anything else pleasurable is overwhelming—it blurs my thinking, and I can easily rationalize away most warnings from my conscience. I have to physically step away to clear my head, and possibly even ask someone who knows me well for their perspective on my actions.
I’d say that a hobby/pairing/etc. has become an idol when you start prioritizing it over your relationship with God and your responsibilities—whether that’s in the little decisions or the bigger ones.
Another thing I find helpful: giving my love for a hobby/anime/etc. over to God. This is really hard, I don’t do it nearly as often as I should, but it’s good to lay my interests before him and pray something like this: “Lord, please use this for your glory, and if it’s a hindrance to serving you instead of useful, help me to lay it aside. I want to desire you more than this, but I can’t without your help.”
I believe God is using my love for anime—which, by the way, started out as a very unhealthy hobby filled with indiscriminate binge-watching—for his glory online. He’s certainly used the anime community to bless me and help me grow and heal, and I know he’s used my words to serve others as well. To do that, he worked with my imperfect attempts to draw nearer to him and transformed a stumbling block into his tool.
…[God] worked with my imperfect attempts to draw nearer to him and transformed a stumbling block into his tool.
If you let him, God could use your interests the same way. They key is to be willing to let go of your pairing, though, rather than demand that he use that interest. He may want to use you in another way. But if you don’t feel a warning away from your shipping-oriented hobbies, then ask God how he can use them for his glory on a regular basis.
As a member of the fanfiction community, you have the opportunity to support cleaner work that shows healthier relationships that better reflect God’s love. You can show that there is an audience for clean stuff, and as a married Christian, you have a valuable perspective that probably comes into your writing.
I’m neither married nor a big fanfiction person, but I hope my thoughts are of at least some help to you. There are other Christian fanfiction writers out there, and I encourage you to find them. You might find a community in which you encourage one another to write well, glorify God, and serve both writers and readers—and both Christians and non-Christians—in the shipping and fanfiction communities.
These responses don’t necessarily support the conclusions drawn by every member of the Beneath the Tangles staff, as we cover so many belief systems within the scheme of Christianity as defined by our core values. However, I hope that Matt and Annalyn’s thoughtful input might help you and others who feel conflicted by a similar situation!