f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: The Other "Other"

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Other "Other"

Yesterday we talked briefly about how we conceive of our villains. Are they cardboard stereotypes that may reveal something unpleasant about current American Christian culture? Are they created merely in the name of entertainment and shouldn't be seen as representing more than that? As writers do we even get to decide?

Today I'd like to talk about the demographics of our books. Not of the readers to whom our books are going, but the actual demographics of the books themselves. One observation is that, like ABA (we're not alone in this) our demographics don't mirror society anymore. I believe the last census showed that Caucasian America now makes up less than 50% of the American population.

I have no firm statistics, but I don't think it's shocking to anybody to say that our books don't reflect that diversity. This becomes a chicken-egg debate. Our readership is primarily white so that will mean the characters they most often choose to read about and identify with will also be white. Or, our writers are primarily white, so the characters they most often write about are also white, thus appealing to a white audience.

Things get stickier when you begin trying to uncover reasons for these things...and I'm not sure if I'm smart enough or daring enough to do it. Racial segregation within the church is one of the most frustrating and damning issues facing us in American today. The factors at work go so far beyond mere pigmentation into culture and class that most "solutions" seem like Band-Aids or pipe dreams.

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What I'm interested in, over the next couple of days, is distillation. If we took all the Christian characters in all the CBA novels and distilled them into a single representation, what would that person look like? Because I think that's what many of us in American Christianity are worried about today. We're protective of the Gospel. We want/need to defend it. We want very much to play our part in saying, "Sheep, sheep, sheep, goat, sheep, goat, sheep."

I don't think it's a stretch to see the characters in our fiction as our implicit representation of "acceptability." The sheep-iest of the sheep. A Platonically ideal ewe. Not that we're saying you can't be a Christian if you don't look like this...but, boy, we'd be much happier if you did.

As always, bear in mind that I'm as much of the problem in this as the rest of you. I'm not writing from some exalted place, some rare air where I look past appearances and my own private store of prejudices. We're called to more than that, though. Difficult as it may turn out.