In the aftermath of the US Supreme Court ruling on marriage, the moderator of a Facebook group for Christian writers asked, “How do we as Christian writers show our support for true marriage, educate readers, and also show compassion towards people experiencing same-sex attraction?” The question got me thinking.
I suppose first I’m wondering, can fiction show support for true marriage without becoming “an issue” book or one that is preachy? Will a subtle approach sufficiently offer the Biblical alternative to gay pride? Can we show compassion in fiction toward people experiencing same-sex attraction without condoning homosexual behavior?
Following those thoughts, came the realization that fiction, despite what people may think, is about showing truth. So what truth should we as Christian writers show? Are we to write to the cultural issues of our day and place? I mean gay marriage is not an issue in Muslim countries and it has been a settled issue in places like Sweden for several decades. Wouldn’t writing to an issue that one country is currently dealing with, restrict the story to a narrow audience?
But should Christians ignore the issues of the day? Writers like Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, intentionally wrote to expose foibles of his society. So did the muckrakers in America like Frank Norris (The Octopus) and Upton Sinclair (The Jungle) who challenged the practices of Big Business. George Orwell wrote Animal Farm as an allegory to expose the dangers of Communism. Then there was Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) who wrote an impassioned story to raise the awareness of the evils of slavery.
Without a doubt, the most important works of literature say something meaningful. And the more universal the truth, it would seem, the more significant the work.
Does writing to a limited subject like the meaning of marriage disqualify a work from being “universal” in its depiction of truth? Actually, no. Marriage and sexuality happen to be the bedrock of society, whether we like it or not. So writing to those points seems eminently significant.
I remember several episodes from the TV show Star Trek: Next Generation, which ran from 1987-1994, and Deep Space Nine, which ran from 1993-1999, that were actually “about” gay rights. One show featured a genderless society and the “sin” in their eyes of assigning gender to a particular individual. Another dealt with a symbiont named Dax whose host had once been a man, but whose current host was a woman, still attracted to a woman she had known when she was a he.
Sounds very current, but twenty years ago these issues were not topics on the nightly news. Rather, they were imbedded in stories that had an impact on the belief system of countless viewers.
The question today, however, is this: now that gender identity and marriage definition are front and center in the consciousness of a portion of western society, can Christian writers still address these topics in fiction with the necessary subtlety to make the point without burying them so deeply they won’t register with readers?
And should we try?
Is it more important to write about sin and redemption than about marriage and gender identity?
I guess the more fundamental question comes down to this: what impact on society should the Christian novelist have? Granted, we can’t lump all of us together. Some are writing to Christians. Others are writing to the general market reader. But to what end are we writing?
Is it OK for us to write to either group “purely for entertainment”? Or should we aim to make an eternal difference through what we write?
When we write for Christians, should we purpose to edify the body of Christ or is it OK to write a self-validation story that confirms what we already believe? Would the latter serve as encouragement, a sort of keep-on-keeping-on reminder that what we believe is true? Is that a worthwhile goal for an author to undertake?
And for the general market, what should we aim to accomplish? What are the truth claims that we ought to concern ourselves with? What are the issues of our day which we should be addressing? Ought we to be reacting to what is, or looking ahead and determining what the next great societal challenge might be?
I think I’ve been clear about my position in the past: the sub-genres of speculative fiction are the best means by which a writer can convey relevant truth without being preachy. Perhaps there is no more significant time for us as speculative writers to step up and address matters that matter.