How many books have you read that stood out in a way so different it was startling?
How many of those books were written by Christian authors?
Admittedly, I haven’t read a ton of “Christian” fiction (by which I mean stories that proclaim a Christian worldview). From the keyhole view I have, we have a problem, Houston. In the myriad debates about swearing, violence, sex, magic and everything else we delight in discussing, one major category often slips through the cracks.
What do I mean by that?
According to the simple definition on Merriam-Webster:
The quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.
The state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization
In my experience stories, on the whole, content themselves with a narrow approach—and I’m not talking about cliché plots, seen-before-characters, or ripped-off story worlds. I’m talking about races, cultures, and every other form of diversity we see in the world.
Leaving behind the aforementioned slew of debate-worthy topics, the narrow approach still makes itself painfully evident in Christian fiction.
The answer is simple. Diversity is too edgy.
At best, a gay character might make an appearance as the miraculous salvation story. A person of another religion might enter the plot to highlight everything wrong with unbelievers. Perish the thought that such “diversity” plays an integral role in the story, or impacts the lives of the characters in meaningful ways.
This may be a symptom of me not reading widely enough. But I still maintain authors, especially Christian authors, can improve their efforts in diversifying their stories.
Story diversity can come in many forms: characters of different ethnicities, beliefs, even *gasp* sexual orientation.
The problem doesn’t rest in the presentation, but in the conclusions.
Is a tattooed, drug-smoking hipster with a dirty mouth a no-no, or does her (surprise) presence contribute to the story? What’s the ultimate influence?
Should Christian fiction avoid LGBT characters like the plague? Or is it better in some cases to insert a guy attracted to another guy?
Not for the sake of political correctness or out of rebellion, but to make readers think and to explore that dynamic honestly.
To explore such themes instead of closing our eyes, covering our ears, and pretending they don’t exist (which could be detrimental in the long run).
To color the story’s canvas with a bold hue that stands out and makes the truth of the story resound more clearly.
Three reasons why diversity is important and would strengthen Christian fiction.
1. It’s true to real life
One of the many beautiful, almost magical things about fiction is the way in which it reflects reality. The stories we read sink into our souls and sear themselves onto our minds, because in so many ways, they reveal a familiarity.
We connect with characters who have similar flaws. We hold our breath during pulse-pounding plot twists because we can imagine what it would be like to have that happen.
In a way, stories are mirrors. In them, we see many truths about our own world.
Why should this run into a concrete wall with a “You shall not pass” sign when it comes to these “perilous” elements?
If we want our stories to impact real people who live in a real world, we’d do well to throw off the shackles of narrow expectations and dare to branch out.
2. It adds depth to the story
No story should suffer the fate of presenting nothing more than a flat, stale offering. Like food, stories need spice.
The goal shouldn’t be agenda-driven, which is a major flaw of mainstream Christian fiction, at least as I’ve heard. Insert a bad-boy character who falls in love with the demure Christian girl and ends up getting saved.
Every piece of story should play some role. Nothing gratuitous or forced. Yet thinking outside the box, considering how a militaristic atheist or LGBT character could deepen a story, is something we need not fear.
3. It pulls Christian stories out of an insular box
One criticism of Christian fiction is its pitifully narrow view of what counts as a good story. No story should fear an element more on the fringe, as long as it’s handle wisely and made intrinsic to the story’s needs.
We act as if one splotch will ruin the pristine paper, instead of taking that splotch and artfully fanning it across the page into a compelling image.
Christian fiction ought not to cloister itself. It should be free to roam (within reason, of course). Because when have important themes like grace, redemption, and forgiveness, so often woven through Christian narratives, been exclusive?
Christian fiction, above all, should welcome diversity.
Diversity Done Well
I feel the need to note a few exceptions to this lack-of-diversity problem.
- The Kinsman Chronicles by Jill Williamson. King’s Folly is a tremendous story with a decidedly African-themed setting.
- The Out of Time Series by Nadine Brandes. I can honestly say this is the only series I’ve read that features albino people.
I’m sure there are more examples, but it would be encouraging to see this diverse approach taken more often.
I hope that in the future, Christian fiction can branch out, telling fantastic stories with a wide range of characters, backgrounds, perspectives, beliefs, ethnicities, and so forth.
Not to fit in or make a statement, but because by ignoring such opportunities, we miss out on the chance to tell (and read) stories with fantastic potential.
Do you think Christian stories suffer from a lack of diversity? How can or should that change?