Christian film and fiction has often been charged with being “preachy,” “heavy-handed,” and “message-driven.” As a result, many Christian creatives have pursued a more nuanced approach, seeking to embed a biblical worldview or spiritual themes organically into their stories, rather than through explicit didactic moralizing.
Nevertheless, a move is afoot in the arts that renders such nuance rather pointless. In fact, the open embrace of agenda-driven fiction and politically correct themes is now fairly common in mainstream publishing.
The challenges of award-winners
An article appeared recently in Speculative Faith entitled Growing Diversity in Fantasy Genres Gives Us Hints of Eternity. The author’s (Daniel Whyte IV) intent was to celebrate diversity in speculative fiction publishing and hail its biblical import. Yet he (perhaps inadvertently) also highlights the sticky ideological and political agenda behind this push and why Christian fans of the genre should be leery of it. Whyte writes,
… like much of the world, science fiction and fantasy are growing up, growing wiser, and embracing the stories of traditionally marginalized people groups. Some might say science fiction and fantasy (SFF) are ahead of the curve.
The ever-widening tent of modern science fiction and fantasy was evidenced at this year’s Hugo Awards, where female writers and artists swept the prize in all major categories.
N. K. Jemisin, the African-American author of the Broken Earth series, had already made history in 2016 by becoming the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. This year she made history again by becoming the first person ever to take the top prize three years in a row.
Many of the other winners were also reflective of the growing diversity in SFF publishing …
In recent years, the Hugo awards have become an octagon of ideological in-fighting. While some fans view the industry’s push towards diversity as stoking discrimination, creating an undeserving bias toward books containing (or written by) people of color, females, and the gender-fluid, others have seen this disparity as necessary recompense to balance the scales of a previously white straight male dominated industry.
At one time, the science fiction and fantasy (SFF) genre was seen as cutting-edge regarding technology, civilizations, and theoretical sciences. Now, however, that prescient creativity has translated into acknowledging “traditionally marginalized people groups” and affirming a host of exotic sexual proclivities.
… is a fantastic writer, but I stopped reading her book the Fifth Season because it felt like it was shoving LGBTQ, sexual immorality, and racial agendas down my throat.
This is not a surprise, and that observation is not uncommon. Jemisin is an outspoken progressive whose stories contain queer characters (even queer gods), are critical of Western culture, and employ the language of critical race and intersectional theory. However, the author’s “racial agenda” did not prevent her from being “the first person ever to [win a Hugo] three years in a row.” The painfully obvious question is whether the awards were merited or reparative.
So is the “diversity agenda” really about “growing up,” or is there an ideological component that makes the movement less than virtuous? Even more importantly for Christians, are the Hugo awards, the sweeping wins of female creatives, the emphasis on multicultural inclusion, and N. K. Jemisin’s trifecta really a good example of biblical diversity?
Apparently, Whyte thinks so. He continues:
… the embrace of diversity in speculative genres ought to remind us that, one day, people of every nation, ethnicity, and language will live, work, and love together in the New Heaven and New Earth.
… The arc of the universe bends toward diversity. It bends toward a re-imagined Eden where the things that have divided for so long—the differences of race, gender, ethnicity, culture, and economic standing—become the elements God uses to paint a new mosaic. In this mosaic, the beauty comes not just from unity despite our differences, but unity made more glorious because it embraces our differences.
Indeed, ethnic and cultural diversity is a reflection of God’s creativity. Redeemed humanity will not be segmented according to melanin levels, language, or income. But in the same way that biblical “love” is qualitatively different than romantic, emotive, or carnal love, biblical “diversity” is different than its worldly equivalent.
Whereas the Gospel is aimed at all people groups, the Church is unified around a single Person and theme. The Apostle Paul wrote:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.1
Rather than highlighting our differences, Scripture emphasizes our similarities. God has “made from one blood every nation of men” (Acts 17:26 NKJV). Humanity is unified in its sin, fallenness, and hunger for the eternal. The redeemed are unified by their Savior, his Spirit, the truth, and a mission. Again, Paul notes:
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.2
The Body of Christ is indeed a “mosaic.” This tapestry, however, is not the result of quota conversions. Ethnic diversity is the result of preaching the Gospel and making disciples, not its aim. Of course, as individuals we are to check ourselves for sin, seek out those on the margins, not flaunt our privilege or be bound by our cultural boxes.
Is forced diversity really biblical diversity?
Nevertheless, forced diversity is not biblical diversity. In fact, it leads to endless bean-counting, ledger-balancing, and otherwise sleazy scale-tipping.
Which is why SFF’s diversity agenda has become so tedious.
… a US sci-fi writer has blasted JRR Tolkien for his portrayal of orcs in the Lord of the Rings. He claimed they were simply misunderstood, comparing them to today’s migrants and refugees…
“It’s hard to miss the repeated notion in Tolkien that some races are just worse than others, or that some peoples are just worse than others,” [Science fiction and fantasy author Andy Duncan] told Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, a podcast run by Wired magazine.
Make no mistake, when diversity becomes the Rosetta Stone of literary theory, such conclusions are inevitable. Through the lens of identity politics, orcs become marginalized, misunderstood, Middle-Earthers while the King of Rohan and his ilk (all old white men) are seen as props for privileged, hetero-normative, racists. Unfortunately, such over-correction is fraught with danger. I mean, is the playing field really leveled by making white men bad guys and their imperialistic over-reach the norm? Is real diversity achieved through a false balance?
Sadly, such overreach is now the norm in SFF fandom.
Take Mythcreants, a site devoted to spec-fic fans and writers, which has compiled checklists to help authors recognize numerous unconscious isms. Articles like Five Signs Your Story is Racist, Five Signs Your Story is Transphobic, Six Signs Your Story is Queerphobic, and Five Signs Your Story is Sexist, assume that latent social sins inflict the white majority and that the mission of the SFF creative is to purge the wrongthink from our ranks and right those societal wrongs through our fiction. Sensitivity readers, as they are called, are now regularly employed by publishers to ensure that people of color and the marginalized are “correctly” portrayed by authors of other ethnicities, gender, or ability. Another off-shoot of the diversity trend are challenges like Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year. This typically includes reading only females, the multi-gendered, and people of color.
Apparently, being woke demands a lot of penance.
Still, the question remains: Is forced diversity really biblical diversity? In his article The Danger of Manufactured Pre-Determined Diversity, David Fitch rightly notes the downside to churches that force diversity:
There is a danger of a manufactured pre-determined flattened diversity that is often shaped by the bland vision of American democracy.
…I have noticed (at times) a manufactured diversity in large churches in majority white suburban wealthy communities. Here people of different ethnicities and social backgrounds are hired to be visible and lead from up front. Is this a good thing? Sometimes this can work for some good. Sometimes, I’m afraid it is manufactured and is not the diversity we seek. Kingdom diversity is a culture of renewal worked out on the ground in real relationships. [Which is why] I tend to discourage such attempts at manufacturing diversity.
I’m afraid that the type of diversity advocated by many in in the SFF community is “manufactured diversity.” While quota hires and awards may result in visibility for some perceived marginalized peoples, it inevitably leads to further discrimination and rigs the system against merit-based achievements.
Whyte is correct to note that diversity is a hallmark of God’s Kingdom. However, God does not build that diversity through quota conversions. Ethnic diversity is the result of preaching the Gospel and making disciples, not its aim. The main criteria for inclusion into God’s family is not demographic, but spiritual—an open, willing heart. The Christian SFF fan should be less concerned with demographic equity and perpetuating message-driven propaganda and more concerned with genuine inclusion. Nevertheless, the push for diversity in SFF ranks appears more like identity politics than it does anything resembling the Kingdom.