Friday, July 17, 2015

Networking: On Preaching to the Choir

The blog for the Steve Laube Agency is one of my favorite resources for an industry perspective on Christian fiction. This week, one of their contributors published a post titled "Please ... Preach to the Choir" about the need to write faith-based fiction about tough issues because everyone faces those issues, whether churchgoing Christians or not.

I both agree and disagree with the stated position.

Here's the thing. Yes, of course, everyone suffers in this world, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, background, or anything else. Everyone struggles with job loss, cancer, setbacks, divorce, betrayal, war, hunger, and more. It makes sense to write Christian fiction with those kinds of real-life troubles and obstacles in mind.

Being a Christian does not mean a carefree life.

But "preaching to the choir," in my experience with Christian fiction, usually means that the following components will be present:

> a protagonist who epitomizes the ideal of what a Christian "should" be like (no desires, no sexual temptation, no curse words, no checkered past, no experience with real-world issues like drugs or alcohol or addiction or divorce)

> a central issue for the protagonist that involves briefly doubting his or her faith and then quickly recovering that faith, with serious repentance for having doubted in the first place

> a picture-perfect world in which very few real troubles touch or affect the protagonist

The word that often comes to mind when I read Christian fiction is "perfect." As in, this is a perfect protagonist, in a perfect world, with a perfect family, perfect opportunities, a perfect past.


The problem is, it isn't realistic. Either for preaching to the choir of Christians who might pick up such a book, or for people who aren't Christians.

When was the last time you slammed your hand in the door and said, "Hosanna" instead of letting loose with a ripe comment? If you're a Christian, sure, you're working on cleaning up your language since you came to Jesus, if that's your thing, so you repent later, but it probably still slipped out of your mouth.

I've never in my life read a Christian protagonist who was that real or genuine.

Maybe you met your now-husband or wife at church and dated through college before you got married. Can you honestly tell me that it never once crossed your mind to push the physical boundaries? That you never once went too far? Again, as a Christian, you repent later, set up accountability, whatever you needed to do ... but the thing is, you were there, in the midst of that temptation, the heat, the want, the passion.

I've never read a Christian protagonist who faced that.

Did you grow up with an abusive mother? An alcoholic father? An adult friend of the family who couldn't keep his eyes or hands to himself?

Christians face things like that.

Did your best friend commit suicide in high school? Did you see a girl in the hall with scars on her wrists and wonder what could drive her to do that to herself? Did you ask? Did you see a guy with hollow cheeks and bloodshot eyes and his arms full of track marks because he tried to escape the hell his life had become?

Were you that person?

Where are the Christian protagonists like that? People who are broken, shattered, scarred, scared, wounded, real.

Real.

Genuine.

Authentic.

I'm tired of reading about perfect or near-perfect Christians who never curse, never desire, never make poor choices or mistakes, never try drugs or alcohol or another addiction to escape from a really hard life, never get addicted to prescription drugs or painkillers, never find themselves sliding into an emotional and then physical affair after a rough spot in their marriage.

If you're going to write to preach to the choir, then please, remember that the choir is full of these kinds of people, and we don't want to read about perfect Christian protagonists anymore.

I don't know about the rest of my fellow Christians, but I close books peopled with those kinds of protagonists and feel inordinately ashamed as I do, because I'm not perfect.

None of us is, and we'd do well to remember that.

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What's your take on Christian fiction? Those who write to preach to the choir? Those who write for other reasons? What are some of your favorite works of Christian fiction, and why?

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