Saturday, August 27, 2016
Hey Publishing World: Christianity is Diverse, Too
I see a lot of #PubRants about diversity. That's awesome. That's really awesome. As someone who has mixed race heritage, has grown up in largely diverse neighborhoods, and who has friends of all backgrounds and stories, it's really important to me. But like any demographic, I get frustrated when I see my own stereotyped.
Except I'm not talking about race or sexuality. I'm talking about religion.
I kept track this week of how many times on Twitter I saw the words "Christian" used by people (those involved in the publishing industry to any degree). I saw it a few dozen times. Every single time it was in a harshly negative sense, combined with often with the word "white" and related to topics such as abuse, sexism, rape culture, and hatred. And I want to tear my hair out sometimes because I am a Christian, and I have never been a victim of nor a participant in abuse, sexism, rape culture, nor hatred. While some have, most have not.
A few months ago, I looked up the book Devoted. Now, before I go on, let me clarify that I only read of much of it as was available on Amazon, mostly because I am extremely broke (which is sad because I love books.) However, it made me upset rather quickly for a number of reasons. I recognize that the story set forth in Devoted is based off of real, legitimate situations and those stories break my heart. No one should have to go through such suppression.
However, from what I see all over the internet, especially Twitter (where I am an active but rather politically silent participant), the attitude towards Christians is a general one. A general one that assumes we are all like the families presented in Devoted, and not necessarily in lifestyle, but more in the way we treat each other, those we disagree with, our women, and our children. Essentially, people outside of Christianity box it in generally in the "suppressive" and "offensive" box simply based on its some of its members' political stances.
I recognize that some people have been victims of severe mistreatment, emotional abuse, and (many more) historically, death, in Christian environments and circles. These are real stories and horrors and realities and they are awful. They are disgusting. However, (and not to excuse it in the least) in all reality, this is true of every religion, and is not so much because of the religion as because of those who hold to it (again, there are exceptions in certain circles, but you simply CANNOT say a 11th century German mercenary who fought in the Crusades and murdered Jewish children for kicks is the same as your friendly elderly lady down the street that attends the local Baptist church just because they both held to the label "Christian"). We in the Twitterverse (with the exception of trolls, but don't let trolls define a demographic, either) do this with all other religions and those who hold to them, whether they follow Islam, Mormonism, Paganism, Hinduism, etc. It's about time we start being consistent and doing the same with Christianity.
Before anyone tells me I'm whining like a privileged white girl and my opinions don't matter, let me first admit that yes, I am privileged to live in a two-parent home with enough money to go to college. However, I've also had the advantage of living in multiple regions and meeting many fellow Christians from other regions and other countries (including Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, Ghana, Switzerland, Austria, Indonesia, China). Church history is one of my major interests, as well as theology (the study of Christian doctrine, and by that I mean ALL BRANCHES of it). As an ENTJ, part of my personality is such that in order to disagree with someone religiously or politically, I need to understand all the angles behind their reasoning and even be able to debate from their perspective regardless of whether or not I agree with it.
That said, I see the internet stereotype of the "white angry Christian" and it makes me mad. Mad. So I guess that makes me an angry white Christian, but I digress.
Because in the next ten to fifteen years, there are likely going to be more Christians in Asia and Africa than in the Western World. Christianity is NOT a white religion. In fact, in the grand scheme of Christianity's history, it is relatively recently a "white religion."
Because practicing and devoted Christians (the ones that attend church frequently) are equally concerned about their theology as opposed to their politics. We are NOT Westboro Baptist Church. Some of the words on their website are the same as on mine, but in no way are Christians WBC. The language used by Christians is incredibly complex and nuanced and diverse. We have more than two dozen different terms for two dozen different ways just on how we think the world will end. The way one Christian uses a word will be entirely different from a definition for the same word used by a Christian from a different definition.
Because we are not all the Duggars. I own three pairs of skinny jeans and have been on dates. When I turn 21, I will likely drink (in fact, in my particular denomination and its sisters, there's a subculture of beer and wine snobs).
Because some of us have lifestyles like the Duggars and suddenly every sweet Christian girl with curly hair and jean skirts was labeled as "oppressed" and her brothers and father labeled a rapist by the media when the Duggar scandal broke out. No. Just stop. I have friends who are more conservative and live a lifestyle similar to the Duggars on the outside (though often their theology and political views are very different on different levels) and they chose that lifestyle. Don't harass them for it, please.
Because I have held the hands of those who have had to flee for their lives for owning a Bible.
Because not every Christian who believes in modesty is a victim of or participant in rape culture. Modesty is a hotly debated and often abused conviction, for sure, but I personally am convicted to avoid short shorts and plunge-neck tees and spaghetti strap anything. Is this because I'm a participant in rape culture? Because I've been brainwashed? NO. It's because that is my personal conviction (and also because of my body type). I'm not about to go stuffing it in anyone's throats but if you try to tell me that I'm being oppressed because I choose to dress that way, I'll get lit pretty quickly. Fact: in my circle of friends I have a girlfriend who wears only skirts, and also another friend with multiple piercings and a tattoo who dyed her hair. Do I necessarily agree with their choices on this? No. Do we argue about it or get mad at each other over it? Again, no. We chose that lifestyle, same as the girls getting harassed in France (wrongfully so) for wearing burkinis, and same as you with whatever style of dress you've adopted.
There's a phenomenon in Christian culture called Christian Liberty that I want to raise to your attention, dear reader. What it means is that lifestyle convictions are left to the conscience of the individual and their interpretation of the Bible. The limits and boundaries of Christian Liberty are another hotly debated topic between denominations, but it nevertheless exists and often times Christians respect one another's convictions in the matter. It's when someone disrupts a church in an attempt to stuff their opposing conviction down the rest of the congregation's throats (while aware it's against all of their consciences) that things get sticky. And I'm not just talking about homosexuality, which is probably the first thing that came to mind for you. It can be something like whether or not to use wine or grape juice in Communion. It could be over the music used in the service. It can be over one's interpretation of the Holy Spirit's work in today's day and age and whether or not pew sitters have the ability to work miracles. It could be over the use of a catechism. It could be over the interpretation of the world's creation. It could be over the existence or lack thereof of Sunday School.
Christians cannot be boxed in by politics. And we are as diverse as diverse gets. Which has its advantages and disadvantages. Like a big city, a big religion means we have more criminals and trolls and bullies lurking around simply because of our immense size and differences.
I'm a (mostly) white (I say mostly because I have Japanese and Cherokee heritage that I correlate to deeply) homeschooled Christian girl. Likely the first thing you think of is the Duggars or Duck Dynasty. But I am not Southern. I'm from Philadelphia. I'm going to college with the goal of pursuing a career. Alcohol is consumed (in moderation, of course) in my house. My definition of modesty is very different from what most people think of when they hear it. I have a generally skeptical outlook on America. I dislike Ted Cruz. Race issues are very important to me. Courtship is not a word in my vocabulary. I don't hold to homeopathic medicine, though I respect it. I dislike the Christian film and literature industry immensely, with the exception of C.S. Lewis. But what is equally important to me is my theology.
I hold to paedobaptism, amillennialism, the regulative principle of worship, Calvinism, credocommunionism, Presbyterianism in form of church government, inerrancy, Sabbatarianism, among many other doctrines. Big words, I know. Big words that most Christians would disagree with (but that's okay. We in Christian circles often have many friends and family that have differing views when it comes to their faith). You're not likely to find anything that agrees with me in a Christian bookstore. I am a part of a very small and very unknown (but nevertheless proudly noisy) branch of my religion, a minority among minorities. My point is that I am nothing near the Rachel character in Devoted. My question is, if I tell you I am a white homeschooled Christian girl who would like to have a family, are you automatically going to place me among the internet trolls, snake throwers, and rabid Trump supporters and therefore yell at me for every bad thing other people identifying as Christian have done to upset you? Are you automatically going to assume my parents abused me? Are you automatically going to assume I hate different groups of people?
That's stereotyping. It's inconsistency on the part of those who cry foul on my religious brothers and sisters for being stereotypers and haters simply because they're a part of particular demographic. It's also why I keep my mouth shut about my religious convictions on Twitter. It's not necessarily because I am ashamed of who I am. Not at all. It's rather because the immensity and the diversity and all of the nuances in Christianity, both historically, demographically, and theologically, are much too massive to fit in a 140 character sentence. It's also just because I don't really feel like defending myself in endless internet spats about my existence. This post is not to defend myself. I don't want to. Christians do way too much apologizing for their own existence in an attempt to connect with people outside of it when they've done nothing wrong to said people. Rather, it's to raise awareness that if anything is diverse, it's Christianity. If anything is misrepresented and stuffed in a box by the entertainment world, it's Christianity.
There are many, many, many, many branches to Christianity. There are many, many, many faces to it. I am all for embracing minorities. But Christianity is something that unites millions of people across the globe, regardless of demographics. It's really sad that it has been reduced to what's presented in Devoted: oppressive, neglectful, abusive, the bad guy, the obstacle parent, nothing but hate and tyranny. Something to escape. Something to defeat. There's definitely people in our ranks, sadly, who are this way (and they need to change or be rid of). But very few of us are actually like that. The rest of us just don't make the headlines and the hit posts.
Where is our positive representation in the literary market, specifically in Young Adult? And I'm talking about just even a slight presence, not the preachy sugar water stacked in Christian book stores.
I haven't found it yet. Not in today's market, anyway. Les Mis was the last decent film I saw with a positive representation of Christianity, but that book was also written in the 19th century, so there's that.
At the very least, stop making Christianity a one-dimensional, flat, enemy. It's 1. Inconsistent with the cry for the end of stereotypes, 2. ignorant, 3. unrealistic, 4. unnecessary, 5. putting the biggest religion in the WORLD into a tiny American Left box. You cannot stuff thousands of years of cultures, faces, stories, and thought-out beliefs into that tiny box structured by people who have created an imaginary, nonexistent majority/demographic of abusive, white, angry, hateful Christian males in the name of politics. Because it barely exists (there's only one Westboro Baptist Church and it has, like, maybe twenty members), and when you do that, you do it at the expense of millions of people around the world both today and in the past.
At the very least, when you DO meet a lovely young girl in a jean skirt with long hair, helping her mom herd along her many siblings, smile at her. Contrary to what you may think, unlike the Rachel character in Devoted, she probably loves her life and has her own convictions, opinions, and choices that while they are very different from yours, deserve your respect because she is an individual with the right to those convictions, opinions, and choices.
Please? Please? Anyone? Bueller?
Actually, no please. Just stop.
Instead, do me a favor. Look at this list. I know it's Wikipedia, but all that means is that this list is not exhaustive. Let me say that again. This list is not exhaustive.
That's a lot of diversity.
Also, whether you agree or not, Christianity is statistically the biggest religion in the world (read: world. Not just white Republican Americans). When you adopt this anti-Christian attitude and stereotype Christians as white angry abusive men, you are stereotyping one of the largest and most diverse demographics in historical existence.
It's time to write Christianity back into the market, but to do so with the knowledge that it's a diverse, complicated religion that deserves respect as much as any other religion discussed in literature. It's time to recognize that Devoted is only one story, and it's not everyone's. It's time to be consistent.