Reading as an Act of Resistance or What Really is Christian Literature
Reading Time: 4 minutes
If you are anything like me, maybe you recognize these books as traditional books for White, Protestant Church Libraries.
Growing up, books like these filled the shelves of my church library and, to be honest with you, I didn’t even realize the lack of racial representation. Mostly, because I could always find solace in books which featured some white person who was saving all the “black sinners” or because some white author finally tackled slavery…complete with a white heroine and a black heroine. (ie: Shenandoah Sisters series by Michael Phillips).
Racial representation matters.
POC voices have been ridiculously underrepresented in the Christian Literature genre.
I’m going to say it again for the folks in the back: racial representation matters.
And, it is particularly problematic when positive and powerful POC writers are excluded from mainstream “Christian Literature.”
Whom we see as “Christian” shapes our understanding of who can be a Christian. How we write about what kind of people are Christians impacts our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
If our understanding of Christianity relies on white narratives and white paradigms, what people are left out?
What voices are excluded? What voices are included? And, why?
So, what reallyis Christian Literature?
Why did my library shelves feature books like Love and Respect rather than The Cross and the Lynching Tree?
Why are black women most often defined as problematic or overtly sexual in Christian literature? Or restricted to specific historical timelines and places: slavery, Jim Crow, unsaved African, drug dealer in the ghetto.
Google classifies Christian Literature as writing that deals with Christian themes and the Christian worldview.
But, what is a “Christian theme?”
As an English Major, a black woman and a major English nerd, I think it is imperative to investigate why it is that mainstream, bestselling, Christian publishers do not publish and aggressively promote literature by POC’s.
· Why are POC’s restricted to narratives which rely on white saviors?
· Why are POC’s restricted to narratives reliant on harmful stereotypes?
· Why are POC’s restricted to narratives which rely on whiteness as a means to godliness?
As we know, Christianity is not a religion that promotes ethnocentrism, nor is it a religion which promotes whiteness. Instead, the Gospel of Jesus is so radical because He was a revolutionary lover. He took risks. He challenged. He promoted equity. He insisted upon visibility for all.
I am convinced that the singular visibility of white innocence and whiteness in mainstream Christian Literature is reliant on an idol of whiteness. And, that this idol has become so blurred and twisted that it is now confused with godliness.
In his early work, “A Black Theology of Liberation,” James H. Cone calls all whites and POC’s to stand against white supremacy and he made the following revolutionary statement which, perhaps not surprisingly, disturbed and angered many of his readers because of his binary approach:
Most whites, some despite involvements in protests, do believe in “freedom in democracy,” and they fight to make the ideals of the Constitution an empirical reality for all. It seems that they believe that, if we just work hard enough at it, this country can be what is ought to be. But it never dawns on these do-gooders that what is wrong with America is not its failure to make the Constitution a reality for all, but rather its belief that persons can affirm whiteness and humanity at the same time. This country was founded for whites and everything that has happened in it has emerged from the white perspective…what we need is the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world.
While, I don’t agree with the idea that the destruction of whiteness will suddenly end all human misery in the world (because, let’s be honest, something else will take its place…social class or religion,etc.,) I do think that all Christian literature must be intentionally anti-racist. And, just to be clear, the destruction of whiteness does not mean the destruction of white people. Instead, it means the intentional destruction of all characteristics of whiteness (ie: white privilege, white power, white innocence etc.,).
So, what does Cone have to do with literature? I am particularly drawn to the idea that persons cannot affirm whiteness and humanity at the same time.
In turn, persons cannot affirm whiteness and Christianity at the same time.
This belief fundamentally challenges, what I am asserting is, the majority of Protestant, White Christian literature.
This belief also actively promotes racial representation AND multicultural and multiethnic representation as well.
This belief challenges me to think critically and radically about the ways in which literature impacts salvation theology.
As you may already know, I am a huge advocate for inclusive literature representation. While, my scope has often been limited to black/white race relations, I wanted to share with you all some books which have shaped and challenged my perspectives.
Below, is a collage of relatively modern YA/JF books, many of which I own, that I have found especially moving, gritty and challenging. And, I would advocate that all of them could be considered Christian in the sense that they fundamentally challenge and advocate for equitable rights and representation for POC.
What YA books have shaped and challenged you?
As an adult, while I still consider myself an avid reader of YA fiction/non fiction, I also have felt particularly shaped by a new set of books. The collage for these books are below and, as you can guess, this is not a complete list but just a few favorites as is the list above:
What books challenge you? What books have shaped you? I think I asked in an earlier blog post, what it would look like to create a personal timeline of books that have shaped my life. I still mean to personally journal about that. But, if you are open, what books have shaped your life?
What feedback do you have regarding how whiteness has (or has not) dominated mainstream Protestant literature?
I’d welcome your feedback in the comments or, if you feel more comfortable, in person or message.