More than fifty years ago, Dr.
Martin Luther King quoted the Reverend Billy Graham saying, “Eleven
o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” That
this statement was true in America, this august land of opportunity,
fifty years ago is bad enough. That it remains true today is a sad
commentary on race relations among American Christians.
If our churches are still
segregated, what can we expect of Christian publishing? Pretty much the
same, I believe. I started writing Christian fiction in 2004. Even then
I noticed a troubling fact: I rarely found African American Christian
fiction in Christian bookstores. Secular bookstores were another
matter. There the shelves buckled under the weight of novels about the
faith of people of color, the authors scarcely known by the faithful
who frequented Christian bookstores.
This made me wonder. I thought about the era that
birthed the civil rights movement, and the terrible Jim Crow laws that
kept blacks and whites legally separated. I mused about whether or not
something akin to a white’s and colored’s only drinking fountains was
in Christian publishing. It seemed clear to me that whites published,
supported, and consumed one kind of story and not another. And where
did that leave writers of color? At the colored “reading” fountain? We
were writing, publishing, and consuming work of writers of color
somewhere else. Why was that?
If we are in Christ, then aren’t
we all—black, white, Asian, Latino—Christians?
Doesn’t the Bible proclaim our shared “oneness”? Why are we not
publishing, writing, and reading to reflect that truth?
Of course, complex sociological
issues are at work here, far too complicated to dissect in this short
column. And then we simply all enjoy the comfortable and familiar. We
go to our predominately white or black churches because we love certain
things about the styles of worship. Perhaps it is the unique music, or
the way the pastor preaches. Maybe we love to see faces that mirror our
own—not that we wouldn’t welcome others! I seriously doubt that most of
us hear blatant, ungodly messages of white or black supremacy preached
in our churches. That doesn’t seem to be our problem. So, what is? Why
are so few writers of color in the CBA (Christian Bookseller’s
Association) market? And is this kind of segregation what Christ wants
for us, when in His own prayers He asked His Father to make us all
First Corinthians 12:13 tells
us, “For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews
or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to
drink” (NIV). I love that: “we are all given the one Spirit to drink.”
It’s the same Spirit who washes our sins away, and the same Spirit who
refreshes us in our dry and parched places. This Spirit quenches our
thirst, and this life-giving Spirit is the same Water of Life flowing
through both fountains.
The funny thing about Jim Crow
laws is that they were laws! They were put in place
by trusted elected officials. These unfortunate blights on American
history were passed to make some citizens feel safe and comfortable,
which shows that in Christ we are sometimes called go beyond what
society says is safe and comfortable—even in what we read.
I’ve decided to open my heart
and read what may feel unsafe and unfamiliar. I’m going to read books
about Christians who are not like me, especially in Christian fiction.
I’m going to read about Scottish Christians, Amish Christians, French
Christians, and Asian Christians because I believe I can enjoy those
books. I can benefit from them. I believe that they will teach me
something about myself that I may not have learned otherwise. They will
certainly teach me something about people who aren’t like me.
It won’t be easy reading, and it
won’t be safe. I may stumble upon something I find offensive to my race
and culture, but I am certain this reading outside my comfort zone will
be good for my soul. It will have the added benefit of being good for
publishers, good for writers, and good for Christian fiction consumers.
I want to read, and even write, as if I am an answer to Christ’s
prayer: one with all Christians.
I invite you to join me until
there is a single fountain of grace quenching the thirst of the whole
“In Christ’s family
there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and
female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common
relationship with Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:28 MSG).