It is a curious thing that faith-friendly fiction, particularly of the Christian variety, requires a de facto warning label. You won’t find it on a sticker on the book jacket. Rather, it comes in the form of a marketing tag. Stories that positively portray the religious convictions of a main character, or that carry an underlying Christian theme, are required by the publishing industry to self-identify as a “Christian” sub-genre.
There is no shame for a Christian writer to be “outed” (at least not the emotionally secure ones), but there is a certain indignation that comes with recognition of a systemic double standard. When atheist authors foist their worldview upon unsuspecting readers through their fictional stories, do their books require a tag that declares them to be of the atheist-fiction sub-genre? Or when writers weave stories of brave agnostics or worshipers of secret arts, are they marketed as agnostic fiction or pagan fiction? It is, perhaps, evidence of the genuine battle that rages for the hearts of mankind, that only one worldview gets singled out in this way.
As with any moniker, there are some who use it as a pejorative, and others as a badge of honor. Literary critics, by and large, view the Christian label as equivalent to a B-movie. It represents a work of lesser talent, aimed at a fringe market, and unworthy of serious attention. When a work with an underlying Christian theme does garner critical praise, such as works by Dostoevsky, Tolkien, or Dickens, the Christian tag mysteriously vanishes, as if adulation requires pretending the biblical undercurrent of the work is merely incidental. It reflects an insidious and entirely unjustifiable bias.
To make matters worse, there is a formalized industry expression for works designed to move from the Christian to the mainstream literary world. They are called “cross-over” works. The implicit notion is that an author is moving from the farm team up to the big leagues. Note that cross-over has nothing to do with stepping up one’s literary game – increasing the quality of one’s workmanship. It is entirely about giving something up. To cross-over, a writer who happens to be a Christian is required to shed the freedom all other writers enjoy, no longer writing from conviction or heart, and self-censor. No other writers are so obliged in order to join the club of “no warning label.”
At the same time, publishers have recognized that a Christian label can help sell books. There is a sizable fraction of the population that yearns for fiction that does not insult their core beliefs or glorify destructive behaviors. The Christian label is the religious equivalent of “non-GMO” or “certified organic.” It has been inspected, so we think, to ensure it is safe for Christian consumption. There is some merit to providing such a service, though the margin of safety can be superficial at best. Much of what passes for Christian bears the thinnest veneer of sound doctrine, comparable to a “free range chicken” that, in reality, got to spend a week of its life as a chick with the option to pass through a small door to a patch of fenced grass.
So what does this mean about my own fictional works? Are they works of Christian fiction? I am indeed, unabashedly, a Christian. My worldview, as with most authors, is reflected in my writing. Religiously-minded characters are not bumbling, hypocritical fools. Behaviors that the Bible teaches as self- or societally-destructive are not passed off as harmless personal choices. In this sense, my work fits within the marketing world’s “Christian” box. On the other hand, there is nothing about my books that make them unpalatable to the general populace. Readers of all backgrounds can identify with and root for the protagonists, and hope justice or redemption reaches the antagonists. Yes, a timely verse of scripture may fall from a character’s lips, though from realistic men and women trying to navigate life’s curveballs – not as poorly veiled sermons in the disguise of a novel. In short, if I may say so, they are good stories. Stories told without regard to labels or the attention of literary critics.