Saturday, December 3, 2016

'Even Thou Art a Little Queer'

Social reformer Robert Owen, who founded the utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana, was exasperated to discover that his closest associates held beliefs quite different from his own. He once told an investor, "All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer."

Many American Christians feel the same way after last month’s election. We are horrified to learn that close friends—often members of the same church—voted for a candidate we voted against because of her/his stance on a particular issue. We wonder, How could any Christian support someone who did that or believed that or advocated that?

This reality is as old as the church: Members of the Body of Christ are not only very different from the rest of the world, but different from each other. We need to recognize these differences within the Body to portray Christians authentically. In fact, these differences can propel our story forward.

I come from an evangelical Holiness tradition, but some of my best friends are Roman Catholics. (Already you feel the tension, don’t you?) We have different beliefs and practices concerning worship, church authority, the use of alcohol, etc. I have other friends who are Lutherans, Episcopalians, and “Holy Rollers.” Ditto, ditto, and ditto.

Such differences are apparent within the same town and even the same family. They can cause friction, misunderstanding, and outright conflict. If that is true in real life, why not in our fiction?

For example, I’m writing a story about a newlywed couple living in the Appalachians during the Great Depression when the husband begins campaigning for FDR—you know, that candidate who wants to repeal Prohibition. This creates conflict with his wife, his pastor, and other members of his church. Does it make him less of a Christian? Does it cause him to alter his behavior at home and “on the road”? This is a powerful undercurrent to the main plot of the story, just as our differences with other Christians influence our relationships today.

“Even thou art a little queer,” we may think. But you are still my brother or my sister, so we need to acknowledge this tension in the stories we tell about one another.

Joe Allison has been a member of the Indiana Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN. His non-fiction books include Setting Goals That Count and Swords and Whetstones.

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