An assessment of the popularity of faith-based literature and how it is all the rage in the African-American literary Diaspora.
Black Christian Novels
It stands to reason with the proliferation of African-American titles that have rolled off the presses that Christian fiction would want equal billing on the shelves and they’re getting it! With this in mind, opinionated views pro and con are being articulated. It’s no secret that millions of Christians are reading theologically themed books that pay homage to what’s going in and out of churches. Truth be told and let the church say amen, drama is being played out through the imaginative minds of authors that have enough fertile ground in praise to this genre to write intuitively for the market. Suffice it to say, the morality tales set in the black church and embellished with status quo familiarisms have garnered enough naysayers to lament what should be written to justify what is considered Christian and what isn’t. Moreover, enough debate has flowed and given a few authors inclination to feel that this is another platform to weave a good storyline. The key to any of the stories to consummate pageturning viability is strength in the stories and the characters that drive them. We have: title-conscious deacons; preachers using the pulpit for promiscuity; churchgoers who confuse piety with promiscuity, along with the usual sin-sick silliness and Sunday morning attempts at salvation.
With titles such as Michelle Stimpson’s Boaz Brown; Church Folk, a novel by Michele Andrea Bowen that has sold a respectable 100,000 copies; and Jacqueline Thomasâ€™ books, our appetites have only been whetted for more. Many of the novels center on redemptive value being played out amidst the ills of temptation where moral issues and the need to do the right thing is ever so prevalent. Add to this the backdrop of the church and the tenets that embody “thus sayeth the Lord” and you have more fuel to feed any fire for embellishment. Black men and women living in the city looking for romance; and what better place than the church? What better platform to introduce paradoxical analogy than the characters who would add to the fray?
As mentioned previously, there are a few who feel that Christian fiction isn’t ‘Christian’ at all if it doesn’t embody the good virtues of God’s glory, and pray tell if they include any sexual shenanigans how loud the cry and gnashing of teeth we see. Several readers have expressed concern that a lot of the books are not including anything that one can fling up to heaven all that is good and pious. The spiritual aspect of the books is always at stake and will always be scrutinized for validity. Another point of contention to support those that feel that the books written for this genre are justified, is the credence given to them playing a major part in reaching a certain niche of women who can identify with the stories therein.
To solidify this, manuscripts are being sent in to publishers left and right for legitimacy and a chance for inclusion. Of course, it doesn’t take long for the publishing industry to take notice to exploit and start trends. Author, ReShonda Tate Billingsley, responds: “I definitely support Christian fiction, but just what that fiction should entail, in my opinion should not be limited." She goes further by stroking the canvas with more color implying thusly, “Christian fiction should not have erotica but should be telling real stories. In real life, Christians curse, have sex and do ungodly things. So I see nothing wrong with including those in moderation in stories that are written for this market. I happen to believe in wonderful thought-provoking stories that can be told without explicit references, but not discarded because they DO include them. The bottom line is that Christian fiction should inspire or touch readers in some form or fashion." In a similar response from Ms Bowen as told to Booking Matters recently – “Walk Worthy Press is about putting realistic Christian stories out there that show real-life situations faced by the Christian community. It’s easy to walk into any church in America and hear something controversial about someone at the church, or the grandmama’s church, and so forth”.
Of late, entities such as BET Books, Publishers Weekly, and a plethora of online book clubs are mining the effects of having yet another option. The aforementioned BET Books has launched New Spirit, a black-oriented imprint with titles already in the market. The main thing that comes to mind to me is, are there any rules that the authors have to follow to make the context and content standard across the board? Christian fiction will undoubtedly have the same issues that render the Romance genre folly for all kinds of misrepresentation and misunderstanding on what is proper and what isn’t, which has spawned subcategories and other nomenclatures. It is my understanding that there has to be at least one character who is saved and whose salvation is obvious to the reader. In the first person singular mode they give voice to the author’s message that something or someone is being sought in the battle against the iniquity of sin. The character(s) can’t uplift the Bible too much, nor can or should they have too much innuendo to sexual activity, lest they irk the readers. Some character’s life has to undergo a metamorphosis, with no cursing, intact with a happy ending.
All of this suggests that there still are unexplored plateaus and areas where fertile ground will yield the wherewithal for more storylines. I see on the horizon such subjective areas as AIDS, homosexuality, and aspects of atheism being prominent in these books. In the meantime, as part of the microcosm of our times and just another medium for imagination to coexist with reality, Christian fiction is here to stay with more titles yet to come.