I am not here to debate the message of Scripture about homosexuality or any of the various exegetical readings of those passages. That’s a discussion for another forum. I’m more interested in answering these questions: Can this increasingly publicized sector of human behavior be included in Christian fiction? Should it be? If so, how? If not, why not?
I’ll admit this isn’t a subject that I often find in Christian fiction. In fact, it’s probably the least likely “unsafe” subject to appear in Christian fiction, well behind swearing, violence, and even other sexual content (even Frank Peretti’s The Oath features characters who have an affair). I can only think of one book that I’ve read by a Christian author to include the subject of homosexuality – Madeleine L’Engle’s A House Like a Lotus. It features a lesbian couple, and one partner becomes a mentor to the protagonist, Polly O’Keefe, the daughter of Meg and Calvin from A Wrinkle in Time.
When I first read A House Like a Lotus, I was a teenager who had loved the rest of L’Engle’s books about the Murry-O’Keefe family, and I found the content of A House shocking coming from an author I’d previously viewed as clean and safe. Not only was there a lesbian couple in the book, but Polly also lost her virginity – and neither of these elements carried with it as much shock and scorn as I expected. I quickly decided that this was not a good book nor one I cared to go near again.
And then I grew older, and read more books, and studied Scripture, and made friends whose own analyses of Scripture were thorough and thought-provoking.
And I wrote my short story “The Closet,” set in the same town as “The Debt-Keeper” and the other stories I wrote while studying in my master’s program. “The Closet” features, among its other characters, a teenager named Sal. He has been hiding his sexuality from his best friend, who only learns the truth when he discovers Sal’s many attempts to write a letter explaining it to him. It was a tricky thing for me to write, because I was still working out how to talk about this subject without hurting anyone or betraying my own beliefs. I’m still not sure how well I accomplished that goal with this story.
Somewhere between high school and graduate school, I found I couldn’t just condemn a book for portraying people as people – which was really all L’Engle had done with her characters Ursula and Max. She hadn’t condemned them, or celebrated their relationship (an attitude that seems to drive many contemporary stories featuring homosexual characters). She simply presented them as people. Looking back on the LGBT people I’ve known, that’s all they’ve ever been – people, sinners, just like the rest of us.
So what do we do about homosexuality in Christian fiction? Do we write about the topic? If so, when and how?
I think the answer to “Do we write about it?” is both yes and no. When the story calls or allows for this theme (depending on the writer), a homosexual character should come on the scene. We have no reason to exclude this section of humanity any more than we would exclude men, women, children, addicts, thieves, soldiers, preachers, or people of different ethnic, national, and cultural backgrounds. As writers, even writers of fantasy and science fiction, we write stories based on reality. We write to reflect truths about the world around us.
Again, we write these characters in if the story calls for it. We don’t throw in homosexual characters for the sake of having homosexual characters. Tokenism isn’t good writing. We shouldn’t shy away from a subject (or a group of people) merely because we might be uncomfortable writing about the subject or worry we won’t get it right. This is an excuse many authors have made for not writing characters of other races, sexualities, etc. for years. If you can write about Elizabethan heroes after a little research, you can tackle any aspect of human nature the same way.
However the biggest danger in writing about homosexuality in Christian fiction is not how the topic will affect sales. It’s how we treat the subject. We can’t write atheists as straw men whose arguments can be trounced in time for the after-church potluck; this is poor writing and helps no one. Likewise, we cannot treat homosexual characters as anything less than well-rounded, complicated human beings. We should not write homosexual characters as villains because they are gay. Nor do we never write them as villains because some readers may assume we view LGBT people as evil. LGBT-ism isn’t a special sin or a special blessing. Thus we approach this issue as we approach any other delicate issue regarding a character’s traits and motivations. We write them with excellence and complexity. We show these people are not forced to represent all women, all people of color, all blind people, all the LGBT movement. Stereotypes and generalizations get us nowhere as writers, as storytellers, as students of human nature.
This is no easy subject. Since high school I’ve had a pending novel with a character who is most definitely gay. And half the time I ask myself how I will ever get his story written. But I know that, Lord willing, I will. It’s a story that must be told. And that’s our ultimate business.
Elijah David is a copywriter, editor, and fantasy novelist. He writes, and occasionally blogs, from the Chattanooga area, where he and his wife live and work in love with their church family. He is involved with the Tolkien-based Canadian journal Silver Leaves and his stories have been published in anthologies from Oloris Publishing and The Crossover Alliance. His blog can be found at elijahdavidauthor.blogspot.com.