I don’t know what Christianity looks like anymore. I crave to find women, mothers, homeschoolers, victims of church abuses, second-generation U.S. citizens who walk the line with Christ, who know He is unchanging. I don’t want to get caught up in the trends and tribes, in the illusion of a better place for women like me who refuse to identify as feminist. That camp doesn’t represent the facets of my lifestyle: homeschool mom, Baptist, second generation American. I’ve noticed that trends appear to operate on relative terms and condemnation and a backlash will eventually surface when we don’t align ourselves to the positions of a collective body. It will only be a matter of time until we become a casualty in the tribalist mindset that devours its own.
Judy Wu Dominick wrote:
“When I retreated into online forums with more likeminded people after the election, I fell more deeply into a trap of contemptuous tribalism and perpetual agitation. The relationships in my innermost circle suffered. In the interest of prioritizing the people whom God had given me to love, I made some radical changes. I left all my online affinity groups and deleted over 250 cause-driven connections, redirecting my energy toward being present to people in my real life, even when it was hard. Called by Jesus to be peacemakers—meek, righteous, merciful, and pure in heart (Matt. 5:5–9)—pursuing nuance is both a sacred journey and obedience to Christ.”
I don’t consider myself a tribalist—not anymore. I’ve had trauma in my life at a young age as well as a very unpredictable writing career that has taken me over a decade to navigate through. I’ve become wary of who I’m associating myself with and when that becomes vexing, I’m compelled to seek the Lord more diligently. I understand that I can’t change the world, for the world hates me because it hates my Savior. What I can do is work on one heart at a time, at home, within my sphere of influence, with those who God places in my life. What I can do is remember that I am called to be separate and that, sometimes, means standing alone.
Writing for God requires self-imposed isolation
One of the struggles I’ve experienced in the Christian literary community is an underlying attempt to diminish truth. We know that truth is absolute, but I can’t say I’m shocked that not every believer believes that because Biblical literacy is lacking. Peculiar people are hard to find. There is a faulty Christian worldview which sacrifices truth on the altar of mercy, adhering to feelings and emotions, playing nicely with the culture (world) or else. I’ve learned that my theology and doctrine don’t align with this consensus of what Christianity is. There’s an impulse, it seems, to have to apologize for offering perspectives or opinions when challenging the tribalism vividly present on social media. I’ve discovered that I disappoint some people in ecumenical circles nowadays, some who are accepting of heresies such as easy believism, an elastic view of truth, the idea that the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally or that God transcends gender. When we take a stand as people of color that what the Bible says is true and accurate, we stand alone. The message is that inclusion in Christianity as a person of color should supersede the very gospel we proclaim to follow. When we honor God above man, we get cast out. When we play along, we compromise truth. We risk becoming a token.
Similarly, my editor at Amazon’s Day One wrote an essay on refusing the token:
“I am a number in a count. I fill a void. I turn into the void. This is called being accepted. Here is the curse of the token: the tokenizer thinks they are doing the token a favor, giving a gift. The gift is isolation, is limitation, is submission. The trauma, of course, is centuries old. I’ve paid good money to untangle it like a necklace. You know how just when you think you’re getting close, you find a new knot. The other feelings: shame, an impulse to apologize, the knee-jerk self-deprecation. How I am comfortable.”
I understand what she means by finding a new knot, just when you think you are getting close. I found a knot in the Christian literary community. It is uncomfortable. The desire to write devoid of being pigeon-holed seems elusive at best and at worst, requires that I have certain sensibilities because I’m a Christian in the 21st century. Christianity now, to me, looks a lot different from when I was saved at age 10 in Mexico back in 1985.
I continue to wait for the kingdom of God to align itself with the New Testament church in ways that are unmistakable for the Berean Christian of today, but sadly, it’s far more enamored with the world that it can’t distinguish itself and set itself apart. It’s far too preoccupied with staying relevant, with being liked, with being inclusive of everyone at the expense of preaching Christ crucified and condemning sin. Today, Christianity looks like a social club, a pretense that emboldens those who make God into their image. Whatever one believes about God, it appears, is not called-out as heresy when indeed it is, but is rather looked upon as illuminating, progressive—brave even. When a Christian cannot discern right from wrong—as biblically defined—they are spiritually dead because they no longer adhere to sola scriptura. God’s Word is no longer whole, and neither is His counsel. We face a daily battle as Bible believing Christians who don’t cherry pick the truth for what suits the current age.
No longer including ourselves
As Christians of color, we can’t be pressured to fit into the frame of mind that the majority expects. We are Christian first and foremost before we are anything else because everything else is fickle. Our ideals change on a whim. It fights battles that are trite, trendy, and of no eternal value. As writers too, the conversation needs to center around Him and what His work has done in our lives.
Bare Lit, a secular British organization notes on their homepage about writers of color:
“Our friends, many of whom were successful published writers, talked about how they didn’t get invited to literature festivals—and when they did it was as the token person of colour (sic). So, they ended up having to talk about race, identity and diversity rather than their own work and interests. Instead we choose to focus on the writing, the mediums, the genres, and themes. If the festival wasn’t organized by people who share common experiences with the speakers—those of living in diaspora and racialization—then we wouldn’t be able to do this.”
I recall a quote by Jhumpa Lahiri on the topic of expectations:
“This sense of expectation is a heavy burden and takes away my appetite for writing. I would rather find another job. Because to me, writing means freedom, and therefore when I find myself in a cage, in a trap, or in front of someone who tells me, No, you have to write like this, in this language, about these subjects and conditions, I get a very unpleasant feeling. Of course, one always has to expect to be judged, but some judgements can be damaging.”
Where has the conversation about inclusion taken us in the United States? What are we doing here, really? Has typecasting become the substance of Christian writers of color? Is that all that defines us in this lost and confused world? Deidra Riggs says in her recent blog post:
“If you know me, you know I’ve been calling for more diversity, especially in evangelical spaces, for a very long time. I am no longer saying yes to events that lack diversity. I don’t want to be the diversity anymore. Politely declining to participate in spaces that lack diversity has cost me opportunities. But, it has also resulted in a few very good conversations and some actual changes in representation for some.”
Aligning our convictions to God’s word is a move in the right direction. We are individuals with individual sole liberty in Christ. When we proclaim Christ, we belong to Christ and not to a tribe that has split views on seemingly all matters of life. After all, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Phillip Holmes wrote on Twitter:
“Don’t selfishly pursue young, gifted minorities for the sole purpose of fulfilling your vision, meeting your quota, or advancing your platform. Minorities long to be loved as unique people with unique gifts who may or may not fit your agenda. And after you invest in them, don’t get salty if the Lord calls them elsewhere. Don’t treat minorities like pawns in a chess game. We are real people with real feelings looking for real friendships. Please treat us as such.”
No more conversation, but more action
Talking about inclusion is trite. Acting on including others is necessary. Let’s stop saying that racism is a sin and start repenting of the sin and doing more to give witness of Christ in the lives of people of color. As someone once said online: “Stop talking about diversity and start decolonizing our shelves.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to learn from writers of color at Christian festivals about their thoughts on story, craft, and how we navigate other unseen barriers? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to get past all the superficial skin color stuff and into the work of our storytelling? Isn’t our identity in Christ preeminent?
One of the reasons why I appreciate Kate Motaung’s title for her recent listicle, 20 Awesome Christian Women to Follow on Social Media, is that she didn’t mention her list comprised of women of color. It was refreshing to be listed, but more refreshing was it to be identified as a Christian. It’s a relief not to be branded as other, a separate entity requiring access to the dominant structures. Instead, we are fundamentally in the body of Christ. We aren’t given a seat at the table, as given a seat at the table implies we are foreign. I don’t think the table was meant for one body of people to begin with. The table is Christ’s, He is the head and those who sup with Him are his. We don’t require a seat at the table extended by the majority, for it is Christ’s dominion, and He is the center.
I’m by no way perfect but I desire to serve God and magnify His name in my writing, blogging, and with the discipleship of my children. I believe my purpose is not about magnifying my name, but His and what He has done for me.
As we purpose to elevate Christ, His Word, His principles and precepts in our storytelling, instead of drawing attention to ourselves, instead of reiterating the same script, we need to be careful not to elevate voices of color just because they are voices of color, but rather draw distinctions among ourselves as Christian writers, believers who are redeemed and set apart in this world. The stakes are way too high for such a time as this and confusion—as rampant as it is—causes me to pause and discern carefully what I stand for. I don’t want to get caught up in the winds of trends and tribes, in the illusion of a better place. Christians are at war with the enemy every day and even with each other. I can’t change the world—it hates me because it hates my Savior. What I can do is work on one heart at a time, at home, within my sphere of influence, with those that God puts in my life for His glory. Falling prey to a relative trend which will later condemn me for standing contrary to a set of thinking is like the tribalism mindset excluding its own. I don’t want to belong to a community that distances itself from God’s Word for the sake of belonging to a community which I don’t even recognize.
Eréndira Ramirez-Ortega’s work is featured in The Washington Post, Fathom Magazine, Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, Mothers Always Write, The Sunlight Press, Origins Journal, L’Éphémère Review, Faithfully Magazine, The Mudroom, Red Tricycle, The Tishman Review, Cordella Magazine, Stone Soup Magazine, The Review Review, and Front Porch Commons: A Project of the [CLMP]. Her fiction is published in West Branch, The Puritan, Day One, The Cossack Review, The Black Warrior Review, Fourteen Hills, and others. She is writing a novel.