Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Words and images ... by Clare Weiner aka Mari Howard

We are an association of Christian writers. "Christian" is an adjective here, but what exactly does this adjective mean, both to us, and to the society around us?

The Great Debate

A few years ago the  ACW Facebook page saw a fair bit of discussion around our "label". Despite the ACW's name, many of us not only wondered whether they really liked the adjective "Christian" used of them as a writer. We also did not feel comfortable with the meaning this implied.

Language is fluid. Over time, words can slip subtly from their original meaning to something entirely different, so different as to be unrecognisable in some cases. And, whatever people try to do to stop the drift, it happens. (For a word study of this, try here) You will be very surprised by the history and root meaning. Please do try this, it is very illustrative about language development.

Nothing so awful has happened to the word "Christian" – or has it? Maybe the reluctance to be labelled "Christian writers" comes from the use and misuse of "Christian" in society today.

Cultural Drift

From being a noun – believer in Christ – to becoming an adjective – "Christian church”,  "Christian community” (which are pretty neutral, and descriptive, a church which worships and believes in Jesus Christ, a community which seeks to follow the way of Jesus. The word moves on, until today there is a distinct aroma of dislike attached to "Christian". There is now an underlying meaning, from ordinary secularised people, that Christian anything is assumed to be strict, traditional, and fundamentalist in a life denying, highly negative, almost destructive way. The media report sex abuse by Christian organisations. They have also spread the word that Christians and their organisation, the Church, lack inclusivity, implying a lack of love, understanding, or compassion.

We can hardly combat this. Standing outside of our own dismay at the shift from positive to negative connotations, we can't deny it has happened. And that "Christian writer" may well convey the concept of a prudish, negative, and preachy person.

It isn't just writers

We are not alone. I have even be in a conversation where several ordained ministers/priests expressed extremely negative views about "Christian Counselling". These people had never heard of this counselling in any other way than by doubtfully qualified pastoral groups, who worked to inculcate beliefs and acted to manipulate the lives of vulnerable people, and to prevent them receiving "proper help" from qualified therapists or the NHS.

Today a "Christian doctor” will be assumed to be one who is against abortion, rather than a doctor who has a broadly Christian outlook in the sense of being a follower of Jesus's principles of service, listening, and a vocation to help and to heal, empathetic to the worldview of his patients. An approachable, compassionate, and people centred person.

We are all assumed to be creationists, and unscientific. We are assumed to be anti-gay. And sadly the continuing discussions on “human sexuality” make the Church of England appear obsessed with sex, its practice and purpose, rather than with ministry to the lost, the suffering, and the many problems in society.

So, can we or should we reverse a cultural shift? Should we change the ACW's name?

We can't stop the media's work on words. We have to acknowledge that we ourselves are often not happy with the fiction sold in Christian bookshops. This is assumed to be the only kind of fiction Christians write. 

And we live in a society which has come to suspect religion of any kind, Christian, Muslim, Hindu – though Judaism may have some means of escape from the list for fear of anti-Semitism, though this is by no means always so.

Why write about the obvious?

It's a blog about language, and how language is a powerful tool. Despite the fact that my own fiction writing is deeply inspired by my faith beliefs, I am not a "Christian writer" in the world's eyes. I am a writer. My private self "happens to be" a Christian believer. These must publicly part, in a description, in order to be publicly acceptable.

How do you see yourself and how do others – outside the church – see you?

Clare Weiner writes fiction as Mari Howard, and paints as herself. She is currently working on the third story in the Mullins Family Saga (faith, science, and families ...), lives in Oxford with her husband and two cats, would like to see her grandson more often, and looks forward to visiting Scargill again later this year. Website:

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Claire. I don't write 'Christian books' (can a book believe? can a book be a disciple?) but 'books for Christians' - which I'm very happy if non-Christians read too!