Just who counts as a Christian, anyway?

Today I started uploading my debut novel to Kindle, which meant assigning categories and keywords.

Now, The Awful Mess has some serious Christian themes. Even though the main character is a self-described “heathen” who does some regrettable messing around with a flawed (but not entirely unsympathetic) Episcopal priest, she ultimately falls in love with a committed Christian who’s prone to saying “Praise God” at odd moments. As my friend Lucia Nevai has pointed out, in many ways the book concerns itself with various levels of religious sincerity.

So one obvious category or keyword for this book might be Christian, right?

Apparently not.

I haven’t had the guts to try it, but I suspect I’d discover a whole world of hurt if I put it in that category. Just to confirm my suspicions, I asked the LinkedIn group I belong to (“Ebooks, Ebook Readers, Digital Books and Digital Content Publishing”) if I was correct in guessing readers in that category would be put off by progressive Christianity, such as  support for marriage equality.

One participant responded, “To be christian, it must respect some basic rules as not to go against christian principes [sic].” Another said, “I think you will find Christian bookstores unwilling to promote books that are not faithful to the Bible’s teachings….”

So I thanked them for the help (and it was helpful) and I decided to go with keywords “religion and spirituality” and “Episcopal” instead. At this stage in my writing career I’d like to minimize the number of angry one-star reviews.

But isn’t it ironic that a novel that literally quotes the Bible and concerns itself with Christian belief doesn’t fit into a category called “Christian” simply because it doesn’t hew to the most conservative interpretation of that word?

And why that automatic assumption that progressive Christianity is not “faithful to the Bible’s teachings.” Really?  Where do conservative Christians think progressive Christians get their ideas … toilet stalls? The Huffington Post? Isn’t it possible these Christians they describe as lacking faith are studying exactly the same scriptures and concluding that Jesus was mostly about love and forgiveness rather than maintaining purity and ancient power structures?

Anyway, it’s an odd feeling, as a Christian, to be excluded from this category … but I’m hopeful it won’t always be this way. This is kind of what my book is all about, really. In my fictional little town, real people who disagree completely about religion nonetheless find a way to show love for each other, even if it’s just with a friendly greeting, or a milk shake.

And no, I don’t think it belongs in the “fantasy” category.