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How “Christian Art” is Losing the Culture

How “Christian Art” is Losing the Culture

by Mike Duran · 32 comments

So Sean Hannity lost half his audience after the 2012 election. Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come. No. I have nothing against Mr. Hannity. I probably agree with him more than not. I’m simply coming to believe that…

Winning elections is not about politics, but culture.

In After the Crack-Up, Lee Habeeb placed the blame for Republicans poor showing in the 2012 election not on  politicians, pundits, or pollsters, but on conservatives “profound storytelling deficit.” He writes:

…if there is one thing conservatives can agree on post-election, it’s this: The dominance of the Left in the storytelling arena is making a difference at the polls. It’s impossible to measure, but anyone who doesn’t think it skews outcomes is living in an alternative universe.

The fact is, it’s easier to sell a political narrative to America when it comports with the cultural narrative we see and hear every day. (emphasis mine)

Winning elections requires winning the culture. When an individual, an industry, or a party, represents or controls “the cultural narrative,” winning elections is a given. And one reason that political conservatives — and specifically, conservative Christians  — are sliding in every political / cultural poll may be our influence, or lack thereof, upon culture. Conservative Christians are losing the culture. Which is why they’re also losing elections.

Hopefully, the despair felt by the “Hannity conservatives” is only temporary. However, if the result is simply becoming more shrill and politically savvy, a renewed effort to campaigns and candidates, I fear we’ve not learned our lesson. We must consider how to influence and shape the “cultural narrative.” And that’s NOT done primarily through politics. It’s done through art.

Which leads to my thesis for this post:

One reason conservative Christians are losing the culture is our approach to art.

Progressives have long realized the importance of art in shaping culture. Robin Phillips in his article on German philosopher and sociologist Hebert Marcuse entitled The Illusionist, discuss the profound effect Marcuse’s theories have had on shaping American thought. Marcuse was part of a unique intellectual vision that came to be known as “the Frankfurt school.” The adherents were disillusioned with traditional Western society and values, believing that Western Civilization was something we needed saved from. Phillips summarizes the vision of the Frankfurt School thus:

That vision was essentially Marxist, but with a twist. Whereas Marx believed that power rested with those who controlled the means of production, the Frankfurt school argued that power rested with those who controlled the institutions of culture. The school would come to include sociologists, art critics, psychologists, philosophers, “sexologists,” political scientists, and a host of other “experts” intent on converting Marxism from a strictly economic theory into a cultural reality. (emphasis mine)

The Frankfurt School inevitably came to the United States where its vision was progressively embraced by American academia. Thus began the “sabotaging”  of American ideals, the deconstruction and revision of commonplace terminology, an appeal to youth (Marcuse was an intellectual guru of the 60′s counter-culture who invented the catchphrase “Make love, not war,”) and the slow takeover of “institutions of culture.” Ever wonder why the mainstream media, the arts, the entertainment industry, the halls of academia, major news outlets, and our youth culture primarily lean Left? Well, it didn’t happen overnight.

Which is why I agree with Habeeb that a more realistic — albeit, long-term — approach to our sad state of cultural affairs should not be primarily political. We must seek to influence institutions of power, primarily media / entertainment centers which now have massive sway in shaping mainstream thought. Writes Habeeb:

We’ve invested billions in our great think tanks but little in the task of translating that work into stories the average American will care about. Yes, we have Fox News and political talk radio — important outlets, but outlets that narrowcast to the conservative base and are driven by politics and opinion, not storytelling.

What we don’t have is an alternative to NPR. Or The Daily Show. Or 60 Minutes. Or The Charlie Rose Show. Or Frontline. Or Ken Burns. Content that doesn’t scream its politics at the audience but that lures America in with great storylines, not lectures.

But this — THIS — is exactly the rub. Christian art, as it’s currently defined, simply “narrowcasts” to its conservative base. Like Fox News, the party line is the extent of our influence.

At the heart of American Christianity’s cultural impotence is differing views of “the world” and how we influence it. The predominant view of culture is the one that has forced Christians out of, not into, the institutions of power. So rather than integrate into Hollywood, we separate from it and make “Christian films.” Instead of influencing the cultural narrative, we write “alternative” fare. Rather than combat Marcusian theory head-on, we leave both the academy and the art gallery to the barbarians. Instead of being salt and light in the existing cultural empire, we separate from it and build our own kingdom.

It’s precisely our retreat from culture that has got us into this mess.

All that to say, the Christian approach to the arts must change if we are to influence the cultural narrative. We need “storytellers” who produce “Content that doesn’t scream its [religion] at the audience but that lures America in with great storylines, not lectures.” Yet to do this, we need to rethink our entire view of what Christian storytellers and storytelling looks like. And this, my friends, is the real culture war.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole January 2, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Mike, I don’t disagree with the premise per se, but these two paragraphs strike me as totally off the mark. His examples do exactly for the left what he purports we should do from the right (propaganda; politicizing):

“We’ve invested billions in our great think tanks but little in the task of translating that work into stories the average American will care about. Yes, we have Fox News and political talk radio — important outlets, but outlets that narrowcast to the conservative base and are driven by politics and opinion, not storytelling.

What we don’t have is an alternative to NPR. Or The Daily Show. Or 60 Minutes. Or The Charlie Rose Show. Or Frontline. Or Ken Burns. Content that doesn’t scream its politics at the audience but that lures America in with great storylines, not lectures.”

I understand engaging the culture and making a real and meaningful impact from the entertainment standpoint, but our message is in direct conflict with the world’s message and in that factor, the primary culture of the world rejects us/what we stand for even when we don’t “preach” it. There are a few exceptions of course, and I believe we should strive to make exceptional creative contributions to the culture which exalt Christianity in its truth and beauty, but the bulk of the world’s culture, not just here in the USA, rejects our central message, theme, story because the light isn’t hidden under a bushel, and it exposes and contrasts the darkness which conflicts with the idea of the relativity of good and evil. JMO.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller January 2, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Nicole, I interpreted that to mean micro stories, not macro stories. For example, one story that the left has sold to America is that conservatives who believe in God and promote life rather than abortion are stupid–they can’t spell potatoes and think that seeing Russia from their house equates with foreign policy. Here in California, one of the most astute women to run for office, Carly Fiorina, went up against one of the worst ideologues who the media even identified as a do-nothing senator, and she lost because the left painted her as they wanted voters to see her before she told her own story. When she did, voters simply shrugged and said, well, we know you’re only trying to buy the election or well, we know you don’t really believe in the American worker, or whatever.

My point is, perhaps we need to tell more micro stories–missionaries still toiling in Japan with earthquake/tsunami survivors, youth groups spending their vacations working with victims of Katrina, and so on. We aren’t looking for publicity, and the media is looking for Christians who are loving their neighbors. Consequently, these stories go largely unnoticed.

The sad thing is, these stories are a reflection of the transforming power of the gospel and God’s work of redemption, so when the stories go unheralded, God Himself goes unheralded.

That’s why I think this matters so much.

Becky

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Mike Duran January 2, 2013 at 1:39 PM

Nicole, it’s the same tightrope Christianity has always had to face. On one hand “we should strive to make exceptional creative contributions to the culture which exalt Christianity in its truth.” But on the other hand, we should create “[c]ontent that doesn’t scream its politics [or religion] at the audience but that lures America in with great storylines, not lectures.” Just because the world’s message is different than ours, that doesn’t mean we bash them over the head with it. In fact, the Bible says that the law of God is written in everyone’s heart (Rom. 1-3). Which is why wisdom and subtlety and nuance is so important. Jesus was not of this world, but He still connected with the common folk. I think the burden is upon us to forge the connection, not to simply condemn the darkness.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller January 2, 2013 at 12:33 PM

Outstanding post, Mike. It raises a couple thoughts. First, this is an indictment, I think, of the idea that fiction Christians write should be without something to say. Just the opposite. We can render ourselves pointless by writing only to those of like mind or by writing pointless fiction.

Second, don’t forget public schools and a good number of our universities. Or Oprah. What’s odd is that we Christians often decry the clamor for Christian celebrities. Yet it is through Christians who are visible, who speak to the culture at large, that such things as the Charlie Rose Show might become established.

Third, more important than winning elections is fulfilling the great commission. We need to learn how to speak to our culture because that’s what we’re supposed to do until Christ returns.

There was something else, but it’s out of my head now.

Lots here to ruminate over.

Becky

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Jessica Thomas January 2, 2013 at 1:29 PM

Hmm. I’m having a problem with the word “lure”. Why must we lure? Why can’t we state truth plainly and let those who want it embrace it, and those who don’t cast it aside?

I would say our problem, then, is with our ability (or lack thereof) to truthfully and poignantly convey what its means to live in this world, with both its brokenness and its joy. And I would say this lack of ability comes from the Christian culture in America, which generally does not esteem the arts.

So, if there’s a culture that needs changing, it’s our own. As far as how we impact the culture at large after said internal “change”, that’s in God’s hands.

I think if we take a “let’s get better at creating art so we can have more influence” attitude, we’ll have once again misplaced our focus.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller January 2, 2013 at 1:39 PM

How about “entice,” Jessica? I think the gospel is winsome–water for the thirsty soul, bread for the starving, forgiveness for the guilty. It’s not that we are trying to coax the reluctant but to offer satisfaction to the needy. The only fish that succumb to the lure are hungry ones. We are fishers of men, Christ said. It’s not an ugly picture unless we start holding up a string of fish and crowing over what we’ve accomplished. That’s ugly.

Becky

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Mike Duran January 2, 2013 at 3:17 PM

“Why can’t we state truth plainly and let those who want it embrace it, and those who don’t cast it aside?”

If we’re talking about influencing the cultural narrative, we’re talking about something a lot bigger than just articulating a conservative ideology or a theological perspective. We must make multiple inroads into multiple mediums. There would be times to “state truth plainly.” But especially in the realm of the arts and entertainment, at some point it becomes less art and more propaganda. I’d agree that “if there’s a culture that needs changing, it’s our own.” I just think our approach to arts and entertainment has to do with a lot more than simply stating the truth plainly.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller January 2, 2013 at 4:17 PM

Rick Copple had one of the best posts a couple weeks ago at Spec Faith. He pointed out that the problem with Christian fiction can be that it mixes in non-fiction. The reality is, fiction doesn’t “state plainly.” It tells a story which means it inherently shows rather than tells. But too many of us either don’t trust our storytelling ability or our readers’ ability to discern what it is we’re saying. (And yes, we should have something to say. Weaving a theme into a story is not propaganda.)

Becky

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Jessica Thomas January 2, 2013 at 6:04 PM

Mike, I should have clarified what I meant by truth in this case.

I do believe there is a such thing as relative truth, we all experience truth that is relative to our experience. There is also God’s overarching, absolute truth. What I meant by “convey what its means to live in this world, with both its brokenness and its joy” is to, in the case of fiction, portray our character’s lives and situations as accurately as possible so that our characters’ realities become our readers’ realities, if only for a moment. Within that “micro, relative” truth, we have the opportunity to illuminate absolute truths.

But as you’ve said here before, we may not portray the *whole* gospel, the entirety of God’s absolute truth in one story. We may portray just a snippet, but that snippet ought to fit into God’s ultimate story (as best as we know how as followers of Jesus and also writers). Now I’m sounding ‘emergent’ but I assure you, I am not. We just happen to be talking about fiction here.

Hate to get all “brainy” and “philosophical” about it, because I often don’t see the point…I’d rather be doing (writing) than talking about it, but this is where I’m at as a writer, giving myself the permission to write ‘raw’ or ‘light’, depending on my mood, depending on the character, because God’s creation contains all of the above.

I can’t force feed readers, as much as I’d like to try. They have to assemble the puzzle themselves, with the Holy Spirit’s help.

p.s. I don’t think I’m saying anything that hasn’t been said here before. I just, personally, don’t want to let politics or “culture-building” drive my writing process. I’d rather seek to portray truth as I’ve described it above, and if the end result happens to impact the surrounding culture, it’s a bonus and I give God all the credit. (Assuming I am still humble after my wild success. ;) )

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Nicole January 2, 2013 at 7:02 PM

Mike and Becky, here’s the only misunderstanding we might have of each other’s “argument”. I think our primary inspiration and direction first comes to us as individuals from the Lord and should be carried out however He designs. Our art must coincide with His leading and be rendered the best we can produce. Beyond that (and “that” includes a whole boatload of different kinds of artists and deliveries/mediums), the results and influence lie with Him. Sometimes it seems like we really believe it is we who save souls – not implying those are either of your thoughts. We simply deliver the work and trust it has merit. We don’t know how it will be used, but somehow if God ordains it, He has a use for it whether or not it’s the way we hoped. Without His direction and involvement we labor in vain. Doesn’t mean everything we do is ordained – few of us ever reach that kind of obedience – but it seems to me we can create with more meaning and freedom and value when we’re sure of His touch on our work.

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christopher clack January 2, 2013 at 6:30 PM

“And I would say this lack of ability comes from the Christian culture in America, which generally does not esteem the arts”
.Here in the uk there is a similar problem, christian culture is pretty weak where the arts are concernd,. The church in the UK , at least the church of England, has recognized the power and influence of contemporary art, and many contemporary artist produce art used and displayed by churches, but the most successful work is almost always by artist who would not consider themselves Christians. The artist may of course may have to varying degrees an interest or sympathies with religion or some sort of spiritual engagement. It seems to me that if your art is not working, ‘Christian art’ that is then something is very badly wrong with the Christianity that’s behind it.
I saw a quote by Thomas Paine the other day, ‘politics should be for the living, not for the dead’
well I think the same goes for art and religion . At the moment the Christianity we have is for the dead and its producing an art for the dead. Much of the talent is in the secular world because at least there its allowed to breath.

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Bobby B January 2, 2013 at 1:32 PM

Agreed. We’re losing. But how do we “win”? Do what they did and infiltrate the institutions named, hoping to rise in rank and then effect meaningful change? Only problem with that is how much junk are you going to have to swallow to “fit in”? I read an interview with an actress (not a big name, but she was involved in the Hollywood business) who had become a Christian in which, when she was asked how should Christians who aspire to be actors well, act in Hollywood, she said, don’t bother. To her, the environment was so toxic no Christian could withstand it. I worked with a woman who used to be an aspiring model from Colombia. I asked her if she planned to go far in modeling, and she said she would never have been able to go very high and keep her Christian witness. She said in most cases, models must become immoral to climb higher in the industry. I heard Jim Caviezel speak once about the fact that he was shunned in Hollywood once he starred in the Passion.

And that’s the thing: the alternative to creating what always mistakenly becomes a bubble (“we’ll make a Christian solution to MTV!”) is to go into the mainstream media, and once you start to show your “true colors,” I’d imagine the door shuts pretty quickly on how far up you can go. Not to say we shouldn’t do it, but just throwing out what are in my mind very practical implications.

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Jill January 2, 2013 at 1:47 PM

You lost me when you equated being a Republican to being a conservative Christian. What about retelling the story of liberty and justice for all? That ones a good story.

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Jill January 2, 2013 at 1:48 PM

*one’s

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Mike Duran January 2, 2013 at 3:28 PM

Evangelicals are typically aligned with the Republican Party, which is why I equate the two. But you’re right, I do splice two different things: Conservative politics and conservative religion, mainly because I see the same deficiency in how they’re both approaching culture.

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Shannon Dittemore January 2, 2013 at 2:27 PM

I appreciate this article, Mike. You’ve touched on a subject that has always been near and dear to me. I appreciate your passion for Christian art. Man, do we ever need it.

This is a dilemma I’ve chewed on a lot. I don’t think there are easy answers either. We cannot afford to look at this as a problem we can solve alone. It would be a tragedy to separate our Christian art from the Christian God. While we may, oftentimes, be clueless about our culture, God is absolutely not. We have to be prayerful. Each author. Each artist. And we must be obedient to produce the art He gives us.

I like this idea of sharing micro stories. Something to ponder definitely. How do we do this and do it well?

In my mind’s eye, I see a field of artists. They’re armed with pen and paper, all the tools of their trade, and they’re fighting as the Spirit leads. That’s the best answer I’ve got. God. In us. It’s the only way our art will ever really shine.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller January 2, 2013 at 4:47 PM

Shannon, I think we can approach fiction on the micro level by addressing some of the philosophical issues of our culture. For example, I have a teenage FB friend about to go off to college who posted this update: “Truth is ? ;-)” When I stopped by, she had 26 likes and no comments. I think the “Truth is?” belief would be make a great basis for a micro story.

I have another FB friend who posted “10 Rules for Being Human.” No. 9 was “Your answers lie within you. The answers to life’s questions lie within you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.” Well, I think there’s another micro story in that scenario, too.

I know I’d love to do more, but I think our culture needs to know that truth exists and that answers to the big questions don’t lie within us.

I look at it a little like incorporating backstory into a novel. Too many writers tell readers things they’re not asking. I think Christian novelists need to address the questions the culture is asking, not the ones they aren’t ready for.

Becky

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Margaret Mills January 2, 2013 at 2:38 PM

Hope its ok if I jump in here. I’ve been “lurking,” and following your posts for some time, just not commenting. I think we have to remember that we are Christians, and that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us in how to win this battle. I was appalled as a teen fifty years ago by the Christian fiction I found (preachy propaganda and poorly written), and have been on a crusade since. I raised my five children to be strong in faith and in the arts. One is an actor in CA; a daughter-in-law is finishing a master’s in theater in NY. I know there are Christians in Hollywood – my own children are there, and so are others. The thing is, they are quietly going about their work, getting awards, growing their careers. Check out the work of the Hollywood Prayer Network and other ministries. It’s dark, but it’s not hopeless. In our family, while I still write for the Christian market occasionally, we are mostly committed to being artists in the world who bring Christian values and viewpoint to our work. When I think of the vision I had forty years ago when I began to write for publication, I am aware that God sometimes leads in a way we would never have imagined. Currently, rather than writing the great novel I had in mind, I am led more into film and script writing, and into telling “our stories” as Becky (above) suggested – but in film and tv. My actor son has made some headway in LA, but a conversation this Christmas may open doors for him to work with his sister-in-law in NY – in live theater, not a move we anticipated. We have to be sensitive to the Lord’s leading…Personally, I agree with your post absolutely, but I am also feeling more hope and anticipation than I have any time in the last 40 years. If my family is prepared and in position, others are as well.

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Katherine Coble January 2, 2013 at 4:57 PM

Jill kind of touched on what I was going to say, but I’m expanding it a little bit.

You are losing the culture because you see “Conservative Christians” as a narrow descriptor.

I am a Conservative Christian in that I am very orthodox in my Christian belief and approach to doctrine and dogma. Yet time and again in conversations here and elsewhere my libertarian beliefs have me repeatedly stigmatised as a Liberal and (in some cases) have my Christianity called into question.

People are calling my relationship to my Lord and Saviour into question because of my political opinions. That infuriates me.

I have been called an idolator for believing in gun liberty. I’ve been called a traitor to the faith for not voting for Mitt Romney.

Do we not see a problem here? Do we not see a problem when someone like me–devout and saved and sanctified and dedicated wholly to the cause of Jesus Christ and the story of resurrection and grace–is somehow “not really a Christian” because of how I interact with the culture?

I do. It’s why I can’t engage your premise. You’re still stuck in a mindset that says “Christian=Christianity+Victorianism+Goldwater Republicanism”.

That towel you threw in two days ago is coming in quite handy for dusting off old tropes.

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Mike Duran January 2, 2013 at 5:49 PM

Katherine, I make no such assumption about your Christian faith, nor do I believe that “Christian=Christianity+Victorianism+Goldwater Republicanism.” You’ve agreed with me before, I think, that the Christian art industry as it currently exists has little cultural impact (outside of those who support it) and does not accurately represent the fullness of what a biblical approach to the arts might look like. All that to say, I wish you would engage my premise.

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Katherine Coble January 3, 2013 at 11:50 AM

I guess what I take away from your various political commentaries is that you often DO conflate “appropriate” Christianity with the social Christianity defined by those traits. And yes, I know that “evangelicals” are often conflated by The Media with those traits, but that doesn’t make it right or correct or fair. These posts continue to reinforce that prejudice.

As for the initial premise, I think my point–that Christians are not politically or socioeconomically homogeneous–is really the point that needs to be addressed when talking about the problem with “Christian” art engaging the culture.

The problem isn’t Christian Art or Christian Fiction. It’s the fact that in marketing to one very small portion of the Christian Audience those who seek to commercialise Christianity have settled for the most marketable products.

The most marketable products tend to be those with the broadest appeal, which means they tend to be those that are the least offensive as well as the least challenging.

The problem is not that the art is bad. The problem is that a lot of Christians–whether they be visual artists, writers, or pastors of churches–are serving two masters. They serve God but they also serve Mammon. They want as much money as possible out of their efforts* so they water down their product.

That product doesn’t engage the “culture” because the “culture” can tell what is–a substandard, flavourless attempt to cash in.

* (Please don’t prooftext the “workman is worthy of his wages” verse at me because it doesn’t apply in this context at all.)

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Tim George January 3, 2013 at 1:10 PM

I was all in with you Katherine until that last line, “That product doesn’t engage the “culture” because the “culture” can tell what is–a substandard, flavourless attempt to cash in”.

Which culture are you talking about? The one that continues to churn out yet another retelling because it can’t think of anything new? The one that pumps out untold regurgitations of the same story told in a “new and unique” way?

It seems to me this a bit a chicken and the egg thing. Does the garbage foul the culture or is the garbage a result of the culture? I don’ have answers so much as questions to this one.

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Katherine Coble January 3, 2013 at 2:37 PM

I’m kind of the same on that. But what I was trying to get at–but didn’t get across–is that in the premise of the original post Mike is (to me it seems) using “The Culture” as a term best operationally-defined as “Society in general, specifically the larger United States/Canada popular culture.”

So when the Corporate Conglomerate (I wish I could find an easy shorthand term for this; I mean CBA/Lifeway/Family Christian/the people who make products for and sold to those customers of those stores) puts out what it deems as “saleable” art and entertainment with a “Christian” focus, the larger popular culture rejects it as lacking in character or interest.

I believe that I, personally, as a writer, as a woman, as a wife, as a libertarian, as a gamer, as a knitter, as a pet-owner, engage the culture very well. I have dialog with folks from all shades of the spectrum. I have friends from all walks of life and I try to engage them with my work and with my actions and my conversation. But that isn’t something that I do to make money. And I think that is a large part of the trick. Not that Christians shouldn’t make money, but I think it’s a good idea for us to focus first on what God wants and let whatever money comes flow from that.

This is why I’m in love with the micro-distribution model of self-publishing. It allows for surgical strikes into the marketplace, so it will, in the long term, I believe allow for product with stronger integrity.

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Katherine Coble January 3, 2013 at 12:46 PM

I am trying to engage your premise but I’m in moderation for some reason.

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Tim George January 2, 2013 at 5:06 PM

I agree in principle with your final conclusion about winning in the culture rather than the p0litical arena. The engine that drives cultural standards is built for the long haul while politics is not. If you saw the article I wrote where I quoted your last post, we are in agreement in our estimation of the value of political involvement.

With that said, I would like to point out how easily influenced we all are by the media. Your opening line was built on the premise that Hannity’s loss of viewers is connected to the political and cultural temperature of the country. Your link for reference is to a New York Daily News article that is guilty of a common thing on all sides of today’s so-called journalism – reporting partial facts with the intent of skewing the conversation. No friend to conservatives, Poltico correctly reports what the Daily News did not, Hannity’s numbers have fallen by about 50% meaning they are back to his 2011 numbers before the current election cycle got under way. In truth, this is a pattern all the cable news networks reflect before and after national elections. My point is simply this, it is next to impossible not to be influenced by the prevailing media, a major reason we all need counterbalance and critical thinking.

I grew tired of Hannity sometime ago but not because much what he says and report is not true. I grew weary because four people yelling at each other is not conversation.

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Les January 3, 2013 at 12:03 AM

Columns like this are precisely why I read your blog. You hit the nail on the head with a sledgehammer the size of Montana, Mike. What you’ve detailed above sums up perfectly a sentiment and concept that I’ve been working toward for the past couple years now in my own small media company. Here’s the messed up part, though: how? How do we convince other Christians our effort isn’t basically just selling out or watering down our underlying themes and messages? How do we get them to “get it” and be supportive? Do we even bother? Here’s an example of my own delimma…

Outside the business I run, I also spend a fair amount of time playing music as a singer/guitarist in a metal band. The band is “metal” and just “happens” to be made up of Christians, playing all original material that competes well other metal bands whether Christian or not. But we don’t necessarily call it a “Christian” band per se, though we don’t shy away from it if someone “gets it” either. Now, there are a lot of choices to be made, just in that facet of the thing: do we promote it to Christians? Do we keep the Christian side of it a kind of “secret”? So far, we’ve played in regular bars, a Christian coffee house and a 2 day long metal festival where we were bookended, no joke, by openly satanic bands. At every show, the response was incredibly positive. The route we’ve taken so far is just to put the stuff out there, play our hearts out and give the crowd an over the top show with all the intensity we know they’re looking for. Still, though, it feels a little weird sometimes, like we’re sort of traveling into somewhat mirky, uncharted waters.

Now, the same holds true with my day job, as the primary artist/producer at Sixus1 Media where we specialize in 3D modeling, animation, character development and special effects. The clients we’ve worked with run an absolute gamut through the corporate and entertainment worlds, and outside of a handful of close friends, I have no clue who out there has any idea that they’re dealing with a business which is trying to operate within and promote, as well as we can, Christian values. I do know some of our past clients would probably drop us like a hot rock if they knew that, and for a long time, I was nervous about saying anything in public for fear of my livelihood, but eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. That doesn’t mean I broadcast it at max volume to them, but it does mean I’ve begun to turn down projects where I felt they conflicted with my beliefs, and when asked about it, was honest. Being an entertainment industry person and a Christian is about as comfortable as having underwear laced with fiberglass, so any insight, ideas or directions anyone might toss out there is greatly appreciated.

Again, great post! Always glad to read your stuff! -Les

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Simon Morden January 3, 2013 at 7:49 AM

Hello, Mike.

I’m going to offer an antithesis to your thesis – that conservative Christians are losing the culture, not because they’re not telling their stories well, but because of the stories they’re telling.

There are always two temptations when a project goes badly. The first one is to blame your presentation – if only you’d done x, y or z differently, you would have succeeded. The second is to blame your audience – they haven’t understood you because they’re too stupid or corrupted by outside influences. So while I think your summation of the effects – that conservative Christians don’t engage with the wider culture and talk only to other conservative Christians – is bang on the money, I think the cause, and therefore the cure, is different.

The cause is that the stories that conservative Christians tell often suck. And suck hard. The cure is not more ‘Fox News’ – which is viewed pretty much everywhere outside of the USA as a joke – but news which has integrity, honesty and a partiality on the side of the poor, the weak and the voiceless. The cure is not ’60 Minutes, but Christian’, but a space where people like Jim Wallis, Tom Sine, Shane Claiborne can tell their stories. Of course, these wouldn’t necessarily be conservative Christian stories, but conservative Christian stories are not the only Christian stories.

The irony is that far more Americans go to church and self-identify as Christian than Europeans do. Yet over here in the godless UK, there are very few problems with being a Christian in the arts – certainly in speculative fiction publishing – and I’ve never had an editor tell me to lose the religious stuff. That might be because some of our greatest fantasy writers were (and are) Christians, I don’t know. (But what I do know is that turning in decent manuscripts, not missing deadlines, playing fair with contracts and treating everyone I meet decently goes an awfully long way in a notoriously fickle industry.)

Christians can and do write and tell stories which completely own culture (in my own field, they don’t come much bigger than Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter). This leads me to think it’s not that Christians cannot engage with culture (lots of us do), or are prevented from telling stories within in it (we’re not). It’s the particular narrative – the conservative Christian story – that fails.

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Jessica Thomas January 3, 2013 at 9:06 AM

“The cure is not more ‘Fox News’ – which is viewed pretty much everywhere outside of the USA as a joke… ”

I hope they find MSNBC and CNN equally amusing, nay, more. Unfortunately, I doubt it.

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D.M. Dutcher January 3, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Simon, it doesn’t work. I’m not going to get into a big screed about why it doesn’t, but it simply doesn’t. If Fox died completely, and the Republican party was routed even more than it was now, it wouldn’t help one bit. No one is suppressing Jim Wallis. His message simply doesn’t appeal to anyone. You go and you read Sojourners, and there’s really not much different that you can’t get from Slate or Salon. That is the problem, and if anything, Slate and Salon offer things that Sojourners can never do, like progressive attitudes on sex, parenting, birth control and abortion, and other lifestyle issues.

I really can’t say more than that. It just doesn’t work, even when the mainstream culture is favorable to it.

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DD January 4, 2013 at 6:08 PM

If by “routed” you mean the Republican establishment (which isn’t much different than the Democrat establishment), then I agree. The establishment put forth their picks for candidates, which often lost, and often would not support candidates that the people prefered. On the other hand, the day after the election, the results showed that the control of power in Washington was effectively unchanged from the day before.

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Marcia January 3, 2013 at 10:02 AM

YES to your thesis.

YES to this: “Christian art, as it’s currently defined, simply ‘narrowcasts’ to its conservative base.”

YES, storytelling is THIS important. I thank God every time he allows me to see this, because it’s all too easy to feel, within the church or the wider culture, that what we do is superfluous or trivial at best, suspect at worst (in some circles, imagination is a dangerous thing).

I tried to say these things in the ’70s and ’80s. But it was a lost cause. There was no internet through which to find like-minded people. No born-again Christians that I knew agreed with me, and in my relationships with my CBA editors I wasn’t the one in any kind of power position.

There is one answer to NPR, 60 Minutes, etc., that we had. It was Paul Harvey. He even made his commercials sound like story. My liberal Democrat MIL adored him and agreed with him. Had there been more of his kind of storytelling in the culture, she might well have been swayed away from blindly voting Democrat 100% of the time. She wasn’t as liberal Democrat as she thought she was, but for decades, the Democratic party told her better stories. It is almost that simple.

This shouldn’t need saying, but I’ll say it anyway. I’m not saying Democrats can’t be Christians. I’m saying that story is so powerful that it can create lockstep voters. We writers have been entrusted by God with something powerful and, yes, dangerous. How will we answer to him if we use it solely to keep the white, 40-ish, female CBA demographic in its comfort zone?

And I love what Becky has to say about micro-story, and answering the questions the culture is asking, not the ones they’re not.

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DD January 3, 2013 at 5:42 PM

“Progressives have long realized the importance of art in shaping culture”
“And I would say this lack of ability comes from the Christian culture in America, which generally does not esteem the arts.”

Neither of these statements are true across the board. However, the second is true to a point, but also stems from another issue, which I’ll explain shortly. But first, because “art” in Christian minds is tainted by incidents controversial art (stuff in urine, etc.), out of reaction, some take the other extreme view that the arts should be avoided. That’s the first problem.

The second, and more important, is how we have separated arts from other intellectual pursuits. Anyone who has studied humanities knows this separation is not historically correct. I know many Christian colleges (including conservative ones) where the arts are in the same regard as the sciences, theology, etc. Progressives like to promote the stereotype that they are the only ones who study such things, but I refer them to the origins of much our university & college system (rooted in Christian thought).

It’s funny though, having gone to one of these colleges, those who came from a Christian schooling background, hadn’t been exposed to as much (if any) art, art history, mythology, etc. This obviously doesn’t apply to everyone and I would hazard to make the statement that all types of pre-college schooling lack in one field or another. Are certain fields or studies lacking in Christian schools?

I think if Christians would dig into the intellectual history of the church (which has always included the arts), they would see there is a very high standard we often fall short of obtaining. We really have no excuse. Not holding to that standard is at the root of many of our problems. Many (but not all) Christian institutions of higher learning get this. But these places, the seminaries and the churches themselves have not been effective for many decades in instituting change throughout the church as a whole.

Our intellectual heritage has been replaced with pop theology, churches that don’t want to challenge or offend people and instead embrace a religion no better than another 7-step program and a mindset that thinks the Statue of David (or similar art) is almost pornographic.

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