Saturday, June 28, 2014

So Your Character is a Christian ...

Society tends to put sorts of people into stereotypes. Some of those are accurate, but oftentimes people groups are misrepresented in media because of this stereotype image. The stereotype is derived from true features of these groups, but usually the populace will believe all members of these people groups are like the stereotype. 

The dumb Southerner, the heartless hunter, and so on. When you're a writer and you need research for a character, it's sometimes hard to find people to interview to make sure you're portraying this character accurately. So I've decided to write a series of posts showing my personal experience about being part of some uncommon people groups in ten tips.

This is the second post in this series. You can check out my first post "So Your Character is Adopted" here.

Christians are probably one of the most misrepresented sorts of people in media. We are often portrayed as backwards, overzealous, goody-goodies, or sometimes even just plain evil. Shows such as Switched At Birth, Agents of SHIELD, and Revolution disappointed me as they represented my faith incorrectly featuring a flighty Christian, overzealous "Christians," and evil "Christians." Such misportrayals reflect ill on my faith. I'm a strong Christian, and I've grown up in a Christian home. I'm doing this not to preach, but to enlighten so hopefully more true Christians will be portrayed in media and less knock-offs.

Here are ten tips on the mannerisms of a true Christian:

1.) God is not the Boogeyman or a Push-Over - God is not a horrible, heartless being in the sky that just wants to strike us down if we do something wrong. Nor is He a happy, fluffy bunny God that just tells us that we can do what we want but as long as we believe in Heaven we're totally going there when we die.

God is a supreme being who is perfect and does not sin nor does He tolerate sin (1 Corinthians 6:10). But that doesn't mean He doesn't love and have compassion for us. He sent his perfect son to earth to atone for our sin (1 John 4:8-10). That is the foundation of Christianity. If your character has no understanding of this then your character isn't a Christian.

2.) The Bible - This book is the Christian's guide to Christianity. Everything about Christianity is
enclosed between those covers. If you're going to have Christian characters you need to read at least some of it. The Bible is the infallible Word of God. It was written by men but under God's guidance.

The Bible comes in many versions not just the "thee and thou" kind of language. The Bible is most often portrayed with this sort of language, but there are many translations that use modern language such as the New International Version and English Standard Version. The language is interpreted as truth as it was meant to be translated not out of context which is how many off spurt doctrines are created that aren't true Christianity.

3.) Morals - Christians believe in a set group of morals primarily stated in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) which are basically: No idols (that doesn't mean a little golden statue you bow to but anything that takes focus off of God such as money, power or even other people), no blasphemy ("Oh my God" is a form of blasphemy), remember Sunday which is the holy day of the week where we rest and spend time with our family and reading the Bible, honor your parents, you shall not commit murder (This includes the unborn. Christians are Pro-Life for this reason.), you shall not commit adultery (This doesn't mean just cheating on your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend. This means Christians don't have sex outside of the bond of marriage.), you shall not steal, you shall not lie, and you shall not envy.

Other things which are important for Christians to follow is modesty (This doesn't mean we cover up every inch of our skin, but we try to keep private areas well covered.) for both men and women, not swearing (Ephesians 4:29) and we believe homosexuality is wrong which is pretty clearly told in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).

This may sound like a lot of rules, but because I follow them I'm following the word of my God, and I've become a better person because of it. Your Christian character would strive to follow these also. This doesn't mean we don't love people who don't keep these rules. Though I don't agree with homosexual practices, it doesn't mean I hate homosexuals nor does any other true Christian.

4.) We Aren't Goody-Goodies - Sometimes we screw up. It is really hard to keep all those rules and sometimes we fail. One of the reasons God showed us these rules was to show us we can't do it all on our own. Without His son Jesus Christ it is impossible to keep all those commandments, but if we break one we are a sinner and not worthy of Heaven. But by accepting Jesus as our savior to wash away our sins and turning away from our sins we become clean and worthy of Heaven.

This doesn't mean we don't make mistakes, but because we are saved those sins are atoned. This also doesn't mean we make rampant "mistakes" because we're covered. When one becomes a Christian, one doesn't desire to sin anymore, they feel it's wrong in their hearts.

5.) Pastors - In most media pastors are portrayed like the one in picture: dressed in black with a white collar, always quoting scripture, mild mannered, and are usually addressed as "father." Though this particular one from Doctor Who was appropriate for period setting he was in, nowadays you often see preachers in blue jeans.

Some still keep the traditional, but from the many churches I have been to, most of them dress with a nice jacket and dress pants for their sermons. Many just a nice jacket and jeans.

Pastors aren't always mild-mannered. I know many that are fiery, hilarious, and passionate, but kind and generous. Pastors quote scripture a lot in their sermons (of course), but in conversation not as often as is often portrayed. And I've never addressed a pastor as "father." They're just Pastor Johnny or Pastor Mike and so on. Pastors are sometimes raised in the church and choose to devote their lives to preaching or sometimes they're plucked out of a tough situation and after they've become a Christian, God calls them to preach. Some go to seminary where they learn about preaching. Every pastor's story is different.

6.) Church - Often I see the stereotypical stained glass, Gothic church in media, and characters often complain how creepy it is. It's true some of those churches are creepy, but some are beautiful. The Notre Dame for one is an absolutely gorgeous church I had the privilege to go one my mission trip to France. But most of these churches were built decades ago at least.

Most modern churches don't have a pane of stained glass and are quite light and spacious. They have a large worship center where there are seats with a stage where the band plays and the pastor preaches from. In other parts of the church are Sunday school rooms, the nursery, and of course bathrooms. Larger churches include more different rooms. Or sometimes service is held not even in a church, but a hotel or a home or anywhere Christians can gather to worship the one true God. The church isn't essentially a building, but a body of Christ followers.

Services usually occur on Sundays and Wednesdays. They usually include music and sometimes baptisms at the beginning then have the actual sermons then music at the end. Though every church does their services a little different, that is a basic one. The music isn't always very old hymns, but modern Christian worship songs. Many churches offer a service with modern music and one with traditional hymns on Sundays.

7.) Praying - The Lord's Prayer is usually the default prayer in most movies. This prayer is a beautiful prayer, but typically Christians don't pray just this prayer or any set prayer for this matter. We pray what's on our hearts. We pray for healing for others, for safety, for a job, for direction and so many other things. In turn, we thank God for things for our houses, for something he did and sometimes things he didn't do. We pray over our meals and often in the morning and before bed. Just anytime we want.

A prayer usually starts with "Father" or "Dear Lord" or "Dear God" or something of that sort, but it can be any humble address to God. Prayers end with "amen" because it means "so be it" so we're asking let God's will be done at the end of each prayer. But there's no set way to do it. It's pouring our hearts to our Heavenly Father openly and earnestly.

Great movie that portrayed Christianity
8.) Involvement in the Community - Churches are often involved in the community. They conduct food drives, donations to impoverished children, promoters of fostering children, help people repair their homes, just anything to help people out.

The larger churches often have mission trips where a group of people willing to go travel to other parts of the country or other countries to minister people and do work with no pay. Some missionaries move out of the US and devote their entire lives to ministry of a country to bring the Word of God to others.

9.) Science - It seems to be a common misconception that because Christians don't believe Evolution is how the world came to be we don't believe in science or like technology. This is highly untrue. I love science. Many Christians love science. In fact there are some Christians who are scientists. Dr. Raymond Vahan Damadian invented the MRI, and he is a strong Christian.

10.) False Christians - There is a such thing as a person who pretends to be Christian. Throughout history people have used Christianity as a means to an end (the Inquisition for example) and have influenced and hurt people in "God's name." These are not Christians. That kind of behavior is in direct opposition to everything Christianity stands for.

 These sort of hypocrites seem to be portrayed more than an actual Christian. If a person who claims Christianity doesn't have the foundation of points 1-4, then they're not a Christian. Some people use Christianity as a Get Out of Hell free card and that is also wrong. Christianity is giving up one's self and using Christianity in those ways is the opposite. The act of becoming a Christian is relinquishing your life to God.

Summary - In this day and age, Christians are called bigots and backwards all across the news and in books, movies, shows, and every form of media. This is wrong. Because we stand up for our faith, we're ridiculed. What you write whether you're a novelist or screenwriter or whatever will influence others. That's why it's so important to get your facts straight. So I'm asking you if you write a Christian, write a real one.

Media that portrayed this right: 

Sergeant York - This is an old, black and white film starring Gary Cooper based on a true story of Sergeant Alvin York. In this movie, a very wayward man comes to Christianity. The church and pastor are portrayed genuinely.
Soul Surfer - This is recent film and shows a Christian girl's faith tested when a great tragedy befalls her. The church and music and tested faith is showed so well in this movie.
Dragons in Our Midst series by Bryan Davis - Since this book is Christian market it has many Christian characters particularly one named Bonnie Silver who is such an excellent Christian character, but a rare one.
Failstate by John W. Otte - In this book the main character shows youth group (church for middle schoolers and teens usually on Wednesdays). I have a review of it here.
The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson - In this book, Christians are thrust in a very corrupt world so it has many good Christian characters. I have a review of the first book here and one of the second in the trilogy coming up soon.

Are you writing a Christian character? Are there any questions I didn't answer?*

*I know this is a controversial topic, but I stand by what I said so I'm asking if you have an opposing view in the comments that you please be respectful. Thank you.

You may also like:
So Your Character is Adopted ...
Hot n' Cold
Tone Down But Don't Water Down
Dear Christian Writers ...
Five Tips on Writing A Good Main Character


  1. Good post. A few things I'd like to add is that not all Christians have the exact same morals. One might think swearing is okay while another will be appalled that someone dared say, "Oh crap." Another thing is some Christians work on Sunday and some, like my family, don't even go to church. (A fair amount of the churches I've been in do have at least some stained glass but this might be the region as well as the buildings' age.)
    For those reading the Bible to write Christians, it may also be a good idea to get to know Christians. Yes, the Bible is the word of God but if someone takes something out of context, they could easily mis-portray Christians.
    Also, what you said is good to keep in mind for other religions too. Right now, I've got a Muslim character and I'm doing my best to make him human. (I'm rather tired of the old "evil Muslim terrorist" stereotype that's popped up everywhere.)
    What were the instances Christians were portrayed improperly in Revolution and Agents of SHIELD? In a lot of these shows, I have trouble figuring out if these characters are supposed to represent true Christians or if the writers are doing false Christians on purpose.
    In secular media, about the only really good portrayal I saw of a Christian was Shepherd Book from Firefly. (Interestingly enough, there were also a lot of immoral characters in that series but the story didn't take a side like some forms of media do.)
    I guess another tip for someone writing Christians is DO NOT end the story portraying them as wrong. I've seen books where characters start out as Christians and quickly dump their faith because the author isn't Christian. (In secular, the opposite tends to happen.)

    1. Good points. I was just giving a general summary. There were a lot of bad guys who were "Christians" in Revolution, but no good characters who were and in Agents of SHIELD they had an episode where a whole town thought God was punishing a girl and all the Christians were considered backwards. Thank you for commenting!

    2. You're welcome.
      In the first season of Revolution, I think there was a priest or father something that was Christian. He was a black guy with the rebel group.
      Oh, I remember that episode of SHIELD.

  2. Jessi, the thing is that those 'different morals' often are wrong, or at best misguided.