One of my pet peeves, now that I’m Catholic, is the fact that many Evangelical Christians sometimes use the word ‘Christian’ to mean the totality of people who are ‘saved’ enough to go to heaven, and at other times use ‘Christian’ to mean ‘Evangelical Christian’ or even ‘Evangelical Christian like the ones in our church.’ Since I was brought up in an Evangelical-ish Presbyterian congregation and only converted as a mature adult, I resent being sometimes ‘outside’ the Christian fold in the speech of such people.
Sadly, this thinking has gone beyond messing up Evangelical Christians. I have heard of a Catholic husband who corrected his wife, saying ‘We’re not Christian, we’re Catholic!’ Obviously he had imbibed the idea of ‘Christian’ as ‘Evangelical Christian,’ and may have felt that he was sticking up for the Catholic faith against a faith-compromising wife.
OK, here the fact: ‘Christian’ is a term that applies to all followers of Jesus, no matter their denomination. Or non-denomination. Even in groups that both Catholics and Evangelical/Ptotestants think of as ‘cults,’ like Mormons (LDS), Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are folks who are following Jesus. They may have a lot of flawed doctrines (beliefs) in their heads, but if they are looking to Jesus to save them from their sins, they are part of our ‘tribe.’
Some Evangelicals, aware of this, like to use the term ‘Bible Christians’ to differentiate between themselves and between Christians like Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that they consider ‘beyond the pale.’ But from a Catholic perspective, I would resent that. Who is it that preserved the New Testament manuscripts and copied them— not to mention deciding which Christian books were a part of the Bible like Revelation and Romans, and which books, though good, did not make the cut, like the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas? Protestants and Evangelicals didn’t come along until centuries later. So— when Joel Osteen urges listeners who have prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ to get themselves in a ‘good Bible-based church,’ I consider my own Precious Blood Catholic Church to be one.
In my lifetime, popular culture has gone from thinking of Christians as virtuous but dull, to characterizing Christians, particularly those who stand up for unpopular teachings, as ‘haters,’ homophobes, and misogynists. We writers who are Christians need to stand up for Christianity as a whole— not just those bits of Christianity we know from our own denomination or church congregation.
Now, I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with a writer who happens to be Methodist or Lutheran or Pentecostal or Catholic using their own specific faith in their fiction, rather than a generic homogenized ‘Christianity.’ Back when I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I would have loved to read a Christian sci-fi or fantasy novel that mentioned the ‘means of grace’ or quoted from Luther’s catechism. And I now have favorite Catholic authors that are explicitly Catholic in their works.
But we need to face up to the fact that Christianity is divided and this is not necessarily good. Perhaps the best thing an author could do is to try to show Christians acting in unity in spite of divisions, and being kind to Christians from other denominations that the writer believes are very wrong. (For example, I have Amish and a Lutheran family on my fictional starship Destine, which is otherwise pretty full of Catholics. And in another work in progress, I have a group of young Mormon missionaries who volunteer to act as messengers for the Pope, who is in exile in Upper Michigan during the zombie apocalypse. The awkward bit comes when the Pope gives them his papal blessing and one of the Mormon missionaries responds by giving the Pope his own priestly blessing.)
What about non-Christian authors? Well, if you are non-Christian and still want to be respectful to Christianity, rather than mocking it, in my opinion you are being fair-minded and kind. I hope you will recognize that all persons in the many denominations and divisions of Christianity have a claim to be called ‘Christian’ even if some Christians think of ‘Christian’ as mostly ‘Christians-like-me.’ And that Christians can be kind and helpful to one another without ceasing to believe that their own denomination is the most correct. (After all, these days it is common for Christians to seek out another, more correct denomination if they feel their own is in error in an important way— that’s what I did— twice.)