Another Banned Books Week has come and gone! The celebration of intellectual freedom is disturbingly appropriate in 2022. Between the months of January and August, there have been 681 attempts to ban or restrict materials. Some challenges included over 70 titles, bringing the current number of challenged books to 1,651 this year alone.
Because we try to celebrate Banned Books Week every year, I will not go through the definitions again. If you are curious about how the week got started or what “banning books” means, feel free to check out our original Banned Books article from 2020. We also have reviews of challenged/banned books to coincide with Banned Books Week over the past couple years: Saga, Heartstopper (link below), and Banned Books Week 2021.
Intellectual freedom is something every Christian should cherish. After all, Jesus told His followers the greatest commandment was to “… love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind’” (Matt. 22:37b, emphasis mine). This means Christians should not only be glorifying God by the way we worship, but also by the way we study, ponder, and think. To do so, we must be given the freedom to decide for ourselves what books we will and will not read.
Unfortunately for so many, especially teenagers in public schools, this freedom is being taken from them. Many of these challenges come from radical groups claiming to act under the authority of Christ. According to the American Library Association (ALA), 10% of book bans and challenges come from church or political organizations.
Reasons for the Bans
Throughout the years, books have been banned for both strange and understandable purposes, ranging from racist stereotyping (the Skippyjon Jones series) to being “a bit of a downer” (The Diary of Anne Frank). The ALA’s Banned Books Week website showcases the most challenged books of the year and the prominent reasons for those challenges.
In 2021, most books were challenged for reasons of diversity. The above graphic describes various things with which Christians do not want to associate themselves like “pornography,” “sexually explicit” material, and “indoctrinating kids.” What this graphic does not point out, however, is those words can be subjective.
Shown here are the most challenged books of 2021. Even amateur detectives will notice the list skews toward a particular perspective. On this list, five out of the ten (an even 50%) deal with LGBTQ+ issues. Four of the remaining five deal with sexual abuse or topics. Noting this, the extreme words used above, such as “pornography,” take on a new meaning. Beyond Magenta is not going to contain true pornography, defined as pictures or words used for sexual purposes. Instead, the title deals with sexuality and orientation in a way that is against the heterosexual norm. Most of these books are marketed for teens, which offend parents who believe discussions of LGBTQ+ content are not age-appropriate.
As Christians, how do we deal with these book bans? Especially when said books seem to be against what we stand for?
Christians & LGBTQ+ Stories
A few weeks ago, I reviewed a gay romance called Heartstopper. Incidentally, this YA graphic novel has been banned in the country of Turkey for obscenity. If you’ve read my review, you will know this is one of the most innocent romances I have read. There are a few swear words, but no more than in any other YA book. The only other reason it would be declared an obscenity is because the romance is between two boys, not a boy and a girl.
There is a lot of nuance to the LGBTQ+ community that many Christians do not notice or, worse, don’t want to notice. For example, some people identify as asexual, which fits into both mainstream Christianity and the LGBTQIA community without difficulty. We also tend to ignore the nuances of homosexuality itself. At which point is same-sex attraction defined as a sin? Is it holding hands with the same sex, dating, or is it only when intercourse is involved? There is a lot we do not consider when discussing these issues, but I digress.
As stated in my Heartstopper review, representation is important. As Christians, we can decide not to read books that glorify the LGBTQ+ community and perspective. However, there will still be people, including Christians and unbelievers, who identify themselves in those stories. Instead of trying to ban books that could open conversations, we should allow these stories to continue existing for the people who need them.
A Need to Shelter
Many, if not most, book bans come from a well-intentioned place. A parent believes their child does not need to think about sexual orientation or police brutality at such a young age. We forget, though, that Christians are not called to shelter our children. Proverbs 22:6 tells parents to “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” This direction entails communication. Parents can ignore issues all they want; but when their child is grown, they will be thrust into a terrifying, unknown world. These parents can ban books about sexual orientation until their child tells a gay classmate they are going to Hell. (This particular example is based on my personal experience within my own family. The topic of sexual orientation is still not brought up.)
As an aspiring foster parent, I know none of my children will be innocent. They will be coming from homes that may involve domestic abuse, sexual abuse, drug addiction, alcohol, poverty, or racial injustice. My biological children, should I have them, will be seeing the fruits of those atrocities in their foster siblings. As much as we want to believe children are innocent, everyone is marred by sin. They are born into a sinful world, and they will need to understand that world in order to be the light in it.
Even Critical Race Theory, which many adults claim is indoctrination, can be discussed in an age-appropriate way. Families in the American majority (white, English-speaking, Christian, and so on) have the privilege of ignoring issues minority families cannot, such as racism, police brutality, or terrorism. The Hate U Give has been on the Top 10 Banned Books list for years. If we keep banning the book and ignoring the issues on which it is based, change will never take place.
The Bible tells us to take care of orphans and widows. How can we do that if we don’t discuss death and injustice with our children? How can we spread the Gospel to all the world if we refuse to see people different from ourselves in literature, let alone in real life? Heaven will be made of all kinds of people. Revelation 7:9 states, “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.”
Every nation and tribe and language. Not just white. Not just American. Not even cisgender.
Everyone was standing before the Lord in worship. If we refuse to get to know others now through literature, how can we ever hope to worship beside them in perfect peace?
Not Our Cross to Bear
Just as Jesus died for everyone, He allows everyone to make their own choices. We have the ability to refuse to read books we think are inappropriate to our faith or our children’s age. However, we are not called to make that decision for everyone.
Book bans take the ability to choose from the hands of the people. When we ban books, we are forcing decisions onto other people who may or may not hold the same beliefs we do. There are instances of both the Bible and the Qu’ran being banned from public libraries, both on the grounds of being too religious. Christians cannot celebrate one of these bans and refute the other. The Bible says to love the Lord with all your mind, which can only be done if people are given the ability to choose and decide for themselves.
So how should Christians respond to book bans? Oppose them! Read banned books with your children. Use those controversial titles as a leaping point for discussion. Instead of refusing an age-appropriate book with a transgender character, discuss it. Maybe that discussion will lead to you understanding your child, yourself, or even the Lord a little more intimately.