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The Shame of a Christian Poet
Copyright©2004 by Nathan Harms

I recently received an email from a respected poet of Christian faith. It read, in part, “Please remove your site’s link to my poetry. I don't want to be associated with a web site whose purpose is to print poetry only by ‘Christians.’”

There were several disturbing aspects to my correspondence with this noted poet. Although she is a Christian university professor, apparently well-educated and an American citizen, she saw no problem with restricting my freedom of speech based only on the fact that she didn’t share my opinion. What she was asking was the equivalent of “Don’t recommend my book to anyone because I don’t like you.”

God is So Unfair

But worse than this, in my opinion, was the implication that there was something wrong with Utmost’s policy to print poetry written by Christians only. I wondered if the church this woman attends allows membership to all, non-believers and Christians alike, simply because it’s not fair to exclude anyone. I wondered if perhaps God will “come around” one day to see how unfair He is to bar unbelievers from eternal life with Him.

On a purely literary level, I looked through the current Writer’s Digest Poetry Markets, and found that there are publications that print only black authors, only Jewish authors, only authors under the age of 18 years, etc. Many publications will look only at unpublished work. There is almost no end to the ways in which the world discriminates in literary circles. What is so repugnant about a Christian ministry publishing only the work of Christian authors?

Crippled Discernment

Something has crippled this Christian poet’s spiritual discernment. She is not able to understand that a degree of “exclusivity” is inherent and justified in many endeavors, and that exclusivity is a pivot of salvation. She has fallen prey to the politically correct—and truly secular—philosophy of our day that acceptance and tolerance are the same. It’s a view that if we do not embrace and welcome whoever—and whatever—comes our way, we are intolerant.

How does this happen? How does a believing Christian with an incredible God-given talent for poetry arrive at a place where she writes, “I don't want to be associated with a web site whose purpose is to print poetry only by ‘Christians?’” (Those quotes around “Christians” are hers, by the way.)

Ashamed to Confess Him

My research into this Christian poet’s career yielded some clues, I think. She has become widely accepted and published by major secular literary journals. She is a guest speaker at conferences where ungodly poets share the platform with her. Some of these poets’ work is full of vulgarity and obscenity. I know, because I’ve read it. How gauche it would look, she might think, to be known as a “Christian” in the presence of such a worldly crowd. Or perhaps she is ashamed before God to name herself a Christian in such a place.

In the Bible Jesus says, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 10:32,33”

Let's Build Up the Family

It’s impossible for me to know how this Christian poet has come to the view she holds—or why she made such an outrageous statement regarding Utmost Christian Writers—but whatever the reason, her condition causes me sorrow. We who are the children of God, gifted by him, must not deny the source of our gift.

When an organization, such as Utmost Christian Writers, works hard to encourage the expression of God’s gifts by His children it is wrong and harmful to the Kingdom of God to throw stones and attempt to destroy or dilute its work. We are a family, and we must work together to build up the family of God.

Appropriate Discrimination

What is appropriate discrimination by a publisher or a poetry contest? The poet who wrote to me was offended because Utmost restricts entries to "Christians only." Below are listed some respected poetry contests run by "secular" organizations, along with some of the restrictions they place on entrants.

Boston Review (Prize $1,000)
           Restricted to English language only
           Isn't it unfair to exclude poets who don't write in the
           English language?

Dan Sullivan Memorial Poetry Contest (Prize $300)
           Restricted to Canadian citizens only
           Why should your nationality matter in a poetry contest?

The Washington Prize (Prize $1,500)
           Restricted to Americans only
           It's okay to discriminate on the basis of nationality,
           but not religion?

Kingsley Tufts Poetry Awards (Prize $100,000)
           Restricted to Americans only
           A lot of non-American poets wish they could enter
           this one!

The Amy Award (Unspecified honorarium)
           Restricted to women less than 31 years of age, living
           on Long Island or in New York.
           This seems to exclude an awful lot of us, doesn't it?

Frank O'Hara Award Chapbook Competition ($500)
           Restricted to "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered
           Wow. Do you think it's okay to restrict our contest to
           "Christians only?"

To be honest, we could have listed hundreds of poetry contests and print publications that restrict poets. There are contests for Italian Americans, university graduates, Californians, pregnant mothers and medical doctors. But we think the short list above demonstrates our point of view.

If you read this article, please let me know.