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A new book for progressive Christian families aims to fill a kid-lit gap

A two-page spread about nonviolent American leader Bayard Rustin in the children’s book, “Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints.” Image courtesy Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints

(RNS) — There aren’t a whole lot of books focused on spirituality and faith that Daneen Akers can read with her two daughters.

In fact, there are five. She’s counted.

Akers, a California author and documentary filmmaker, has shifted away from the conservative Seventh-Day Adventist tradition she was raised in to a more progressive Christian faith over the past decade, she said.

“Once you’re in that place, you really can’t read your kids the books you had from Focus on the Family or LifeWay Christian Stores at one point in your life.”

The overall lack of resources for progressive Christian families is why Akers launched a Kickstarter campaign at the end of June to raise money to produce a children’s book of her own, titled “Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints.”


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The project appears to have hit a nerve with Christian parents who identify as progressive or spiritual seekers. By the end of its first day on Kickstarter, Akers’ campaign was already 20 percent funded, and Kickstarter had promoted it as one of the site’s Projects We Love. With days to go, it has surpassed Akers’ $50,000 goal, which will go to pay for illustrations, printing and other costs. More than 1,000 people have supported it.

Akers said she was unsurprised that the book had resonated. “One of the things we tend to do is we turn to books to help share our values, our stories, our culture with children,” she said. “That’s what humans everywhere do — we tell our children stories.”

Author Daneen Akers wants to see more progressive Christian children’s books. (Image courtesy Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints)

“Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints” will feature the stories of 50 “people of faith from different faith backgrounds who are doing the things you really would hope people of faith would be doing in the world — working for love and justice and kindness,” according to Akers.

They are the kinds of people she said she wants her children, ages 2 and 9, to have as models. Some are widely known historical figures, such as Francis of Assisi, the beloved Catholic saint who renounced his Italian family’s wealth to work on behalf of the poor.

Others are more contemporary and lesser known: Bayard Rustin, an American Quaker whose role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s often is downplayed because he was gay; Maryam Molkara, an Iranian Muslim trans rights advocate; and Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi ordained in Berlin, Germany.

Akers said her inspiration to write the book came from Rustin, who said, “Every community needs a  group of angelic troublemakers.”

The complete list of troublemakers and saints hasn’t been finalized, Akers said, because she plans to invite Kickstarter backers to suggest others. She also is commissioning different artists to create a portrait of each.

There are “tons” of books from conservative Christian publishers available to families who share their beliefs and worldview, Akers said, including some that she keeps on her family’s bookshelf. She named “Children of God Storybook Bible” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and “When God Made You” by Matthew Paul Turner, which celebrate the diversity of their characters and emphasize the love of God.

But as children grow out of picture books, Akers found, the selection gets slim. Besides, Akers said, there’s room for an “entire library’s worth of content to be created.”


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Simply finding books that celebrate diversity — for instance, by portraying Jesus as other than white — can be a challenge, according to Kaitlin Curtice, a Potawatomi Christian author who is featured as one of the book’s modern-day “holy troublemakers.” Curtice often seeks out books for her two sons that are written by indigenous and black authors, but not all are Christian.

A cover mockup for the new children’s book, “Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints.” Image courtesy Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints

“To have this particular kind of book will be really powerful,” Curtice said. “So far, the response from other parents on social media has been really positive, too: ‘Yes, we don’t have anything like this,’ or, ‘Yes, this is a really important thing for the future of the church and for our kids.’ We don’t want them growing up with the same thing we grew up with.”

Akers said books like hers also are likely to appeal to a generation of parents who increasingly are leaving organized religion. “Nones and dones aren’t leaving spirituality altogether,” she said.

And not just parents. Akers said her 9-year-old daughter, Lily, has expressed concern about books they have read that only refer to God using male pronouns and in which all the angels are white and blonde and LGBT people don’t exist. Their emphasis on sin, meanwhile, makes Lily “feel like I’m really awful on the inside,” Akers said.

“I really struggled in my late teens and early adulthood to reconcile what I was reading in Scripture with what I was being taught and what I was being told, and I wish there were more resources that didn’t have that disconnect,” said Eliel Cruz, an LGBT activist who grew up in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and also appears in the book.

His own spiritual awakening might have looked much different, he said, if a book like “Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints” had been there.

“It really shows that faith can center the margins — it can uplift those who are most pushed aside by society. It’s radical and, for me, rooted in my own faith.”

Faithful Viewer logo. Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

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  • From what I have seen, “progressive christians” (Little “C”) want to “progress” us back to Sodom and Gomorrah.

  • It is said that history is written by the victors. The Christian victors have painted their Jesus (literally) as someone who looks more like he came from Texas than Tel-Aviv. And as this article rightly notes, they have white-washed gay people (saints particularly) right out of existence. They have also downplayed the role of women in the history of salvation. The victors have seized the spoils of the culture war within Christianity largely because people on the left gave up the fight about the same time they gave up the faith, leaving only a handful of people to do the fighting on the front lines. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I’ll never leave. The message of Jesus is barely recognizable among those who claim to represent him the loudest, to the point that young people have abandoned the message of the Carpenter altogether. Jesus deserves better from his disciples. People on the left have a role to play in repairing the damage that’s been inflicted on Christianity by the right – if only they’d be willing to play it.

  • It is said that history is written by the victors. The Christian victors have painted their Jesus (literally) as someone who looks more like he came from Bethlehem, PA than Bethlehem of Palestine. And as this article rightly notes, they have white-washed gay people (saints particularly) right out of existence. They have also downplayed the role of women in the history of salvation. The victors have seized the spoils of the culture war within Christianity largely because people on the left gave up the fight about the same time they gave up the faith, leaving only a handful of people to do the fighting on the front lines. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I’ll never leave. The message of Jesus is barely recognizable among those who claim to represent him the loudest, to the point that young people have abandoned the message of the Carpenter altogether. Jesus deserves better from his disciples. People on the left have a role to play in repairing the damage that’s been inflicted on Christianity by the right – if only they’d be willing to play it. This article gives me hope in that regard.

  • Wow, thank the Lord that you are here to defend the faith! Maybe now you’ll start to practice appropriately.
    You are being racist again and intellectually deceptive. If you look at depictions of Christ throughout the church, you will see that the images normally portray the ethnicity of the local culture. Icons of Christ in the Armenian church look different than those in the Coptic, Greek, Asian or Ethiopian Church. So to imply that Christ is always pictured as a white plantation owner is false.
    Second, please explain what the role of women is in the history of salvation? Best I can tell, the Holy Mother had a part to play in that, but all the heavy lifting is done by Christ. The RCC is overflowing with great female saints who have served God and their fellow man throughout time.
    The type of mother depicted in the story is the reason why kids leave the faith; poor formation and selectively choosing what to and what not to believe based upon their man-centric feelings. Lily doesn’t like male pronouns-who made it an issue for her? Last I checked, it’s called the “Our Father” for a reason.
    Sin makes her feel dirty on the inside? No kidding; good for her, it should; it’s called compunction. That’s why you ask Christ for forgiveness.
    All this “progressive Christianity” comes down to the same thing-“I want the church and God to approve and adjust to how I live my sinful life.”
    I got news for you E; there are plenty of defenders on the other side of the line ready to stand up to you.

  • “Regressive christianity” is attempting to drive 21st century woman backwards toward arranged marriages and chattel.

  • This is an amazing project. Thank you, Daneen, for being faithful to the work Christ modeled for his followers. For too long, the church has been the agent of marginalization and has neglected to share the boundless love and grace of God. It’s time to turn over the tables and throw wide the doors.

  • I learned as a teenager decades ago that christianity is a religion for men. Women surfaced in the bible when it suited some narrative on submission.
    Of course it didn’t help when the male Sunday school teachers told the girls not to ask questions.

  • Im sorry you had that experience. I was taught mostly by nuns. I’m not sure that I agree that it is a religion for men. Male dominated I agree, but as I said in my earlier comment that the RCC is filled with female saints. I’m sure I’ll get an eye roll from some of my Protestant brothers/ sisters on the page; but Catholics hold the Holy Mother with great reverence and we celebrate the lives of the saints (both male and female).

  • “The Christian victors have painted their Jesus (literally) as someone
    who looks more like he came from Bethlehem, PA than Bethlehem of
    Palestine.”

    Apparently you’re not very familiar with African or Asian Christianity.

    http://new.rejesus.co.uk/images/area_uploads/faces/faces_black_jesus3.jpg

    https://d2u4q3iydaupsp.cloudfront.net/Ep4sEvpduH2UAidclncO4YW8CQhNaUBOsVIkzAgyNPscUp1bp7PSesh89jfdhv8YEu4QsJVYzIxhNsaakZGPso1lUUQg4VnNm0EQ0RzaJlYQpSm5pWcaM0cAFypLMvs8

    http://vultus.stblogs.org/OL%2BCHINA.jpg

    http://www.mystudios.com/artgallery/paintings/133001-133500/133218/size1.jpg

    This inculturation is common. The reasons for are well-known.

    As a matter of fact there’s an American church you may have run across which is considering taking it to a whole new level.

    https://pantheon-live.religionnews.com/2018/07/10/whats-in-a-name-episcopalians-move-to-change-their-words-for-god/

  • I can certainly understand if any Sunday school teacher, male or female, asked you not to ask questions.

  • I believe most Catholics of the pre-Vatican II type found their first eight years of Catholic schooling dominated by women and heard more about Mary than of Jesus, especially in May.

  • You may want to consider his sources.

    http://richardwaynegarganta.com/

    Richard Wayne Garganta is a zany in Kent County, Rhode Island, who cranks it out on public access cable in that state.

    Look at the material on his home page. He’s a minor upgrade from the late Jack Chick.

    https://tessaafshar.com/meet-tessa/

    Tessa Afshar is an Iranian convert from Islam who writes novels, not theology texts, not scriptural exegesis.

  • Yes. Every catholic school was taught by nuns; even after Vatican II. Although not so much anymore. For my Protestant brothers and sisters: Catholics do not worship Mary; however we do honor and venerate her as the Mother of Christ – just like most of us have a special place in our hearts for our own mother.
    Finally, we learned about the women saints of the church who gave or devoted their lives to Christ and the church.

  • LOL!

    Genesis 34:9
    Deuteronomy 22:28-29
    Deuteronomy 21:10-1
    Exodus 21:7-11

    Marriage as slavery for the wife
    1 Corinthians 7:1-40

    See also:
    Issac and Rebekah
    Jacob and Rachel/Leah

  • nope. I suggest you read 1 corinthian 7. Has nothing to do with your assertions, so I doubt the rest do either. thanks anyway spud

  • I looked at two of the “scriptures”. If spud understood the Bible, he would understand the fallacy he is trying to represent. Nice to see you Bob.

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