Did Harper Lee EVER intend To Kill a Mockingbird to be a “Christian book”?

I have no doubt several readers are shaking their heads at this blog-post. I communicate explicitly in the Introduction of The Mockingbird Parables that it was never my intent to speak for Harper Lee, but rather to share with the reader how her beautiful story has influenced my life (and my faith).

I called into a radio show last fall and faced a host who had not read my book (or To Kill a Mockingbird) and rather belligerently asked the question, “Is Harper Lee a Christian?” followed closely by, “If you can’t say Harper Lee is a Christian then how can you possibly talk about ‘Christian messages’ in her novel?”

First, while I take great measure to never speak for the author of To Kill a Mockingbird in my book, I can say that I do not believe that Harper Lee intended in any way for her novel to ever be considered “Christian.” However, what she did with her novel was provide volumes of needed criticism about the church — which many of us have taken to heart. Her novel is full of good, church-going folks (like you and me) who stood by and watched (or were active participants in) the social, racial, and economic injustice as it played out through the story. She offered the world characters in Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie who seemed to allow their faith to deeply impact their actions and invade the very fabric of their lives. Atticus tells Scout that he couldn’t “go to church and worship God” if he didn’t defend Tom Robinson. I think Maudie’s words express the message about faith clearly: “There are just some kind of men . . . who’re so busy worried about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.

To Kill a Mockingbird is not a “Christian” book, and I am thankful for that. It bothers me when people feel the urge to label such things… but that is a whole different blog-post. The idea that we cannot learn from writing that isn’t explicitly Christian devalues so much of what we should know and read as people of faith. To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel that teaches us the true meaning of compassion and highlights the ugliness of a world where that compassion is not practiced. It is in many ways a homily about our responsibility to truly love our neighbors. For me, this beautiful novel has provided new landscapes and fresh context to understand different aspects of my own faith. Aspiring to live like Atticus Finch isn’t such a bad thing either. Hopefully, reading Harper Lee’s “non-Christian” book has made me a better person. Harper Lee didn’t write a book about faith — she wrote “America’s novel” – a moving story that we all know, love, and enjoy. Her novel does what any good novel does: it invades every area of your life — even your faith.

For more, check out “To Kill a Mockingbird and the Power of Parables” here:

“To Kill a Mockingbird and the Power of Parables”

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