If the Bible Were Written Today, It Wouldn’t Be Sold in Christian Bookstores July 8, 2012

If the Bible Were Written Today, It Wouldn’t Be Sold in Christian Bookstores

Christian author Rachel Held Evans is writing a book and she casually mentions the word “vagina” in it. Her editors told her to remove it because the Christian bookstores wouldn’t sell it otherwise — even though male Christian authors could say “penis” in their books without a problem. It took a blog post + tons of reader reaction to get the editors to change their mind.

Last month, LifeWay Christian Bookstores removed the movie The Blind Side from their shelves because Pastor Rodney L. Baker — one prudish, crazy dude — complained that it contained profanity, “God’s name in vain,” and a racial slur. I’ve seen that movie. It’s about as family-friendly as a movie can get. Also, keep in mind: no one else complained. Just one pastor who treats the word “Goddamn” as if it were Kryptonite. And because of that, LifeWay made sure no one shopping in their stores could buy it.

After all this, I’m glad Rachel is calling out her industry on their cowardice (emphasis hers):

Now I’m going to say something that will probably get me into some trouble, something that many editors and writers are afraid to say for fear of losing their jobs or their book contracts, but something which desperately needs to be spoken out loud: Christian bookstores have a chokehold on the Christian publishing industry. And this chokehold not only affects the inventory you find on Christian bookstore shelves, but which books are contracted by publishers, what content gets edited in the writing and editing process, and the degree of freedom authors feel they have to speak on their own blogs and platforms. As a result, the entire Christian industry has been sanitized, while its best artists look elsewhere for publication.

In fact, based on LifeWay’s own standards, the Bible itself — which includes profanity, violence, and sex — should be banned from the shelves.

People are gay. People are divorced. People drink alcohol. People live in bodies that have skin and bones, and, like it or not, penises and vaginas.

And the minute we try to codify these messy Christian lives that we live, the minute we try to sanitize and apologize for them, we lose not only our relevance, but our soul.

We don’t have to be unnecessarily crass to speak the truth, but we have to be honest. We have to be real. Most of all, we cannot live in fear.

Rachel can get away with saying this because she’s a popular-enough blogger that her books will sell regardless of how some chains feel about it. (From a publishing perspective, though, it would suck to not have a major Christian bookstore sell your book.)

But what about the other Christian authors who don’t have her reach and her audience? What about the Christian authors who rely on the bookstores to promote their books? They can’t write honestly and they are too scared of speaking out against this ridiculous policy.

We often mock Christians for the super-santized shit they put out because it’s so far from reality in terms of how people talk and act. Hell, when I say the words “Christian media,” you all know exactly what I’m talking about: Shitty, low-quality, mind-numbing garbage requiring no brain cells to watch or listen to. But it’s not like the authors, TV producers, artists, etc. are given much of a choice. You have to do things by the “rules” or it’s possible that no one will see your work.

It would be great to see a Christian author self-publish an R-rated book — with bad language or discussion of sex/drug use — just to see what would happen. If it sold well, maybe the Christian booksellers would realize it’s not that big of a deal.

Then again, they probably wouldn’t budge. As so many Christians do on so many issues, they would probably stay stuck in their archaic, rigid ways while the rest of the world passes them by.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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  • LesterBallard

    It would be great to see a Christian author self-publish an R-rated book  . . .”

    It would be great to see a Christian author stop being a Christian.

    And for Christian, substitute any other irrationality you choose.

  • I just can’t make myself care about this. You are part of that crazy cult, you have to live by its crazy rules. Or, you know, you could leave the insanity and join the enlightened.

  • Mike

    People live in bodies that have skin and bones, and, like it or not, penises and vaginas.”

    Only the unlucky few.

  • NickDB

    ^ This x 1000

    it’s as if they’re complaining about the bad service and bad food at a restaurant but every weekend they go back to the same place.

  • Ian Reide

    If the bible were written today, it could be the same. Only non-christians read the thing.

  • Buffy2q

    Christian media is made for pod people.  It depicts a world that exists only in the minds of the delusional people who think “Leave it to Beaver” was  documentary.  

  • Mossj

     Oh I don’t know…I’m quite attached to my penis.

  • Stev84

    The problem is that there are tons of different cults calling themselves “Christians” and their book industry is run by the most crazy ones.

  • Michael

    Modern day censors seem to have a rosy view of literary history in many fields. I remember debating not so long ago about how they would view Alice Through The Looking Glass, with reference to Humpty Dumpty condoning child murder as a favour to the children.

  • 1000 Needles

    It’s funny how duality has warped our language. People don’t live in bodies. People ARE bodies.

  • Kahomono

    Let the whole fetid enterprise choke on its own vomit.

  • Kahomono

    To expand on that…

    For Orthodox Jews, as most of you know, shellfish and crustaceans are not permitted food.  So the Kosher food industry sells mock crab and mock shrimp.  These are made from fairly flavorless white fish that has been shredded, pressed and drowned in the characteristic seasoning for the desirable but disallowed species.  Old Bay for the crab, not sure what spicing the shrimp equivalent uses but it’s recognizable.  

    Anyway, someone who mistakes either of these products for the real thing can only do so from a complete lack of experience with the real thing.  But  I used to work for kosher caterers and it’s wildly popular with them.  It allows them to pretend to offer the dishes that every other caterer makes properly, and routinely.  “Shrimp” cocktail  “Crab” bisque.

    Having a fake publishing industry allows the Xian community to pretend to offer “free” exchange of ideas.  “Debate.”  “Education.”  “Entertainment,” if you include their fake music and film industries. 

    Creed or Green Day, folks?  Veggie Tales or Sesame Street?  Kirk Cameron or Tom Hanks?

  • Tangie Miner

     I think Mike was referring to the poorly used conjunction in the sentence. A typical person has a penis OR a vagina….not a penis AND a vagina.

  • Mdwelch27

    You are part of and promote a set of superstitions that are based on guilt and fear and then you complain about it ??   WTF ??

  • Kahomono

    Regardless – the reluctance with which the Xians accept the physical reality of their existence is truly stupefying.

  • dangeroustalk

    I’m surprised that she is surprised. Isn’t the the whole point of Christian book stores? No differing opinions allowed. So I’m surprised that after she has benefited from the restricted market place, she now complains about it when she herself was restricted.

  • Kahomono

    Restrictions like these are always ratcheting tighter.  

    She reached her threshold.  But getting her reprieve will probably keep her on the inside for now.  

    Plus, it’s her gravy train.  Isn’t she a big, big fish in that pond?

  • It’s a wonder that this ever passes muster with the Christian crowd:

    Ezekiel 23:19-21New International Version (NIV)

    19 Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. 20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. 21 So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.[a] http://www.zazzle.com/bible_porn_ezekiel_23_19_21_mens_shirt-235233566896711754

  • Kari Lynn

    I am not my body.  There is so much to people than just their bodies.

  • Kodie

     And that’s what people who shop in Christian bookstores want. If they want something they don’t have there, they can go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble like the rest of us. If you want to pretend these things don’t exist, if you want to be protected, that’s why you go there. You don’t go there to read about vaginas.

    They are catering to a demographic who wants this sanitized boring stuff, so what the author is saying is she doesn’t cater to it. If her publisher advises her to clean up her stories, then maybe she should find another publisher, and she can be the kind of Christian author writing Christian-themed fiction that nobody reads or she can be a regular author who happens to be Christian or she can limit herself and cater to a particular audience. She can’t force the bookstores to open their minds and let her sell what they deem is too smutty for their customers. This is a good example of, I guess, a “moderate, liberal” Christian being clueless why these stores set themselves apart from the mainstream society. A poor sport, wanting them to change for her to sell books. They are so much worse than that.

  • Kahomono

    Really.  What would that be?

    This is “spiritual” if not religious BS.  

    Everything you are is contained within your body.  Everything you think exceeds that boundary is a function of your brain, which is (I hope) contained within your body.  Everything you have done that has interesting results outside the border of your body was done at the direction of your brain, again, in your body.

    If you would care to elaborate on what you think you “are” that is not part of your physical presence on the planet, I would be happy to explain further why it is.

  • TCC

    I’m pretty amazed at the responses here, which are essentially, “Eh, fuck the crazy fuckers.” Wouldn’t it be nice to see more reasonable voices in Christianity given the spotlight? Or are we so wrapped in making Christians the Other that we ignore the plight of otherwise reasonable people who have not been able to break out of the superstitions of religion? Empathy, people.

  • Nothing

    Inasmuch as we are made The Other by all Christians whose religion is not so diluted as to interest homeopaths… what choice do we have?

  • Stories like this simply serve to emphasize the highly conservative Christian sects in this country. The stories catch our eye because we don’t live in a socially conservative time. It sometimes seems as if we do, but that’s precisely because of the tension being generated by a relatively small population of extreme social conservatives who exercise disproportionate political and media control (basically, the “old white guys”). And when I say it catches “our” eye I’m not just talking about activist atheists, I’m talking about lots of other people as well. Most younger Christians in America probably think removing “vagina” from a book marketed by Christian bookstores is silly. In fact, most younger Christians in America probably think Christian bookstores are silly. (Or even that bookstores are silly!)

    Social conservatism always fails. It certainly creates tension at times when culture is changing quickly, as now, but it never succeeds at holding the fort. The current tension is affecting Christianity in two ways: it is pulling a significant number of people away their religion completely (turning them into “nones”, if not atheists), and it is creating schisms in existing sects, producing new “liberal” splinter sects. That just further pushes those that remain behind into a smaller, even more extreme fringe, further accelerating change for society as a whole.

    It’s all quite interesting to watch.

  • It can’t be too hard to test your hypothesis.  Just take *50 Shades of Grey* and do what E.L. James did with her Twilight fanfic:  find-and-replace the main characters’ names (I suggest Jean-Luc Matthews and Mary Mark) and then make the Christian Grey character a pastor with a mega-church and a TV show.  
    Or better yet, he’s the son of a mega-pastor evangelist (so he’s got the billions and the vampire charm) and she’s torn between giving in to his ravishing/stalking on the one hand and bringing him back to the true, washed-in-the-blood Christian way of life on the other.

    This stuff practically writes itself.

    Then a whispering campaign that while the housewives are certainly enjoying 50SOG, the ones whose walk with Christ is central to their lives are enjoying this book much more and passing it around Bible-study groups.  We’ll call it “The Gospel of Jean-Luc and Mary.”

    Then you just sit back and wait to see what the Christian publishers want to do with all that.

  • TCC

    Please re-read my comment using the penultimate word as a lens.

  • Kodie

     Empathy for what? An author who is constrained in her artistic expression by people who decidedly don’t want to read it? Artists of all kinds want to sell their work. Whether or not there is a market for every kind of art, well, there isn’t. She can alter her expression for the market or not, that’s her prerogative, but she can’t alter the market by telling them that they should sell her books.

  • advancedatheist

    We’ve see this same sanitizing trend in secular entertainment created for children. Look at all the stuff shown in cartoons in the 1960’s and 1970’s which wouldn’t pass political correctness standards now:

    Race Bannon on Jonny Quest killed people, lived in an apparent domestic partnership with Dr. Quest, and together they took in some orphan boy they found in a Third World country. (WTF?)

    Batman drove 200 miles an hour.

    Wile E. Coyote played with explosives.

    Yosemite Sam shot guns.

    Wonder Woman tied people up with her lasso and made them “obey” her.

    Roger Ramjet and Underdog tweaked on “energy pills.”

    Fred Flintstone had a problem with compulsive gambling.

    Jane Jetson stole her husband’s wallet.

    A stoner, a lesbian and an unmarried hipster couple solved mysteries. 

    No wonder we Baby Boomers turned out so screwed up. ; )

  • TCC

    But that’s the point here: It’s not that there isn’t a market but rather that Christian bookstores are limiting their products to very specific demographics. That might be wrong (although I know enough “alternative” Christians that I suspect it isn’t), but it’s the point that RHE is making.

  • I remember watching a show about Jessica Simpson, and how the Xtian recording labels didn’t want to sign her because she was “too sexy”. They thought her boobs were too big for an Xtian singer. Finally she gave up and went secular. Not that I think she’s that great of a singer, but to refuse her only because she might turn someone on? Pathetic.

  • Kodie

     That’s their market. That’s what they sell. Anyone can plainly observe that not all Christians are like that, and argue that any place calling themselves a “Christian” anything should cover the entirety of a Christian audience, not just the prudes, but that’s not what they sell. That’s not why they exist.

    Artists who want to sell their work have to find their niche. They can’t say “I’m a Christian, my stories have Christian themes, so a Christian bookstore should sell my books.” Sorry, but that’s not… I mean, if I make some kind of art out of banana peels, and I bring that to a boutique that sells a variety of items from local artists – they don’t have to sell my banana peel bullshit just because I’m a local artist. That’s not how it works. I can say they’re close-minded, but if they know or suspect that nobody will buy it, or even if they hate bananas, that’s the way it is for a poor banana peel artist. I have to make what sells or make banana peel art because that’s how I best express myself. I can’t tell the store owner what they have to sell because that’s what I make.

    No artist is owed an income – plenty of people try to be artists and can’t make a living off of it, and she’s lucky that she can have a career at it instead of busting the 9-5. Complaining that the narrow Christian market is too narrow for her writing is oblivious to that niche and why it exists. They’re not “Christian,” they are prudishly Christian. They are not obligated to stock her books just on the premise that she is Christian or her stories have Christian themes and characters. She does make a point, but not a new point. They are prudish and she is less so. Should they loosen up a bit? Probably. What does that have to do with the market and what audience they cater to?

  • I remember many years ago walking into a Zondervan bookstore, not knowing what it was.  Very eerie… The people who own these companies don’t want anything that pushes the envelope of their own tightly-held beliefs.

    I’m running into a lot of examples of Authoritarianism in the news today. Doesn’t make me feel like getting dressed and going outside, I’ll tell you that.

  • ortcutt

    Isn’t thought control the entire point of Christian “Bookstores” and Christian media?  If someone wants freedom of thought, they should go to an actual
    bookstore or Amazon.  If Rachel Held Evans wants open discourse, why is she working with the Christian publishing industry?  Free inquiry isn’t exactly a Christian value.

  • TCC

    Here’s the problem: Christian bookstores are often seen as the way for Christian artists to get out their material. If you’re a musician/band who wants to market your music to Christians, you need to get it into Christian bookstores; same for authors. But Christian bookstores aren’t just marketing things that their key demographic will buy; they’re limiting what they present to the people who come to their store, and if you’re a Christian who wants to buy products that the bookstore hasn’t endorsed, sorry, you’re SOL. That’s where the empathy comes in.

  • Of course, there’s nothing an atheist should necessarily care about. But an atheist who is interested in social trends, or an anti-religion activist (as I am) should very much care about stories like this. Because it is stories like this, and the ability of the Internet to get them out where ordinary people see them, that are contributing to the major shifts in religious affiliation (including to no affiliation) that are occurring all around the U.S.

  • I realize that. The part I don’t care about is this part:

    What about the Christian authors who rely on the bookstores to promote their books? They can’t write honestly and they are too scared of speaking out against this ridiculous policy. […] But it’s not like the authors, TV producers, artists, etc. are given much of a choice. You have to do things by the “rules” or it’s possible that no one will see your work.

    I don’t care, because I don’t think we need more Christian media, and because policies like that will eventually drive the more sane people away from this crazy business practice. I find both consequences to be desirable outcomes.

  • Kodie

     That’s true for anyone. If the customers ask enough for something, a store might decide it’s a good idea to stock it, but it’s whatever they want to put on the shelves. People don’t go to these stores because they are Christian, they go because they feel some assurance that a store sells exactly what they want and no surprises or offensive (or borderline offensive) material. Other Christians who want to buy mainstream-but-Christian genre are a little SOL, why does it have to be Christian? If an author writes a book that will only appeal to some Christians, where is she supposed to sell it – at a store that appeals to different kinds of Christians? She can’t force the store to sell it, and even the customers can’t force the proprietor to broaden the category. They can try, they can keep asking. If enough people ask for this very specific genre, a market will cater to them.

    But it’s the same thing if I want to sell my banana peel art – nobody’s asking for it. If the owner of the boutique hates bananas or any other reason not to stock my art, I should still be able to sell them somewhere if enough people are asking for somewhere to buy such a thing. If they just don’t know about it, it’s up to me to find a way to get some buzz going, not going to be just to walk into a store and expect them to put it out for sale. That’s how it ALL works, for everyone. Haven’t you ever gone to a store and they don’t have what you’re looking for? Or does every store sell everything you want all the time?

  • In my opinion, the liberalization of religion is problematic, because it lets otherwise reasonable people stay within the ranks, as their believes don’t seem all that batshit crazy anymore. If it had stayed more true to its fundamental beliefs, Christianity would’ve been a fringe cult movement now, instead of this persuasive and acceptable mainstream belief.

  • I don’t care about the trials and tribulations of Christian authors, either. If they’d utilize their intellect honestly, they wouldn’t be having these problems. But the existence of the problems is certainly interesting!

  • It’s odd that “Christian” has come to mean evangelical and fundamentalist. One would think that an actual Christian bookstore would stock material across the theological and political spectrum, but it seems like the conservatives have a monopoly on the entire subculture.

  • Erinvh

    Actually, they would refuse to publish it on moral grounds, because good Christians don’t talk/write like that.  Then they’d lament how the artist was “selling out” to the mainstream media.  They’d wonder on their own blogs if this particular offering was an “outreach,” designed to win fans who would otherwise never see that artist’s work, so that when the artist later published some very evangelical work, they could reel in all the new fans to see the Truth of God’s Word.  If that didn’t happen, they’d remain on their moral high horse, not only making themselves obsolete and out of touch, but wallowing in this visible proof of their high moral character.  They are in the world, but never of the world, and God bless this fallen artist, because even in the act of falling away from the Truth, they provided an opportunity for Christians to live for Christ.

  • B_R_Deadite99

     Wait, Creed is awesome. Maybe you were thinking of a christian “rock band”?

  • The Captain

    What I find really interesting about this is that it’s the literature community that’s starting to push back. THe christian music industry has the same problem but it seems christian music artist don;t have the clout yet to push back against the christian radio networks power over content yet.

  • Kari, you won’t find much agreement with your sentiments in an atheist materialist environment such as this. It’s not
    gonna happen.  Such sentiments violate materialist dogma far too much.

    As a trans person, however, I am totally in agreement with you.  I AM more than my body.  In my case, I was born with a body that was male and I am now a woman. If I had listened to the people who believe that I am restricted to the limitations of my body (I’ve run into both Christians and atheists who say their own variations of these things), I never would have transitioned.  Interestingly, it was this disconnect between my deepest sense of self and my body that led me to see my transition as a spiritual process.

    The fact of the matter is that we are more than our bodies.  Regardless of our sex, our skin color, our size, our shape, or what have you, we are more than the physical package we wear. Reducing human experience to living tissue, atoms, and energy states will never capture the experience of our humanness. There is a poetry in our existence that science can’t effectively describe.

    I imagine that I’ll get lectured on how my brain made me this way and
    how my sex/gender identity is a matter of the body.  I’ll probably be told that I embrace
    woo woo nonsense.


  • RobMcCune

    I agree, censorship by true christians™ is something we would denounce if it were done to something that wasn’t explicitly christian. If christians are doing something wrong how does that make it ok, or irrelevant, if they do it to another christian?

  • Momma Jay

    Go back to the old Looney Tunes cartoons. They were SO politically and racially charged. They echoed entertainment’s stereotypical portrayals of that time, but still. Geesh!

  • Erinvh

     To be fair, Wonder Woman was written by a bondage enthusiast to serve as soft porn.  It’s no accident that she wore what looked like a corset and spent a lot of time tied up in intriguing ways, waiting for another superhero to rescue her.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I grew up on VeggieTales. The only real impact it had is that I start singing the Hairbrush Song every time my hairbrush gets lost in the myriad of other things in my office. 

  • It might also allow the reasonable people to work within their group to *change* their religion.  I’m way less scared of Reform Jews and Twice-a-Year Christian than I am the UltraOrthodox.  Dilute the ranks and the voice of the ranks will change.  

  • Ken

    Ummm — our Barnes & Noble has a pretty large Christian section.  And the internet and Amazon exist.  That’s the playing field for most authors.  Why do “Christians” have their own extra, extra-special, special bookstore  outlet, and then they complain about it?  WAHHHHHHH!

  • TCC

    I really don’t want to get into the argument about moderates (although I’ve written about it), but even if you think that liberal religion is bad, surely you can’t be in favor of the only voices of Christianity being the crazier ones. That isn’t an argument that helps promote secular goals at all; it just pushes people toward the fringe and solidifies the crazy. By allowing a diversity of voices to be heard, you open up the possibility of a diversity of opinions, and that (as Becky rightly notes) dilutes the message and the resolve.

  • I’m all for the total elimination of religion and theistic beliefs. But it isn’t going to happen anytime soon, so as long as we’re faced with a long transition period where the majority of people believe in some sort of god, society is going to fare much better if those people are less fanatical in their beliefs, and open to modern interpretations.

  • that’s nothing. Wasn’t there a comic book store owner last year who stopped selling Superman comics because the letters “gd” in a sound effect balloon were coming from Superman’s mouth in one comic?

  • Patterrssonn

    “Reducing han experience to living tissue, atoms, and energy states will never capture the experience of our humanness.”

    You can’t really complain about “materialist dogma”, whatever that is, then use spiritualist dogma as an argument.

    Two questions:

    Why do you think there could be nothing poetic about the idea that we exist purely in the physical universe.

    And what exactly is this “I” that inhabits your body?

  • amycas

     I didn’t know Creed fans still existed.

  • Sindigo

    I’m trying to care but I’m finding it tough. She’s operating within a framework which she knows disagrees with her use of this language. How many other authors share this experience with her every year? I’m not even sure why this is being reported here except to give us a peek at what life must be like “behind the curtain”. I should point out that I don’t mean this to be a criticism of this blog’s author.

    If anything Rachel Held Evans should take this as a sign that the group she aligns herself with no longer shares her values and she should contemplate leaving, find a proper publisher and do everything she can to take her readers with her.

  • Cheryl

    but they’ll sell the drivel about Sarah Palin….. 🙁

  • Is it wrong, though? If these publishers and stores are set up to cater to extremely conservative Christians, is it wrong for them to set strict standards for their authors? These are private companies after all, and no one is entitled to have their book published by them. Of course, I don’t agree with censorship in any form, but I’d be hard pressed to say that requiring Evans to conform to their language standards is unethical.

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