Monday, April 10, 2006

The Christian Bookstore

Being someone who works in the Christian book industry I found this article both interesting and sad. I am greatful to work at a company which I feel has done more to change the industry for the better then to encourage it's faults. In the end the store is going to stock what sells, you can argue whether that is right or wrong for a "Christian" store to do, but that is often what it boils down to. It is sad to me that these are the kinds of books that sell at Christian bookstores. (also, I love his comment about Carter...)

The Christian Bookstore

by Brent Bourgeois (Sacramento News & Review)

“Shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer”-2 Timothy 2:16-17
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”-Ephesians 4:29
Somewhere in the corner of your local suburban strip mall, tucked away between the Nail Salon and the Chinese take-out restaurant is a curious American phenomenon known as the Christian bookstore. If you are a not a Christian, chances are you’ve never set foot in a Christian bookstore. Many people who call themselves Christians have, in fact, never set foot in a Christian bookstore.

In general, if you want to buy a Christian-themed gift for anyone, your local Christian bookstore is the place you want to go. If you want to delve deeper into the beautiful mysteries of Christian theology, or the leading role of Christians in Western history, or if you, novice or scholar, have any questions about what is in the Bible, there is no better place to start than your local Christian bookstore. Despite their Precious Moments interiors, they have always been a nice, safe place to take the kids for an hour on a Saturday afternoon- all of these stores have a children’s section and most are running Veggie Tales videos at any given moment. Veggie Tales are genuinely funny stories acted out by computer-generated vegetables with the kind of wit and sarcasm rarely seen in humans who subscribe to their theology. It is funny and sad that it takes a dancing tomato and a singing cucumber to inject any sense of irony into the Faith.

It is with a great deal of disappointment that, while doing research for a book I’m writing, I discovered a darker side to these stores that deeply offended me as a practicing Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ. I started out looking for signs of political bias, as I was writing a chapter on liberal media bias, and wanted to find out if any political bias existed in Christian bookstores. Much of what I found was predictable enough. There are no less than eight books on Ronald Reagan, a half-dozen on George W. Bush, many dealing with his prayer life (one I found amusing: The Leadership Genius of George W. Bush: 10 Commonsense Lessons from the Commander in Chief, kind of like Mao’s Little Red Book), biographies on Condi Rice and Bill Frist, and many books by Oliver North. Harder to find are books by former president Jimmy Carter, who has put more walk in his Christian talk than the rest of these people combined. There are several books that lay out the Christian case biblically for war, but you’ll probably have to go to Borders to find the Christian case against war.

What caused me to nearly fall off of my non-violent wagon was a book that I found prominently displayed in several area Christian bookstores. Written by right-wing talk show host Hugh Hewitt, this bit of heavenly advice is called If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It. The poor fellow at the register in one store was just going about his business when I marched up to the counter, book in hand, and said, ” I know you just work here, but is this a Christian bookstore?” “Yes it is”, he replied. “Then how can you sell this?” I asked as I slammed a copy of the Hewitt book down on the counter. “Wha…” was his attempt at a reply as he apparently looked at the book for the first time. “I’m a Christian and I’m really offended you’re selling a book called ‘Crushing the Democrats’-that’s not okay”, I said to the now attentive clerk. “It says that?” was all he could reply as I walked out the door. I’ve never been good at finishing this kind of conversation. At another store, I brought this book to a nice lady in customer service and she looked at it and replied, shaking her head, “I don’t know why we’re selling this, either. If it was up to me, we wouldn’t”. Obviously, many of the people who work at these stores don’t even realize that they’re selling this kind of book.

This sour experience got me curious as to what other books these stores were selling. The following is a list of books that I found either on site at a Christian bookstore, or for sale at their online store:

Same-Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household at Risk

The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today

The Gay Agenda: It’s Dividing the Family, the Church and a Nation

Outrage: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges Are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage

The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought

Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth

Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity

Liberals Are Killing America: How Their Loss of Courage, Lack of Leadership, and Constant Deceit Are Destroying Americans

Hour of the Witch: Harry Potter, Wicca Witchcraft, and the Bible

Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left

The Many Faces of John Kerry: Why This Massachusetts Liberal Is Wrong for America

Liberwocky: What Liberals Say and What They Really Mean

Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism by Sean Hannity

The Second Amendment: Preserving the Inalienable Right of Individual Self-Protection

The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Churches, Schools, and Military by Michael Savage

Shut Up and Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America

The Dark Side of Liberalism: Unchaining the Truth

The Myth of Separation Between Church and State

Moses Was a Right-Wing Conservative

Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals

How the Clinton Clergy Corrupted a President

The ACLU Vs. America: Exposing the Agenda to Redefine Moral Values

How to Survive the Lions’ Den of the Liberal Media
Painting the Map Red

Big Sister is Watching You: Hillary Clinton and the White House Feminists Who Now Control America And Tell the President What To Do

There are many more, but space constraints prevent me from listing them and, frankly, I got tired of looking. I defend the right of these authors to write and publish as much of this stuff as they want; my problem with it is WHAT IN GOD’S NAME ARE THESE BOOKS DOING IN A CHRISTIAN BOOKSTORE?!? They should be over in the political section at Borders keeping the inflammatory left-wing screeds company. In the interest of accuracy, it is possible to find a modest amount of moderately progressive Christian literature in these stores, books like God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, especially on-line, where the selection is much larger. There is, however, nothing remotely approaching the ‘other side’ of this sad commentary. I wouldn’t expect that there would be. I don’t think hate-filled polemics of any political persuasion belong in something called a ‘Christian’ bookstore. Maybe I’m naïve, but finding books for sale by Michael Savage and Sean Hannity right next to the bibles strikes me as deeply offensive. What is sadder is that many Christians pass by this stuff as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of it; this kind of venomous spewing has become the politics of choice for the Religious Right. Why would it be noticed if one goes from Limbaugh in the car to Fox News in the house to ‘Crushing the Democrats’ at the local Christian bookstore?

Among Christians, there should be healthy debate over important issues like when war is just, and what a Christian’s duty is in supporting their government in times like these. These are valid issues for Christians and non-Christians alike, and a scholarly look at all sides of these debates from a Christian worldview is exactly the kind of book I would expect to find at a Christian bookstore. Many Christians are quick to point to the 13th chapter in the Book of Romans, in which the Apostle Paul writes,

“Everyone must submit themselves to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment upon themselves”.
This passage has been used with great regularity in churches all over America, especially when Republicans are in control of the White House. When Bill Clinton was president, you didn’t hear it so much. There is a great debate to be had about just how far you follow your leaders- I’m sure Paul didn’t mean like lemmings over a cliff. What about the Christian churches in Germany in the 1930’s? Were the priests and pastors citing this passage? If so, were they forced to do it, or were they just following a literal reading of Scripture?

There are books that debate these questions, and you can find them in most Christian bookstores. Sadly, though, there are a lot more books like those listed above. These books are nothing more than ‘hit’ pieces from the far right, published by the likes of Regnery Books, many of whose titles are facsimiles of the John Birch-style literature transported forty years to the present. Books like these are meant to inflame, not inform. They are shoddily written, trade gossip and rumor for facts, and add nothing to the debate but hate. I believe that Christian bookstores do a great disservice to the Faith by carrying these kinds of books, 1) by being the purveyors of this kind of hate-mongering ‘literature’ they are acting in a most un-biblical fashion, and 2) they are passing this stuff on to Christian consumers who then contribute to the divisive noise that is tearing this nation apart by repeating what they have read, rather than taking a more loving and healing approach to the unbeliever. This in turn reaffirms the stereotype that many non-Christians have of Christians: that they are all hate-filled right-wing zealots.

“This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them.”-Psalm 49:13-14

Jesus said, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’.” I would hope that Christian bookstores would take the high road when it comes to politics- maybe even stop and think about what is written on those cute little bracelets they sell at the front counter: WWJD, what would Jesus do? I can see it now, after a long day healing the sick and tending to the poor, Jesus comes back to the campsite where the twelve disciples are sitting around, having a bite to eat and talking about their day. Jesus finds a nice spot under a tree to lie down and as He does, He yells, “Hey Peter! Do you have my copy of ‘Liberals Are Killing America’?” “No”, Peter replies, “I’m still reading the Michael Savage”. “Now that- that was a great book!” our Lord and Savior exclaimed.

File Under: I thought the liberals controlled the media!


jennylou said...

Interesting article. I definitely have a difficult relationship with Christian bookstores and often jet in and out, purposely avoiding the bookcovers on display while grabbing the one I came for (which is usually the only copy and shoved towards the back). I have greater luck theses days at the public library (at least all of the crazies are represented there!). I look forward to a time when politics doesn't divide and conquer Christians.

tyler durden said...

hey- send that article to me, will ya?

Mamamax said...

Interesting read!
You and he are absolutely right that politics have no place in the realm of Christianity and certainly bashing one party is antithema to what we believe.

I think one of the difficult points here is in regards to politics and morals and how individuals draw different lines. I was surprised he did not include any books on abortion - apparently he accepts that as a moral issue. I was equally surpised that he did include so many on homosexuality, which for me is not political, but moral.

Never-the-less, the Christian bookstore spotlights what is basically wrong with the church today: we emphasize our differences; we have splintered and broken and there is no whole thing left of Christ's church. Thank God there is Grace because we need it!

Stephen H. Easley said...

Interesting article. I enjoyed reading it. I also enjoyed seeing my book, not only mentioned, but as part of your imagery of Jesus searching for his copy of "Liberals Are Killing America". I am the author of the aforementioned text. I can appreciate your point of view. I don't know that I can provide any insight, but I can say that if you wish your country to be a more Christian country, it does matter which political ideology you support. The left prefers a country that is devoid of morals drawn from religious teachings. Much like communists, liberals believe that the only true authority is drawn from the state and that which benefits the state is morally just. Preservation of a country which embraces its Christian roots and allows non-Christians to practice openly as well, should be a goal of all believers in the U.S. Perhaps this is why Christian bookstores and publishers find it ok to carry such books. Perhaps they believe, that while the 10 Commandments may be removed from the local courthouse today, tomorrow the Bible may be banned from the local library. Perhaps it is about the preservation of their right to believe. Just as we vote to save the things in which we believe, such as Social Security, or the environment, or capitalism and free markets, we as Christians must be sure to inform ourselves and vote to preserve our religion. But then again, I'm Catholic...12 years of Catholic school...4 years as an altar boy...what do I know;)
Peace to all...

J.R. said...

um, as you would guess I have much to say about the above post. Stay tuned for a full respons.

Bob Van Allen said...

J.R. . . . I read this post a month after you posted it, but definitely agree with your critique - which is exactly why I hate going to most Christian bookstores. In fact, many churches feel the same way to me anymore . . .

Keep up the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

While I can appreciate the point you are trying to make, you come dangerously close to professing the whole "separation of church and state" ideology. To be true to one's faith REQUIRES that your political activities reflect your faith. And while making glittering generalities about "liberals" should be frowned upon, political viewpoints SHOULD be part of the christian faith ESPECIALLY at the Christian bookstore. Your article almost sounds as if you buy into the whole idea that church and state should be separate. That someone one's faith should not be part of politics. Let me just remind you that our country's law are founded on Christian principals. And it was not the intention of our founding fathers that government should be void of Christian pricinciples. But rather that government could not dictate the practice of religion. A person's faith is tied to who they are and therefore should show forth in their political activities. The books you mention, while the titles may offend you, hold many truths that are never presented in out decidedly anti-christian media. If they cannot be sold in Christian bookstores, then where do you think they should be sold?

J.R. said...

That's not what the article (which I did not write) is saying at all. Your politics should curtainly be driven by your faith. As well as every other aspect of your life. What I and I think the author are upset about are two things. The hate filled books, and the extream onesidedness of the Christian Industry. Hate should have no place in a Christian bookstore.

I am not even going to touch the statement that the US was founded on Christian principals cause that would take all day.