What does the world think of us?
Sometimes I wonder. I see a lot of bumper stickers on my way to work. One I really like is: “Jesus goes in the heart, brain falls out the head.” I think that pretty well sums up how we look to the uninitiated. I suppose I could resent that and choose to be offended. Or I could chuckle and try to learn something from it.
Publishers certainly understand the sentiment. I’d like to do a whole week on some of the interesting feedback I’ve received.
Let’s just say if you are someone who likes to write to Christian cookbook publishers threatening them with eternal damnation because a cup of beer was called for in one of the recipes, you may be part of the problem. If you regularly see your visage in clouds over the fast food place where you work or stay up nights rearranging the letters of famous dead Evangelists’ names to determine whether evil spirits were responsible for their untimely demises, you’re probably of this group.
It’s these deluded individuals (God love ‘em) who are so dead-set on keeping us writers in line so we don’t infect the world with our radical ideas. They’re not so concerned with engaging the culture, but more with protecting us from it. And the result of this in CBA has been that we—the editors, writers, and publishers—must become serfs, slaving not to offend some rigid spiritual ideals. We get accused of promoting “filth” and sinfulness and all kinds of horrible things and most of the complainers don’t even realize their power. I read the constituent response letters, and I answer irate readers when they call to complain about our “compromised standards.” I’ve seen thousands of copies of a maligned book get sent back to the publisher, the publisher out thousands of dollars, the potential ministry of that book destroyed. It happens more often than you know. And booksellers, fearing bad publicity, boycotts, and the ruin of their entire livelihood for the sake of one little book, are in a hard spot. In CBA, nothing spells death to your publishing venture as much as religiously-motivated condemnation.
Christian bookstores, publishers, even those making Christian light bulbs believe they are ministries to God. If people think your ministry is compromised by an offensive element, there’s tremendous cause to remove the supposed impurity. It’s just good stewardship, right? We all do it to some degree.
But sometimes, it’s not good stewardship. Sometimes it’s sin.
The wicked servant caved in to fear, buried his master’s money, and turned his back on the risk necessary to obedience. Many Christian industry pros struggle both to tend the flock and reach new audiences. They understand the conundrum of trying to please both groups. But publishing a potentially controversial message is a hard argument to make. (And as one commenter so eloquently nailed it following the World/Westbow wham-bam, “Fat dogs don’t hunt.”) But it’s an argument that is being made more and more.
Mark Noll, author of
I pick on the readers a lot, but everyone has a hand in the problem. And I’d be remiss if I told new Christians to go out and engage the culture only to have them wind up morally compromised. There is need for balance here; please don’t hear me saying otherwise. But our world is dying without love. If we want to have a hand in the solution, those of us who are called need to be allowed to go.