Thursday, October 02, 2008

Banned Magazines at Lifeway

I heard a story recently about an issue of a magazine called “Gospel Today” being pulled from the shelves at Lifeway Christian stores because the cover featured five female pastors. The Southern Baptist Convention, with which Lifeway is affiliated, is officially opposed to women in ministry, so avoid offending the SBC, Lifeway agreed to take the magazine off the shelves, although they would still sell it in their stores.

Being the curious person I am, I did something I rarely ever do. I darkened the door of my local Lifeway store. For those that don’t know me personally, I have this rather sarcastic and rebellious streak, so I get a cheap thrill out of going into a Christian book store and asking for a magazine that has generated controversy. So that’s what I did.

I walked up to the counter, and in a voice that was probably louder than necessary if I was just talking to the clerk, I asked for the copy of “Gospel Today”. The clerk’s eyes grew noticeably, and she replied, “Sure.. I’ll be right back.” I expected the issue to be under the counter like the porn magazines in the book store I worked at in college, but she had to go to the back room to get it. Scandalous, indeed!

When she returned she was carrying the magazine almost at arms length from her body, lest the heretical material suddenly catch fire and burn her with God’s righteous anger. I asked (again, in a voice that may have been too loud for a one-on-one interaction), “Gee, why are you guys hiding it back there like it’s a porn magazine?” “Umm,” she replied sheepishly, “I think it goes against Baptist doctrine.” She clearly thought this was silly, too.

While she was in the back room I had noticed a biography of Sarah Palin on the new arrival shelf. So after inquiring why “Gospel Today” was hidden like porn, I figured I’d ask about the book, too, since I was already being a nuisance. Why, I wondered aloud, weren’t there books about Joe Biden, Barack Obama, or even John McCain? “Because she’s the only one of the bunch that’s actually a Christian!” said a nearby customer, who was clearly irritated with me. “Oh... I see...” I said with no small twinge of sarcasm. Figuring I had done enough for one day, I paid for my magazine and left.

At home I opened my copy of “Gospel Today” and found noting remotely objectionable. The article even acknowledged that not everyone approves of women in ministry, demonstrating the kind of objectivity one rarely finds in Christian media.

What really amazed me is that “Gospel Today” is aimed largely at urban, African-American, charismatic/Pentecostal audiences. I’m clearly not their target demographic! So by pulling the magazine from the shelves and attempting to avoid controversy, Lifeway actually succeeded in getting people like me (the smug, elitist theological “liberals” they so detest) to go in their store and buy the magazine. I haven’t seen the numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the circulation of “Gospel Today” actually increased because it was pulled from the shelves.

So congratulations, Lifeway. Congratulations, Southern Baptist Convention. All you’ve accomplished is giving more motivation to people like me who support the full inclusion of all people in all phases of life in the church, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or any other factor they didn’t choose. You’ve given extra inspiration for people to speak up and work for justice.

Let me encourage everyone out there who cares about these issues to drop by your local Lifeway store and ask for a copy of “Gospel Today”. You don’t have to make a scene, but by shelling out a few bucks for the magazine you will be actively making a statement in support of everybody being able to live out their calling from God, no matter what some people interpret a couple of Bible verses to say.

Go buy an issue and take a stand for equality.

1 comment:

B Smith said...

I love that it is perfectly fine for a woman to potentially hold the highest office in the land, but not a leadership position in the church.