Authors are weighing in on what they think a marketing decision by LifeWay Christian Resources says about the state of the Christian publishing industry.

By Bob Allen

LifeWay Christian Resources’ recent decision to no longer stock The Blind Side DVD on bookstore shelves has struck a nerve with Christian authors.

Rachel Held Evans, who was asked by Thomas Nelson Publishers to remove the word “vagina” from her upcoming book A Year of Biblical Womanhood in deference to Christian bookstore standards, said it points to a “chokehold” that the stores hold on the Christian publishing industry.

Evans said Christian bookstores have developed a reputation for “a highly sanitized customer experience” by purging from their shelves any language, content or theology not considered “safe” for their most conservative readers.

“What most people don’t realize, however, is that the problem of sanitized Christian bookstores extends far beyond the inventory on the shelves to create an entire Christian subculture that is so sanitized and safe it often fails to produce art that is relevant to our culture or our lives,” Evans wrote in a recent blog posting.

The result, she said, is that authors avoid being too “edgy” for fear of not getting published or simply take their product elsewhere.

Eric Metaxas, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, described a Christian publishing industry that is “heading for cultural irrelevance.”

In a Breakpoint commentary, Metaxas said LifeWay “caved in” to pressure to pull a film that liberal critics decried as Christian propaganda after a Florida pastor threatened to object to explicit language and use of a racial epithet.

“For outsiders looking in, the moral of the story is that: ‘There is no pleasing Christians. They always seem to be looking for something to be mad about,’” Metaxas wrote. “We complain about the calumnies and caricatures of Christians on the big screen; and then, when an Academy-Award winning film shows us at our very best, we complain that scenes depicting harsh, inner-city reality are too true to life!”

“We are, in effect, making our participation contingent on all our possible objections being met beforehand,” he continued. “Since there are many people who would be happy if we stayed within our cultural and religious ghettos, it’s difficult to imagine how we Christians can hope to be taken seriously in cultural discussions and debates with this kind of an approach.”

The marketing decision also drew criticism in major blogs including Internet Monk and the Huffington Post.

Marty King, director of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention publisher, said officials have heard different perspectives from customers about the decision to no longer stock The Blind Side at LifeWay Christians Stores.

“We agree the movie as a whole promotes Christian values and a redemptive message, however it does contain instances of street language and racial slurs against African-Americans,” King said.

King said LifeWay decided last month to stop selling the movie after nearly two years because of likelihood it would become a focus of debate and division at the recent SBC annual meeting in New Orleans. “We were electing the Southern Baptist Convention’s first African-American president, and did not want to distract from that historic moment,” he said.