Monday, October 15, 2012

'Living Biblically' Not Good Enough For Christian Publisher

Some of you may remember Rachel Held Evans from a story awhile back about her attempt to live “biblically” for one year and record it (I suspect there are plenty of things she didn't do, otherwise she would be in jail). Well, she has written a book about it and one of the largest purveyors of Christian books, LifeWay, isn't exactly supportive. They have declined to carry the book.

Rachel Held Evans’ upcoming book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, tracks her yearlong attempt to follow all of the Bible’s instructions for women, from making her own clothes to “submitting” to her husband.

My first reaction to the headline and subtitle of the article about Evan’ book, Her Year of Living Biblically: An evangelical blogger spent 12 months following the Bible. Then she wrote a book about it. Now some Christian bookstores won’t sell it, was that hopefully she rejected her faith based on that exercise. Alas no, that has not happened. However, it has caused strife in the evangelical Christian community and for that I applaud her. So often these people don’t think and don’t allow others to think for themselves as is the case here. Strife is good for that. So what is the problem with her book?

The story begins in March, when Evans mentioned on her blog that her editor had suggested she remove the word vagina from the book’s manuscript to appease strict Christian bookstore content standards. “If Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn't be able carry the freaking Bible,” she wrote, adding that, despite her annoyance, she had acquiesced to the request because, hey, no author wants to risk losing sales. Her publisher told her they expected 40 percent of her book’s total sales to come from Christian bookstores; LifeWay is one of the biggest sellers, with 160 stores in 26 states and a robust online business, and its standards are considered the strictest.

The word: “vagina.”

Oh I know I was horrified too! Just the thought of having to read that word with my eyes causes me great offense and consternation. My stars!

As the article states there are likely other factors involved, but it seems that “vagina” is either the main issue or the excuse. Even if the word “vagina” is the excuse being used, that is still illustrative of the conservative evangelical mindset.
Though Evans makes many conservatives unhappy when she writes things like “I learned to be a feminist from Jesus,” or when she challenges popular church leaders and theologians, she considers herself a member of the group, not an outsider, and is an increasingly prominent voice in the evangelical community.

Well, she is a woman speaking her mind and to mention feminism and Jesus is the same sentence is clearly a sin according to…umm…I can’t seem to find that reference... 

What’s oddest about this whole dustup is how uncontroversial Evans’ book is. For most readers, A Year of Biblical Womanhood won’t prompt any pearl-clutching. Its author is a devout Christian, the large Christian publisher Thomas Nelson is publishing it, and Evans calls its content “super-PG”—no bad words, and “not even that aggressively egalitarian or feminist.” There are actually two vaginas in the book: One is an anatomical reference to a woman raped in the Congo, which no one in the publishing process had a problem with. The troublesome instance is from a passage about a 16-year-old Evans signing an abstinence pledge card at a youth rally at church, where, she writes, she signed “my promise to God and my vagina." That kind of cheeky reference stuck out to editors trying to conform to LifeWay’s unwritten standards.

Evans stated that “I don’t know if they were more offended by my vagina or my brain,”

It’s possible, in fact, that this is about her brain—or at least what makes it from her brain to her mouth. Evans proudly identifies as evangelical, but not everyone will allow her that label. Last week, well-known pastor John Piper’s website hosted a harsh review of Womanhood, accusing the book of “question[ing] the validity of the Bible.” And author and theologian Denny Burk devoted a detailed blog post to why Evans doesn't qualify as an evangelical. Her offenses include insufficient deference to the concept of Biblical inerrancy—the notion that the Bible is completely free of error—and her willingness to serve communion to gay churchgoers.

The bible is clearly not inerrant. To think it so is to persist in delusion. Once that statement of faith falls away many other doctrinal beliefs are subject to scrutiny. That is why many think the bible must be inerrant or it is free to interpretation. If it is free to interpret, people will use their innate morality (see: non-religious) to judge the bible's morality; which let’s face it… doesn't have a great track record (i.e slavery, sexual assault, the gays are a-ok!, etc.). There is also the matter of power. Individuals free to interpret the bible themselves no longer need the church leaders to do it for them. That must be a bit of a downer if you have a degree in theology.

Also, just to point it out, the “Evans doesn't qualify as an evangelical” is a No True Scotsman fallacy. If only seminaries would teach remedial logic, a lot of this silliness could be avoided.

Finally, we have the old male-female double standard.

“Writers adjust our content to fit this very sanitized, very strict conservative mold, which means we’re not producing the best writing or the best books we can produce,” Evans says. “Everyone bends over backward to meet these demands.”

But no one knows precisely what those demands are. And Evans sees a difference between the leeway afforded to male and female authors. She rattles off several recent books written by men that include less-than-clinical usages of boobs and testicles. LifeWay carries powerful pastor Mark Driscoll’s recent advice book Real Marriage, which includes approving descriptions of anal sex, role playing, and sex toys within a conservative theological framework. (Driscoll wrote the book with his wife, Grace.)

That fucker Driscoll.

 “I often hear from evangelical leaders, ‘Oh we’re really eager to have more female leaders,’ ” she says. “I want to say, ‘This is my voice. This is what it sounds like.’ ”

Oof. That is all too common.