Thinking Out Loud

January 11, 2019

When Should Christian Bookstores Pull Authors from Shelves and Online Listings?

Some of you know that when I’m not writing this blog and editing Christianity 201; when I’m not leading or assisting in weekend worship at a local church; when I’m not occasionally speaking at a church; during the rest of the time I am making decisions for our local Christian bookstore.

One of the hardest decisions I made in 2018 was to remove books by Bill Hybels from our shelves. It isn’t that those books don’t contain much truth and that many of them have been personally beneficial to me. It was just that — with shelf space at a premium in our small town store — we didn’t need the distraction.

I didn’t just make the decision, but personally removed the books, title by title, and put them in a box where they remain today. There were more than a dozen titles. Bill was a big influence on me and I have to say doing this really, really hurt, but as long as there were new ongoing developments in the story, I felt we needed to do this.

Christian bookstores have pulled product many times in the past. I got into this business through the Christian music industry first as a broadcaster and then as a performer and later as a vendor of records and cassettes. I once sat in a restaurant in Newport Beach, California and was interviewed for the job of assistant editor of Contemporary Christian Music magazine. My friends called me a ‘walking encyclopedia’ on CCM, and I given about seven seconds of audio, could name just about any song and artist, including that obscure cut at the end of side two.

When Amy Grant and Sandy Patti went through divorce, many stores pulled product. Oddly enough, those divorces are still in their past, but their music is back on the shelves. Divorce became more widely accepted among Evangelicals. I would argue that the whole LGBT thing in the church is where divorce was a couple of generations back. And I expect that, as in the case of Ray Boltz or Jennifer Knapp, stores still actively pull product when an artist comes out.

Why all this today? Because I’m staring at the shelves under “M” for James MacDonald. Christian radio stations are rapidly dropping his program (see Wednesday’s column) and James is trying to control the situation by announcing the shutdown of Walk in the Word’s broadcast division. There are calls for him to resign. Unlike those who were divorced, or Hybels’ flirtatiousness, the issue with MacDonald seems to be money and the control of money. It’s definitely his Achilles Heel.

Once again, those books contain much truth. James MacDonald is a great communicator and his writing includes a constant, unabashed call to repentance. He has served many people well in that area of his life. But at this point, I wonder if those books are also going to prove to be a distraction.

This isn’t about judgment. It’s about a shortage of shelf space, and a host of new, upcoming, younger authors who deserve to be heard. Some of those will prove themselves as the leading Christian voices to their generation. The cream rises to the top. By their fruit they will be known. Some will disappear off the scene within five years. Again, it’s not about judgment.

It’s also too easy for stores just to keep ordering key names; somewhat akin to living in a county — as I do — where every time there’s an election, people simply vote for the incumbents. So Max Lucado, Tim Keller, Mark Batterson, Lee Strobel, Stormie Omartian, John Bevere, Joyce Meyer, Neil Anderson, etc.; are always assured their latest title will get picked up at the local store level.

And honestly, if the sales reps came around with new titles by Hybels and MacDonald there are store owners who simply aren’t investing time keeping up online and would simply order those titles unwittingly.

The best analogy I ever heard was when a local pastor called my wife and I “gatekeepers.” I never thought of our role that way, but it’s a responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. Conversely, pastors need to guard who they quote in sermons. They can easily grant authority and credibility to an author whose life doesn’t line up with their teachings.

Chances are, at the end of today, James MacDonald will still be on our shelves, but we’ll monitor the situation closely before making a knee-jerk reaction. Prayer helps as well!

Advertisements

June 29, 2018

The Stories are Real When It’s Someone You Know

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

Three stories.

First, I have been a longtime reader of Julie Anne and Warren and also of Dee and Deb. When I read the stories of spiritual abuse (not to mention mental, physical or sexual abuse) about which they (especially Julie Anne) are continually reporting, it’s easy to minimize the impact of those stories because they happened somewhere else to someone else.

But then this week I saw a “letter of dismissal” that some friends received.

I’m sure there are two sides to every story, but holding the letter in my own hands and reading it twice it occurred to me that (a) these types of stories are quite real, and (b) there are 100 better ways to phrase things than the way it was said in this letter.

The church in question didn’t use the term “letter of dismissal” but it was extremely dismissive. There was nothing redemptive in it at all. No, “We wish you God’s best in the next stage of your journey.”

What my brain was also processing as I read was, “Don’t get too concerned. These things happen all the time. You’re just seeing it close up right now.”

And then, perhaps God himself saying, “How would you like to be in my position? I have to see this sort of thing constantly.”

And last, a sense of, “Don’t be in a hurry to open your mail. You could be next.”

Second, I was throwing out old newspapers and found a story from April of this year in The Toronto Star about a Catholic Church whose current membership is being asked to contribute $500,000 as punitive damages that are part of a $2.6M settlement concerning a priest who abused one particular man when he was a student.

Imagine you’ve just started attending the Congregation of St. Basil and you’re told your church now faces this financial burden. The priest in question is deceased, but the jury felt that the church had participated in covering up the abuse. Perhaps it’s because I’ve driven by this church that it all seems to hit closer to home.

Cover up. That should sound familiar to readers here who follow the broader Evangelical scene. Time after time we’ve seen instances where it’s not the abuse that’s the big factor (as serious as that is) but the subsequent cover-ups that land churches in hot water. Which leads us to our next item.

Finally, Scot McKnight affirms this in a detailed analysis of this Spring’s soap opera involving Willow Creek. He maintains that the go-to response in cases like this is denial.

I have to say in all honesty, that would be me. I didn’t want to believe the charges in the Willow case were true, and I found myself angry with the accusers for instigating the accusations. Then, slowly, day after day after day, I found myself changing my position as more facts in the case came to light. (Truly, I’m still carrying a measure of disbelief.) He calls it “undoing forty years of trust.”

As McKnight points out, in so doing, the church only made it harder on themselves.

So what do these three stories tell us:

  1. There is a lot more going on behind-the-scenes in a local church office than any of us realize, and some of it quite unpleasant, and some of it is badly handled.
  2. Innocent people in church congregations bear the heartache when someone — perhaps someone not even living — has crossed a moral boundary. Covering things up only makes it worse.
  3. People like myself can find themselves in a place of denial when a respected leader has messed up. Such minds aren’t changed overnight; it can be an incremental process undoing preconceptions in the face of evidence.

 

June 23, 2015

When Christian Authors and Artists Lives Get Messy, Should Retailers Pull Their Product?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 am

no longer availableAs someone who has spent time leading worship in several different churches, I still get excited when I hear a new song. If the song really captures me — as one did recently — I’ll tell everyone I meet about it.

About a month ago I found such a song. It was a beautiful worship song that also contained teaching and exhortation — the best of all possible worlds worlds — and reminded me of some classic Andrae Crouch, or at least what he might write in 2015.

And then everything crashed. I was telling a group of people about the song and they proceeded to tell me a whole load of details about the artist, an affair, a marriage breakup and more. Hours later I went online only to discover everything they said was true, not that I should have doubted.

While I should have grieved over the artist’s sin (and my own), at that point my thoughts were entirely selfish. “Darn;” I thought; “I really liked that song.”

Two weeks later I decided to play the song on YouTube one more time. Still resonates. Then my wife and I had a discussion about whether or not the composition is in any way invalidated by the fact that the writer, like all of us, is flawed.

On Sunday night the discussion came up again in reference to an author. (See yesterday’s blog post.) Should Christian bookstores and online vendors simply pull his product off the shelves? If they do so, should this be permanent or just for a season? Is the truth contained in those books in any way invalidated by the author’s moral failure, or does the transgression disqualify it somehow?

Back in the day, Christian booksellers went through this when Amy Grant and Sandi Patti each were divorced. When Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz came out as gay. More recently, when Mark Driscoll admitted he plagiarized large sections of his books.

Of course, sometimes, the truth just isn’t there. The boy in The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven now admits he was never there in the first place. That’s a different type of situation. But last time I checked, those classic Amy and Sandi albums are back on the shelves, and this time around, some stores didn’t bother pulling Driscoll product at all.

I really like the song with which I began this discussion. I don’t wanna go all Charismatic on you and say it’s anointed, but it’s certainly special, at least to me. Does it not remain valid despite all the back-story? Didn’t God use a donkey once?

June 11, 2014

Wednesday Link List

calvinistsafety

With lots of people doing summer things this week, I thought we’d tinker with the format while nobody’s looking. ANYTHING YOU CLICK will take you to PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, the Link List’s owner.  But first, we take you to Monday’s edition of the comic Pearls Before Swine (click image to link).

Pearls Before Swine June 9th 2014

I usually bury the video links near the bottom, but this week uncovered two clips I wanted to give more prominence.

Church leadership stuff:

Essay(s)-of-the-Week:

The wider religious world:

Worth reading:

Be afraid; be very afraid:

So how do you like your links? Categorized or free-range? Leave a comment!

 

Happy Hour Church

April 9, 2014

Wednesday Link List

New Pews

I am a linkoholicSo, if I go to see one of the many faith-focused movies currently running, can I skip church that weekend? While you ponder that, here’s this week’s link-o-rama:  Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the link list’s benefactor.

Paul Wilkinson’s writing the rest of the week is made possible by readers at Thinking Out Loud and at C201, and by viewers like you.

Between Services - Sacred Sandwich

Above: After a forever away from posting something new, Sacred Sandwich awoke as from a giant sleep.

Below: This is from the Abandoned Pics Twitter feed: @AbandonedPics and is a wooden church somewhere in Russia. 

Click the respective images to link. (Or the irreverent ones.)

Abandoned Wooden Church in Russia

November 4, 2010

So Why Exactly Does Scandal Hit Pastors and Religious Leaders?

Mark Barger Elliott tries to deal with this question — “How can we clergy explain such egregious transgressions?”  this week on the CNN Belief Blog.   He feels there are two culprits, “the work and the person.”

Take the first one:

As a pastor I identify with the pitfalls of “the work.” Fifteen years ago I took vows “to love God, my neighbor, and to serve the people of God with energy, intelligence and imagination.”

Today, however, my job description reads like the director of a mid-size non-profit. A million dollar budget needs to be raised and a monthly payroll of 12 employees met. To tread the churning waters of shrinking resources and demands for excellent programs, I take classes on strategic planning as often as classes on the Bible.

As to the second issue:

How do we explain the moral transgressions of a profession charged to teach morality?

In my years as a pastor I have witnessed marriage vows made and betrayed. I have visited those in prison and those trapped in a prison they have made for themselves. I’ve prayed with the lost and the found, watched fortunes flow and ebb.

“Broken” is a word that describes many of the people I have been privileged to walk alongside as a pastor.

I have also spent a great deal of time with other clergy; from preaching stars who soak up acclaim for their oratory gifts to pastors in inner-city churches barely making ends meet.

The solution to the first problem seems more simple:

One option is to intentionally separate the clergy from the church’s financial matters. Teaching people about God’s love while shaking a fundraiser’s tin cup seems to ultimately undermine one’s credibility. People suspect a bait and switch.

I wish he had been given more space to flesh this out.    He identifies a tension here, but it’s just one, and pastors are stretched physically and emotionally in so many different directions.  Is the point financial responsibility specifically, or the inconsistencies of the job?

The second solution is not so easily dealt with:

Clergy typically fall into one of two camps.

Those who, in the face of the brokenness that surrounds them, come to identify their own brokenness and in humility choose to “live with the questions,” to borrow the poet Rilke’s phrase. This person is reluctant to offer quick answers to the hard questions of life.

The other camp is clergy who choose instead to offer confident solutions to life’s struggles. The clergy I have watched transgress their ordination vows typically fall into the second camp. The temptation is to shift from speaking about God to speaking for God. When that line blurs in a pastor’s mind, all bets are off.

On this point, I wish he’d had space to discuss the “personality” as well as the “person.”   I’ve heard it said that the very personality traits which cause someone to want to be in the pulpit are the very personality traits that leave them vulnerable to temptation.   (My personal belief is that anyone in business leadership, or in a position where they are “upfront” before a crowd of people is equally prone to the same conditions.)   The second paragraph above is certainly an interesting insight into how that might play out.

To me, this is the question all of us — laity and church staff — need to be asking each time we hear a story about another fallen leader.   And “hearing” is key, because we tend to focus here in North American on Canadian and American stories, but Elliott points out there are similar stories in Europe that we’re not always being told.

I also wish he’d had time to broaden out the ending.  While pastors have made vows to serve God vocationally, each one of us has promised to honor God’s name and serve Him with devotion.   The moral collapse of a Christian leader may make headlines, but when it happens to any one of us, it is not any less significant to God.

To read the full piece, in context, which I encourage you to do, click here.

Mark Barger Elliott is Senior Pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and author of Creative Styles of Preaching.

Comments left at the original article come from the widest possible readership at CNN and should be read with discernment.

“Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout, but is usually the result of a slow leak. ” ~source unknown

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.