One of my pet peeves is the existence of the Christian bookstore. Family Christian Stores, Berean Christian Stores, etc. It bothers me that these places exist and are as prevalent as Hallmark or Barnes and Noble. Why do Christian bookstores bother me so much? They bother me because their primary reason for existence is to make money off Jesus.
The first I remember feeling such frustration with a Christian bookstore was the summer after my freshman year of college. My mother had asked me to pick up a book or cd or something for her from the store, so I swung by Family Christian after I got off work that day. Walking up to the store, I noticed a rack of shirts on sale outside the store. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the shirts all had a common theme: patriotic, God loves America themed shirts, complete with a matching Bible verse. Similar to this one. The message? America is better, and God loves us more. Oh, the theology.
According to Berean’s website, they stock over 170,000 products. Pardon my generality, but that is a ton of products, all targeted at the Christian community. All created in order to make a profit. A profit off the name of Jesus. Oh, the almighty dollar.
As a student and supporter of the free market, I understand that when a market exists untapped, someone will come along and fill that market segment. The Christian community is a huge segment of the market, and inevitably someone will begin to create products with the hopes that Christians will buy them. This is simple business, a fact that exists in every segment and within every community. But do Christians have to participate so willingly?
Let me step back once again and attempt full disclosure. Yes, I own Christian books and music. Some of my favorite authors are sold within Christian bookstores, such as Don Miller, Brennan Manning and others. Just yesterday I purchased four “Christian” books off the internet, and while two of them were authored by atheists, they were published by Christian publishers with the aim of selling them to Christians. Like me. And I bought them. Amazon is my friend.
I attempt full disclosure because I don’t want it to sound like I am condemning all Christian authors or Christian books. Not at all. Just parts of that culture. Like I said, I understand the need for the market to fill the Christian segment. If there is demand, supply will follow. Yet, I wish that people weren’t so eager and willing to make money off of Jesus.
It seems that within conversations like this, I always come back to a line from Saul Williams' poem The Sermon on the Mount of the Inevitable Progression from Saul to Saul; if you sense a bit of deja vu, it may be because I have cited this poem and line in a previous post. The poem reads: "how many tables and laptops and Cadillacs and pews and pulpits would be overturned in THIS day", and I wonder if Christian bookstores might be added to that list. When Jesus overturned the moneychangers' tables in the temple, it was (in part) because they were seeking to make a profit off God by charging Jews more than they should have been for temple money or sacrificial animals. Are Christian bookstores so different? Would Jesus walk into Berean and be pleased, or would he overturn tables? I wonder if his reaction would entail more of the latter than the former, and I wonder if anyone realizes it. (Certainly some do...check out this article for a unique perspective on the issue of making money off Jesus).
Thus, I have two requests. Not to anyone in particular; perhaps to those indefinable "powers that be". These are relatively minor; I would certainly not ask that these stores close and stop doing business.
First, stop making money off of The Good Message. If the goal of a Christian bookstore is to save souls rather than make money, why are Bibles sold? Why are they not given away instead? I can understand if an author must charge money for a book in order to make a living and be a self-sufficient member of society. But Bibles? Something tells me the authors of that book aren’t interested in profit making. I have an inkling that Jesus might not be a fan of his words being sold rather than given away freely. Leather bound, gold engraved and diamond encrusted (I jest) Bibles don't exactly fit with a message of love for the poor, broken and marginalized.
My second request is that Christian bookstores stop selling political texts and apparel. It bothers me when Christian authors write with the intention of being political or something similar. Example: you can find in any Christian bookstore a copy of How Would Jesus Vote?, a book attempting to convince you of how Jesus would vote on a number of contemporary issues. Don't even get me started on this one. Thing is, I don’t remember Jesus being very political. I remember Jesus avoiding politics completely and just focusing on people. When asked about his opinion of Caesar and paying Roman taxes, Jesus said "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matt 22:15-22); doesn't sound as if Jesus was very concerned with politics. But maybe that's just me. Amazingly, you can even find books by Sarah Palin, Laura Bush and even Michael Savage (title of his book: Liberalism is a Mental Disorder...you have got to be kidding me) in many "Christian" bookstores. Yes, those are links within the Christian bookstores' websites where you can buy them. Christian bookstores: stop combining Jesus with politics. And making money off the combination. I do not appreciate it.
Oh, one more thing. Please put away the America-is-a-Christian-nation-and-better-than-everyone-else shirts. I love my country as much as anyone, but to make it sound like we are more moral or religious than the rest of the world is sickening. As if Jesus loves us more because we are American. Oh, the humanity. Are we so quick to forget that Jesus was Jewish?
And so on…