Christian Retailing

Christian book industry addresses ‘gay Christian’ controversy Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:34 AM America/New_York

CBA retailers, publishers consider how grace and truth apply today in midst of escalating issue of homosexuality

Baker Book House has hosted discussions at its community forums on such controversial topics as author Rob Bell’s views on heaven and hell, the theology of William P. Young’s novel The Shack and the doctrines of Calvinism. But it wasn’t until its exploration of homosexuality in mid-August that the Grand Rapids, Michigan, store ran out of room for guests and was compelled to add a live webcam telecast.

Manager Sue Smith said these annual discussions allow the church a safe place to freely discuss current issues.

“I’ve had a lot of feedback, good and bad,” Smith said. “A few people said it was a gutsy move. I did get a few comments from customers who thought I was jumping on the pro-gay bandwagon.”

Some objected to the homosexual identity of both speakers. Wesley Hill is a professor at Trinity School for Ministry and the author of Washed and Waiting (Zondervan, 2010). Justin Lee is executive director of the Gay Christian Network and author of Torn, published last year by Hachette Book Group imprint, Jericho Books.

However, Smith said, the purpose of the forum was not to debate biblical views of homosexuality, but to help the church and the gay community to learn to listen to each other and still act in loving ways.

“How do we do that when we can’t even sit for a civil discussion because we are more concerned with who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong?’ ” Smith asked.

However, many in the Christian-products industry feel perspective makes all the difference when it comes to homosexuality.

The weekend after Baker’s forum, Creation House author and ex-gay Janet Boynes led her second Called Out conference at Charisma Media’s offices in Lake Mary, Florida.

“It’s not enough to share the truth,” Boynes said. “We also need to walk alongside those who have a desire to walk out of this life. We need to offer the tools and resources they need.”

One Christian retailer who refuses to stock any of the increasing number of titles with a pro-homosexual or more accommodating stance finds it sad that Americans seem to rationalize the matter.

“This twisting of the gender roles has been sickening to watch,” said Donna Baker of Dightman’s Bible Book Center in Tacoma, Washington. “Our store is a nondenominational store, and we do stock books which have different viewpoints, but I draw the line on things that clearly are not biblical.”

Like it or not, Christian store owners are about to face more controversy.

This year has seen the release of such pro-gay books as God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines (Convergent), The Bible’s YES to Same-Sex Marriage by Mark Achtemier (Westminster John Knox Press); and A Letter to My Congregation by Ken Wilson (David Crumm Media).

This month, Howard Books releases Facing the Music, the memoir of Christian singer Jennifer Knapp. A past Dove Award winner, Knapp revealed her same-sex attraction in 2010 following a seven-year sabbatical from Christian music.

Howard’s publisher, Jonathan Merkh, said the Nashville house isn’t trying to take sides but chose to publish the book because homosexuality has “become an elephant in the sanctuary.”

“We hope that readers will take a moment and put themselves in the shoes of someone walking this path,” Merkh said. “We hope it will help them understand where someone may be coming from as they open up about their sexuality and their faith.”

In May 2015, Baker Publishing Group will release Hill’s next book, Spiritual Friendship, under Brazos Press. This follows the Brazos release last May of Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter.

Brazos’ marketing manager, Bryan Dyer, said both books encourage churches to respond to gays in a loving way.

“Wendy and Wesley are voices of reconciliation,” Dyer said. “Both seek to bring healing and unity to the church. No one questions that how the church responds to its gay and lesbian members and neighbors is of vital importance.”

While some don’t question the need for ministry, they insist on maintaining support for traditional marriage.

Moody Publishers’ October release, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor by Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family, embraces this view. However, the author advises avoiding the extremes of uncritical acceptance of gay relationships or hateful exclusion.

“We appreciated Glenn’s ability to courageously and compassionately share his convictions in public debate and his ability to make genuine friendships with folks from a polar-opposite moral perspective,” said Duane Sherman, Moody’s acquisitions editor.

Michael Brown is author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? (FrontLine/Charisma House). In Brown’s “In the Line of Fire” blog for Charisma News, he addressed the topic after Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching said she is gay.

“At any other time in church history, ideas like this would not been countenanced for a split second among committed followers of Jesus who were grounded in the Word,” Brown wrote. “But today, professing Christians are questioning some of the most basic scriptural truths about morality.”

Eric Opferbeck, owner of Life Resources, a Munce Group store in Amherst, New York, said that when a customer recently requested Making Gay Okay by Robert Reilly (Ignatius Press), he insisted on researching the author’s views first.

“We would not special-order a book just to make a sale,” Opferbeck said. “For us, that becomes a bit of a fine line because we try to be an ecumenical store, and there’s a wide range of beliefs. But when it’s in disagreement with Scripture, we can’t do that.” —Ken Walker