What, exactly, do we mean by the designation ‘Christian’ when we refer to bookshops or publishers? Is it simply that we trade in products that relate to the Christian faith — are we simply a subset of other businesses and commercial enterprises? Or is there — should there be — something more distinctive than that? A sense of mission, perhaps? A sense of mission that goes beyond questions of finance, profit and loss, that makes us determined — somehow — to continue trading no matter what the odds stacked against us?
Or is it something about our business practices? Honesty and integrity, compassion and humility — a willingness to put others first: an emphasis on service, on service that goes beyond the call of duty to offer our customers, our co-workers — whether employees or employers — the best that we possibly can? Treating others with respect, as better than ourselves…
I ask these questions not out of idle curiosity but out of deep concern as I watch the debacle of the SPCK/SSG bookshops deepen, a once excellent chain brought to ruin (latest reports listed below)… and as I see Christian divisions of secular publishing houses increasingly dominating our marketplace. Lorna Roe, responding to my ‘Bibles and Bookmarks‘ post, puts the question about publishers bluntly:
There are a lot of ‘Christian’ publishers out there who try and cash in on the huge popularity of that one most important book, the Bible. Blatant materialism.
So, to get to the crux of the issue: is being Christian about what we (say we) believe or about how we behave? I put it to you that what we believe only matters insofar as it affects the way we behave. Jesus himself warned us about wolves in sheep’s clothing: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20).
In that light, what does what we’ve seen to date of the behaviour of the Brewer brothers tell us? What we’ve seen of the their attitude towards their staff; towards their suppliers; towards SPCK… of their disingenuity in their correspondence here, denying the reality of shop closures? Can we, with any sense of integrity, continue to refer to their shops as ‘Christian’?
I am in a quandary: on the one hand I want to support those SPCK booksellers who have somehow survived the storms thus far and are still working in their shops; on the other, I find myself wanting to expunge every record of the SPCK/SSG Bookshops from the UK Christian Bookshops Directory. The designation ‘Christian’ is sullied and brought into disrepute by the Brewers’ behaviour.
Would Jesus recognise them as having anything to do with him?
What would you do?
Lord have mercy…