I asked this question on twitter in response to an article I found on the Canadian Christian publishers and writers blog, Future Tense: Are Warning Stickers on Book Jackets coming to Canada?
Do Christian booksellers have a duty to “protect the minds” of their customers?
Most Christian bookstores in Canada carry items with the potential to cause the least offence to the fewest people possible, because they don’t want to lose customers or forfeit that big Bible order from the local church. Here’s a trend I sure hope doesn’t spread from the US to Canada. Lifeway Christian Stores, the large, and powerful, and conservative, American bookstore chain owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention denomination, has developed a company practice to sticker certain books with the words, “Read with Discernment.”
It’s a trend that I wouldn’t want to see emerging here in the UK either, a trend which begs the question of why we’re in business as Christian booksellers. Are we there to help maintain the status quo of established doctrine and dogma, stocking only those titles that meet the approval of particular church leaders? And if so, which church leaders, given that most of us will have several different denominations represented in the areas we seek to serve?
Or are we there to provoke and challenge, to provide a prophetic presence on the high street? To be places where people will find books that challenge their faith, forcing them to think through what they believe and why — and then go on to explore what that implies for the way they behave?
Or are we there as mission outposts? Places where people who wouldn’t be seen dead in a church — even for their own funeral — can walk in and explore questions of faith and spirituality freely and openly, without fear of being bludgeoned over the head by any one particular blinkered view of Christianity?
Or are we no different to any other booksellers: simply there to make a profit by supplying our customers with whatever books they want, no questions asked?
Putting aside the issue of insulting the intelligence of our customers by suggesting that they might not read with discernment anyway, placing warning labels on books also raises an important ethical question: if we believe a book is going to lead people astray or put their spiritual lives in jeopardy, then is it not hypocritical to stock it and take a profit from its sales, even if we do sticker it up with a ‘spiritual health warning’? I can just imagine the conversation: “But Lord, I did put a sticker on it…”
My stock policy at LST is to carry as broad a range as possible within the constraints of my budget: to stock titles that will encourage my customers to think outside the evangelical box, that will enable them to engage critically with the full spectrum of Christian thought rather than simply pander to preconceived notions of what Christians are supposed to believe. What’s your stock policy, and why?