When I wrote I Sold My Soul on Ebay, the Christian publishers had two rules regarding my writing:
1) Every mention of God had to be capitalized. (It didn’t make a difference to me.)
2) You can’t swear. (It wasn’t an issue since I usually don’t, anyway…)
After that, they let me write whatever I wanted and they helped me along the way.
Rachel Held Evans is writing a book for a (different) Christian publisher in which she follows the Bible as literally as possible regarding how to be a good Christian woman. One of the passages deals with her own upbringing and the abstinence movement:
I signed my first abstinence pledge when I was just fifteen. I’d been invited by some friends to a fall youth rally at the First Baptist Church, and in the fellowship hall one night, the youth leader passed around neon blue and pink postcards that included a form letter to God promising to remain sexually abstinent until marriage. We had only a few minutes to add our signatures, and all my friends were signing theirs, so I used the back of my metal chair to scribble my name across the dotted line before marching to the front of the room to pin my promise to God and to my vagina onto a giant corkboard for all to see. The youth leader said he planned to hang the corkboard in the hallway outside the sanctuary so that parents could marvel at the seventy-five abstinence pledges he’d collected that night. It was a pretty cheap way to treat both our bodies and God, come to think of it.
The publishers have a slight problem with that passage.
It contains the word “vagina.” And not in a strictly anatomical way, either, but in a way that suggests it has a purpose outside of post-marriage-baby-making.
Rachel writes on her site:
My editor noted that it would be tough to get this particular reference to “vagina” through the Christian bookstore gatekeepers, so we took it out and replaced it with…sigh… “privates.” (I know, I know.)
The issue, Rachel says, wasn’t with the publishers so much as the fact that certain Christian bookstores wouldn’t carry the book if it contained that word. And that would hurt book sales. So she was tempted to side with her publishers (Thomas Nelson) on this one…
But then she realized that Thomas Nelson had put out some books by male authors and the same rules didn’t seem to apply. Once again, I quote Rachel verbatim:
… in To Own a Dragon, the ever-talented Donald Miller writes, “I felt as though all the men in the world secretly met in some warehouse late at night to talk about man things, to have secret handshakes, to discuss how great it was to have a penis and what an easy thing it was to operate…”
So it’s fine when he writes “penis,” but it’s not ok when she writes “vagina”?
What’s up with that? What do the evangelical book publishers fear will happen? That Christian girls are going to open up Rachel’s book and somehow realize for the first time that — Oh my god! I have a vagina!?
I hope Rachel fights to keep that word in there. Whatever she loses in sales by not having the book appear in certain Christian bookstores, I’m sure she’ll make up in online sales from people who support an author who stands up for women, fights hypocrisy within the Christian world, and has, you know, some integrity.