“Christians go crazy if you in any way suggest that God isn’t a man,” said the first big-deal person in Christian publishing to read the manuscript of my book, I’m OK–You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop. He was advising me to cut the passage below from that book’s introduction.
“Really?” I said. “But no one thinks God actually has an a gender, right? Nobody’s that dense.”
“Trust me on this,” he said. “The average Christian reader cannot tolerate anything but God being male. And it’ll never get past the bluehairs.”
“The bluehairs. The old women who decide what does and doesn’t get sold in Christian bookstores. Every chain of Christian bookstores has these old lady readers who vet each book they carry for Christian-appropriate content. The bluehairs. They’re the gate-keepers of the business. If they find something in a book they object to, that book dies in the world of Christian publishing.”
Oh. I had no idea. And here I thought what most mattered in a book were things like quality of thought and deftness of expression.
Eventually I acquiesced (since it was either that or don’t publish the book, if you can believe the inanity), and cut the passage. So the text below does not appear in I’m OK–You’re Not. But every once in a while I find myself wondering to what extent the “average Christian reader” would, in fact, find the following offensive:
Throughout this book I stick with the convention of referring to God as if he were … well, a “he.” I don’t particularly like doing that; I’m not a huge fan of the whole Big Bearded Guy in the Sky model of God. And I know most people aren’t; I know that most all of us are attuned to the idea that God is hardly, shall we say, gonadally defined. But when you’re writing about God (in English, anyway), you’re basically stuck having to Pick A Gender. So I went with the conventional “he” and “him” and “Big Daddy,” and . . . well, I actually never use “Big Daddy.” But you get the idea.
If my herein going with Manly God Talk offends anyone, please do forgive me, and know that (hairy, testosterone-addled guy that, sadly, I am) I’m extremely sensitive to what I believe is that perfectly valid point of concern. Here’s hoping that eventually we evolve some gender-neutral … well, pronouns, basically. If anyone’s into developing or promoting that sort of thing, please give me a call if you think I might be able to help. Because I’d try, for sure.
At the very least I’m glad to know that today this sort of thing would raise a lot less hackles than it did six years ago, when I was writing I’m OK.
And I’m also glad to know that today Christian bookstores have mostly gone the way of chamber pots and the dodo bird.