Living Biblically with a vagina

Living Biblically with a vagina March 17, 2012

Over at her blog this week, Rachel Held Evans related her frustrations over working with a Christian publisher. In this case, Thomas Nelson, because they have banned the use of the word “vagina” in her upcoming book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

I suppose when they signed contract with Rachel it never occurred to the publisher that she would have the balls to talk about her vagina in a book about womanhood, heh? But then I suppose Thomas Nelson wouldn’t use the word balls either, heh?

Here’s how Rachel explains it:

But I soon forget the conversation because I’m too busy arguing with my publisher. They won’t let me use the word “vagina” in my book because we have to sell it to Christian bookstores, which apparently have a thing against vaginas. I make a big scene about it and say that if Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn’t be able carry the freaking Bible.

I tell everyone that I’m going to fight it out of principle, but I cave within a few days because I want Christian bookstores to carry the sanitized version of my book because I want to make a lot of money, because we’ve needed a new roof on our house for four years now, and because I really want a Mac so I can fit in at the mega-churches.

I feel like such a fraud.


Only Rachel isn’t the fraud. The fraud lies within this whole business we’ve created and labeled “Christian.”

There is something inherently wrong with calling a publishing house “Christian”.

The problem is this — it automatically sets up the “us” and “them’ rhetoric. It’s a way of saying to the rest of world We live above the fray that is the rest of the world.

And the real problem with that is that it’s a lie.

Christian publishers are not any more righteous than any other publisher. Listen, I’ve worked with both secular and Christian publishers and lo, and behold, I’ve found that they are both interested in the same thing — money.  How many books sold.

Thomas Nelson is a business. A business dedicated to selling books. They want to sell a lot of books. Millions of them if possible. They are censoring Rachel because they are afraid that vagina might offend their audience and that audience might not buy Rachel’s book. Which is really convoluted thinking if you think about it because the majority of the buying public have a vagina.

I ran into the same sort of thing while trying to find a publisher for A Silence of Mockingbirds. My editor at the time was the smart and insightful Andy Meisenheimer. Andy wanted so badly to publish this book. “We have to do this book,” he wrote to me after reading the story. Of course it wasn’t long after that that Andy got the proverbial pink slip, or whatever it is that Christian publishers give to people that they don’t want to pay any more.

Of course there wasn’t a Christian publishing house out there who was going to touch this story because let’s face it, Christians don’t abuse children, right? Only the Fray do that. Those Others, obviously godless bunch.  People gone wild without God.

Which again makes no sense if you think about it, because who else should be leading the charge against the epidemic of child abuse in this nation if not the Church, if not the Christians, who, ought to not only know better, but be showing everyone else how to do better?

And theologians argue over why people today don’t find the Church relevant to their lives. Perhaps the answer to that question could be found in the books Christians refuse to print, sell, buy and read.

Sometimes it seems that all Christians publishers really want us “good Christian” women to write about are Amish Vampires.

How, pray tell, is a gal supposed to get through A Year of Biblical Womanhood without her vagina?

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  • Jo Hilder

    Amen, sister, once again, amen.

  • “I suppose when they signed contract with Rachel it never occurred to the publisher that she would have the balls to talk about her vagina in a book about womanhood, heh?”

    balls? don’t you mean ovaries? haha 😛

    Anyway, this is a great post. Love it. Thanks to you and Rachel for sticking up for those of us with vaginas! 🙂

    • How about this quote that has been attributed to Betty White? “Why do people say “Grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive! If you really wanna get tough, grow a vagina! Those things take a pounding!”

  • Glenda

    …and today I heard that married people are not supposed to look upon each others nakedness…it is in the Bible. Yes, this is the truth. Someone actually said it. So when I read your post about the word Vagina not being able to get into the Christian book store…I was just not surprised at all cause it’s just been one of them kinda daze. 😉

    • Paula

      guess nobody reads the Song of Solomon these days. Plenty of “breast” — and not a mention of God.

  • Oh Karen and Rachel, I love you both. You tell it like it is. No wonder so many Christian denominations have a problem letting women preach and teach.. this is the kind of cutting-through-the-crap talk we need so badly.

  • Paul T

    A Contemporary Christian Musician gave a seminar on “How to get into the Christian Music Business”, His first fifteen minutes were used to explain the process. “The order is all wrong, you must understand this…. It is Business, Music, Christian in that order. It has to follow that order. The eyes around the room, looked dazed, and you could clearly see that he struggled as a Christian, an artist and as a person wanting to feed a family. The young aspiring aritist in the room, were sad, some outraged and all were given a large dose of reality. Your comments brought this quickly from my memory, and yet your scope is about personhood and very being. It is our fashionable diacotomy, that has drawn marketers to hone in on the buzz words and taboos of the stereotypic Christian. A nasty cycle I’d say and one that Women have bore the brunt of, quite literally. Continue the good fight. It is those who “think outside the (church) box, that will ultimate touch those in need. By Grace, honesty, and a Gospel of love.

    • paula

      You know, I’m trying to think about how to respond to this.Because if the order was reversed, would a music company be signing an earnest 4 year old singing “Jesus loves me,” because, you know, he means it, and God is delighted with it.

      No, in fact, a music company has to think about what sells — that’s the business part. They’ve got to pay their employees. That they think about the musicality next– that thrills me actually. The Christian part — I’m not sure what that means.If it meansthey are honest last, that’s bad. If it means that piety is of third order importance (remember our 4 year old) then, well, that makes sense to me.

      Karen’s essay is about something else, I think. The decision of booksellers to foist something on us, when we readers might be more broadminded.

      • Paul T.

        You’re right, my point was that marketing often homogenates extremes to find a bland but palatable middle, in so doing it misses or alters the artist or writers impact. The parallel to the event I witnessed was more what I noticed.

  • Gretchen

    If my vagina could speak, she would utter a hearty HOLLA! & AMEN! But she can’t. Because she’s Christian. Oh…I know. Poor taste.

    Thank you, Karen.

  • Dorcie

    Karen, one of your best yet. Can we reprint this in the bulletin? Thanks for telling the truth.

  • Dso227

    So I wonder how they feel about the use of the word ‘penis’. I’m sure they’re just giving her a tough time because she is ‘just a girl.’

  • Oh, hypocrisy of it all… Our holy book talks of a Levite who turns his mistress/concubine over to a hormonally charged group of men to be abused all night long, but a lady writing about Biblical Womanhood can’t use the word vagina. The whole country is talking about whether or not Sandra Fluke is a “slut” and Bill Maher uses even more graphic language for Sarah Palin. Yet, we are supposed to live in a fantasy world (wait. that word may be banned too) totally divorced (is that verb even allowed) from reality. Yes, Karen we are increasingly irrelevant because we have created a make-believe world.

  • welcome to the “business world”…. it is all about business. Most of the american churches are run just the same. If the Spirit of God moves upon a church the Holy Spirit better line up with the church’s “business plan” or many pastors will not acknowledge God’s moving.

  • Good points!

    I’ve always been frustrated at the contradiction between how male and females bodies are viewed (I don’t mean actually looked at) and/or discussed in general and among Christians, it is even worse.

  • You guys with all your talk about body parts worry me. I’m concerned you will all start focusing on the flesh, and that’s sinful. I’m going to leave now, and go eat a Snickers, then have fried foods for lunch, thankful I don’t have any flesh-based sins to worry about.

  • I find it very ironic that Mark Driscoll can write about everything racy in his marriage book but Rachel isn’t supposed to use the word vagina. It’s not like all of us who are women haven’t ever heard of them or talked about them before. Of course the dirty little secret of christian publishing and music is that hardly any of the publishing or record companies are owned by christians any more. Everyone sold out by the 80’s and it’s just large secular corporations owning most of them. I’m thining their assumption is that all christians are mindless morons.

  • I love this, Karen! I had the privilege to work with Andy a long time ago and I can only imagine how hard he fought for your book. I know how hard he fought to stock the bookstore we worked at with good, quality books that went beyond the typical Christian fare. We all have to keep speaking up and showing Christian publishers and bookstores what we want and then putting our wallets to good work to prove the point.

  • I agree with a lot of the sentiment here. I’m all for authors having the freedom to properly speak about any part of the human anatomy. I agree that failing to give authors the freedom that we find in the pages of scripture is a major fail. If a Christian publisher received a proposal for the Song of Songs, I can guess what would happen.

    However, I think we also need to be careful here that we don’t create too strong a critique of Christian publishing. There are certainly some problems that I don’t want to overlook. However, there are lots of books that I want to write that a regular publisher simply wouldn’t touch because I’m too “Jesusy” in my approach.

    So it’s not quite as stark as this statement, “The problem is this — it automatically sets up the “us” and “them’ rhetoric. It’s a way of saying to the rest of world We live above the fray that is the rest of the world.”

    We can use the Christian industry to create these divides, but I also think that there has to be a place where Christian writers can find the editorial support and distribution they need to make their ideas known to others. For example, Shane Claiborn’s books published by Zondervan have been so immensely helpful for my spiritual growth. They speak to the Christian family and provide a lot of wisdom. I’m glad we have Christian publishers who can put out books like that.

    I don’t deny that the business end of things is messy, difficult, and easy to wreck. I’m glad we have authors like Rachel who are willing to expose these unsavory aspects. However, in the midst of addressing the shortcomings, I don’t think we should discredit all that Christian publishing is. It’s fulfilling a need that would otherwise be unmet, even if it can, at its worse, turn into an us vs. them scenario.