Jeremy Lott, Rachel Held Evans, and Taboos in the Evangelical Christian Culture Industry

Jeremy Lott, Rachel Held Evans, and Taboos in the Evangelical Christian Culture Industry November 2, 2012

by Sierra

In the attempt to track down sales figures for the evangelical Christian marriage book market, I found the following article by Jeremy Lott. He originally wrote it in 2003, but recently reposted it on his blog. The article discusses the range of products that make up the Christian culture market, including books. I think it’s worthwhile to look at Christian culture as an industry, the same way we look at Hollywood. The booksellers, music labels and product manufacturers are self-consciously creating a culture for evangelicals through the choices they make about what authors and artists get their contracts and hence their money.

Jeremy Lott’s Diary: Jesus Sells

When LifeWay decided not to carry Rachel Held Evans’ book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, it was not just rejecting an author. It was defining what is sacred and what is profane for its consumer base. It was creating a taboo. What makes this an act of censorship rather than a simple economic choice? After all, LifeWay caters to an evangelical Christian audience. It can’t be expected to carry things that are contrary to evangelical Christian values, like Fifty Shades of Grey.

It’s censorship because Rachel Held Evans identifies as an evangelical Christian. She is the demographic to whom LifeWay promotes its products. Refusing to stock Rachel’s book is a rejection of her values. It’s a statement that she might call herself an evangelical Christian, but she’s not, really, or at least not the right kind.

Censorship sounds harsh, doesn’t it? After all, LifeWay is just one retailer. It’s a private, for-profit organization.

Trouble is, Christian culture does not practice the free-market economics it preaches. Conservative Christians are free agents in the sense that no one can arrest them or deport them for buying porn, going to see R-rated movies or reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Those freedoms are guaranteed by the government. But that doesn’t mean they’re allowed to do any of that and retain their membership in conservative, evangelical Christianity as a subculture. LifeWay uses its financial power to help define the boundaries of what evangelical Christians are allowed to consume. Its message is reinforced through the pulpit by pastors who feel empowered to forbid popular media and tell their congregations how to vote. Its message is reinforced through the circulation of power and coercion from member to member of a church.

In my church, a 16 year old boy reading Harry Potter was a scandal. Rob Bell’s Love Wins, a book that criticizes the doctrine of hell, faced similar controversy (LifeWay doesn’t carry that, either). A woman reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood might be subjected to a public intervention, evangelical-style. As innocuous as they may sound to the outsider, prayer lists can function as mechanisms of moral control. You don’t want to end up on a prayer list for your reading choices. You only want to be there if you’re physically sick or actively experiencing persecution. Anything else is a megaphone broadcasting your sin. A book that’s judged “too liberal for LifeWay” is going to get onto some churches’ unspoken banned book lists almost by default. That exclusion is one way you create a culture.

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Read everything by Sierra!

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog  the phoenix and the olive branch

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  • Nancy B

    Rachel Held Evans’s evangelical faith was searched and found wanting. Incredible. Too bad she didn’t get a pass like Mitt Romney. The hypocrisy in the church is staggering.

    The mindest that alienates non-Christians, mocks scripture, and heals nothing.

    I first began to lose my faith in 1976. That is when televangelists were adamant that Christians should vote for Gerald Ford, not the born-again Jimmy Carter.

    It isn’t right to life, and it isn’t gay marriage. It is about money, power, and keeping women in their place.

    Once Christianity became a multi billion dollar industry, all was lost.

    Every hour of religious programming is a house that could shelter a family. Every study series is a week’s worth of groceries for a poor, pregnant woman. Ever CD is a pair of shoes for a child who has outgrown his.

    Every multi million dollar church wing, or gymnasium, or sound system is a free clinic in an impoverished area, or a plane to land relief supplies to some of those 30,000 children who die each day worldwide from hunger and disease.

    Our US Christianity equals the rest of our US culture: over-fed, over-indulged, self-righteous and totally self-involved. Big cars to drive our big butts to big churches so we can preen in delight. We may not be healing anything, but aren’t we cute?

  • It’s really sad how evangelical Christianity has become a big machine, all about power and control. By declaring Rachel Held Evans anathema, the bigwigs in the movement have made sure that women in their movement, the ones who most need to read her book, are the ones who will never read it. They don’t want women asking the kinds of questions Rachel asks. Nancy, you’re quite right; it’s all about money, power, and keeping women in their place (which is part of how they maintain money and power).

    Evangelicalism used to not be like this. When I joined it in the ’70’s, it was a gentle, free movement of people singing “Pass it On” around campfires.

  • Mo

    Too bad she didn’t get a pass like Mitt Romney.

    Mitt Romney is a Mormon, not an evangelical Christian.

  • Chervil

    We’re fully aware of that. Yet he is embraced as if he is fully evangelical. Because it really is all about politics. No one ever says Judeo-Christian Mormon values.

  • blvwoutoprssn

    So much truth is stated here and yet so many do not think it is so. It is sad really how so many christians follow a Christ that, if returned today, they would not even recognize…

    Sidenote: Just wondering, did LifeWay decide to sell the book by Rachel? I just googled it and it came up as being sold by LifeWay, so wasn’t sure if something changed to make them sell it or what happened.