7/10 Flashback: Walls come tumbling

7/10 Flashback: Walls come tumbling July 10, 2022

From July 10, 2012, “‘Christian bookstores’ and the unsustainable bubble of the evangelical subculture“:

Some evangelical “gatekeepers” imagine they can still control the boundaries of their subculture and thereby can continue to control the lives and souls and thoughts and imaginations of those within it.

Or, if you prefer to put the most charitable spin on it, these gatekeepers imagine they can still guard the boundaries of that subculture and thereby protect the lives, souls, thoughts and imaginations of those within.

That used to work. It doesn’t anymore. The gatekeepers are still ferociously guarding their gates, but the walls on either side of those gates have crumbled into dust.

Consider the latest losing battle for these gatekeepers — a lopsided defeat in which they seem to imagine they’re still the winners: LifeWay Christian Bookstores will no longer be carrying DVDs of the movie The Blind Side. …

The Rev. Rodney L. Baker’s resolution didn’t pass, but he still got his wish — ensuring that good Southern Baptists in good Southern Baptist bookstores will be protected from profanity and Sandra Bullock. But if Baker imagines that this will somehow keep Southern Baptists from buying, owning and enjoying this movie, then he’s living in a fantasy of the distant past.

Here is the Amazon listing for The Blind Side on DVD. You can buy it new for $7.56 or used for $1.50 or so. The page also features tons of five-star reviews from viewers who describe it as “family friendly,” “inspirational” and “uplifting.”

LifeWay Christian Bookstores is a large and still-influential chain with 165 locations across the country. But which do you suppose sells more DVDs — LifeWay or Amazon? Do you think it’s even close?

More people shop at Amazon. More Southern Baptists shop at Amazon. More conservative, evangelical and fundamentalist Southern Baptists shop at Amazon. Southern Baptist evangelicals are still buying and watching The Blind Side, but LifeWay no longer sees any of the revenue from those sales. …

We should note that the Amazon price for that DVD has gone up while the number of LifeWay stores has gone down. To zero. I think — there may still be a location somewhere limping along like that last Blockbuster video store in Alaska. But the LifeWay bookstore chain is no more.

First LifeWay stopped selling Rachel Held Evans’ books. Then — a few years after this post — they stopped selling Jen Hatmaker’s books. And then a few years later they stopped selling anything.

The walls are gone and no one — not even conservative, sheltered, evangelical-leaning-fundamentalist Southern Baptists — needs to go through the gates or the gatekeepers anymore.

Mass media — from television to FM radio — chipped away at those walls for decades. Then the Internet came along and bulldozed them to the ground. …

But even though those walls are gone and cannot be rebuilt, the gatekeepers still maintain some of their power — partly through inertia and custom, partly through demagoguery that convinces their intimidated followers to pretend the walls are still there.

The so-called Christian bookstores still help to shape the evangelical subculture, even though its borders have become much more porous. Their timidly, tepidly cautious conservatism eschews all potential “controversy” and they have, through long habit, trained Christian publishers to adopt a similarly cautious, timid and tepid approach.

… I don’t think that Christian bookstores can maintain their chokehold on Christian publishers much longer.

Those publishers finally seem to be realizing what Warner Home Video — the successful marketer of The Blind Side on DVD — already knows: You no longer need Christian bookstores to reach Christians.

Yes, old habits die hard, and many publishers remain fearful of doing anything that might jeopardize the once-necessary imprimatur of LifeWay and the other bookstores that were once so influential within the former boundaries of the subculture. But being publishers of books, they’re in a better position than most to also realize the inevitable truth about bookstore chains — which is that if they’re very lucky, they may just barely out-survive newspaper chains. Even the most timid and subculturally captive Christian publishing companies have already begun relying more on Amazon than on any of those old-guard brick-and-mortar chains. The publishers have already seen what the future will look like, and it doesn’t include much of a role for LifeWay, et. al.

The walls are gone. There’s no longer any need to pay the toll to use the gates.

This post was partly a response to a sharp (and funny) critique of LifeWay by Rachel Held Evans: “Christian bookstores and their chokehold on the industry.” Go read the whole thing.


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