Last week, LifeWay Christian Resources announced its decision to close all 170 brick and mortar stores by the end of this year.
The Christian retail chain previously announced in January it planned to reduce its number of operating stores this year, but due to drastically declining sales and immense financial pressure, the company decided it was not feasible to save any stores after this year.
The news comes as devastating to Christian organizations, churches and Christian authors across the nation––most of whom relied heavily on LifeWay for publishing needs.
But is the news really as bad as some people are making it out to be?
Some individuals mourning the loss of LifeWay stores credit the hard blow to the de-Christianization of the modern world.
I beg to differ.
As someone who grew up regularly shopping for Christian resources at LifeWay, I found myself feeling uncomfortable at LifeWay’s decisions, particularly the decision to ban one of my favorite authors, Jen Hatmaker.
Hatmaker has not been the only one banned from LifeWay. Rachel Held Evans was also banned in 2012 after the publication of her best-selling book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” A Christian music album from Sho Baraka was also banned for using the word “penis” in a transparent song about struggling with lust. Even Relevant magazine, an online Christian publication, was banned.
What many people do not know––I did not either––is LifeWay is not just a “Christian” company. The organization is run by the Southern Baptist Convention, which means it falls under Southern Baptist regulation.
There are several consequences of this fact. For one, while I love all my Christian brothers and sisters regardless of what denomination they are affiliated with, LifeWay has always been under a microscope concerning what they should and should not carry.
While Hatmaker is a well-known, best-selling Christian author, she does not share identical views with the Southern Baptist Convention, along with the other authors banned from their stores.
Evans took to Twitter upon the news to share her unique perspective as a banned author.
“I’m truly sorry to everyone for whom this means the loss of a job or a publishing partner. But, at the end of the day, this is good news for writers of faith and Christian publishing. My hope is that this news will reinforce to writers, editors, publishers, and marketers in the industry that we don’t have to conform to Southern Baptist culture and theology to sell books and that fear of getting banned from LifeWay shouldn’t drive editorial decisions,” Evans tweeted.
Evans went on to address the company’s act of regularly banning books.
“I hope it sends a message to retailers that banning books for not conforming to strict, fundamentalist standards is an ineffective strategy because readers of faith want books that reflect the diversity of the church and the complexity and nuances of the faith experience.”
For many Christians, LifeWay was a store we knew and loved. I am thankful for the books I found there as a young girl which helped my faith flourish. I am grateful for the products within their stores which found their way into the hands of people who desperately needed the hope they offered.
However, I, like Evans, believe there is good news in this situation.
It is crucial for the Christian community to have books written by people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Christian authors should not have to write with fear looming over them.
As Evans wrote in a blog post about Christian bookstores a few years ago, “Christians are not called to create a subculture untouched by the beauty and ugliness of this world. The minute we try to codify these messy Christian lives that we live, the minute we try to sanitize and apologize for them, we not only lose our relevance, but our soul.”