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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Martyred For A Noble Cause

Writers, for all their talk about bravely speaking truth, are sometimes just whiners. Those who most loudly claim a noble calling to write truth, also complain most loudly when they believe they're being persecuted. Writers tend to enjoy drama and some love to play the martyr, it seems.

I used to think it was only general market writers who whined about being censored. YA writers with gritty, sexually graphic, or disturbing books about aberrant behavior, are quick to cry, “Censorship!” when people complain about their books. I expect it from them. Recently I came across a Christian writer claiming that she and her friends were being censored by Christian bookstore owners who didn’t like sex shops, wine, or frank language in the books they sold.

This accusation bothers me. It feels manipulative. It reminds me of when people say Christians engage in hate-speech when they don't affirm sinful lifestyles. It's meant to shame the other guy into lowering his standards, I think.

I came across the accusation of censorship on a Christianity Today blog when I followed links from one of Steve Laube’s News You Can Use posts. The author of the CT post, Caryn Rivadeneira, suggests that Christian publishers and bookstore owners sin when they ask faithful Christian writers to remove certain words. Christian writers are, after all, present-day prophets, in Ms. Rivadeneira’s estimation, and they should not be hindered in getting their stories out:

The problem with Vaginagate—and any other effort  to remove specific and frank language from books written by faithful Christians—isn’t that bookstores don’t have the right to decide what types of books they will or will not sell. They are businesses after all, and to be successful, businesses need to sell products their customers will read without getting up in arms. The problem with Vagina-gate and similar forms of “censorship” is that, in an attempt to protect customers, publishers and bookstores are making it a lot harder for writers to tell the stories God has called them to write. And when Christians are barred by other Christians from serving God, it dishonors God. In fact, it’s sin. 

As an aside, is it clever or clichéd to link a woman’s reproductive organs to a political cause?

Ms. Rivadeneira illustrates her blog post with a picture of a girl with duct tape over her mouth and with a “censored” stamp.

This is hardly helpful.

First of all, is Rachel Held Evans [the target of the aforementioned, "vagina-gate"] a faithful Christian? I don’t know her so I’m not saying she’s not. I’m only saying that if I was a bookstore owner or a publisher, I wouldn’t assume that everyone who sent me a book was a faithful Christian. I would look at the book and judge whether I thought it was edifying. How would I know if the writer was faithful or not?

Secondly, I can't see that anyone is being censored. It’s not like there aren’t other publishing options, as Nicole Petrino-Salter said recently. Publishers and bookstore owners have a right and a duty to obey God to the best of their ability, and to protect their brands. They are under no obligation to help writers who don’t fit their brand.

Even if Rachel Held Evans were a prophetess, to refuse to publish or stock her books is not to “bar” her from serving God.

Imprisoning her? Maybe. Beating her senseless? Sure. But refusing to sell her books in your store?

Implying that publishers and bookstore owners bar Christians from serving God is the same thing as bearing false witness against a neighbor, isn't it? Where does this accusation of censorship come from? Is it justified? What am I missing? When Christian authors take offense at Christian publishers and bookstore owners over the content of books, how do they differ from Christian readers who take offense over the content of books?

photo credit: Éole via photo pin cc

 has published short works in a number of places, has won various and sundry contests, and has received an SCBWI Work in Progress grant. She's between agents at present, and can be found blogging about young adult novels at


  1. I agree with you, Sally. Besides, it's the right of any publisher or bookstore to choose what they want to produce or sell. It's totally up to them. And it's totally up to authors what they choose to write. The market's wide open with e-publishing and other means of self-publishing.

    Censorship? No: it's called choice.

    1. I really like the internet and the ease with which people can publish today, Nicole. What an amazing time we inhabit.

  2. This makes a lot of sense. Thank you for being brave enough to share your thoughts.

    1. :) There's a fine line between bravery and obnoxiousness. I hope I'm not being obnoxious. I think this important, though, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

      One of the things that bothers me so much about the charge of censorship is that it is something like the charge of intolerance. It tends to shut down reaction from gentle souls, while it inflames the more vocal opponents. It works to shut down thoughtful discussion.

      I doubt if Rivadeneira meant to stop discussion. I think she probably wanted to stir readers up--to make them think.

      She succeeded in making me think. But, to borrow from Fagin, "I think we better think it out again."

  3. Interesting article, Sally. I believe this term "martyred" is used too casually. The publishing industry, with all its possibilities for writers,is hardly an arena for martyrdom.

    I have a brave friend, a Pakistani brother in the Lord, who openly preaches the Word a stone's throw from where Osama Bin Laden was killed. Now, this man could raise the issue of martyrdom...but he doesn't. Even when fellow Christians are victimized.

    How about if we faithfully serve God and use our writing gifts to His glory. Then, stand back and watch God do the impossible.

    1. "Martyr" was my word, not Rivadeneira's. I hate to hang that on her. I used it because many of the authors I hear accusing their opponents of censoring them, seem to see themselves as martyrs and their opponents as oppressors.

      I agree with you, though. We do tend to feel persecuted too quickly. Many people today are easily offended, I believe. To call our critics censors, as the general market YA authors often do, or to imply that Christian publishers are censors, as Christian authors sometimes do, trivializes a very real evil in the world.

  4. You make a lot of sense with this post, Sally. I'm too inexperienced with book publishers to make many intelligent comments about the subject but I do think some of the on-line rhetoric lately has been overly dramatic. It's not a syndrome confined to writers but I think it is more symptomatic of American Christians than to those in cultures less accustomed to getting their own way on a regular basis. Sharp writing, intelligent argument!

  5. When we lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, my writer's group wanted to publish a book of our short stories in English. My sweet husband sponsored the publication, and I did the formatting. One writer submitted a (long, meandering, boring, definitely non-edifying) story containing the F word. She was enraged when I told her she would have to edit that out, and raved about censorship and her inability to control what her characters said, and how it would not be true to her writing to be censored. My husband said his money would not be used to publish the F word. She refused to be censored, so we refused to publish her. We all have choices.

  6. Sally -- You're not being obnoxious, you're stating a truth. Publishers and bookstores have the right to publish/sell what they want to publish/sell. They know what their readers want to read. People who want something else are free to go to other publishers/bookstores. Maybe, I've been in this biz too long, but every book/author doesn't have to push the envelop.

  7. Excellent article, Sally :) So good to read another point of view on this issue, a point of view not usually discussed.

  8. Thanks Sally, I really appreciate your opinion on this. When Christians in other countries face actual persecution and martydrom everyday, it feels petty for me to argue about word choice or story suggestions. We are free to publish just about anything we want. The choice to work with a certain publishing house is a privilege--a business decision--not a right.

  9. @Lori, Thanks! That means a lot coming from you--one of my favorite bloggers.

    @Lee, what's your hubby doing now? I have some books I'd love to publish. heh heh No F-words. Seriously, though, what a nice hubby.

    @Jean, Thanks for commenting. I admit, I've done my share of poking fun at publishers for their lists of forbidden words, because I think many of them are ridiculous. But I agree that every book doesn't have to push the envelope. And if publishers want no envelope-pushing books, that still doesn't make them censors.

    @Morgan, thanks for taking the time to comment!

    @Charity, I agree that working with a publishing house is a privilege. I'm also glad writers have more options today. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Sally, I think your post is thoughtful and not obnoxious. Recently I read a post by an author who felt censored by Christian publishers. I thought about what she wrote, and my reaction was similar to what you wrote above. I was sympathetic because she was obviously hurt and angered. But I don't think she was right in expecting the publishers to purchase her work if it didn't fit their perceived market. Their dime, their choice. While I hope this author's dream of publication is realized, it seems a better solution is to try other options, perhaps ABA publishers, or self-publication. Blaming others for our disappointments is seldom helpful.

  11. Sally, thank you for a well-reasoned and thought out post. This issue is a lot like tolerance in our society today: you are free to think (print/publish) anything you like--as long as it is the same as what I think (write).

    But bottom line, I agree with Charity. When we can find another publisher, it's a rather small thing to rail about compared to what Christians face in other countries. We are tremendously free and richly blessed.

  12. Enjoyed this post, Sally. I think of all the manuscripts I've sent out and they've all gone out with the understanding that they may very well be rejected (and have been!). That's the editor's call, not mine. If God has called someone to write, He will also see fit to provide a publisher.

  13. @Dana, I have often been guilty of blaming others for my own shortcomings, and you're right. It's not helpful.

    @Carole, I think many Christians are guilty of getting angry when other don't agree with them. Think about how many leave churches because they don't like drums in the worship (or whatever). We need to learn how to discuss and disagree without being easily offended, I think.

    @Debra, thanks for dropping by. I agree completely: If God calls us to publish he'll call the publisher, too.


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