Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Rachel Held Evans and her V-Victory
Rachel Held Evans’ recent campaign to get her publisher to allow the word vagina to remain in her upcoming book was not only funny, but also successful. She correctly describes the concerns and fears of editors and publishers that the use of certain words will offend their popular Christian readership and diminish book sales. Rachel rightly calls for that to change.
But it probably won’t, at least not anytime soon. Publishers of popular Christian books seem to view their audience as ones who don’t want to read things that go too deep, ask too many uncomfortable questions, contain violence, or use offensive language. A visit to one of the few remaining Christian bookstores will offer evidence of the literary Pablum that people seem to want to slurp.
However, I don’t think our publishing friends give their audiences enough credit. I’m not saying that everything has to be heavy-duty academic stuff, but the history of Christianity is hardly bereft of weighty writings or scandalous stories. The first three hundred years of the church alone produced volumes of serious theological thought that still line the shelves of academicians today.
There are popular speakers who add to this illusion. I heard the popular writer Donald Miller (whose first book, Blue Like Jazz, I loved) speak recently and he spent a great deal of time telling people that scholarship was dispensable when it came to being a follower of Jesus. I suspect he was trying to say that lack of theological credentials shouldn’t disqualify a person from being a disciple, but it didn’t come off that way. I’m concerned about how people heard his message. It suggested an anti-intellectualism that isn't helpful to any of us.
As far as scandalous material goes, it’s a good thing that current Christian publishers didn’t have a hand in determining what went into the Bible. Otherwise they might have sanitized
•Jael pounding a tent stake through Sisera’s head (Judges 4)
•Onan terminating intercourse and spilling his semen on the ground (Genesis 38)
•The gang-rape and dismemberment of a woman (Judges 19)
•All kinds of steamy sex talk (Song of Solomon)
You get the idea. Using language gratuitously in order to sell books is no better than sanitizing language for the same reason. But I would hope that some brave editors and publishers would push the envelope a bit and see if their audiences would rise to the occasion. Authenticity, intelligence, and artful use of language are good things.
So, hurray for Rachel and her vagina victory.