Thomas Nelson

Time for a solid update on the changing realities in U.S. evangelicals' retail business

Time for a solid update on the changing realities in U.S. evangelicals' retail business

Hammered by superstore chains and then the online omnipresence of Amazon, America’s bookstores are struggling.

Thus there was more sorrow than  shock when the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources announced on March 20 it will close down its chain of 170 brick-and-mortar stores, which sell books, Bibles, curriculum and a variety of other religious products.

Baptist Press reported the gap between LifeWay stores; sales and operating expenses grew from a manageable $2.3 million in 2010 to $35.5 million by 2017. That year, LifeWay’s chief rival, Family Christian Resources, shut all of its 240 retail locations, following the 2013 demise of the United Methodist Church’s 38 Cokesbury stores.

The Baptist collapse raises two themes for solid stories, the limits on what products religious stores should be selling, and the ongoing disruption as U.S. religious retail, dominated by evangelical Protestants, shifts toward online and phone-ordering operations. As a company, LifeWay will continue alongside the likes of family-owned Christian Book Distributors.  There will be ever fewer independent stores surviving to serve as local ministry and fellowship centers. 

 On the first theme, officially Christian stores obviously are not going to sell lottery tickets, randy novels and movies, pop music that degrades women, or books that deviate from their faith’s doctrines. The Baptists’ no-no’s include the prosperity gospel and  accounts of purported visits to heaven. Some respondents danced on LifeWay’s grave over the way its policies reflected the Southern Baptists’ narrowing definition of doctrinal fidelity.

The most-discussed example occurred in 2012 when LifeWay refused to sell “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” a slightly sassy book on the gender wars by well-known author Rachel Held Evans,  published by Thomas Nelson, an evangelical subsidiary of HarperCollins that’s based in Nashville, the same city as LifeWay.  

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Back-dated: Concerning that RNS report on gay man who sued Bible publishers

Back-dated: Concerning that RNS report on gay man who sued Bible publishers

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following post moved earlier in the day, at which point a reader noted something that I should have noticed right off (but didn't in the small type or the URL) about this piece on the USA Today website. This story is from 2008.

Now, here is one of the mysteries of the Internet. Why do some stories from the past suddenly go viral all over again, leading readers to send us the URLs without noting the time element? 'Tis a puzzlement. Click here for a fine Ed Stetzer online essay on this phenomenon -- including this blast from the 2008 past -- at Christianity Today.

So why confess this cyber-sin and then run this post anyway? Well, because (a) the journalistic content of this post is still, alas, somewhat relevant and (b) because I assume this piece went viral all over again -- which was a mistake, of course -- because lots of people thought this was relevant after the 5-4 Obergefell decision at the U.S. Supreme Court. Is that true? Stay tuned.

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Every reporter knows that there are stories that your editor wants you to write in 450 words or so that simply cannot be handled accurately and fairly in that length.

That could be what is going on with a very strange Religion News Service piece that ran in USA Today, under the headline, "Gay man sues publishers over Bible verses."

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