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Behind the Counters

Behind the Counters

I was only mildly surprised when I logged onto today and found a column on the front page by Roland Martin titled…

I was only mildly surprised when I logged on to today and found a column on the front page by Roland Martin titled, “Christian Bookstore’s Shameful Actions,” about LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This story first details a decision by LifeWay to remove one of the most popular Christian magazines in America, Gospel Today, from its 100-plus bookstores nationwide. The reasoning? Because the most recent issue’s cover story features several female pastors.

Depending on your background, you may not see what all the fuss is about. The reason for the removal is that LifeWay, the world’s largest Christian publishing and retail house, is owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention, the world’s largest Protestant denomination. And the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 2000 stating, “While men and women are gifted … the office of pastor is limited to men by Scripture.” The statement is based on a strict reading of I Timothy 2:11.

The aftereffect from LifeWay’s decision has been intense, as Mr. Martin’s CNN column typifies. And because Gospel Today has a large following in the black community, reaction from African-Americans has been especially hot. But on another level, the actions taken by LifeWay bring a couple issues to the table.

First, the issues of women in ministry are again brought to the forefront of Christian discussion. Many conservative denominations now accept women pastors as normative, and I suspect that this discussion will remain relevant for some time.

Second, the decision underscores how sheepish Christians can be when it comes to a free exchange of ideas. Clearly, no Christian retail store should carry heretical, overtly secular or religiously subversive material on its shelves simply for the sake of diversity. However, on non-essential issues like women in ministry, spiritual gifts and Calvinism, should we not allow a free exchange of ideas?

If you go to any LifeWay Christian Store in America, you will undoubtedly be able to purchase a book by the great theologian John Stott. Yet, Stott is an annihilationist who believes that people who die without Christ will eventually cease to exist rather than go to a literal, eternal hell. You will also find books by the late D. James Kennedy, a Presbyterian man who believed strongly in infant baptism, a doctrine that runs against one of the most precious Baptist beliefs. With many paradoxes like these lining the shelves of the local LifeWay one may feel like this decision was unnecessary if not unjustified.

On the other hand, I find myself neither surprised nor outraged at LifeWay’s decision to remove the magazine. After all, I wouldn’t walk into a Catholic bookstore and expect to purchase an Anglican magazine. It is not only the prerogative of LifeWay, it is their duty to produce, carry and sell materials that represent the views and opinions of their parent entity. Just as Gospel Today publishes articles that reflect the views of their publisher and are congruent with their stated mission, they should also expect the same from organizations like LifeWay Christian Resources.

What do you think about the following:

Does your interpretation of scripture leave room for women pastors?

What do you think about LifeWay’s decision to remove Gospel Today from its shelves?

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