What would Jesus read?

And why are Christian bookstores peddling hate?

Photo Illustration by Ginger Fierstein

The writer is a former member of the band Bourgeois Tagg and is authoring a book on liberal Christianity.

“Shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer.”
—2 Timothy 2:16-17

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
—Ephesians 4:29

Somewhere in the corner of your local suburban strip mall, tucked away between the nail salon and the Chinese takeout restaurant is a curious American phenomenon known as the Christian bookstore. If you are a regular reader of SN&R, chances are you’ve never set foot in a Christian bookstore.

In general, if you want to buy a Christian-themed gift for anyone, your local Christian bookstore is the place you want to go. If you want to delve deeper into the beautiful mysteries of Christian theology or the leading role of Christians in Western history, or if you, novice or scholar, have any questions about what is in the Bible, there is no better place to start than your local Christian bookstore. Despite their Precious Moments interiors, they have always been a nice, safe place to take the kids for an hour on a Saturday afternoon; all of these stores have a children’s section, and most are running VeggieTales videos at any given moment. VeggieTales are genuinely funny stories acted out by computer-generated vegetables with the kind of wit and sarcasm rarely seen in humans who subscribe to their theology.

It was with a great deal of disappointment that, while doing research for a book I’m writing, I discovered a darker side to these stores that deeply offended me as a practicing Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ. I started out looking for signs of political bias, as I was writing a chapter on liberal media bias, and wanted to find out if any political bias existed in Christian bookstores. Much of what I found was predictable enough. There were no fewer than eight books on Ronald Reagan; a half-dozen on George W. Bush, many dealing with his prayer life (one I found amusing: The Leadership Genius of George W. Bush: 10 Commonsense Lessons from the Commander in Chief, kind of like Mao’s Little Red Book); biographies on Condi Rice and Bill Frist; and many books by Oliver North. Harder to find were books by former President Jimmy Carter, who has put more walk in his Christian talk than the rest of these people combined. There were several books that lay out the Christian case biblically for war, but you’ll probably have to go to Borders to find the Christian case against war.

What caused me to nearly fall off my nonviolent wagon was a book that I found prominently displayed in several area Christian bookstores. Written by right-wing talk-show host Hugh Hewitt, this bit of heavenly advice is called If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It. At one store, I brought this book to a nice lady in customer service, and she looked at it and replied, shaking her head, “I don’t know why we’re selling this, either. If it was up to me, we wouldn’t.” Obviously, many of the people who work at these stores don’t even realize that they’re selling this kind of book.

This sour experience got me curious as to what other books these stores were selling. The following is a list of books that I found either on site at a Christian bookstore or for sale at one’s online store:

The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today

The Gay Agenda: It’s Dividing the Family, the Church and a Nation

Outrage: How Gay Activists and Liberal Judges Are Trashing Democracy to Redefine Marriage

Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth

Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity

Liberals Are Killing America: How Their Loss of Courage, Lack of Leadership, and Constant Deceit Are Destroying Americans

Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left

The Many Faces of John Kerry: Why This Massachusetts Liberal Is Wrong for America

Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism (by Sean Hannity)

The Second Amendment: Preserving the Inalienable Right of Individual Self-Protection

The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Churches, Schools, and Military (by Michael Savage)

Shut Up and Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America

The Dark Side of Liberalism: Unchaining the Truth

Moses Was a Right-Wing Conservative

Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals

How the Clinton Clergy Corrupted a President

The ACLU Vs. America: Exposing the Agenda to Redefine Moral Values

How to Survive the Lions’ Den of the Liberal Media

Painting the Map Red

Big Sister is Watching You: Hillary Clinton and the White House Feminists Who Now Control America—and Tell the President What to Do (1993)

I defend the right of these authors to write and publish as much of this stuff as they want; my problem with it is WHAT IN GOD’S NAME ARE THESE BOOKS DOING IN A CHRISTIAN BOOKSTORE?!? They should be over in the political section at Tower keeping the inflammatory left-wing screeds company. In the interest of accuracy, it is possible to find a modest amount of moderately progressive Christian literature in these stores, books like God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by Jim Wallis, or Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller, especially online, where the selection is much larger. There is, however, nothing remotely approaching the “other side” of this sad commentary. I wouldn’t expect that there would be. I don’t think hate-filled polemics of any political persuasion belong in something called a “Christian” bookstore. Maybe I’m naive, but finding books for sale by Michael Savage and Sean Hannity right next to the Bibles strikes me as deeply offensive. What is sadder is that many Christians pass by this stuff as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of it; this kind of venomous spewing has become the politics of choice for the religious right. Why would it be noticed if one goes from Limbaugh in the car to Fox News in the house to Crushing the Democrats at the local Christian bookstore?

Among Christians, there should be healthy debate over important issues like when war is just and what a Christian’s duty is in supporting his or her government in times like these. These are valid issues for Christians and non-Christians alike, and a scholarly look at all sides of these debates from a Christian worldview is exactly the kind of book I would expect to find at a Christian bookstore. There are books that debate these questions, and you can find them in most Christian bookstores. Sadly, though, there are a lot more books like those listed above. These books are nothing more than hit pieces from the far right, published by the likes of Regnery Publishing, many of whose titles are facsimiles of the John Birch-style literature transported 40 years to the present. Books like these are meant to inflame, not inform. They are shoddily written, trade gossip and rumor for facts, and add nothing to the debate but hate. I believe that Christian bookstores do a great disservice to the faith by carrying these kinds of books. First, by being the purveyors of this kind of hate-mongering garbage, they are acting in a most un-biblical fashion; and, second, they are passing on this trash to Christian consumers who then contribute to the divisive noise that is tearing this nation apart by repeating what they have read, rather than taking a more loving and healing approach to the unbeliever. This, in turn, reaffirms the stereotype that many non-Christians have of Christians: that they are all hate-filled right-wing zealots.

“This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them.”
—Psalm 49:13-14

Jesus said, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” I would hope that Christian bookstores would take the high road when it comes to politics—maybe even stop and think about what is written on those cute little bracelets they sell at the front counter: WWJD—what would Jesus do? I can see it now, after a long day healing the sick and tending to the poor, Jesus comes back to the campsite where the 12 disciples are sitting around, having a bite to eat and talking about their day. Jesus finds a nice spot under a tree to lie down, and as he does, he yells, “Hey, Peter! Do you have my copy of Liberals Are Killing America?” “No,” Peter replies, “I’m still reading the Michael Savage.” “Now that, that was a great book!” our Lord and Savior exclaims.