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Gatekeepers

Posting this tomorrow morning at Thinking Out Loud, and thought I would share it with you guys first…

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When another volunteer decided to step down after many years, I offered to collect used books in our area for Christian Salvage Mission. I’m in the book business after all, so I believe in the power of Christian literature to transform lives. I haven’t been as successful at this as I could be however, because we now also have a Christian-operated thrift shop in town. Still, I try to inform customers of things we can take that the thrift store might not.

Sometimes the books that people drop off are excellent collections. I immediately recognize the authors or the publishers, even though the books may have sat on home library shelves since before I was born. Others are more recent; titles I would easily recommend.

But sometimes, in the middle of a great grouping of books there is the odd Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness or Seventh Day Adventist title. (I recognize that some readers will sense my concern about the first two, but not necessarily the third.)

How did those books end up on these peoples’ shelves? Was a friend persistent? Or did the individuals not realize what they were getting into?

At this point, as a matter of full disclosure, I should point out that I have a copy of The Book of Mormon somewhere in my library. My parents got it in a hotel room while as a family we were in Salt Lake City. I have read some small sections of it. If I die tonight, and someone is going through my collection, they might well ask the questions I am asking here.

Generally, though, I worry that the average, church-going, pew-warming, tithe-giving Christian may not have sufficient filters with which to process the origins of some books, and thereby see the books through a more finely-tuned discernment lens. Do people check to see what the publisher imprint is? Which group claims copyright? Where follow-up pages (with phone numbers or websites) lead?

I should say that I have an unfair advantage. I’ve spent so much time in the industry that when I see Pacific Press®, Deseret Book Company, or a reference to the Watchtower Society, I immediately know who I’m dealing with.

But it’s not just the publisher imprint. Many of the books out there use a similar style of artwork; even the titles themselves sometimes are just a plain giveaway, especially the outreach materials which are produced for giveaway…

…At first, I had no specific conclusion to this, other than to say that this is a reality and people need to be more careful what they allow to come into their homes.

But then it occurred to me that while I didn’t write this with any agenda, Christian bookshops offered the type of vetting process that is needed. One pastor once told me, “You and your wife are gatekeepers for the people in our town.” That’s an honor. It’s also humbling. It’s a huge responsibility.

As long as the Christian bookstore owner, or manager, or buyer knows what they are doing, they can insure that only titles of the highest orthodoxy are presented for sale. Even if they don’t, the distribution networks for such stores simply don’t carry materials from marginal groups. And the Christian publishers generally don’t produce such products in the first place.

To the contrary, when you buy a book online just because the title looked interesting, or it was “recommended for you,” or because “other customers also purchased,” or maybe just because it was in the religion section and you liked the price; you really, really don’t always know what you’re getting into, unless you are savvy about publishing.

When a Christian bookstore closes, we lose a certain level of discernment; we lose some badly needed filtering.

 

 

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  1. muscletongue3000
    June 24, 2016 at 9:18 am

    I have a relative (thankfully ONLY by marriage) who thinks of herself as a Prophetess. Another relative sent me a picture of her visit to this family’s home and as pointed out by a friend, on the coffee table was a copy of a magazine issued by one of the groups who came into existence (maintaining the cult doctrines) when Herbert W. Armstrong’s World Wide Church of God changed and came into the mainline evangelical stream of theology. I wonder how much of his Prophetess’ word is influenced by this publication and possibly others, as it is so proudly displayed on her coffee table rather than on her book shelves of REFERENCE material of cults?

    Some of us who know her can attest to her BIZZARRE personality and wonder if her THEOLOGY is of the same strain!

    Many thanks for addressing this issue.

  2. Brian Johnson
    July 4, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    Curation is good. We need people that we can trust to curate the selections of stuff we look at. CBC is a bit liberal for me, but more broad ranging than local news stations on the radio. http://www.standfirminfaith.com/ curates (links) to Anglican sites- I can trust their choices. http://justinlong.org/ curates missions content for me. Love the people who go out into the world to find the best to offer to their cusomters.

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