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When Censorship Crops Up in Religious Circles

In the space of a few days, I ran across several stories that have to do with reading: things that others don’t want you to read, are afraid for you to read or just don’t want to have their name on it when you read. 
 

Although I have a copy of “Baptimergent,” a collection of “Baptist Stories from the Emergent Frontier” edited by Zach Roberts, I didn’t realize until I saw Tripp Fuller’s blog that publisher Smyth & Helwys had chosen to omit one of the original chapters.

 

The chapter, which you can read here, was written by Brian Ammons, a Baptist minister who happens to be gay and who longs for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians by the church.

 

Why was the chapter omitted? My request for a comment has gone unanswered (so far), but I’m guessing it reflects the unfortunate unease that many moderate Baptists have in discussing homosexuality.

 

Many moderates, I suspect, secretly support a more welcoming and affirming stance but are afraid to come out of their closets and say so lest more conservative folk accuse them of heresy.

 

As a publisher, Smyth & Helwys has the right to choose what it will and won’t publish, for whatever reasons it deems appropriate. Still, I believe “Baptimergent” would have been a stronger book had the chapter not been omitted. 

 

About the same time, I learned from David Stratton’s blog that LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, has ended a program that flagged books deemed controversial with a label that called for “extra discernment.”

 

LifeWay had been criticized for putting warning labels on books, especially those by emergent authors like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. It insisted that the flags were not warnings but simply designed to provide additional information about the books. (Read the RNS story here on Beliefnet.)

 

Right.

 

The labels had said:

 

“Read With Discernment. This book may contain thoughts, ideas or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology. Therefore, we encourage you to read it with extra discernment.”

 

Apparently, no one paid any attention to the labels so LifeWay decided to ax the “extra information.” Good for LifeWay.

 

 

EthicsDaily.com’s Featured Resource

 

Speaking of Rob Bell, popular emergent author and pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich., the blogosphere is abuzz as he has come under fire for a book that has yet to be released.

 

In “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived,” Bell apparently questions whether God is in the business of running an everlasting torture chamber, even for people who never had a chance to respond to the gospel.

 

In a promotional video, he notes how so many people understand the gospel to mean that Jesus came to save us from God and asks how that could be good news. As a result, he’s been charged with being a universalist. 

 

There’s nothing new about questioning the traditional understanding of hell, but Bell is so popular that his take on it is getting major attention.

 

Even reformed godfather John Piper reportedly tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”

 

Obviously, various defenders of orthodoxy would prefer that we not read challenges to their positions. All of this flap guarantees, of course, that the book will be a best-seller. 

 

Finally, I confess that I did some censoring of my own recently. I posted a blog noting that the SBC Executive Committee had decided not to automatically boot churches that are members of the Alliance of Baptists, which welcomes and affirms homosexuals.

 

Afterward, I received a half-dozen comments from Fred Phelps and his kin, who run a hate group that they call by the misnomer “Westboro Baptist Church.”

 

They’re the folks who just won a Supreme Court decision giving them the right, on free-speech grounds, to continue picketing military funerals with their highly offensive and theologically corrupt anti-gay message without fear of being sued. 

 

That does not, however, require me to approve the same kind of demeaning hate speech in comments to my blog. So I deleted all but the one instructing me to “REPENT LIBERAL HIPPIE!!!!!”

 

Is my censoring of hyperbolic, hyperventilating hate speech unfair? If it is, I refuse to repent.

 

Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today, where he blogs.