About two months ago, when we lived in Ohio, Ricktopher and I went into the local Christian Bookstore to poke around. They’re closing and having a sale, so we thought, “ok, let’s have a peek.” I said to Ricktopher, “I don’t remember the last time I was in a Christian bookstore.”
As I continued to look around, I thought, “this is the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in a Christian bookstore.” I pondered this lurking sense of being an outsider. Then, I realized why I hadn’t been in one in years. I was struggling to find something I could identify with. Their merchandise, like so many other Christian bookstores, represented only a thin slice of Christian experience and belief. I was tempted to ask, “Excuse me. Could you show me where your materials on liberation theology are? I’m having a hard time finding them.” Also your Jim Wallis, Richard Foster, conscientious objection for dummies, etc.
I searched; hoping to find a title like, Ethical Eating: A Christian Dialogue.
As I looked at the merchandise, I tried to strike up conversations with some of the books, dvds, etc.
I got these messages (among others):
1. A good Christian knows that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, (and others) hate Christians and God and there is nothing I can learn from them or their religion. (I’m sorry, but I don’t look at my non-Christian friends, and even my atheist friends *gasp* and think I’m somehow better than them.)
2. While Christianity is best, Judaism is also acceptable as Jews are God’s chosen people and they just haven’t noticed what they’re missing out on. (This was particularly noticeable as they had a whole section–it was small, but still–devoted to items related to Jewish practice. While I know some Christians practice these as part of their beliefs, isn’t it also the case that some Christians practice elements of other religions?)
3. George Bush is a good Christian, and therefore, we should sell his book.
4. This also applies to Laura Bush and Sarah Palin.
(I guess selling a book that contains something like Dr. King’s sermon, “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” isn’t a popular idea.)
5. If you believe that evolution is even remotely possible, even that species change over time, you need to pray. NOW.
6. Yay prosperity gospel! (a.k.a., if you’re poor, God doesn’t favor you.)
7. Owning a gray totebag with Jesus is my Savior! in bold hot pink letters is a great way to witness.
8. The U.S. is a Christian nation and the founding fathers were good Christians. Also, America is somehow extra special and Columbus was a demi-god.
9. Veggie Tales is the best programming for your kids. (or at least, they’ll have serious guilt when it’s time to eat dinner. :D)
10. American flags are Christian, so are Israeli flags. (They sold both. There was so much U.S. nationalism paraphernalia, I wondered what Ricktopher was thinking, and what other non-Americans might have thought.)
Overall message: A real Christian believes these things (and consumes this merchandise). We don’t sell the stuff that relates to your kind of Christian because you’re wrong.
“Ah,” I spied some smallish wooden crosses with naturey designs on them. “This is kind of nice, but oh…” I put the cross back. “Made in China.” For some reason, I cringe extra heartily at the prospect of buying something that’s supposed to be representative of someone like Jesus that’s likely made in poor working conditions for a less than living wage, only so some rich person can make more money. But it’s ok, because it’s helping me to be a better Christian.
I left thinking, “gosh, this must be at least partly why some people find Christians so unappealing. If I thought that what was in that store was representative of Christians or Jesus, I’d say, ‘no thank you.'” Sadly, it is representative of a large number of Christians; some of whom are very loud.
I’ve realized I’m not like a lot of Christians, but then again, that’s probably true of a lot of Christians. Still, dialogue, respect and relationship are good, necessary and healthy among different Christians and different people. All kinds of people.
But, I found no dialogue there. Only orders.