And Evans has taken on LifeWay directly in the recent past. When the chain abruptly removed DVDs of the 2009 movie The Blind Side from its stores this past summer because of “street language and racial slurs,” she wrote a fiery post about the power that LifeWay wields over every step in the publishing process: Christian publishers need to place their books there to reach their audience, so editors pressure writers to meet the LifeWay standard. Evangelical biographer Eric Metaxas told Religion Dispatches this summer that his editor asked him to remove the phrase “a total crapshoot” in deference to bookstores that would object to the gambling term.
“Writers adjust our content to fit this very sanitized, very strict conservative mold, which means we’re not producing the best writing or the best books we can produce,” Evans says. “Everyone bends over backward to meet these demands.”
But no one knows precisely what those demands are. And Evans sees a difference between the leeway afforded to male and female authors. She rattles off several recent books written by men that include less-than-clinical usages of boobs and testicles. LifeWay carries powerful pastor Mark Driscoll’s recent advice book Real Marriage, which includes approving descriptions of anal sex, role playing, and sex toys within a conservative theological framework. (Driscoll wrote the book with his wife, Grace.)
“We select resource that are consistent with the expectations of our customers based on several issues, including things like alignment with evangelical beliefs, LifeWay’s values and vision, and past sales by an author,” Martin King, LifeWay’s director of communications, told me. He declined to define “values and vision,” but said LifeWay is guided by the Southern Baptist statement of faith.
King dismissed the notion that LifeWay intends to act as a moral guide for the publishing industry. “I would expect authors to write what they feel led to write, and then see if there’s an audience,” he said. “As Ms. Evans pointed out [online], there are a lot of places to sell books, and LifeWay is not the only outlet.” King also added that Evans’ first book did not sell well for the chain in 2010, though her profile has risen considerably since then.
Evans says she hoped for a different ending to this story: She imagined triumphing over LifeWay’s constraints and empowering other authors to write freely. Instead, she finds herself alienated, again, from a community she loves and writes for. “I often hear from evangelical leaders, ‘Oh we’re really eager to have more female leaders,’ ” she says. “I want to say, ‘This is my voice. This is what it sounds like.’ ”