March 26, 2015

Christian bookstore chain refusing to sell books about visiting heaven, because they might all be made up



Possible lies, damned possible lies!

What causes 180 bookstores to stop carrying wildly successful bestsellers? Integrity, dammit, that’s what. LifeWay Christian Resources, a major Christian bookstore chain, has officially stopped carrying any book in which the author claims to have experienced the afterlife, a.k.a. “heaven tourism”.

Via Baptist Press:

LifeWay Christian Resources has stopped selling all “experiential testimonies about heaven” following consideration of a 2014 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife.”

LifeWay told Baptist Press about its decision to halt sales of heaven visitation resources today (March 24) in response to an inquiry about the book 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, which is being made into a movie slated for release this fall. The book recounts Piper’s supposed experience of heaven following a severe auto accident and has sold 6.5 million copies in 46 languages.

This follows LifeWay’s decision to return all copies of Alex Malarkey’s The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. This book, as we previously covered, did great harm to the integrity of the heaven tourism genre because it was not true, as opposed to other heaven tourism books, which the authors all claim are true, so they’re probably fine. LifeWay has backed up their decision with the blandest corporate-ese you can possibly imagine.

“Last summer, as we began developing LifeWay’s new structure and direction — what we’ve now identified as One LifeWay — the role of heaven visitation resources was included in our considerations. We decided these experiential testimonies about heaven would not be a part of our new direction, so we stopped re-ordering them for our stores last summer,” LifeWay spokesman Marty King told Baptist Press in written comments.

“Now that we’ve begun implementing the new direction, the remaining heaven visitation items have been removed from our stores and website and will not be replenished. We have more work to do aligning the LifeWay Retail Division with LifeWay’s vision and core values so we covet your prayers as we continue to provide trustworthy Biblical Solutions for Life,” King said.

Christian publishers exist at a particular space between commerce and morality that can clearly lead to some tough business decisions, and tough questions. By positioning the decision to drop certain subject matter from their inventory as a doctrinal one rather than a financial one, LifeWay is presenting this as a moral decision, rather than a financial one; it’s not that their customers disapprove of heaven tourism and the books wouldn’t move, it’s that LifeWay is above peddling such suspect product.

However, emails to LifeWay’s president Thom Rainer tell a different story—that the truth behind Malarkey’s book, which was known to his publisher for years, was also known by LifeWay months before Malarkey publicly admitted it and they pulled his book from their shelves. Which makes the decision to drop all heaven tourism titles seem like an overcorrection, or at the very least a curiously timed move; what was going on behind the scenes at LifeWay in the last six months, and did they delay the decision to pull the books for financial reasons? After all, being a Christian bookstore chain isn’t the financial no-brainer it used to be.

One thing is for sure: if you lie about a matter of faith and end up making bank, the money machine will take a while to shut down.

Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.