Commentary: Christian bookstore’s shameful actions

Roland S. Martin says Lifeway Christian Stores should be given hell for its actions against GospelToday.
In the 19 years that Teresa Hairston has published her magazine, GospelToday, she has never faced a major situation with Christian bookstores across the country that carry the publication.

(CNN) — In the 19 years that Teresa Hairston has published her magazine, GospelToday, she has never faced a major situation with Christian bookstores across the country that carry the publication. She’s tackled any number of issues over the years,and has featured a number of celebrities and ministers, ranging from Yolanda Adams to Bishop T.D. Jakes to Kirk Franklin. But when the Atlanta, Georgia, entrepreneur decided to feature five female pastors on her cover this month, she says, Lifeway Christian Stores treated her like she had converted her Christian publication to something akin to the tastes of porn purveyor Larry Flynt. Apparently, the owner of Lifeway, the Southern Baptist Convention, wasn’t too happy with Hairston telling the story of female pastors, because the women go against their 2000 decree that only men can serve in the role of reverend or pastor. According to Hairston, the Christian company didn’t even give her the courtesy of a heads-up. “We got an anonymous tip,” she told me Tuesday on The Tom Joyner Morning Show, and after checking it out, she discovered that the magazine had been removed from the shelves in all of Lifeway’s 100-plus stores nationwide and had been placed behind the counter. “They have never called me,” Hairston said. “Never sent an e-mail. Nothing. I had to go see my distributor to verify what they had done.”

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The actions of Lifeway didn’t stun me. I had seen this movie before. A few years ago, my wife was a longtime Lifeway teacher. She had taught at the company’s teaching centers for years, but then one day, she was notified that she would have to take down her Web site and comply with their rules against female pastors or be dropped as a teacher. Her crime Calling herself the Rev. Jacquie Hood Martin. It wasn’t that she did so for the heck of it. She graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; was the first female staff pastor at Houston’s Brookhollow Baptist Church/the Church Without Walls, a Southern Baptist Convention church; and has been leading folks to the Lord all over the country for 20 years. She was angered by Lifeway’s decision but made it clear that she didn’t serve the bookstore or even the Southern Baptist Convention. She made a commitment to serving Jesus Christ and was not about to back away from her call to ministry because a male-dominated organization decided that its interpretation of the Bible calls for a woman not to be in the pulpit. So she cut them off and kept on calling herself the Rev. Jacquie Hood Martin. Religious folks will quickly say that Scripture is clear that women can’t be pastors and lead men, yet Hairston says that when she featured Pastor Paula White on her cover two years ago, Lifeway didn’t take any action against the magazine. Anyone who has served in a church or been a member of any faith knows that there are those who have strict interpretations of their faith’s writings, while others have a different interpretation. I’ve heard Brookhollow’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Ralph Douglas West Sr., preach several sermons stating that what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy with regards to only men preaching was specific to that church and not a blanket ban. Second, there were instances where Paul wrote that his views were his own and not mandates from God. That is a doctrinal fight that any of us can have any time (and I love it how these same Bible thumpers ignore the biblical story of Deborah, who was a judge in the Old Testament — and was over men). But what is a greater issue is that Lifeway clearly has no respect for freedom of the press. Here is arguably the top Christian bookstore in the country making a decision based on their teachings and applying it to a magazine. A spokesman for Lifeway Resources, which runs the stores, was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week as saying of female pastors, “It is contrary to what we believe.” So does Lifeway and, by extension, the Southern Baptist Convention, fight vigorously for freedom of religion, but it doesn’t give a hoot about the other freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution I now wonder whether Lifeway makes it its business to cull through any number of magazines and search for stories that go against its doctrine and pull them from the shelves. This is the kind of nonsense that drives more people away from religion. I suppose it’s fitting that this story would come out the same time as Bill Maher releases his religious documentary, “Religulous,” which skewers all the major religions for their dogma. I’m sure he feasted on positions of the Southern Baptist Convention. The conduct of Lifeway and the Southern Baptist Convention is shameful, and they owe Hairston an apology for their actions. Yet she’s taken it in stride, saying that instead of giving the company hell, she’ll “give them heaven.” I say, give them a lot of hell for this, because they deserve it for actions. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.