Rachel Held Evans’ upcoming book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, tracks her yearlong attempt to follow all of the Bible’s instructions for women, from making her own clothes to “submitting” to her husband. Now one of the biggest Christian bookstore chains in the country, LifeWay, has opted not to carry the book, and Evans is speaking out about the “chokehold” that the Southern Baptist-owned business wields over Christian writers.
The story begins in March, when Evans mentioned on her blog that her editor had suggested she remove the word vagina from the book’s manuscript to appease strict Christian bookstore content standards. “If Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn’t be able carry the freaking Bible,” she wrote, adding that, despite her annoyance, she had acquiesced to the request because, hey, no author wants to risk losing sales. Her publisher told her they expected 40 percent of her book’s total sales to come from Christian bookstores; LifeWay is one of the biggest sellers, with 160 stores in 26 states and a robust online business, and its standards are considered the strictest.
Her readers were outraged. Someone started a petition on Amazon called “Put the word ‘vagina’ back into Rachel’s book!” Another fan made “Team Vagina” T-shirts. Other Christian authors came forward with their own stories of having had to purge books of mentions of champagne, and scandalous phrases like “darn it.” Readers cheekily dubbed the debacle “Vaginagate,” a name Evans quickly embraced.