Does LifeWay Respect Free Speech?

Well its that time of year again when the Southern Baptist Convention (or more specifically one of its agencies) has made it into the national news.  Now you may be saying to yourself; surely its for the phenomenal disaster relief efforts by the SBC in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav.  No.  Perhaps the equally impressive relief efforts of the destruction caused by Hurricane Ike.  No.  Perhaps our continued work in highlighting abuses of Religious Freedom in China and other dark areas of the world.  No.

This time our denomination has hit the national press because of a magazine cover.  Here is the story.  I want to focus particularly on the comments of Roland S. Martin in his editorial at  Here is the article. The short version of the story is that this months issue of Gospel Today magazine has a feature cover on the most influential female pastors in America. Because of this, Lifeway has decided to pull the magazine from the shelves and place them behind the counter.  The magazine adminsitration got wind of the decision and felt obliged to inform the national media.

Here are a few highlights from Mr. Martin’s commentary (bold print mine):

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.”

Let me make something clear for those of you (like it seems the author of the commentary) who fell asleep during their 10th grade civics class. Freedom of the press does not imply that everything that is printed must be available everywhere.  Freedom of the Press is a restriction on the government, not on private businesses.  While Mr. Martin seems to ridicule the reasoning, anyone that has bothered to read the Bill of Rights knows that Lifeway’s reason is a perfectly valid reason not to sell the magazines.

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?

Again, here is the central problem with Mr. Martin’s (and other editorials and blogs I have read) argument and where it falls flat.  The Bill of Rights puts limits on the federal government.  If a local, state, or federal government agency banned the magazine because “It is contrary to what we believe” then there would be a violation of the US Constitution.

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.

This is really where I get grumpy.  Making a decision based upon our Biblical conventions is not what drives people away from church.  Its sin.  And last time I checked we should not base our beliefs and actions on what Bill Maher may make fun of in a movie.

This is where common sense and the free markets can encourage freedom.  Lifeway has the freedom to sell and not sell what they wish.  This particular decision was based on the Biblical values of the organization.  If the customer does not agree with the decision of Lifeway, then don’t shop at Lifeway.  Buy the magazine from Wal-Mart.  The freedom of Lifeway to sell what they wish is part of their broader freedom to be able to sell Bibles, Systematic Theologies, and books on gender roles in ministry.  The freedom of a consumer to have choice in where they buy things allows them the freedom to buy the above mentioned materials without great cost or persecution.

Lifeway made the right decision.  Lifeway has the freedom to make the decision.  Gospel Today magazine is wrong in their interpretation of gender roles in ministry.  Gospel Today has the freedom to print what they wish.  You have the freedom to buy the magazine or not buy the magazine.  This is how Free Speech, Freedom of Religion, and Free Markets are linked and can not function properly without one another.

Peace be with you,

Joe Garner III from

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  1. says

    I agree that LifeWay has the right to pull this magazine, but I wonder if they will pull books & publications that promote the prosperity Gospel?

    It’s going to be hard for them to draw the line, especially with outside publishers.

  2. says

    I thought the same thing when I read about this. I know within the last year I’ve been in a Lifeway store and seen Joel Osteen’s books promanently displayed. I’ve also seen that deplorable collection of tripe “The Shack” in there. While I agree that women are not biblically qualified to be pastors, it seems Lifeway is being a bit inconsistent.

  3. says

    Tony & Joe B.

    I would agree that there does appear to be some inconsistency at many Lifeway stores. From what limited knowledge I have about these stores, much of what is displayed and how it is displayed is determined by the local store managers. It is only in rare occasions (as in this case) that a directive comes from the national office concerning the display of products. I would hope that Lifeway has developed and will continue to develop some guidelines and training concerning the display and sale of theological and/or methodologically questionable materials in their stores.

    That being said I think we can all agree that it is up to Lifeway to set those standards and not an offended magazine publisher or a prosecutorial national press. Thanks agian for the feedback.

    Joe Garner III

  4. says

    @Joe Garner III: I agree, but I would go one step further.

    LifeWay should answer to the churches of the SBC. Giving them the benefit of trust, I would guess this is what they were attempting to do.

  5. says

    My problem is this: Egalitarianism is bad, but not any worse than the prosperity gospel. Why does Lifeway choose to pull this magazine and not Osteen books? One answer: money. Osteen, though he may be bad brings in good profit. This magazine does not make much money for Lifeway. It was easy for them to ‘take a stand.’

    All I am saying is that I wish Lifeway would have some courage and pull material that taught a false gospel. If they replaced Osteen, his crew, etc. and put out more solid authors maybe everyone would stop flocking to monergism and

    What is great is that this probably was a response to the churches that spoke up! What is sad is that churches don’t speak up when it comes to false gospels.

  6. says

    It seems to me that it would have been better for Lifeway to refuse to carry the issue altogether than to “hide” it behind the counter. By selling the mag if people asked for it, Lifeway essentially was saying they didn’t agree with what the magazine said but they were still willing to take your money from you if you wanted to give it to them. Courage of conviction needs to be based on full conviction, not whether you can still make a buck off of it or not.