I’ve protested in this space before the marketing playbook of various Christian publishers over the last two years. Since series fiction is what most of them do best–or do most, anyway–many of the publishers of fiction aimed at Christian readership have adopted the time-honoured “first taste is free” marketing ploy shared by dealers of all manner of nonessential product. They’ll give you book one of the series for nothing, assuming that you’ll be back for books 2-59.
There are all manner of authors and readers protesting this method, but for the most part things have settled into a pattern. As long as the publishers are upfront about the religious content there isn’t too much dissatisfaction. But after today I have another huge qualm with the “try it instead of buying it” scheme.
Today I read a book from Bethany House publishing called Out of Mormonism by Judy Robertson. It retails for $10 (too much, I think) but I downloaded it for free a few weeks ago.
According to Goodreads, so did many other people.
Most of them are not Christians. But they were curious about Mormonism, as is much of the world with Mitt Romney in the spotlight, so they saw this free book and grabbed away. If they were expecting a book like any of the other “I’m no longer a woman in Mormonism” memoirs, they were disappointed. I’ve read many of those other books–most by women who’ve left fundamentalist sects–and they’re all pretty salacious, bordering on gossipy with lots of thirteen year old girls marrying seventy year old Prophets and that type of thing. This book on the other hand is pretty typical for a conservative Christian testimony, complete with the personal revelation from the Holy Spirit.
And therein lies my problem. There are certain aspects of Christianity which are by no means secret but are also by no means clearly intelligible to people who are not in the faith. A Christian understands when another Christian talks about hearing God’s voice, or having scripture revealed to them by the spirit. It’s part and parcel of participation in a mystery religion. While I’m not ashamed of this and will talk about it freely when asked, I also think it’s very important that we realise how these inside baseball terms come across to those outside the fence.
Frankly, if I weren’t a Christian and I downloaded this book free on Amazon I’d think that Christians and Mormons were equally crazy and that Mrs. Robertson was flat out delusional. She honestly doesn’t make a good case for herself at all; they started out Christian but only “social Christians”* and converted to Mormonism after a hardsell because all the Mormons seemed like “the finest people you’d ever meet.” After seven years of devoted Mormon living, during which she also struggled with depression, Judy Robertson had a moment of revelation from Jesus Christ one early morning. So she and her husband reconverted to Christianity, this time paying closer attention to what they were doing.
Now they make their living out of teaching against the Mormon faith.
So I have to wonder if giving this book away to just anybody is the right call. If we are trying to reach people with the Gospel, what good does it do to throw something like this–poorly written, facile, mean-spirited and full of inside terminology–out there?
*That’s a term used within the church for people who participate in church activities but are not in a devoted, personal relationship with Christ. It is not a term we apply to other people, generally. We don’t say “Hey, Jerry, you’re a social Christian.” But we will say in a testimony that ‘until I was 19 I was a Social Christian’.