April 21, 2014

Adventures in Christian publishing: imprints are for apostates


Even their logo is sinful if you squint at it.

Even their logo is sinful if you squint at it.

A new Christian imprint is putting out a book by a gay evangelical, leading some evangelical bloggers to ask: What is an imprint? How do they work? Something something sodomy?

Convergent Books is an imprint of Crown, itself an imprint of Penguin Random House. [PRH distributes books by Melville House.] Convergent was launched in late 2012, and their list is meant to cater to “a broad range of Christians who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith.” In practice that seems to mean books by and for Christians, but which are not straightforwardly of one denomination.

In keeping with that mission, this Tuesday Convergent will release God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. In the book Vines argues that homosexuality is not anathema to Christianity, and that one can, in fact, be both.

“How quaint,” you might be thinking as you sew day-glo purple pubic hair to the exterior of your outfit for the upcoming Adventist Furries Bake Sale and Mingle you have planned, “why would a person even need to make that case?” Well I’m with you (I’ll be the one in the Hamster outfit, FYI) but surprisingly, some folks seem to find the book risible. Yes, human people in 2014 object to this one.

There’s a tedious scrum of homophobes attacking Vines, but more entertainingly there are commenters attacking Convergent as some kind of ruse, meant to keep that imprint’s books balkanized from Crown’s other evangelical and Catholic titles.  Convergent is run by Steven W. Cobb out of Colorado Springs. Cobb is also the president and publisher of WaterBrook Multnomah, which began as an independent evangelical publisher before being bought by Random House. WaterBrook  publishes “books for Christian living and spiritual growth, Bible studies, tips on parenting, inspiring works of fiction for adults and youth, engaging books for children, series just for men, titles on marriage, love, finances, and prophecy.” I love that ‘prophecy’ is just thrown in there so casually.

WaterBrook is respected in the evangelical community. Convergent, meanwhile, publishes books about how it’s okay to love Christ and also maybe your own gender. Both are run by the same guy. You know what that means: time to start talking about Mammon! Matt Barber, a blogger for The Christian Post writes “It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s confusing because it’s designed to be confusing. It’s intentional – a shell game purposefully calculated to obfuscate and hide the ball from the Christian community.” Lynde Langdon of World Mag writes “the book will emerge from a new imprint designed to allow the publishing house to avoid alienating its evangelical market. … Cobb acknowledged that God and the Gay Christian contradicts the teachings of books he has published in the past.”

Take that, Cobb! The internet is onto you! Not all of the books you publish are in strict agreement with each other about the best way to use penises! Cobb responded to the furor on Convergent’s own site, writing “Matthew Vines’ new book is appropriately positioned as a Convergent publication.  God and the Gay Christian is not published by WaterBrook or by Multnomah—nor would it be editorially appropriate for either.” Cobb continues, noting that “No colleague of ours is ever expected to work on any book we acquire that violates their personal beliefs. Indeed, I did have a few staff members who came to me for further private discussion, and asked to opt out of working on this title. We have honored their request with the greatest respect.”

It’s a shame to see Cobb being so disingenuous. Because, of course, the commenters are correct. Publishers firmly agree with and seek to live by everything in every book they publish, particularly those books they hide under other imprints. It’s just how publishing works. We have our Melville International Crime Series, and thus condone murder. Even more embarrassing, we’re launching a Melville House UK line of titles, because we are all secretly so horribly English. Nobody tell my mother, she’d never forgive me.

So good work, homophobic internet sleuths, you solved publishing’s darkest secret: imprints are the mask behind which we hide. It’s nothing to do with branding or audience recognition or catalogue placement; definitely just about publishers going to “great depths to hide their plans from the LORD.” Now if you’ll excuse me I have a crusty hamster suit to clean.


Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.