February 24, 2015

Evangelical writer loses his book deal because he came out

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It's even got a cover already! This is a slam-dunk, other publishers!

It’s even got a cover already! This is a slam-dunk, other publishers!

As the Christian publishing world faces down the bankruptcy of their largest retail chain and the subsequent assurance of millions of dollars in losses, it’s understandable that they’re a little gunshy about acquiring new titles. Publishing is a notoriously hit-or-miss proposition, and if you’re looking for a solid seller, it would behoove you to pick wisely. But the story of Brandan Robertson is not solely an example of publisher discretion, but also an unfortunate glimpse into the internal struggles and bigotry of modern evangelical Christianity.

As reported in Time, Robertson had secured a book deal with Christian publisher Destiny Image before his decision to come out led to the contract being voided. Robertson’s initial proposal, a collection of essays about “the millennial journey of faith” entitled Nomad: Not-So-Religious Thoughts on Faith, Doubt, and the Journey In Between, was accepted in 2014 while he was a student at the Moody Bible Institute, ostensibly as part of Destiny’s commitment to publishing “unfiltered” evangelical authors and thought, and slated for an October 2015 release.

Upon graduating, Robertson, who had previously identified as a “Tea Party Republican, Biblical literalist, anti-gay, with pictures of John Calvin in my dorm room”, became the national spokesman for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, a pro-gay Evangelical group, and became a high-profile and passionate advocate for evangelical inclusion of the LGBTQ community – and came out as queer in Time.

But for his publisher, that was bad news.

Last week he turned in his manuscript, and three hours later, he got a reply. “I’m sure it feels amazing to have the manuscript finished!” Krieg wrote. Then she continued: “Since you’ve been receiving more media attention over the past few months, we’ve had some questions/concerns arise from our buyers, and our executive team has asked that I connect with you about your stance on a few issues that may continue to come into question.”

“As soon as I read those words, a knot formed in my stomach,” Robertson says. “I immediately knew that the problem was going to be with my very vocal support of LGBTQ equality and inclusion in the church — unfortunately, I was right.”

His publisher informed him that Christian bookstores were refusing to carry his book. This was on the basis of Robertson’s advocacy, and not the content of the book, almost none of which addresses anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Robertson goes into further heartbreaking detail on his blog, Revangelical.

Immediately, my head fell on to my desk and tears flowed down my face. I felt a mixture of anger and sadness wash over me. Not because my book got cut, though that was disappointing enough. I was crying because this feeling of marginalization and rejection by my Evangelical community has begun to feel all too familiar. Time and time again, I have found myself sitting across the table from Evangelical mentors, leaders, and friends as they have explained that because of my perspectives on this singular issue, I was no longer a part of the Evangelical fold. That I could no longer be a part of my community, or school, or network, because I believed that God blesses same-sex relationships. And here again I sat, being told that because of my sexual identity and support for equality, Christian booksellers were banning me from publishing.

When Robertson’s refused to sign a statement affirming that Destiny Image does not “condone, encourage or accept the homosexual lifestyle. Destiny Image renounces this lifestyle as ungodly and completely contrary to the Kingdom of God”, the deal was pulled and his manuscript released back to him.

Destiny Image has played this off as a simple quirk of the marketplace, and while it’s no secret that publishers won’t commit to a book if they anticipate zero support on the distribution side, this is a hollow excuse. We’ve previously covered the backlash to reform evangelical authors and specifically pro-gay ones, and while selling evangelical buyers (and customers) on the whole “everyone’s a child of God, chill out about gays” thing is admittedly tough, Destiny Image would be the perfect publisher to take on such a brave task.

And, in fact, they are. Benjamin Corey, a friend of Robertson’s and a fellow blogger at Patheos, has a book slated for August. In this and his previous book, Corey argues for LGBTQ inclusion, yet has received no pushback from Destiny, and he knows why.

Brandan and I are very similar theologically- and in many ways he is actually more conservative than I am. The only real difference I can see is that I am heterosexual, and he is not. And that fact grieves me tremendously- because that’s what I think the real issue is. Distributors and Christian bookstores are trying to shut him down, not because of what he says, but because of who he is.

Robertson isn’t backing down, and if his story continues to gain national attention, it may be heading toward a happy ending. A finished manuscript with national media and plenty of potential supporters is an easy sell, and I doubt he’ll have trouble finding a new publisher – HarperCollins grabbed a big piece of the Christian publishing pie with its acquisition of Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, and if they acquired this they’d have no trouble securing a cover blurb from OWN star Rob Bell. I can almost hear the launch presentation now.

 

Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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