Monday, February 11, 2008

Rejection of Book Manuscript Reveals Troubling Evangelical Attitudes

Readers might recall from my interview last year with Australian scholar John Bracht (see part 1 and part 2) that in the 1980s Bracht wrote an excellent masters thesis. As I wrote previously, this was written for the

"Department of Religious Studies at The University of Sydney, and [it was] supervised by Garry Trompf. The topic for John's 1988 thesis was "Mormonism: The Search for a Personal God." John's perspective on this is both academically rigorous, as well as personally sympathetic and engaging in that John brings together his former involvement with Mormonism along with his academic abilities, and his encounters with evangelical apologetic approaches to Mormonism from the time that continue to be influential today."

Since that time I encouraged Bracht to update, revise and expand his thesis and to submit it to a publisher so that it might result in a book that can benefit evangelical academics engaged in Mormon studies, as well as rank and file evangelicals who might benefit from the sympathetic treatment of such an important topic in Mormonism. Unfortunately, the publisher we initially submitted the manuscript to rejected it, claiming that the document was well written but that it likely would not find a sufficient reading audience to justify publishing costs. The publisher suggested submitting the manuscript to an organization that analyzes manuscripts for Christian writers and makes suggestions as to whether or not certain publishers would consider their projects. The results of their review are instructive, and troubling.

As their letter to Bracht states, the manuscript was declined "with mixed feelings," in that while reviewers noted that the "style is forthright and compassionate," and the author "reveals good theological training" and is a "competent writer," nevertheless the book was rejected because it was hard to find the correct niche for it in that "[i]t is about Mormonism but not like other anti-Mormonism books." As the letter continues part of the problem seems to be that the manuscript at temps to move beyond anti-Mormon and counter-cult approaches to the topic. Although I disagree with their assessment in the first sentence of the following paragraph, it represents the main thrust of their concerns:

"In the main, American Christians do not see Mormons as deceived. They are thought of as predators to be feared and against whom they feel revulsion. Most of the books that have sold at all take the point of view that Mormonism is one of the cults -- not very different from Swedenborgianism, Christian Science, Rosicrucianism, Jehovah's Witnesses, or Christadelphians. There is little interest in preparing to minister to Mormons. We find your heartfelt concern admirable."

In other words, "Thanks for trying to buck the publishing trend in evangelical treatment of 'cults,' but this reading audience has difficulty with any other perspective." Tragically, I fear this assessment of the state of affairs among evangelicals is accurate. I have experienced it myself in regards to writing projects in regards to the subject matter of new religions. Our book Encountering New Religious Movements (Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004) was likely only accepted because we had a contact with the publisher, and even then it was a struggle to negotiate with the publisher for the manuscript to be accepted in its existing form. Another example comes in the form of the Christian-Pagan dialogue book I will discuss here later this week. This project was rejected by a number of evangelical publishers in the U.S. as being worthwhile but unmarketable, until Lion in the U.K. accepted it as a worthwhile gamble.

Some good work has been done by evangelicals in publishing on the new religions for a popular market that runs contrary to evangelical expectations and stereotypes, but sadly we have an uphill battle and a long way to go in moving beyond conceptions of Mormons, and perhaps adherents of other new religions and alternative spiritual pathways, as fearful predators who cause revulsion in the evangelical community. Never mind new ways in which to engage the "religious other." We've got a lot of work to do in our own religious community.


Shawna Renee said...

I'm afraid I'm going to run into the same thing when I try to publish books that are for women and not "traditional." It's sad to see the evangelical publishing getting so tight with what it publishes and what it doesn't.

I don't remember the last time I read a book from an evangelical publisher on other religions because of what you cited: they're all monsters who want to drag our children to hell.

I would love to read John's book. It's sad no one will take a chance on it. And I need to get the one you published with Kregel.

John W. Morehead said...

Thank you for your comments, Shawna. You can order Encounering New Religious Movements through if you like, and we haven't given up on trying to get Bracht's book published either as we are pursuing other publishing options. You might also check back here later this week for another publishing news item that you might be interested in.

Seth R. said...

Well, to be fair, this seems as much about hard-bitten "men of the world" in marketing taking a cynical view of their audience as it is about any deficiency in the audience itself.

But I think we can both agree it points to a disturbing deficiency in that audience's reading material.

Mormons Are Christian said...

Mormons are not Creedal Christians. However, they do believe in the Jesus Christ of the New Testament:

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion. This article helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity's comprehension of baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) adheres more closely to First Century Christianity and the New Testament than any other denomination. For example, Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.”

One Baptist blogger stated “99 percent of the members of his Baptist church believe in the Mormon (and Early Christian) view of the Trinity. It is the preachers who insist on the Nicene Creed definition.” It seems to me the reason the pastors denigrate the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is to protect their flock (and their livelihood).

Matt Stone said...

I was taken aback with the strength of their language to be honest.