For The Little Guy

Yesterday afternoon a reader of this site sent me a link to a recent article from WorldNetDaily. According to their “About Us” page, WorldNetDaily is “an independent news company dedicated to uncompromising journalism, seeking truth and justice and revitalizing the role of the free press as a guardian of liberty. We remain faithful to the traditional and central role of a free press in a free society – as a light exposing wrongdoing, corruption and abuse of power. We also seek to stimulate a free-and-open debate about the great moral and political ideas facing the world and to promote freedom and self-government by encouraging personal virtue and good character.” The article the reader wanted me to read is entitled “‘Christian’ bookstore features X-rated flicks.” Bob Unruh, the column’s author, pointed to an article by Paul Proctor that had been posted the day before at NewsWithViews.com. Proctor’s article is titled “
Should Christian Bookstores Offer Anything From Bibles to Porn?
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OK, escort your kids out of the room – lock the door – sit back down at your computer and go to: Christian Heritage Bookstore

Now, brace yourself and type the word “X-Rated” into their website’s search engine and click on the word “search.”

Get the picture?

Ever think you’d see that on a Christian website?

I followed Proctor’s directions and encountered a list of books with titles such as The X-Rated Bible: An Irreverent Survey of Sex in the Scriptures, Family Survival in an X-Rated World and The x-rated book: Sex and obscenity in the Bible. Three of the books had cover photos included in the listing, each of which was fifty pixels wide. One of them showed a painting of Adam and Eve with only fig leaves covering their genitals. Of the other two covers visible, one had only text and the other featured what appeared to be a picture of two boys looking at a computer screen (though at only fifty pixels wide it was difficult to tell).

Proctor then directs his readers to this company’s “About Us” page. Actually, though, this company does not have a statement of faith on their site, so Proctor, perhaps inadvertently, directed readers to a statement of faith for the company that provides Christian Heritage Bookstore’s service. It is a standard, reasonable statement of faith. And then Proctor directs the reader to search for “x-rated” on this company’s site. And lo and behold, the same list of books appears.

“Friends, we’ve got a serious problem in the online Christian bookstore industry,” says Proctor. “You would think that a Christian bookstore is a place where only biblically sound materials are sold. If you take the scriptures literally, like for instance: ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil.’ – 1st Thessalonians 5:22 – and in your heart, believe them to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God, then anything that contradicts it cannot legitimately be considered ‘Christian.’ But, that doesn’t seem to matter anymore, does it?”

He goes on:

Unfortunately, many bookstore owners today believe it is perfectly acceptable to call their online stores ‘Christian’ or imply that they are such, while offering for sale some of the most unchristian merchandise produced. How they justify it before their conscience, their customers and their Christ is beyond me.

By calling their businesses ‘Christian bookstores,’ are they trying to convince us that all they sell is Christian books or that the people who work there are all Christians? Maybe they’re just Christian-owned; or maybe it’s a semantic game they’re playing with us. Maybe they’re actually operating a secular bookstore where only Christians come to shop. Is that it? Technically, any of these could be called ‘Christian bookstores.’ But, doesn’t it seem at least a little deceptive when online bookstores represent themselves as being ‘Christian’ while continually offering the very same junk secular bookstores offer?

And he carries on, eventually concluding that these stores should ‘simply delete the word ‘Christian’ from their name and be done with it[.] At least that would be more accurate… and honest. Then they could proudly peddle their poison to the whole world and nobody would care.”

As I said, Bob Unruh picked up on this story and followed it with one of his own. He dug a little deeper and unearthed other items at this store: “‘Playboy: X Mates, Vol. 1 – BMX/Wakeboards,’ and an adult 4-pack of ‘classics’ titled ‘Debbie Does Dallas,’ ‘Deep Throat,’ ‘Behind the Green Door,’ and ‘The Devil in Miss Jones.'” He points out that “Christian Research Service,” a site directed by Bud Press, has awarded Christian Heritage Bookstore its “Shelves of Shame Award.” Press says ” This online bookstore is a ‘CyberMall Warehouse’ of Cultic, Occultic, Heretical, Homosexual, Lesbian, New Age, Sadomasochism, and Transgender Authors, including The Satanic Bible and X-Rated Movies! This website is ‘Sponsored By Christian Book Network’ which contains the same books and materials!”

I decided to do some research. My initial impression when I visited Christian Heritage Bookstore had been “Hey, this looks like an Amazon aStore.” A further few seconds of research showed this to be the case. It says as much on the home page for Christian Book Network. “With our Amazon approved solution, you get your own custom built bookstore that offers a huge stock of high-quality Christian products from Amazon.com.” The “Why CBN” page provides further detail. But the long and short is that this is a service based around Amazon’s aStore feature. According to Amazon, “aStore is a new Associates product that gives you the power to create a professional online store, in minutes and without the need for programming skills, that can be embedded within or linked to from your website.” In other words, it allows anyone to create a quick and easy bookstore that highlights certain products while opening the complete Amazon catalog to shoppers. Those who take the time to create such a store will earn referral fees and perhaps generate a small income stream.

Clearly Christian Heritage Bookstore, quite probably run by a well-meaning Christian seeking to earn a few dollars, signed up for service through Christian Book Network. In return, CBN provided them with an interface to add a few “Our Picks” books and a few other buttons. Neither Christian Heritage Bookstore nor CBN is an actual retailer and, as I understand the aStore program, neither one has any significant control over store products beyond the “Our Picks” section. That is why on the main pages of both of these sites we see links to Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation along with a title by Deepak Chopra. Amazon merely lists “religious” bestsellers.

How Proctor found books that appear to laud pornography through these booksellers is anyone’s guess. The fact is, it is extremely improbable (and perhaps even near-impossible) that a person would find pornography through these stores unless, of course, he was specifically looking for it. And I believe Proctor was. I am not suggesting that he was looking to purchase pornography, but that he was deliberately looking for it on this site to provide fodder for an article. I don’t know of too many people who would visit a Christian bookstore website and immediately type “x-rated” into a search box and can think of no other way that anyone would have found these books. Bob Unruh must have gone even further, digging into the Amazon search function to search for x-rated films. Because the aStore program opens Amazon’s complete catalog to customers, there will be all kinds of products available–some good, some bad and some indifferent. There will be books and bibles, pots and pans, computers and stereos and everything else Amazon sells. These men managed to find the bad. And I’m sure it wasn’t difficult to do.

Now whether or not it was wise for Christian Heritage Bookstore to use this service is open for discussion. I looked into aStore in the past and decided not to do it simply because I wasn’t comfortable with the relatively small amount of control it gave to me as the virtual retailer. But to portray this bookstore–it costs the owner some $8 per month and probably generates only a tiny revenue stream–as a major player in the downgrade of Christianity is patently absurd. In this case, only a small amount of research would have shown that this company is not selling porn at all but was merely reselling items from the Amazon catalog. And yet this site has become the subject of several articles and earned a “SHELVES of SHAME AWARD” from Christian Research Service (the irony being, of course, that it appears they did no research into the true nature of this site). It seems to me that at some point we have to assume that people will not go trolling for pornography through a Christian bookstore’s web site. And even if they do, we can only assume so much responsibility for the deeds of other people. News With Views uses Google as its local search engine. I could just as easily use that search engine to access countless quantities of x-rated material. Would that be their fault or mine? What is our responsibility to protect other people from even the remotest possibility of encountering what is ungodly?

And here is another question. How many clicks is too many? Am I responsible for people who click from my site to another and see pornography on that site? Am I responsible for people who click from my site to another and then to a third site and see pornography there? Just for kicks I clicked on an advertising link from the main page of News with Views. From there I clicked one more link, typed x-rated into a search box and was presented with a list of near-pornographic t-shirts. One was emblazoned with the words “I will NOT take this t-shirt off for cheap plastic bonds. I only take cash.” And that was about the most tasteful one on the page. That was only two clicks and a search away. By my calculations, to get to x-rated videos through Christian Heritage Bookstore takes (are you ready for this?) two clicks and a search. Food for thought. Its also interesting that Proctor is willing to post his articles on a site that features advertising with calls to action such as “Take This And Live Forever” (a site advertising Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil), or “Retire This Year! … and Still Make More Money Than Most Doctors!” (advertising a method of supposedly making heaps of money while working very little). How are these get rich quick schemes and medical miracle sites that prey on the feeble-minded and take their money any better than pornography?

This is a vivid example of “discernment” gone wrong. If we are going to be discerning people and people who show love to one another, heeding Christians great commandments, we must be willing to do research and to get our facts straight. We must be willing to believe the best of other people rather than always assuming that they are in league with Satan. In this case it seems clear that the authors of these stories did no real research and had no real understanding of the nature of the services they criticized. They went on the attack without first equipping themselves with the facts. Scroll down through the main page of News With Views and you’ll see link after link with a heading of “Opinion.” Ironic. And if WorldNetDaily truly wants to be a credible media outlet “dedicated to uncompromising journalism, seeking truth and justice,” they are going to have to do better than this.

It may be that Christian Heritage Bookstore should rethink its decision to use Amazon’s aStore. There are clearly some moral issues to consider and the affiliates who run these shops may have to wrestle with issues of conscience. But let’s not make this out to be more than it is.