published Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

One word overshadows rest of author's book

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    Book Cover of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" by Rachel Held Evans

The national media is calling it "vaginagate."

But the story of Dayton, Tenn., native and Christian author Rachel Held Evans' second book isn't really about female body parts. It actually has little to do with that.

Still, it did all start with the word "vagina."

In March, Evans' publisher advised her to take the "v" word out of her new book, "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," in deference to Christian book stores. The book was meant to be evangelical, not explicit, she said, so she acquiesced.

"A Year of Biblical Womanhood" detailed her adventures of living Levitical purity laws and other Bible teachings for women inside a modern marriage. She did everything from camping out during her monthly period to calling her husband "master."

Placement in Christian bookstores can often make or break a Christian author's sales, so she took the word out because she wanted a new roof for her house and a Mac computer, she wrote on her popular blog.

When she shared her decision on her blog, fans revolted. They started an Amazon petition, contacted her publisher and made "Team Vagina" T-shirts. So she put the "v" word back in.

The word vagina is used twice in the book.

"I make a big scene about it and say that if Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn't be able carry the freaking Bible," she wrote on her blog.

Not long after, Evans criticized Christian bookselling giant Lifeway Christian Resources, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, for banning sales of the movie "The Blind Side" because it had racial slurs. She accused the nonprofit, which has two locations, of whitewashing the Christian publishing industry.

Then a few weeks ago, Evans got word from Lifeway. It wouldn't be carrying her book, and it didn't say why, she said.

"While Lifeway certainly has every right to choose its own inventory, I think the notion that Christians should dance carefully around reality, that we should speak in euphemisms and only tell comfortable, sanitized stories, is a destructive one that has profoundly affected the evangelical culture as a whole," she wrote.

Calls to Lifeway on Tuesday weren't returned.

And in the meantime, the "v" word is the least of her problems. Lifeway isn't talking, but others are. Stories about Evans' book ran on such websites as The Huffington Post, Slate and many Christian news sites.

A review of her book by megachurch pastor John Piper's ministry, Desiring God, doesn't say the language is offensive. A reviewer questions her premise and says she tries to put the Bible on trial. Other pastors echo the concern.

"Evans is trying to build a bridge, but I wonder if it is not rather a comfortable bridge for shaky evangelicals to find their way into theological liberalism," said Trillia Newbell on the Desiring God website. "This book is not ultimately about manhood and womanhood, headship and submission, or the complementarian and egalitarian debate.

"At its root this book questions the validity of the Bible. And denying the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture is a denial that will ultimately erode the gospel of our Savior."

Evans, who is traveling for a speaking gig and preparing for her book launch in 13 days, said she didn't expect to see her book born in controversy, although she admits she wanted to offer questions about church teaching on womanhood.

Maybe some extremely conservative evangelicals feel threatened, she said. She just wishes they hadn't questioned her commitment to the Bible.

And she is praying for the day when her parents can Google her name and not see the word "vagina."

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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