Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Dark Side of Christian Publishing


By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

Within Christian publishing there is a dark side to this business. In over 1600 entries, Ive never written about it--until now. Recently I traveled to a small Christian writers conference in Alabama. There were about 100 people at this event and I knew a number of the faculty. Besides meeting with a number of writers one on one, I taught two workshops and gave a keynote address during the event. 

At the first meal, I sat beside an older gray-haired man who was clean shaven and well-dressed. Almost immediately we engaged in an interesting conversation. He was a former missionary in South America and a retired pastor writing a book. We exchanged business cards. It was a brief and common exchange which Ive had with many writers at numerous conferences over the years.

For my flight home, I traveled with several other faculty members who were also headed to Colorado. We were changing planes in Dallas and waiting around in the boarding area for our flight. One of them mentioned possibly doing some writing coaching for the retired pastor I met the first night. To prepare for the possible coaching, he did a simple google search of the writers name. He was shocked to find a website dedicated to the sexual abuse victims and tied to the writer's name. He watched a couple of the YouTube videos and saw the image of the same conferee we met at this event. In the boarding area of the airport for our flight home, I learned about this conferee. A writers conference is a public event and anyone can attend. 

I tell this story to point out the dark side of Christian publishing. Most of us presume a Christian writers conference (and the church in general) is a safe place to meet new people, form relationships and grow in your personal life. I read the news and know about people (even leaders) with wrong motives who do terrible acts to the people who cross their path--even in the church. 

The majority of the time among Christians, we believe people have good motives and reasons for their actions. Yet the reality is each of us have a sinful nature and that is my reason to point out this dark side of Christian publishing. 

Several years ago, my journalist friends Ann Byle wrote about this element in a magazine article in Publishers Weekly. When the article came out, I was shocked because I know each of the conference faculty named in her article. I had no hint from my relationships with these people that they were bent this direction. Anns original article had a follow-up piece which had 3,000 comments in response. 

As a result of these articles, some conferences have started including a signed Code of Conduct statement from the faculty and attendees. Heres an example:

By participating in ______, we expect you to live out 1 Peter 1:15 and act according to these guidelines:

Behave in a biblical manner, treating all individuals with respect and consideration at all times.

Refrain from any behavior that is threatening, violent, aggressive, or sexually or morally improper. Examples of such behavior include but are not limited to:
• verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, including sexual advances, propositions, requests, or comments (or anything that could be reasonably construed as such)
• visual conduct of a sexual nature, such as leering; making sexual gestures; or displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or cartoons
• suggestive contact, such as inappropriate touching or impeding or blocking movement
• inviting a member of the opposite gender to meet you in or accompany you to a private place, such as your conference dorm room, an off-site hotel, an unoccupied room, an empty hallway, or a basement corner
• use of coarse, vulgar, or profane language.
Avoid being alone with a member of the opposite gender in any private location.

Reporting Inappropriate Conduct

Report to _______ right away any behavior you witness that does not meet these standards or if you feel threatened or are made to feel uncomfortable by a conferee or another faculty member. Don’t wait until after the conference when we can’t deal with the situation.

All complaints of inappropriate behavior will be investigated as promptly as possible, and corrective action will be taken where warranted. All complaints will be treated with as much confidentiality as possible, consistent with the need to conduct an adequate investigation. 

I agree to abide by this code of conduct.

Its a sad day that such a code of conduct is explicitly needed for a conference but its a reality of our world.

Lets wrap this article with several explicit lessons:

Be aware of the potential danger--its really everywhere. You would think a Christian writers conference would be free from such a situation, but it isn't. Our reality is we live in a fallen world and have to take responsibility for our own actions. I encourage each of us to guard your own heart and life

How do you handle the dark side of Christian publishing? Let me know in the comments below. 


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2 Comment:

At 2:55 PM, Blogger Lyneta Smith Left a note...

Hi Terry, may I weigh in with the perspective of someone who experienced childhood trauma, as well as abuse as an adult?

My normal "alert" radar typically runs high anywhere people gather, especially if the group is mixed. This includes writing conferences, Sunday church services, and other Christian gatherings. On the outside I wear a smile, but on the inside I am always on the lookout for predatory behavior. I would like to believe that all men at church or writers conferences are protectors rather than predators, but experience has taught me well that it's simply not true.

That said, certain incidents stand out that make me grateful, and help me remember that most people who profess to follow Jesus are safe. One incident was at Blue Ridge (maybe two years ago? I don't remember) when I stepped into the elevator. It happened to be occupied by you and Jim Watkins. Normally, being in a closed space like that as the only woman would raise my internal stress level, though I hide it well.

But this day, I breathed a (hopefully imperceptible) sigh of relief. You immediately put your arms behind your back and took a small step backward. Jim crossed his arms in front of him. I remembered that when Ann Byle's article came out, Jim had written (on his blog or in his newsletter, I don't remember which) that he typically crosses his arms in certain circumstances to prevent any sort of false accusation or misunderstanding. I wondered if your change in posture had a similar motive. Regardless, what should have been an unremarkable elevator ride stays etched in my mind, because I felt safe and respected, which is not the norm.

I wish we lived in a world where women didn't have to keep their guard up against predatory men, and where good men didn't have to worry about being accused of something nefarious, but that day is still yet off in the future. In the meantime, I'm grateful to you for writing this article in such a thoughtful and sensitive way.

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


Thank you for this comment--and the recollection of us riding in an elevator together--which I don't even recall but you remember the details. You brought a needed perspective to my article with your comment and I appreciate it.




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