Protesting the Cokesbury closures

UPDATE:

There is a petition on Change.org urging Cokesbury not to close all of their stores.

Also, I have written a second post, Cokesbury Redux, on this same issue, offering a more even-handed response to the news, while adding more details about my personal experiences at the Cokesbury stores.

ORIGINAL STORY, as published 5 November:

Today, the United Methodist Publishing House released news to the United Methodist Reporter that it will be closing all of the brick and mortar Cokesbury stores.  By April.  Mr. Neil Alexander and the board sure took their time about telling everyone.  I have to wonder if it is because they knew what an outcry there would be, and they wanted to be able to say that it was too late to change their minds.

I certainly hope that it is not too late.

Right now, my Facebook is lit up with people who are sad about this decision.  Sad is for facing the inevitable. I will not accept that it is too late to save Cokesbury.  This situation calls for outrage.

This is a poor decision.  If anything has proven to be a failure over the past several years, it is the Cokesbury website, which has been bug-ridden and difficult to navigate.  I cannot think of another more consistently bad online shopping experience.  And yet Mr. Alexander claims that he is simply giving the people what they want: online only shopping.  One can only hope that their promise to improve the website will be one they can keep.

In the meantime, hundreds of people are soon to be out of living wage retail jobs.

Not only are they getting rid of the regular Cokesbury stores, but their seminary stores as well.  These stores are not just a guaranteed money maker (selling the books for all of the classes, not to mention many other interesting selections), but a hub of seminary life.  Seminarians and clergy are notorious bookhounds — clergy’s moving expenses are disproportionately attributable to the stacks of boxes that they haul from one parish to another.  Many of these books were bought at their seminary bookstore – often a Cokesbury.

But the biggest blow is a theological one.  Mr. Alexander et al have apparently lost sight of the reality that Cokesbury is not a business, but a ministry.  One of the most essential aspects of that ministry: witnessing to a different way of being Christian than is being sold by Lifeway, Family Christian Bookstores, and the rest of the evangelical booksellers.  By abandoning the brick and mortar bookstore business, Cokesbury is guaranteeing that many books will never see a retail bookshelf, will never be picked up by an idle browser.  Secular stores carry few religious titles, and as for the conservative evangelical stores, one only has to witness the recent kerfuffle over Rachel Held Evans’ recent book (Lifeway refused to carry it) to see how narrow their selection can be.  And just try to find a New Revised Standard Version Bible in there!

As someone who is just starting out as a Christian writer, I had envisioned seeing my books on the shelves of Cokesbury stores.  I had envisioned people picking up my book, thinking that my name sounded familiar to them, and leafing through it — maybe putting it back on the shelf after eyeing their already full basket, or maybe carrying it up to the counter with them — reading it between classes, or at a coffee shop on their day off.

I’m not ready to let go of that dream.  I am not ready to let go of the store that sells books by Matthew Fox and John Shelby Spong alongside books by Tony Campolo and N.T. Wright.  I am not ready to let go of the the store that hands checks to annual conferences every year – checks that fund ministries to retired pastors and that supplements the pay of pastors in developing countries.

Mr. Neil Alexander – was this really the best decision you and the board could make?  Pray hard and think again.

Here’s what you can do:

Go to the United Methodist Reporter article and leave a comment

Call the United Methodist Publishing House:  615-749-6000

Snail mail! Mr. Neil Alexander, The United Methodist Publishing House, P.O. Box 801, Nashville, TN, 37202

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