Do you think it would be wrong to "white-out" 3 cuss words in a Christian book?  This book and a couple of others are by a popular Christian publishing company.  The entire book has a great message.   Why was the publisher able to give us 270 pages of words without cussing and felt the need to include those 3 words?  (I am going to write to the publisher and ask them the same question.)


 Reading the story, I am sure there are more cusses that could have been included but weren't.  We have readers who will be very offended to see those words in print - - - so I want to hide them.   Also, when we read offensive words, they stick in our mind and I would prefer not to see them, too.

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Writing not only as a church librarian but also as someone who has a Library Technician certificate from a community college and 20+ years as a public school Library Media Tech (elementary and middle school grades), censorship is a very tricky/sticky area, especially for Christians.

First, a (published) book is like a work of art in the sense that it is the author's finished work (and presumably has also been edited by a good editor for the market it is planned for - one reason I usually stay away from self-published works - they usually aren't edited well!) and the author is entitled to have his/her finished work presented as s/he INTENDED it to be. Would you paint over Mona Lisa's smile to "fix" it? Granted, not all works of art are classics, and there are some works of "art" you and I would not want to cast our eyes on, and may even protest being shown or supported by public funding (the crucifix in the glass of urine, for example). But part of art (or literature) is to make some sort of statement, and art (or literature) may challenge our thinking and cause us to re-examine our own thoughts or assumptions. That can be a good thing.

Secondly, "real life" is not as sanitary as we would like it. How does an author (especially when writing for the Christian market) honestly convey a "gritty" situation with the proper intensity and authenticity yet without offending anyone? I'm not justifying the "cusses" you mentioned, since I don't know the context, but I think it would be difficult to do in some circumstances. On the other hand, some authors (like some movie producers) may add some things in which we could easily describe as "gratuitous" - meaning unnecessary to the story but added for prurient interest (and to increase sales). Great literature isn't always squeaky clean, but the gritty spots are intrinsic to the story or essential to character development.

You wrote that you don't like certain words and don't want to see them in print. I can certainly understand that, but then the question becomes, where do you draw the line? You might white out three words, and another reader may white out more, because we all have different levels of acceptability. Pretty soon, the book is littered with whited-out sections; or, your borrower, seeing that it's "okay" to censor, may decide to help you out by censoring other books, perhaps even removing pages! Perhaps it would be better to place a small disclaimer at the front of the book, something like "This is a work of fiction intended for adult readers and contains some adult language (or frank portrayals, etc.). - not recommended for those easily offended."

Let's take the Bible, for example. There are plenty of "offensive" statements or events so should we white those out? Our good deeds are as "filthy rags" to the Lord, and the literal translation means used menstrual cloths. Pretty yucky! God wasn't shy about "telling it like it is" although our modern translators have certainly changed the translation so as not to offend us! Although "filthy rags" may be more polite in Sunday morning service it doesn't really convey truthfully what God meant, does it? Filthy rags around my house means I've been busy dusting behind the fridge or hubby's been busy cleaning something greasy on the car - that's a good thing! As yucky as those rags may be, it's not the same as a used menstrual cloth - which indicates/represents something unclean issuing from US - not the outward cleaning everyday dust of life! That's quite a difference in meaning, isn't it? (sorry if I've grossed you out, but it's a good example).

What if we went through the Bible and removed all the references to the Israelites who sinned and were disciplined (or in some cases, eradicated!) by God - like when Moses was up receiving the Ten Commandments and the people sinned greatly? Would we then be able to understand why God was so angry? Or why the commandments were important? Or if we censored the woman who said to Jesus that Mary was blessed because she had nursed (breast-fed) him as a baby? He didn't chastise her for the reference for rather for her lack of spiritual insight about what was really important. The reference to Mary's breasts and breastfeeding may make us uncomfortable, but it didn't embarrass Jesus!

Lynda, I agree that it's not easy - after all, God expects us to "be holy" - and we may feel that reading cuss words is a violation of our minds, but God understands that we live in this world now, not in a perfected world. Authors have to, at times, reflect that world accurately, or the story just doesn't have the authenticity, and perhaps not the "power" to confront us. Stop and think about "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." In its original form, it used the "N-word" a number of times. Most of us feel VERY uncomfortable with racial slurs, but without those words, would it really reflect the authentic speech of those times and depravity of slavery? We SHOULD feel uncomfortable, even shocked at those words, at those particular situations. Without the original text, the story may be "nicer" but it is not authentic and it is not what the author intended.

I hope I have given you some food for thought. Many of us struggle with this issue, so I hope others will also share their thoughts with us. I can't say what is right for every situation, but I would recommend considering a disclaimer rather than the white out, and let your readers make their own decision.
Those are all excellent points and I really appreciate you taking the time to write such a great response. I guess I should have been more detailed and said this book is a biography by a well-known Christian publisher. I expect more from them because of their reputation. Reading a Christian book is like hearing a sermon. How many of us would allow our pastors to use profanity in their messages? I am not saying that a story should not be told truthfully but a good Christian writer or editor should be able to get their point made by painting the emotions and vocabulary with other words. If this book had been published by a secular company, I would not have been surprised to find those words. However, that is not the case. This book had an excellent message of God's power to heal a broken body, spirit, and emotions. It is one we would recommend to many - - - - but for the three words mentioned. Our library seeks to carry materials that bring a person closer to Jesus - - and give HIM honor and glory in the story is presented. There are MANY excellent books that are able to do that without profanity. Publishers may be trying to increase profits by appealing to a wider audience but the Bible also tells us that a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. Our church library has a large circulation with patrons who expect certain standards with our materials. God has allowed our staff to lead this ministry and we, too, will be held responsible to HIM for what we provide our community.
Definitely write to the publisher and to the editor, and tell them why you will not be recommending the book to patrons. They need to know. They should want to know.

Since this is a biography (presumably of a Christian), was the cussing a quote TO the biographee (the person who is the subject of the biography) or was it the biographee's (not author's) words? I'm not "excusing" it either way, but if someone said something to the person (biographee), the recipient of those words can't help what was said and it might be intrinsic to her/his response or what the author chose to write about the person. And, it might, for legal purposes, need to be an exact quote, although I got the impression from your response that it was just gratuitous or unnecessary, in which case it certainly could have been written differently.
good points

Disclaimer: this is not a Christian news article, it is from the secular Boston Globe. However, it deals with the concept of censorship and I think it makes some good points. I thought it was fascinating that the author used several of the same examples that I used in my response (back in June 2010) to Lynda!

While church libraries may not stock Tom Sawyer, etc., there may be Christian schools who need to decide on whether to purchase the original or adapted versions of certain titles. Some food for thought.

BTW, Lynda, did you ever get a response from the author of the biography? Please keep us posted!

Lynda, isn’t it a sad situation that we have to contemplate your question. Are there not enough words in the English language to express our thoughts without the use of profanity? As a church librarian I would prefer to take the book back to the store and get a refund for the church’s money rather than compensating an author that is disrespectful enough to include profanity in a “supposedly” Christian book. Maybe this is a radical opinion, but I’m being honest with my feelings. It is evident that we as Christians as not impacting the world for Christ but are allowing the world to impact us.

I appreciate your sensitivity and diligence as well as the personal accountability that your library takes to insure, to the best of your ability, that you provide good Christian material for your readers.
One of my favorite old-time preachers is Charles H. Spurgon. He smoked, and he used words which I would not, but He loved the Lord and served Him faithfully. What if I had to remove his work because of some of his sermons. I think that when a book offends us, let's not put it in the library. I don't like it when editors change my words, so I would not white out an author's word, but neither would I buy it if it had words that offended me. After all, we serve non-Christians and new Christians and it might confuse them if we have media with this type of word in it. Be asurred, when in doubt, don't. I do want to say that if it is a biography and points out the subjects words, we need to know that was a part of his or her life.

Thank you for being a caring and dilligant church librarian. We need to be in the world, but not of the world.

Rita Kirkland
Good points, everyone. Certainly food for thought. I can see both sides of the discussion. Would love to hear what the editor/publisher's response is. For me, I would think the best idea is the disclaimer, but instead of posting it in the book (where it might be missed) you might set your software to prompt you with a special message regarding the matter so that when someone checks it out you are able to have a quiet discussion with them on the issue.

I had a somewhat similar question and had not previously thought of that alternative. My library did not have a selection policy when it was started, and lots of people donated books they were just trying to get rid of. I have found books published by The Watchtower Society and other religious organizations, among other questionable works. We were debating whether to throw them away, offer them as free, keep them, etc. I think I may consider a computer generated disclaimer for those works we keep but still consider borderline and any other possibly offensive items.
You all have been FANTASTIC to help us try to solve this problem. I, too, am eager to hear the publisher's response to my letter - - and will update you at that point - - - but I wanted you to know I very much appreciate your help! Thank you for helping us minister in our part fo the world.

In the case of obviously "cult" (etc.) materials which some libraries might want to have available for authentic research rather than general faith or doctrinal study, I would definitely consider labeling them with a disclaimer (or perhaps stored in a section behind the librarian's desk, or some other area that they would need to be requested) since you may have not-yet Christians or new Christians visiting your library who do not have the discernment levels of more mature believers. By seeing these items on your regular shelves, they might conclude that they are acceptable. More mature believers might question having them in the collection. In your catalog you could certainly distinquish them in some way, as well as an alert at checkout. If you keep them on the regular shelves, you might want to have a small placard or a special shelf label indicating that the materials are not for use or reference as "Christian" materials. We have a very small library space-wise, so we generally stock only texts that explain/compare the doctrines from either a general text or a text from a Christian publisher, and may provide assistance on witnessing to those groups. I wouldn't make them (cult materials) available as freebies to the general congregation - some people pick up anything and presume it's church-approved. You never know who will be influenced (children?) by them, especially if they have pictures and easy-to-read format (like the Watchtower materials).

Many of us have such a reverence for books that we have a hard time disposing of any of them. We need to get past that. Unless you are an archival library for research or the Library of Congress, you don't need to feel obligated to keep old "junk" - if it's obsolete or 2nd rate, it's okay to just trash it. If it helps, think about your refrigerator - you'd get rid of a sealed gallon of milk 6 months past the date even if it looked fine before you opened it. You wouldn't pass it on to a neighbor, would you? Garbage is garbage.
Yes, I agree. My inclination is to throw them in the dumpster for just that reason. i had not thought of the option to keep them behind the desk in a secured area, either. We do have books comparing different cults and religions, and I think those have merit for study and personal understanding of another person's belief system. The books I mentioned were not in that category, and I have removed them from circulation as I find them.

For those of you reading this, do you have staff tasked with reading all/most things that you offer to ensure the information is Biblically accurate and doctrinally sound?
I had a long conversation with Jim Shull yesterday at LifeWay Stores. His job is to read most but not all (can't do all of them) the books that LifeWay Stores makes available. This issue apparently is a MAJOR concern for all Christian book stores and publishers right now. Far more difficult an issue than I first thought. As librarians, let's commit to pray for our retailers and publishers during these difficult days of making these controversial decisions. I encourage us to be a source of support for them instead of a "thorn in their flesh." Having a selection policy approved by your church family is more important today than ever. If you have not done a policy yet, I encourage you to do so. We have a section on this subject on the Church Library Ministry Information Service and an article on it on our web site with links to samples. THANKS!



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