I recently finished a non-fiction book proposal and, as I researched the submission process for many major Christian publishing houses, was struck by how similar these publishing houses are in every respect to their secular counterparts. Nothing about them seemed very different to me aside from the fact that the published material itself could be described as Christian in nature.
After that, I stumbled across a Christian manuscript submission company that is
created by the top Christian publishers looking for unsolicited manuscripts in a traditional royalty based relationship. It allows authors to submit their manuscript proposal in a secure, online format for review by editors from publishing houses that are members of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).
Membership is $98 for six months with, I imagine, no particular guarantee of acceptance. Simply put: writers pay to have their manuscript reviewed, which guarantees a profit margin for the publisher and, I suppose, better chances for some writers – but surely not all. Again, I found myself hard-pressed to define anything particularly “Christian” about the enterprise beyond the fact that it is composed of the aforementioned ostensibly “Christian” publishers.
This isn’t to knock Christian publishers. Business is business, and the publishing business is a particularly unfriendly one these days. But the experience made me wonder more generally: what do we mean when we call a business or an enterprise “Christian”? Experience tells me that people use the descriptor to mean one of three things:
a) an enterprise or business that produces or promotes products considered to be Christian, or having a Christian theme;
b) an enterprise or business run by Christians but that does not necessarily produce or promote exclusively Christian products or products that have a Christian theme;
or c) an enterprise (perhaps) run by Christians that might or might not produce or promote Christian products or products that have a Christian theme, but that as a company abides by a Christian ethos or imperative
The differences between those definitions is striking, at least to me. A company that calls itself “Christian” because it churns out Christian goods might not in reality be any different or any more noticeably Christlike than its secular counterpart. On the other hand, companies that engage a distinctly Christian ethos – that operate in the business world in a Christlike manner through love and generosity and grace – might make a significant cultural difference regardless of the products they sell.
It’s worth thinking about these differences. I know many Christians who like to buy from “Christian” companies and businesses, believing that their money is going to a good place or that it is in some way being used to further the cause of Christ. That’s a laudable goal, but for businesses, it makes the Christian demographic an easy target. Just as there are businesses and corporations engaged in modeling Christ’s life and love for others, there are businesses and corporations who are more than happy to slap an icthus on something if it means earning a few more bucks.
As believers, it’s good for us to think about where our money is going. Do some research and check into the “Christian businesses” you support to see what, precisely, that descriptor means to them and how it impacts the way they do business. Is it a label that simply describes a class of products, or a description of their corporate culture? Is it both? Or is it simply a buzzword?
May we always be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves in matters such as these.