Author, bookstore owner dispute ‘censorship’ claim

June 2, 2021 | News | Volume 25 Issue 12
Ross W. Muir | Managing Editor
Wandering the Wilderness, pulled from Hull's Family Bookstore

“Manitoba book store censors retired pastor’s book” was the title of a press release sent to Canadian Mennonite earlier this year by author Ray Friesen, a retired Mennonite pastor in Swift Current, Sask.

“Hull’s Family Bookstores in Winnipeg and Steinbach (Man.) recently pulled all copies of Wandering the Wilderness: A Guide for Weary Wanderers and Searching Skeptics,” the release claimed. “I was told one customer complained that the book says all gods are equal,” Friesen is quoted as saying. “I have no idea how the reader came to that conclusion. I believe in one God—with many names but one God—revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.”

Wondering if this was a regular practice at Hull’s, Friesen said in the release, “I think it is sad when a bookstore owner decides which Christian perspectives people should be reading and which are unacceptable. Christian faith and spirituality, and the good news of Jesus Christ benefit most when there is lively yet respectful debate among various viewpoints. One person or another, or one group or another, trying to censor all views but their own, is always harmful to the cause of Christ and the dream of God for us and our world.”

Friesen described his book as combining “the 21st century research of Dr. Brené Brown (The Gifts of Imperfection) with the teachings of the Bible on what Jesus called ‘Abundant Life,’ and then shows, using examples from [Friesen’s] own life and the lives of people he knows, how this ‘Abundant Living’ can become real. ‘It was as the result of my own journey, particularly with cancer and chemotherapy, that I came to believe more in God even as I believed less about God, the God who is mystery.”

When asked to comment on Friesen’s release, Bruce Careless, president of Hull’s Family Bookstores, responded with a nearly 2,000-word statement, casting the author as the problem, not the bookstore.

“When you read that Hull’s removed a ‘retired pastor’s book,’ technically, the statement is true, but it creates a very misleading impression . . . and is partially false marketing,” the statement reads. “While ‘informed by the Bible’ is also in his press release, it needs to be noted that, by his own admission (page 7, Wandering the Wilderness), [Friesen] says, ‘I do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God,’ although he says he believes ‘that God speaks God’s word to us through the collection of writings generally known as the Bible.’ This is a man who was kicked out of a Mennonite church for heresy (pages 208-209), ‘so theological conformity was no longer high on his [Friesen’s] list of priorities.’”

The statement, which listed a number of other problems with the theology of Friesen’s book, describes Hull’s as “a broad-spectrum, interdenominational but solidly Christian company. We completely understand and respect the fact that both individuals and churches will look, equally sincerely, at the exact same Scriptures and come to different interpretations/understandings. . . .

“However, as a solidly Christian operation, we do look to what unites all true Christians as parameters for what we carry. We take the Bible as the ‘God-breathed’ . . . absolutely error-free and authoritative Word of God (II Timothy 3:16 and 17). . . .

“So when we decide whether or not something is available through Hull’s, the owners are not ‘trying to censor all views but their own.’ ‘Censoring’ is to try to ban something, to keep people from getting their hands on it. In today’s world, one can easily find anything you want to read/look at somewhere.” [Friesen noted in his press release that his book is still available on Amazon. Ed.]

“But it is completely fair and reasonable not to expect every store to carry every perspective. . . . Our niche is as a Christian outlet, so anything one finds here must be in some way compatible with/defendable from Scripture, and not contradictory to those truths . . . . Something may be challenging, but it will never make God out to be less than he is, nor teach values contrary to the Bible. . . .

“So naturally, if something potentially problematic comes to our attention, it is sensible to first pull the product, then investigate carefully, rather than leaving it available, pending results of a careful evaluation. Sometimes that may mean a product is returned to the shelves. However, if a product is found to be not in line with [Hull’s] values . . . then the author will, of course, be notified accordingly and the product returned to them. That is precisely what was done with Mr. Friesen’s books,” the statement concluded.

Wandering the Wilderness, pulled from Hull's Family Bookstore

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Censorship vs. freedom of speech is a hot topic in the news ... and rather than debate thoughtfully about it, we've again chosen to quarrel. Censorship, as in the silencing of contrary voices, is everywhere. It's just that the threshold of what and what kind of speech and writing is ban-worthy shifts in time. Hull is correct; it has the right to sell what it wishes without explanation; freedom of conscience is also a human right and Friesen's book is readily available to anyone looking for it.
In general, I'd be wary of attempting to silence even the most objectionable voices on the principle that perversity condemns itself. Jesus warned us about pulling up weeds while the crop is growing lest we destroy the good plants in so doing (Matthew 13: 24-30). The way to "censor" bad news is not to drive it out of sight, but to overwhelm it with good news.
I guess it's the skill of telling wheat from weeds that every farmer and every Christian needs to be taught.

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