By Elizabeth Prata
You know that Beth Moore deleted a portion of the material in the Kindle version of the book Praying God’s Word, but that deletion is more extensive than most people know. She got rid of the entire discussion on homosexuality from her chapter Overcoming Sexual Strongholds. It was 6 pages of material. It was half the main discussion of the chapter. She excised from mid page 279 to mid-285.
As a result, the word ‘homosexuality’ does not appear in the Kindle version except twice, once in a quote from a man testifying about his homosexuality recovery and once in a verse. In the hard copy she retains all that material, with the word homosexuality being mentioned 12 times within the 6 pages. I believe her decision to redact the entire discussion about homosexuality is, in effect, a change in stance toward this sexual sin.
That said, I’ve also been thinking of the wider issues surrounding Beth Moore’s decision to delete the biblical discussion of homosexuality from her book. It’s bad enough to be ashamed of God’s doctrine to delete it completely from your book. But this next part compounds the wrong.
She violated the social compact that exists between an author and her readers.
Let me explain further.
There exists a social compact between writers and readers. Did you know? Yes.
We might not be aware there exists a social contract between author and reader, but we know instantly when it’s been broken. A broken contract means trust has been severed, which usually entails feelings of anger, betrayal, or even outrage. Think of the outrage that occurred when it was learned that Mark Driscoll reportedly bought his way onto New York Times bestseller list. The social contract of trust, that true popularity, reflected in sales, had propelled that book up the best-seller ladder was destroyed when it was revealed that filthy lucre had done the deed.
So we might unknowingly operate in the social contract but it certainly becomes known when it’s violated.
Another example of this tacit compact is plagiarism. A well known part of the contract between an author and his or her readers is that the material they publish under their name will be their own creative content. It is understood that the material is not plagiarized from someone else and sold under their name as their own. Doing so violates the implicit trust that the author has with her readers. They are buying the book under the terms of this implicit contract.
“Roots” was a phenomenon in the 1970s. The book was an extreme best-seller, won a Pulitzer Prize, and spawned a miniseries that impacted the nation for years. Yet it turned out that its author Alex Haley had plagiarized some parts from a less well known book called The African, which had been published 9 years earlier. Americans were outraged and heartbroken.
So, we see from the negative examples, that the social compact between writer and reader exists. What is this social compact like, what is it supposed to do?
As we read from this article from The National Council of Teachers of English, The Rights and Responsibilities of Readers and Writers: A Contractual Agreement, by Robert Tierney and Jill LaZansky, we learn
Writers must establish a reader-writer interaction which sets up “a coherent movement” toward a reasonable interpretation of a communication. An author, accountable in one sense to a selected audience of readers and in another sense to a message deemed worthy of their consideration, will do greater justice to that message if the needs of the readers are attended.
Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life….A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge.
These examples and quotes of the ethical standards in publishing and the implicit social contract that comes with it are from the secular world. Would not a Christian author have even a deeper obligation to her readers, especially if her book sales are aimed at sisters in the faith?
How much more meaningful is the social compact between author and reader when the two are part of the same Body, operating in the spotless name of Christ?
How much MORE so when a Christian writer is given gifts to convey the timeless, majestic and eternal truths to a waiting generation? Wouldn’t one of these writer responsibilities be the safekeeping of truth?
How much MORE so when a writer who is Imago Dei, labors with the understanding that at the very least, she should do no harm to the reader.
But deleting the entire discussion of homosexuality from her Kindle book does harm the reader. How?
Let me state an inconsequential but more relatable example. If you’re familiar with competitive cooking shows, where a chef is tasked to cook a dish and then serves it to judges at the end of the time constraint, at the end of the time, things get hectic. Sometimes the chef-contestants are just throwing the food on the dish by the end.
I remember a few times where a chef presented a dish that had some components on one plate, but were absent those components on the other. One judge looks at his plate, looks at the other judge’s plate, and asks, ‘Why does his plate have potatoes on it and mine doesn’t?’ They yell at the contestant that this is unacceptable. Why? If a paying customer orders a dish described on the menu they expect to be served that exact dish. That’s the contract. It makes things worse if a chef gives one person their expected dish and denies the other person the same food. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right.
How much more so when Beth Moore knowingly decides to deny her Kindle readers their potatoes, while hard copy readers enjoy the full dish? And how much worse it is knowing that we are not really talking about potatoes, but the food of Christ laid from His table?
Beth Moore has spent years developing a relationship with readers. She trades on the comfy and sisterly relationship she has cultivated publicly. One wonders how a conversation with the Christian Publishing House B&H (arm of Lifeway) would go?
B&H, I want to get rid of that section about homosexuality. Delete it before the republished version comes out on Kindle.
Because I’m worried about a 13 year old girl
But Beth, what about all your other readers? Don’t you owe them anything, especially the readers who’ll buy the hard copy?
Nah, I owe them zero.
Wayne Grudem spends a great deal of time in his book Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning on the definition of and biblical instances of lying. He says that lying is verbally affirming something you believe to be false, and maintains the verbal-only aspect of lying. But there is also something else discussed in that incredible book and that is called deceptive action.
I fail to see any morally relevant difference between intentionally misleading someone with the lips and misleading them with an action. John Frame
Whether one wants to call it a decision to stand by, a sin of omission, misleading, or deceptive action, we consider the fact we are supposed to operate as Image of Christ.
The fact is, no matter how you define it, Moore and her publisher B&H, chose to purposely excise a significant portion of one of the re-published versions and didn’t tell readers, while selling the fuller re-published version to other readers, and to my knowledge, never said a word.
At least, in my hours of searching online and on her blog, I never saw any announcement of this deletion, nor did I see one in the hard copy or the Kindle version. If such a statement existed in 2009 when the books were re-published, please point me to it. Otherwise, Beth Moore engaged in a deliberate action that broke the social compact and betrayed trust with her readers.
Moore says that she performed the act of removing the half-a-chapter on homosexuality (from one version but not the other) and she stands by her action.
Now that we understand the issue about the social compact that exists between a writer and her audience, and about truth and honorable Christian publishing decisions, and seeing that this very week Moore is teaching about the writing and publishing process, and seeing that organizers are touting it as holy, and knowing that B&H attests to the motto below clipped from their website, doesn’t it make a difference in how you view their moral character?
Every word matters? Really B&H Christian publishers? Except the 6 pages of words about overcoming homosexuality with God’s help through the Gospel. THOSE words don’t matter. The biblical content you and Moore excised cannot “positively impact the hearts and minds of people”, because you deleted them. And remained silent about it. For ten years.
Lying by omission and lying by commission. Lying by omission is far, far worse than lying by commission because the latter can at least admit refutation and public debate. Suppression of reportage is lying by omission (Gideon Polya)
Beth Moore’s action that she “stands by” is a terrible corruption of the implicit contract she has cultivated as Christian writer with her Christian audience in a situation of trust.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
James White on the Open Letter to Beth Moore
James White on Beth Moore explaingng but not really why she deleted half her chapter on homosexuality