When I was growing up in Nashville, one of the most elegant movie theaters was the old Belle Meade Theater on Harding Road near White Bridge Road. Some of my earliest dates took place in the lovely cinema house, and when BookStar opened up in the renovated theater, it was with some
nostalgia that I approached a manager named Bob and got permission to begin putting Christian
Activities out in the front of the store. Bob showed me a bench and said that was where the free
publications would go. Within a couple of years, metal racks with an even broader selection of free publications showed up and they had me move Christian Activities back to that section. I saw new magazines for parents, for the country music industry, for jobs, and even two for the gay and
lesbian groups come in during my years there.
One day a young man called and nervously told me not to bring Christian Activities in anymore.
When I asked him why, he said he didn’t know; it was a management decision. I told him I was
one of the first three magazines in there, that I had gotten management approval to put it out and I
wanted to know who made the decision to pull us and why. He would tell me nothing more than it
was a female manager. I called the store and asked for the manager, was sent to one, then another
person, and finally ended up with Patrick. He abruptly told me that my Christian publication
offended some customers. I asked him how a Christian events publication was offensive. He said
just the word CHRISTIAN was offensive to many customers. I asked him about the gay and
lesbian publications in the publication bins, both of which came to BookStar years after i was
distributing there, and I was told they were not religious, and they would not be pulled. I pointed
out I was sure they offended more customers than Christian Activities would and I asked if he
didn’t think this was a bit discriminatory towards Christians. He said he had no comment, but he
stressed, and sounded a bit pleased to point out that they WOULD be keeping the gay and
lesbian publications as they served a particular CULTURE, but they would NOT carry a
publication that only appealed to a particular RELIGION.
About a year later, the new Barnes & Noble was under construction in Brentwood across from
Cool Springs Mall. When you realize how much of the Christian music industry is located in that
area, it is not surprising that people began to call me to suggest that I put Christian
Activities out there. A couple of days after their grand opening in the spring of 1996, I walked in
to the new bookstore and noticed brand new shelves in the entry just waiting for their first
publication. I asked to speak with the manager in charge of the publication bins and was referred
to Annie. I showed her several back issues and the current issue of the magazine, and we
discussed the contents. She was enthusiastic and promptly agreed to give me official permission to
distribute at that store, and Christian Activities was the first magazine to be placed upon those
pristine Barnes and Noble shelves.
Several months later I got a call from one of the Barnes & Noble employees telling me I could no longer distribute Christian Activities in the Brentwood Store. I asked why and was told that the decision came down from the district
office. I called the district office and was referred to my old friend Patrick. He was more than happy to explain to me again how offensive Christian Activities was, how it appealed only to one religion but the homosexual publications appeal to a whole culture.
The next several months, I received numerous calls and complaints from customers who could not find
Christian Activities at Barnes & Noble. I suggested they call the store. They suggested I call the
store. I decided to try again and this time I asked for the main store manager. I spoke to a very
pleasant woman who claimed to be very sympathetic. If it were up to her they would carry us, she said.
They had a copy posted in the employee break room because some employees were in a band we
mentioned, but there was nothing she could do, she said.
I pressed on. She finally gave me a long-distance number to the main headquarters and the name
of a girl in customer service. I called and explained my situation. She told me I had to understand
that there were many religions out there and that they could not carry a publication that only
appealed to Christians. Didn’t I understand that would discriminate against the other religions? I
responded that if that was their position, how could they justify reserving space for TWO publications for homosexuals in the publication bins in both Nashville stores. I pointed out that in Nashville, the buckle of the Bible belt,
demographics would surely indicate that ONE Christian publication would offend their Southern
market much less than TWO gay and lesbian magazines. She said, yes, but the homosexual
magazines weren’t pushing a religion. I replied I was not PUSHING a religion either, and they
they were certainly PROMOTING a lifestyle many customers would find more offensive than they find the Christian lifestyle.
At this point she said she was not the right person to speak to but she would pass my number
and information on to the right person. The right person never called me, so three weeks later, I
called the corporate office again and was referred to a different department. This department
switched me to the first girl I had talked to three weeks ago. “Oh, she never called you?” she
asked in apparent surprise. “I’ll giver her your information again.” Again I received no return call. The
third time I called, I told the girl I was working on an exposé of the way Barnes & Noble
discriminated against Christian publications. Five minutes later I had my call back.
This woman was angry. She was quite offended that I would say Barnes & Noble was
discriminating. Why, that’s exactly what they were NOT doing, she informed me. To carry a
Christian publication — THAT would be discriminatory. To refuse to carry it was ensuring that
democracy was in action at Barnes & Noble. I once more presented my point that first of all,
Christian Activities is a non-denominational events calendar for people who enjoy Christian
music, arts, and other entertainment. What is offensive about that? Jewish events publications do
not offend me. She said they also don’t carry Jewish publications – they don’t carry any religious
publications. To carry any would discriminate against the rest. I pointed out that Christianity is
not just a religion, but a lifestyle and a culture and that they carried publications for other cultural
groups, groups whose lifestyles many might find offensive and which also pushed anti-religious
messages. To not carry the other point of view is most certainly discriminatory.
Suddenly she changed her approach, almost entirely. Yes, she
certainly agreed, and THAT was why Barnes and Nobles was going to introduce a brand-new policy – NO more publications in the lobby. I had to admit that was a fair if not satisfactory solution. When would this new policy go into effect? I inquired. Immediately, as soon as the memo or inter-office correspondence could go out, I was told.
Since then, for five years, both Barnes & Noble and BookStar have refused to carry Christian Activities. In July of 2001 Barnes & Noble in Brentwood finally removed their publication bins, almost five years after Christian Activities was banned. However, I believe BookStar still has their bins up, with Query and other questionable reading material proudly on top.
From our archives 6/22/2001
Edtor’s note 8/6/5: Today I spoke with Laura, a manager at the Cool Springs Barnes and Noble. I told her we were getting posts on our free calendar for events at Barnes and Noble, and I asked her if the policy had changed regarding carrying Christian Activities in the store. She said she didn’t know about what had happened before, but that now the policy was to “just carry the two most requested publications” (which according to Laura are City Paper and Nashville Scene) and that it had nothing to do with religion. I assured her that the original decision had everything to do with a discriminatory policy against religion to which she replied she would love to carry a zillion publications but that the corporate office would only allow them to carry the two.
Edtor’s note 7/11/4: Today Barnes & Noble is permitting a select number of Christian writers to come sign books and help sell products in Brentwood. Perhaps when money is involved, discrimination is not an issue for Barnes &
Noble. In all fairness, I have spoken to at least two Barnes & Noble employees during the past six years who honestly seem troubled by some aspects of the official Barnes and Noble stand on Christian publications.
I didn’t do my exposé five years ago, but I still get asked occasionally why Christian Activities is not in these two stores. Now that I am running an article on a book signing of a Christian book at the same store that has refused to carry Christian Activities all these years, I thought I would explain why you won’t find Christian Activities in Barnes & Noble and BookStar.
Chris Coppernoll Book Signing at Barnes & Noble