Following the 2016 presidential election, religion professor at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. Jacqueline Bussie (Outlaw Christian) wanted to write a book about love across political, racial, and religious differences. She pitched the idea to a Christian publisher, and after signing a contract and receiving a large advance, Bussie wrote Love Without Limits: Jesus’ Radical Vision for Love with No Exceptions, and even got help from press on the book’s title. The publisher, however, wanted exceptions to be made.
“I sent in the manuscript and heard back from the editor who was very positive, but there was one particular issue: the chapters on ‘the gays and the Muslims,’” said Bussie, who has a Ph. D. in theology, ethics, and culture.
Despite approving the proposal for the book, including a chapter on LGBTQ relationships and a chapter on Islam, the Christian publisher redacted over 3,000 words from the two chapters, Bussie told PW.
“[The editor] said they’re not in the business of publishing to readers not in line with their values,” she said, quoting the publisher: “We don’t want books to challenge readers or make them uncomfortable.”
The first problematic chapter told the story of a gay couple that had adopted a special needs child, and the second chapter featured stories of three different Muslims, making up what Bussie called the “vertebrae” of the book. Rather than publishing the edited version, Bussie agreed to pay back her advance with proceeds from the book, should it be sold to another publisher.
“I felt bewildered, bereft,” said Bussie, who shared the ordeal on her private Facebook page with a photo of her mouth covered by duct tape that had “censored” written on it. The post caught the attention of Fortress Press publisher Will Bergkamp, and he immediately notified Fortress’ acquisitions editor, Tony Jones.
“When I read the manuscript and saw the importance of the two chapters they wanted to redact, I was gobsmacked,” Jones told PW. “I suppose an evangelical publisher simply thinks that affirmative, loving stories about Muslims and a LGBT couple are just too frightening to their core readership.”
Fortress Press acquired the rights to Love Without Limits and will publish it on August 20. Meanwhile, Bussie is careful not to name the original publisher. “I think there’s a larger story than them,” she said. “What happened to me is a mirror of what’s happening in Christian publishing.”
“There is deep division in our nation, about vulnerable people who are thrust to margins of society, mistreated, shamed, and silenced,” she said. “If I truly understood the oppression in this country, I wouldn’t have been surprised about what happened to my book.”
According to Jones, Bussie’s experience points to the fear of “others” among Christian publishers today, and he sees a crossroads in the industry. “Even the largest evangelical publishers live in fear,” he said. “[And] they’re hypocrites, because they continue to publish other authors with the same views as Jacqueline but who have written bestsellers. Moderate and progressive Christian houses are the future, because welcoming the other is the future.”
So what does it mean to Love Without Limits? “It means grabbing someone you know—and we all know someone—that you disagree with, and having coffee with them, asking them to tell you their story,” said Bussie, whose love, she notes, extends to her original publisher. “I say in the book: an enemy is only a person whose story you don’t know yet.”