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Cokesbury PostcardA "Vintage Postcard: Cokesbury" by Coltera on Flickr, shared via Creative Commons license.
The Lego Heavy Weapons Fiasco
This past weekend was an embarrassing weekend for Cokesbury. It started on social media: someone noticed that Cokesbury had as part of its stock the Lego Heavy Weapons Book that showed how to make four assault rifles out of Legos. Harmless but tasteless especially in the months after Newtown.
So social media did what it does best and got up in arms and even the Tennessean newspaper posted an article about it entitled “LEGO assault rifle manual dumped from Methodist online bookstore.”
It has obviously finally been taken down after being live on the Cokesbury website for at least 48 hours.
How did this happen? As embarrassing and misunderstood as that item was, it exposed a problem with Cokesbury’s business model: a substantial portion of their catalog is automated, as per Neil Alexander. A friend on Facebook expounds on what the Ingram database is:
When you go to Cokesbury.com and it says a book is “In-Stock”, that doesn’t mean its actually in the Cokesbury Warehouse. Most likely, it is in an Ingram warehouse, Cokesbury’s primary book vendor. In fact, the vast majority of books on the website are coming from Ingram, not the Cokesbury warehouse.
So, Cokesbury’s computers automatically port over any titles in the Ingram database that are marked religious. That’s why you can find some really non-Methodist stuff. Occasionally, Ingram codes a book wrong and it slips through the filter. Cokesbury also filters the Ingram database to try and prevent offensive stuff from getting through. Occasionally it fails. Like this weekend.
To be clear, there is plenty more stuff that has slipped through the filter. One enterprising person on Facebook found the following books that violate the social principles: The Beer Guide, 101 Whiskies to try before you die, No Limit Texas Hold-Em instructions, and likely more.
Problems of an Automated Catalogue
In Neil Alexander’s statement (and my friends explanation) one could surmise that a substantial portion of Cokesbury’s online catalog is automated: whatever is marked as “Religious” (with some extra filters) will show up as “For Sale” at Cokesbury (and even the 101 Whiskies got the usual 20% off).
This decision finally makes clear the problem that clergy have increasingly had regarding church curriculum and Sunday School study books: We can no longer trust that Cokesbury only offers solid Wesleyan products that are acceptable to most United Methodist clergy.
When I moved back to Oklahoma, the common refrain from other mainline/progressive pastors was “you have to preview what people buy at Cokesbury now.” I didn’t think that was true, surely our own Denominational bookstore would police its products, right? I mean, Lifeway Christian Bookstores keep out uppity women’s books and faces from their catalog, surely Cokesbury can take a cue and keep out some Calvinist or Neo-Calvinist products, right?