What do the Bible, "The Hunger Games" and "Fifty Shades of Grey" have in common? All three are works of fiction, according to the booksellers at Costco.
Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach made that shocking discovery last Friday as he was shopping for a present for his wife at a Costco in Simi Valley, Calif.
“All the Bibles were labeled as fiction,” the pastor told me. “It seemed bizarre to me.”
Kaltenbach is the lead pastor at Discovery Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in southern California.
He thought there must be some sort of mistake so he scoured the shelf for other Bibles. Every copy was plastered with a sticker that read, “$14.99 Fiction.”
The pastor knew something must be amiss so he set off in search of a Costco employee hoping for an answer. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find anyone willing to answer his question (which is not all that surprising if you’ve shopped at Costco).
Since no one in the store was willing to offer assistance, the good shepherd of Discovery Church snapped a photograph of the Bible and tweeted it to his flock.
“People are pretty shocked and upset,” he told me. “We are supposed to be living in an era of tolerance, but what Costco did doesn’t seem too tolerant.”
I doubt they would label the Koran as fiction, Pastor Kaltenbach said. Heaven help us if they did.
“If they don’t believe in the Bible, that’s fine – but at least label it as ‘religion’ as some bookstores do, or ‘inspiration’,” he said.
So does the warehouse store that sells laundry detergent by the gallon have a problem with the Word of God?
I called Costco headquarters in Issaquah, Wash. hoping to get answers. The nice lady who answered the phone told me she was aware of the issue and chalked it up to a “human error at a warehouse.”
“It’s all fixed,” she said.
But actually, it’s not fixed – because there’s a boatload of Bibles in the Simi Valley store still marked as fiction.
At that point, the nice lady on the phone became not-so-nice and promptly informed me that Costco doesn’t talk to the press.
“Nothing to report,” she said curtly.
With all due respect, perhaps they should leave the reporting to the professionals and we’ll leave the bulk purchases of toilet paper to Costco.
Pastor Kaltenbach said he’s not one to speak out on such slights, but seeing the Good Book labeled as fiction was bit too much to take.
“On the one hand Christians should not yell out ‘persecution’,” he said. “We aren’t living in Iraq or Iran. But on the other hand, I believe that we do need to stand up for our faith and we need to be vocal about our concerns.”
That’s a message that resonates with pastor and author Robert Jeffress.
“Let’s hope Costco’s explanation is true and not the result of having been caught attempting to marginalize the very foundation of Christian beliefs, the Bible,” Pastor Jeffress told me. “Christians need to call out organizations like Costco whose actions undermine Christianity – regardless of whether those actions are accidental or intentional.”
Steven Smith, of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the fiction label identifies the thinking of the labeler more than the content of the book.
“To label the Bible fiction is a practical front for an ideological foundation that assumes things spiritual are unreal,” he told me. “What is odd about this choice is the glut of books in the "religion and spirituality" sections in mainstream book stores. However, as large as "spirituality" sections are, there must not be any room for Christianity. Modern thinking on spirituality is too exclusive to allow for the Bible.”
Of course, this entire episode could have been cleared up had a Costco employee simply answered Pastor Kaltenbach’s question.
And that’s the Gospel Truth.