2016-06-30
(RNS) In the days just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many Americans stuck close to home or turned to their houses of worship for solace. In the weeks since then, however, some have ventured to local bookstores for books and other products to educate and comfort them.

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    Retailing and publishing executives say sales of Bibles, books about prophecy and writings on Islam have increased. And flags -- stand-alone and on apparel -- are hot in Christian bookstores, too.
  • "Anything that blends patriotism with the Bible have just flown out," said Les Dietzman, president of Family Christian Stores, a Grand Rapids, Mich., company that saw Bible sales jump 27 percent in the week after the attacks.

    "We have a freedom T-shirt which has the flag on one side and talks about freedom in Christ on the other side. People are wanting to wear their faith and their patriotism right now." The shopping patterns of Americans seem now to be shaped in part by their attempts to adjust to life after the attacks. Authors, publishers and manufacturers said their qualms about being viewed as exploiting a tragedy were quickly pacified when their phones started ringing with requests.

    "It's part of our mission to provide resources and help people," said Rachel Riensche, spokeswoman for Augsburg Fortress Publishers, the Minneapolis-based publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "That need is even more acute during the tragedies. People have been contacting us, saying `What resources do you recommend?'"

    Her company has suggested a few dozen titles dealing with grief, violence, hope and "our neighbors' faith," she said.

    Jill Kurtz, marketing director of Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic publishing company, has seen an increased interest in prayer books, Bibles and books on grief, such as "Blessed Are Those Who Mourn" and "Your Grieving Child." "We had an influx of orders by the fax and phone," said Kurtz, who is based in Huntington, Ind.

    Mainstream companies, such as Borders Group, have witnessed a spike in sales of books with similar themes across a range of religions.

    Old Glory or God's Glory?

  • "God Bless America"
    Some Christians say they need the flag in church

  • Patriotism at Synagogues
    As Jews begin the new year, flags, the national anthem, and stories of heroism are everywhere

  • Falwell: Our Nation Returns to Its Knees
    Let's hope it's the beginning of a new godly fervor
  • What do you think? Do American flags and patriotic songs belong at worship?

  • Complete 9/11 Coverage

    "I can tell you we've seen an increase in inspirational books and these are not books that are just brand-new titles," said Ann Binkley, director of the Ann Arbor, Mich., company that includes Borders Books and Music, Waldenbooks and Borders.com.
  • The top-sellers could fill an interfaith bookshelf: Rabbi Harold Kushner's "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," the Dalai Lama's "An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life," Huston Smith's "The World's Religions," Karen Armstrong's "A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam"; and "Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul: Stories of Triumphing Over Life's Obstacles."

    While some book tours have been canceled or postponed, best-selling Christian author Max Lucado decided to stick with plans for his first tour of mainstream bookstores during the first week of October. Three hundred people showed up for an Oct. 1 signing in Waldorf, Md., for his new book, "Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear." The book interprets Psalm 23, the biblical poem that President Bush quoted when he addressed the nation on the evening of Sept. 11.

    "It's been a time of ministry with people in the stores," said Ron Land, senior vice president of corporate sales for Thomas Nelson Publishers, the Nashville, Tenn.-based publisher of Lucado's book.

    "He prays with them and the stores have been very open to that. It's a very unique time in the country to be able to go into general market bookstores and have a lot of folks that want to be reassured and be prayed for."

    In an interview just before the tour, Lucado said he expects books will be a continuing resource.

    "The power of books is they speak to people when they want to be spoken to," he said. "I think a book, ... anything in the realm of spiritual comfort, is going to be a real popular tool that people are going to use in the next few months."

    And retailers aren't just selling books to customers reacting to the crisis.

    "Stores are telling me that people are buying a lot of worship and praise music, finding that to be very soothing and to be encouraging," said Bill Anderson, president of CBA, the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based trade organization for the Christian retail industry. "There's so much Scripture in many of those songs, it's a great way for them to take it in."

    In addition to music, mainstream and Christian stores are selling T-shirts, many with themes about patriotism and prayer.

    Old Glory or God's Glory?

  • "God Bless America"
    Some Christians say they need the flag in church

  • Patriotism at Synagogues
    As Jews begin the new year, flags, the national anthem, and stories of heroism are everywhere

  • Falwell: Our Nation Returns to Its Knees
    Let's hope it's the beginning of a new godly fervor
  • What do you think? Do American flags and patriotic songs belong at worship?

  • Complete 9/11 Coverage

    Kerusso Activewear, a 15-year-old Christian apparel company, is rushing to fill orders for T-shirts with both Christian and secular themes. Some shirts aimed at the general market quote President Bush while others headed to Christian stores quote the Bible. A "God Bless America" shirt comes with or without a verse from Psalms that reads "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord."
  • The Berryville, Ark., company has been on double shifts and has had to enlist other printers to help fill the demand.

    "It has been over and above our ability to fill the needs that quickly," said Vic Kennett, president of Kerusso Activewear.

    Publishers also are fielding requests for older publications that fit the times, in addition to more recent ones.

    "We also had ... an old back issue of a magazine that dealt with anger and folks are asking for that again," said Sherry Elliott, marketing director of Upper Room Ministries, a United Methodist publishing company in Nashville, Tenn., that specializes in books and devotional magazines.

    A new book on forgiveness and a 2-year-old book about hope -- "When the World Breaks Your Heart" -- also are popular.

    "I feel like people are searching for where God is in the midst of this tragedy and these books help them put their faith into action and to find some sense of grace in the midst of it," Elliott said.

    Cris Doornbos, executive vice president of sales at Zondervan, a Christian publishing company in Grand Rapids, Mich., said Bible sales in the first two weeks after Sept. 11 increased by about 9 percent over the company's same period last year. Sales of books on Islam and on prophecy also rose.

    Zondervan has printed 775,000 special editions of a 1996 best-seller by Philip Yancey called "Where Is God When It Hurts?" and offered them at a discount to retailers.

    Royalties from the sale of the special edition will go to the American Red Cross, following a pattern in which some retail industry members -- both Christian and mainstream -- have made plans to aid charities with a portion of their profits or by encouraging their employees and customers to make a donation.

    Doornbos said the long-term effect of the crisis on retailers of religious products remains to be seen.

    "During the Gulf War in '91, we saw consumer preference come toward religious products and shortly after the Gulf War that consumer need seemed to lessen," he said. "I think it depends on just what kind of situation this country is in for and the length of time we're in it."

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