#The15 ‘LifeWay Boycott’ Likely the Cause of $50 Million Loss, Shut Down

LifeWay, the Southern Baptist retail arm, is shutting all of their retail stores. We first wrote about this in January in the post, Good News: LifeWay Closing Retail Stores.

Hopefully, you’ve been apprised as to why it’s a good thing LifeWay is shutting their retail outlets. Originally designed as the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board and commissioned with creating Sunday School material, the SBC retail stores have become the nation’s largest peddler of outright heresy. From Heaven Tourism to Omen Interpretation to Word-Faith Theology to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, New Age mysticism, to Anti-Trinitarianism, LifeWay’s doctrinal standards amount to profit motivation.

Before 2014, however, few focused on the heresy being sold at LifeWay Christian Resources. That is, until a tweet from Ed Stetzer set off a firestorm in social media. After John Piper referred to the Pope as a “brother,” and several indicated their displeasure as card-carrying Protestants, Stetzer claimed on December 23 of 2014 that “it was the same 15 Calvinists who are mad about everything.”

Stetzer then tweeted angrily at Pulpit & Pen, but the masses weren’t having it.

In the days that followed, many thousands of Christians began a grass-roots movement to boycott LifeWay Christian Resources, chiefly because of the theological heresies by their stores. Pulpit & Pen did undercover investigations and used recording devices to determine that LifeWay would special order nearly anything for customers, including everything from Joel Osteen books to gay propaganda.

The movement was called #the15, a reference to Stetzer’s claim that it was “just 15” disgruntled Calvinists. However, within hours there were thousands of us, including non-Calvinists like Randy White.

Within a day of the #the15 campaign, Stetzer had personally called those whom he thought were friends of mine, including Phil Johnson and at least one of my family members, to make the onslaught stop. But alas, it would not; people were fed up with the bad doctrine promoted by LifeWay.

During that time, Alex Malarkey joined #the15 movement. He was incensed that LifeWay was continuing to sell the best-selling Heaven Tourism book falsely ascribed to him. Malarkey wrote his Open Letter to LifeWay and Other Retailers, raking them over the coals for selling such bad doctrine, and furthermore, for refusing to pull the book when he and his mother asked.

The blog article at Pulpit & Pen soon became the #1 news story in the world on January 17 and 18 of 2014. This website was featured on The Today Show, and as far away as the UK Daily Mail and the South China Morning Post. LifeWay’s shame was covered in the New York Times, the LA Times, and the Chicago Tribune. In response, LifeWay spokesmen claimed they had no idea the book was false. Then, Pulpit & Pen released private emails with Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer in which they were told the book was false and asked to pull it many months earlier. They refused to do so, and attacked their critics. Simply put, LifeWay was caught in a lie.

To this day, LifeWay has never responded to Malarkey’s letter or given him an apology for using this story against his permission and in full knowledge that it was contrived. LifeWay is an evil, evil organization.

Tens of thousands of Christians were going into LifeWay stores to snap photos of the heresies on the shelves and email it to Pulpit & Pen. Many thousands of pastors and leaders promised to never use the retailer again. LifeWay, to this day, has refused to admit the impact this has had on their retail business.

I laid out the strategy for closing LifeWay stores in this article on December 29, 2014. Everything I asked for has happened, and I praise God for it.

However, LifeWay still doesn’t want to admit that what ultimately did in their retail operation wasn’t the softening of the book market, but conservative evangelicals who were tired of their garbage.

As LifeWay’s ship was sinking, its two most towering “leaders,” Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer (two men I’m convinced are both lost and wicked) pulled their golden parachute cords and abandoned ship. Stetzer moved off to ruin the Billy Graham School of Evangelism at Wheaton College and Rainer has moved off to capitalize on his personal brand that he used SBC resources to create. Both saw the hand-writing on the wall.

So when LifeWay gave a presentation to SBC messengers last week about their store closings, Stetzer and Rainer were nowhere to be found. Instead, Interim LifeWay president, Brad Waggoner, was left to spit a spin on their retail failure. You can watch the video below.

Waggoner acknowledges that “stores began to see significant losses” in 2014, just as #The15 began. By 2015, there was 9 million in losses. By 2017, there were 11 million dollars in losses. However, by 2018, the figures continued to decline. By the end, there were more than 50 million dollars.

The video, however, was more a pep-talk. Rather than admitting that their failure culminated in a massive conservative boycott of their stores, Waggoner insisted that it was external market forces. He also assured the messengers that they would continue to sell their products online (where there will no doubt be even fewer doctrinal standards than in the store).

Ultimately, the closure of LifeWay stores are the result of #the15 in two different ways. First, Bible-believing Christians stopped using their stores. There are countless thousands of churches who, because of #the15, swore to never patronize the company again. There are tens of thousands of laymen who promised to never again darken their door.

Secondly, however, LifeWay had to remove many products from their shelves (like TD Jakes books, for example), which #the15 consumers threw the biggest fits about. This didn’t help LifeWay’s sales numbers, which had developed an undiscerning consumer base that relied upon LifeWay to provide them with the latest heretical books.

A combination of these two things proved too much for the retail juggernaut. And ultimately, Goliath fell.

[Publisher’s Note: For more info on #the15 movement, click here. Contributed by JD Hall]