For more than 10 years, Brendan Smith has been telling the story of the Bible in a very unusual way: with Legos.
Through his hit Web site and three popular books, Smith has spread the gospel of "The Brick Testament." But now, because of what it says are concerns about "mature content," Sam's Club, one of the nation's largest retailers, has banned in-store sales of the fourth book in the series, "The Brick Bible."
On his Web site, Smith's Brick Testament contains a series of interpretations of sexually suggestive passages of the Bible, but in the latest book version, those sections were removed.
"I have just been informed that Sam's Club is pulling 'The Brick Bible' from the shelves of all of their retail locations nationwide due to the complaints of a handful of people that it is vulgar and violent," Smith wrote on his Facebook page on Monday. "This despite the book containing only straightforward illustrations of Bible stories using direct quotes from scripture."
In response to a request for comment from CNET, a Sam's Club spokesperson said, "We offered the print version only of 'The Brick Bible' in our clubs....Sam's Club received numerous concerns from our members and parents about the mature content in what is perceived as a children's book. Accordingly, Sam's Club made a business decision to discontinue sales."
The company also responded to a series of pro-"Brick Bible" posts on its own Facebook page with similar language.
In an e-mail interview, Smith said that he had found out about the Sam's Club ban from his publisher who told him that, essentially, "the book was pulled after an unspecified small number of complaints had been made by Sam's Club customers that the book is vulgar and violent, and that the author is an atheist."
Smith said that the only complaint he'd managed to uncover himself is one post on the Sam's Club Facebook wall contending that "The Brick Bible" [was] created by someone who doesn't believe in God."
Smith explained to CNET that his publisher, Skyhorse Publishing, had told him that Sam's Club had originally ordered 12,000 copies of "The Brick Bible" and that in just its first two weeks on the shelves, the book had sold 2,000 copies. He also addressed the fact that "it was reps from Walmart/Sam's Club who had seen an advance version of the book and said they were very interested to place a large order of the book for their stores, but only if we were willing to remove or replace a dozen of the Old Testament illustrations--out of 1,400 total--that showed Lego people in sexual poses. So there are no illustrations of the Bible's sex content in the book."
A Sam's Club spokesperson said that the company had never been involved in any pre-publication discussions about the content of the book.
What seems possible is that those who complained to Sam's Club about the book didn't realize that the sexually suggestive material had been removed. Indeed, Tabitha Grace, the woman who posted about her feelings that Smith is an atheist wrote that "I came home and did some research...And would NOT recommend this as a gift for children...Please research this book if you have intentions of getting this for someone. I wanted to share this concern because it is being portrayed as something it is NOT."
Grace may not have understood that the material she was objecting to did not appear in the book version. "When I got home went straight to the Web site in hopes to see if there were more stories," Grace wrote. "This is where it all went downhill for me. While the Web site does have a content warning on it, I feel the [paraphrasing] of the bible stories are not age appropriate and should be identified both on the Web site and the book itself."
Although Sam's Club no longer sells "The Brick Bible," the book is still available through a number of online retailers.