Can Christian Book Publishers That Are Owned by Secular Companies Remain Christian?

WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers

When WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group published Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian in April, Jerry Johnson had a problem.

Johnson is the new president of National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), and WaterBrook Multomah was an associate member. The ethics statement of the NRB is clear: Members must adhere to a broadly evangelical statement of faith that applies to the material the members produce.

Johnson later wrote in a memo to his board that WaterBrook Multnomah had a “good record of publishing … evangelicals that share the doctrinal commitments of NRB. While acknowledging that positive track record, the question remains, ‘What role, if any, did Waterbrook Multnomah have in this pro-homosexuality publication?’”

After conversations with Waterbrook Multnomah’s leadership, Johnson presented the publisher with a choice: “I told them that if they wanted to remain NRB associate members, I would have to refer the matter to our Ethics Committee for review, or they could agree to resign their membership. They agreed to resign immediately.”

The story of Waterbrook Multnomah’s resignation from NRB is a case study in the complicated issues facing the Christian publishing industry. To begin with, consider this: Neither Waterbrook nor Multnomah published Vines’ controversial book. The newly formed Convergent Books published God and the Gay Christian. However, for Jerry Johnson this distinction made no difference. “Steven W. Cobb serves as the chief publishing executive for both groups. This issue comes down to NRB members producing unbiblical material, regardless of the label under which they do it.”

Was the issue further complicated by the fact that Multnomah, Waterbrook, and Convergent are all a part of Crown Publishing Group, which is a part of the publishing giant Penguin Random House? And that Penguin Random House, which had revenue of more than $3 billion last year, is owned by the privately held German company Bertelsman, which did more than $20 billion in revenue last year, with more than $1 billion in profit?

Whatever the answer to those questions, they could easily apply to almost the entire Christian publishing industry. The consolidation began in 1988, when Zondervan was bought by HarperCollins, which is itself owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. HarperCollins also bought the largest bookseller in Christian publishing, Thomas Nelson, in 2012.

Marvin Padgett is a longtime Christian publishing insider. From 1997 to 2005 he was editorial vice president at Crossway Books and then filled a similar position at P&R until his retirement in 2012. He came out of retirement to lead Great Commission Publishers, which is a nonprofit publishing venture of the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

“I attended the Christian Booksellers Association convention in 1988 when the hot news on the floor was the acquisition of Zondervan,” he said. “We were asking the same questions then, so this is not new.”

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SOURCE: WORLD News Service
Warren Cole Smith

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