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WORLD's response to IBS's ethics charges

Issue: "Bailing Out," June 14, 1997

To the extent that the International Bible Society's (IBS) formal ethics charges with the Evangelical Press Association echo those submitted by Zondervan Publishing House (ZPH), WORLD magazine's response may be repetitive. IBS, however, employs some different arguments to support charges similar to those of ZPH and makes new charges altogether. WORLD first responds principially, then point-by-point:

I) WORLD states once again that its reporting was professional, careful, internally consistent, thoroughly documented, and verified by the fact that 10 weeks after the story was first released, Zondervan, IBS, and CBT-after denying the existence of any firm plans to change the NIV-conspicuously reversed course and abandoned those plans. (See the IBS press release below.) IBS's challenge to the stories is fallacious, poorly stated, and even more inflammatory than what it claims WORLD has been. This controversy highlights the distinction between two types of EPA members, journalists and public-relations officials.

The intense interest in this story by the Christian public is a special reminder that whereas public-relations officials work for their companies or organizations, journalists work for their readers. Many times, as in this case, those loyalties come into conflict. While we regard these ethics charges as baseless, the members of the ethics committee have before them a historic decision: they have the power to promote independent Christian journalism or to stifle it. That these charges are even seriously being entertained by the EPA creates a chilling effect against any future reports that may not please powerful organizations.

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II) Portions of this complaint point to the unspecified effects of WORLD's reports on organizations and individuals: reputations damaged, jobs lost, hours wasted, and persons "directly or indirectly threatened." This is classic corporate public-relations practice: shifting the focus from the problem itself and blaming the messenger. WORLD was not the party making decisions that proved highly unpopular with the NIV's traditional audience. Those who made the decisions bear responsibility for any loss of trust, any jobs lost, and any hours wasted. Likewise, those who made direct or indirect threats against persons-assuming such things actually happened-bear responsibility for their own actions.

III) WORLD's coverage does indeed carry an adversarial tone and edge--"courageous," to use the term used in EPA's code of ethics . We were originally persuaded, and continue to be persuaded by all subsequent developments, that the evangelical church was being significantly offended. The tone is not different from dozens of pieces carried by other independent EPA publications through the years (Sojourners, The Other Side, etc.) on other topics. Perhaps the significant difference is that this time multi-million dollar organizations with extensive interests throughout the evangelical world have been offended, and then utilized their powerful public-relations capabilities to speak back.

1. COMPLAINT: The tone and tenor of the article, beginning even with the cover of the magazine are extremely sensationalistic and inflammatory. The nature of the cover title and illustration (The Feminist Seduction of the Evangelical Church) implied that IBS and Zondervan are involved in some sort of plot with radical feminists to pollute the Word of God. We have not, nor will we ever be "seduced" by the feminist agenda, or any other agenda that threatens the integrity of God's divine revelation.
RESPONSE: First, it's important to draw the distinction between something that is implied and something that is inferred. IBS states that WORLD's article "implied ... some sort of plot" when instead that is IBS's inference. What WORLD did imply was that seduction can and does occur as much through carelessness as through devious manipulation. WORLD has never claimed nor meant to imply that the NIV's sponsors identify with a radical feminist agenda. What we do assert is that all of us have been profoundly seduced by cultural feminism. The question is: To what extent do evangelical Christians recognize such seduction and build defenses against it? We believe the NIV's sponsors were neither adequately sensitive to that seduction nor prepared to build defenses against it.

2. COMPLAINT: The author states in the opening paragraph, "The new International Version of the Bible ... is quietly going 'gender neutral.'" There never has been any intention for the NIV to go "gender neutral". The intent of any proposed changes was to increase the accuracy of the text, not neuter gender specific terminology from the original texts. Gender-accuracy and gender-neutrality are opposite ends of a spectrum, and to imply that we intended to neuter the language is false, and seriously damaging to nearly 200 years of uncompromising commitment to integrity. The actual interpretation of the original texts is not at issue-IBS has always been willing to enter into discussion on interpretation. The issue is the unconscionable way in which Ms. Olasky represented the intentions of Zondervan and IBS.
RESPONSE: The question is not intent, but effect; WORLD did not seek to determine whether there has ever "been any intention" for the NIV to go gender-neutral. With respect to the NIV's going gender-neutral, our reports were predicated upon the actual publication of an actual "gender-inclusive" NIV in England, with the actual blessing of IBS. Extensive analysis since publication of the first article, by a variety of scholars, demonstrates unmistakably that dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of changes were made based on stylistic preference rather than textual accuracy. Documentation is readily available. Oddly, this complaint-citing only one article, WORLD's March 29, 1997 cover story-is based on a story that never even mentions the International Bible Society. It is difficult, therefore, to respond to IBS's charge about "the unconscionable way in which Ms. Olasky represented the intentions of ... IBS" in an article that does not name that organization.

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