Features

'We could not be intimidated'

Publishing | TNIV marketer threatens Charisma magazine over anti-TNIV ad; publisher refuses to back down-losing Zondervan advertising revenue but maintaining credibility

Issue: "Sex, lies, & audiotape," July 27, 2002

The printed schedule of last week's 53rd annual convention of the Christian Booksellers Association displayed the usual meet-the-author-or-rock-star luncheons. A crucial meeting, though, took place in private on July 15, as one Christian publishing executive confronted another in a dispute sparked by Today's New International Version (TNIV) Bible.

The two men-Stephen Strang, president of Strang Communications, and Bruce Ryskamp, president of Zondervan Publishing House-discussed a situation that has divided the evangelical subculture. On the surface, the meeting was an attempt to resolve a dispute over their companies' advertising policies. More fundamentally, the meeting was one product of the distrust generated by the TNIV-Zondervan and the International Bible Society's gender-neutral revision of yesterday's New International Version-and the broken commitments required by that revision.

Mr. Strang and Mr. Ryskamp were at loggerheads over an ad critical of the TNIV placed in three Christian magazines-Charisma, Christian Retailing, and WORLD-by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) in early June. The ad, which featured 100 Christian leaders opposed to the TNIV, upset Zondervan, a major advertiser in many evangelical publications. Christianity Today decided not to run the CBMW ad but Mr. Strang would not buckle, even after Mr. Ryskamp called him and said acceptance of the ad would mean an end to any Zondervan advertising in Charisma, Christian Retailing, and four other publications owned by Strang Communications.

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As Mr. Strang told WORLD, "We told Zondervan that we'd be very happy for them to run an ad and tell their side of the story. I also offered to let them publish a column in Christian Retailing magazine." But on the issue of the ad itself, Mr. Strang said, "We told Zondervan that though we valued them as advertisers-Zondervan has been with us 25 years-we could not be intimidated; to refuse the ad would be to send a sign that we could be intimidated." (Zondervan refused to answer WORLD's questions about the affair.)

Charisma ran the ad and encouraged CBMW to place the ad a second time. Making good on Mr. Ryskamp's threat, Zondervan pulled its advertising from Charisma and from Christian Retailing. Mr. Strang read WORLD an e-mail from Jessica Start of Zondervan stating, "We need to hold off on the September, October, and December placements." That meant cancellation of three ads for which Zondervan had already reserved space in Christian Retailing. Mr. Strang also read a memo from Stephen J. Higgins of the International Bible Society's church-relations department that stated, "We are putting on hold doing business from our department with Strang Communications."

Mr. Strang said he told Mr. Ryskamp, "I have never had anyone of your stature threaten to pull advertising before." He continued, "I wrote him a letter that night, explaining that because he put pressure on us, that forced us to run the ad." The pressure was substantial: Zondervan paid Strang Communications $141,895 for advertising space last year, and spent $76,097 of that in Christian Retailing alone. (Zondervan this year, trying different strategies, had cut its Strang ad buys to $50,829 so far, $47,363 in Christian Retailing.)

Mr. Strang's letter led to the July 15 Strang-Ryskamp meeting, after which Mr. Strang reported, "He has backpedalled some.... He said they don't want to make a bad business decision." Evidence of the backpedalling came quickly, in the form of a new, $3,870 ad placement the following day for the Sept. 2 issue of Christian Retailing. Other carrots may be extended, but Mr. Strang plans to maintain his policy: "We appreciate our advertisers. We don't kowtow to them."

Mr. Strang said Charisma had not yet decided what "our editorial policy about the TNIV will be," but he believes that "little words are important. When you realize that men spent entire lifetimes doing an exceedingly good job of copying God's Word word-for-word with virtually no mistakes over the course of many centuries ... we have a duty to be careful how we translate today." Mr. Strang also reported that since Zondervan pressured him, "I have personally talked to two dozen charismatic leaders. I have not found anyone on the side of the TNIV."

Fallout from CBMW's ad also led to division within the ranks of the Forum of Bible Agencies (FBA), a confederation of missions and Bible translation and distribution agencies. The FBA was drawn into the crossfire by a June 11 IBS press release claiming FBA endorsement of the TNIV: "The Forum of Bible Agencies has issued a statement supporting the TNIV's adherence to established translation standards.... It is the consensus of the FBA that the TNIV falls within the Forum's translation principles and procedures."

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