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.
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."
Not content merely to quote the FBA statement, IBS added to its press release the names of every FBA member agency, including one mission-New Tribes-that never held FBA membership. But some of the Forum's member agencies were blindsided by the press release, particularly because almost half of the agencies had not even been represented at the meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, where the consensus endorsement purportedly occurred.
Agencies not at the meeting were deeply disturbed at being tied to the controversial TNIV. Unhappiness over IBS's claim of FBA endorsement ran so deep that one Forum member, the Bible League, decided to reassess whether to be a member at all. Other Forum members expressed severe displeasure with IBS for claiming support, particularly because several agencies-including the Bible League-had already decided not to distribute the gender-neutral TNIV.
Two factors, though, increased the difficulties faced by FBA members wishing to distance themselves from the IBS release. First, a majority of the FBA members present in Edinburgh had voted to approve the TNIV's translation guidelines. Second, the internal setup of the FBA, which divides its members into "translation agencies" and "distribution agencies," left many unhappy Forum members outside the loop on the Edinburgh action. FBA translation agencies were heavily represented at the meeting; distribution agencies were mostly absent. Yet it was the Forum's distribution agencies that received the most heat from their constituencies following the IBS release.
At first, FBA agencies responded on an individual basis. Douglas Bright, spokesman for The Bible League, emphasized his organization's lack of translation expertise: "Please note that [the IBS] release implies that the Bible League is among 'the world's leading experts on Bible translation.' To the contrary, the Bible League does not do translation work and claims no expertise in that field."
Displeasure with IBS's release was not limited to distribution agencies, but carried over into the ranks of the translation agencies. Rev. Syvelle Phillips, founder of Evangel Bible Translators and a member of the FBA's translation group, had been unable to attend the Edinburgh meeting due to recent leg surgery. Mr. Phillips told WORLD that after learning of the press release he had told IBS, "I will be coping with the problems you have created for me for many years in the future."
Individual responses by FBA member agencies soon gave way to a unified response crafted by a public-relations firm retained by the FBA. The A. Larry Ross agency issued a press release that said in part, "Contrary to a June 11 news release issued by the International Bible Society (IBS) and Zondervan, the Forum of Bible Agencies (FBA) today announced it has neither approved nor disapproved Today's New International Version (TNIV) of the Bible.... In addition, the FBA emphasized it has never endorsed the TNIV, as strongly implied in the release issued by Forum member IBS in conjunction with Zondervan. Other Forum members are aggrieved by the release because of the confusion it has generated among their constituents, as it is not the policy of the FBA to approve, endorse or support members' translations."
Despite the press release, IBS continued to assert that the Forum had approved the TNIV's translation methods and principles. IBS spokesman Larry Lincoln told WORLD, "The fact of the matter still stands and we stand by the earlier statement that was given to us that the TNIV does indeed fall within [the Forum's] guidelines."
The division between Forum distribution and translation agencies must be seen against the backdrop of the commitment of several Forum translation agencies to gender-neutral language in their own Bible-translation work. The International Bible Society is clearly in favor of gender-neutral language. Nor is there any question where the more liberal American Bible Society stands-its Good News Bible was one of the first American translations to embrace gender-neutral language. The United Bible Societies have not issued a statement on gender language in Scripture, but they are dependent on the American Bible Society for funding.
The position of Wycliffe Bible Translators is murky. Wycliffe depends on contributions from the missions budgets of tens of thousands of evangelical churches. When questioned about the position of Wycliffe and its sister organization, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), on the recent FBA action, SIL Executive Director John Watters and International Translation Coordinator Freddy Boswell, who represented Wycliffe/SIL at the Edinburgh meeting, refused to comment. They referred WORLD to American Bible Society's Gene Habecker for information on the Forum's statement, but he did not return WORLD's calls. Mr. Watters and Mr. Boswell were also unwilling to divulge Wycliffe/SIL's own stance on gender-neutral language.
Not all Edinburgh participants, though, are close-mouthed concerning the process leading up to the IBS press release claiming FBA endorsement of the TNIV. One Forum translation division member, Mr. Phillips, told WORLD that in 1999 when the Forum initially considered adopting translation guidelines, he opposed the action. Despite his opposition, the Forum pressed ahead and adopted the guidelines. Indicating the strength of their opposition, Mr. Phillips said that "three or four of us asked for it to be placed in the minutes that we were not in favor of going in that direction."
Were members concerned that the guidelines could be used to bolster member agencies' gender-neutral translations? According to Mr. Phillips, sufficient concern about potential misuse of the guidelines existed that Forum members "also adopted a strong resolution that this would not be used for commercial advantage. The NIV folk have done that."
But it's not merely use of Forum guidelines for commercial advantage to which Mr. Phillips objects. He said that many Forum members who were in Edinburgh decided to approve the TNIV with a minimum of information about the translation. "I've never seen a copy of it," Mr. Phillips said, "and I don't think most of the members of the Forum have seen a copy of it. We haven't seen it, we haven't analyzed it, we'd need a year to go over it."
So what did the Forum's deliberations consist of? According to Marshall Gillam, Edinburgh participant and director of Lutheran Bible Translators, Forum approval of TNIV translation principles and procedures was based, "on what was in the preface of the TNIV. That was what we looked at." Mr. Gillam would not say whether (since two agencies present had already produced gender-neutral Bibles) any opposing views were sought.
WORLD asked many FBA agencies whether IBS had recused itself from the deliberation and vote in Edinburgh concerning its own product, but the standard response was, "You'll have to speak to Gene Habecker about that." But Mr. Habecker, the American Bible Society president, also did not return WORLD's calls in his role as FBA chairman.
One difficulty for Zondervan and IBS is the simple promise made by its representatives at a meeting hosted by James Dobson in Colorado Springs on May 27, 1997: to "abandon all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the NIV." The two organizations at one point tried to claim that the TNIV is a new translation, rather than a revision of the NIV, but the TNIV's own preface states, "Every human effort is flawed, including this revision of the NIV."
Tarred with the charge of duplicity, Zondervan and IBS seem determined to seek cover behind other organizations. Magazines like Charisma and Christian Marketing, small Bible organizations like the Bible League and Evangel Bible Translators, and even Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics are all being drawn into the fray, and no end is in sight.