The announcement of a second “gay friendly” book, from another Christian publisher, is sending shockwaves through the evangelical community.
Jennifer Knapp’s memoir, “Facing the Music: Discovering Real Life, Real Love, and Real Faith,” will be released by Howard Books in October 2014.
Howard Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. since 2006, is well-known for its “Hugs” series, but the line of gift books was discontinued when Simon & Schuster acquired the company. Howard Books has shifted focus to include more theologically progressive authors, including Jim Wallis and now, Knapp.
A singer and formerly a Christian Contemporary recording artist, Knapp announced in 2010 that she is a lesbian.
In April, Convergent Books, an imprint of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, released a book by Matthew Vines, “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Marriage.” WaterBrook Multnomah itself is owned by Random House.
That book launch caused a firestorm of controversy, with WaterBrook Multnomah severing ties with the National Religious Broadcasters, or NRB.
Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of NRB, issued a statement to the organization’s board:
“Unfortunately, while the Multnomah Publishing Group is separate from Convergent, as a legal and business entity, the staff of the Multnomah and Convergent operations are substantially the same. Most notably, Steven W. Cobb serves as the chief publishing executive for both groups. Other Christian workers do so as well. This issue comes down to NRB members producing unbiblical material, regardless of the label under which they do it.
“I asked them to reconsider and end the practice of having Christian workers from their publishing house work on Convergent projects,” Johnson further added. “They declined to do so at this time and asked how we would respond. 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.”
Cobb spoke to Christian Retailing when Vines’ book was released:
“We actually went to great lengths and have always gone to lengths here to make sure that our people here have never been required to work on anything that offended their personal beliefs. We met with everyone in small groups and, in some cases, individually, and I can think of a couple of employees off the top of my head that asked to not participate in the publishing function regarding this particular book, and we were respectful and grateful for their candor and excused them from any involvement, so we don’t run that kind of shop here.”
The announcement of Knapp’s book ensures the flap won’t die down anytime soon.
“The scary thing is, there is no longer any sacred institution where the gay agenda has not let its voice be heard,” Elaine Wright Colvin told WND. “It seems like just another inroad to me.”
Colvin, a long-time Christian book industry veteran and founder of Writers Information Network, has been involved with “CBA” (The Association for Christian Retail) since 1980. She sees the titles by Vines and Knapp as a dramatic shift for an industry that was long considered to be conservative.
“First, CBA books; and last weekend I learned that my ultra-conservative GARB [General Association of Regular Baptist], Western Baptist Bible College, is now ‘partnering’ with Nike — for money and uniforms, etc. Western Baptist is now Corban University in Salem, Oregon.”
Nike, the footwear and apparel manufacturing giant, is seen as a friend of gay activists.
In terms of the impact on Christian books, other industry vets see the inclusion of “gay friendly” books differently. Mickey Maudlin, former editor for the magazine founded by Billy Graham in 1956, Christianity Today, is now senior vice president, executive editor and director of Bible publishing at HarperCollins Publishers.
“I do not know any of the details surrounding the controversies surrounding the books by Matthew Vines or Jennifer Knapp other than what I read in news headlines,” Maudlin told WND. “Nevertheless, I think the heated and divisive debates do not serve Christ or his kingdom. Debate, fine — wise, discerning discussions are needed — but dividing over this issue makes no sense to me. It elevates the issue as if it were a core doctrine; it makes it harder to have these needed discussions; and it signals to the world that God or churches hate gay people. Paul and Jesus both emphasized that how our disputes and actions are seen by non-Christians should frame how we conduct ourselves. I don’t think that is being done.”
On May 19, Maudlin posted on his Facebook page:
“I just want to point out that the NRB is shunning fellow evangelicals for a thoroughly evangelical book, Matthew Vines’ GOD AND THE GAY CHRISTIAN, which uses Scripture to prove his thesis. This is not over Jesus, God, the cross, or the inspiration of the Bible. This is over what a fellow evangelical thinks the Bible teaches. Unbelievable.”
Top author agent Chip MacGregor, founder of MacGregor Literary, echoes Maudlin’s statements.
“Some people probably see the decision by WaterBrook to publish ‘God and the Gay Christian’ as divisive,” MacGregor told WND, “but I think their real motive is just the opposite — they’re trying to bring Christians together by starting a conversation on a topic where there frequently is no dialogue. We may not all agree on the conclusions the book comes to … but what’s the problem with that? Isn’t one of the purposes of a publisher to cause us to think; to spur a conversation, even if it’s about a difficult or delicate topic?”
The two book launches follow the announcement of World Vision’s short-lived policy statement regarding the hiring of openly gay personnel. In April, after announcing a policy change that would enable the global relief organization to hire gays, World Vision reversed itself a day later amid strong response from conservatives.
The books by Vines and Knapp have helped open a polarizing debate between progressive and conservative Christians.
Writing for The Christian Post in April, author Michael Brown had strong words for WaterBrook Multnomah:
“For many years now, publishers have been releasing books that claim that the Bible does not oppose committed homosexual relationships. That is nothing new. But it is a sad and shameful day when a major Christian publisher releases such a book and claims that it is a solid evangelical publication. This is abhorrent, disgraceful, and terribly misleading. And it needs to be addressed and exposed.”