the sacred/secular blur: how reading the bible or shane claiborne might be funding rupert murdoch’s empire

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Monday, July 18th, 2011


the sacred/secular blur: how reading the bible or shane claiborne might be funding rupert murdoch’s empire

quite a few years ago, i attended a seminar led by tony jones in which he discussed the blurred lines between what we label as sacred and secular. at that point in my faith journey, i had a particularly difficult time buying in to his fundamental thesis. my way of thinking about and engaging god was far too dichotomous. either/or was much more appealing than both/and. even more than that, i feared a worldview where decision-making couldn’t necessarily be eased by the label “christian”.

one of the examples he used was zondervan, the largest christian publishing company in the united states. with authors such as rob bell (formerly) & shane claiborne and with bibles such as the niv and the tniv, zondervan has been particularly relevant with people of my theological ilk. ok, all sounds good so far, right? well, then comes the part about them being owned by harpercollins publishing. ok, still sounds ok, right? well, it might until you learn that harpercollins is a division of newscorp.

yes, that newscorp. the one responsible for the invasive and illegal phone hacking that has dominated international headlines over the last couple weeks.

now, that might not mean anything to you or it might not effect you at all. i don’t necessarily get bent out of shape about it, but it certainly does affirm jones’ point about how our neat and clean dichotomies are actually very blurred and messy.

simply put, when you purchase a copy of the tniv bible or rob bell’s velvet elvis or shane claiborne’s jesus for president or even rick warren’s purpose driven life, you directly fund the political and ideological pursuits of rupert murdoch and, broadly, newscorp.

again, that might not bother you and that’s perfectly fine. my point isn’t to urge christians to discontinue purchasing their products. in fact, i recommend against that. these types of boycotts, in my humble opinion, are short-sighted and generally reactionary. for example, last year, target made a campaign contribution to a republican group and was immediately blasted as supporting an “anti-gay” group (it was a minnesota gubernatorial candidate who defined marriage as between one man and one woman in his commercials). those accusations—which were both disingenuous and misleading—caused many to declare that they would be boycotting target—in turn, choosing to ignore target’s long-standing record of philanthropy and environmental commitment.

my point, of course, is that zondervan publishes quite a few products that are not only helpful, but genuinely transformative. yes, you should read the bible. and yes, the tniv (and/or the niv) is one i would recommend (along with others). yes, you should read rob bell’s velvet elvis. yes, one of the most transformative books i’ve read in the last few years has been shane claiborne’s jesus for president.

and yes, each time you buy one of these, both rupert murdoch and newscorp celebrates a sales victory. zondervan’s bestsellers are newscorps bestsellers.

so, what’s the moral of this story if not a warning to boycott zondervan?

it’s a call to look below the surface of our purchasing decisions. it’s a call to consider if “christian” has largely become a marketing term rather than a truly descriptive word. it’s a call—no matter if we like or dislike newscorp—to become less reactionary and more thoughtful in our response to learning about these blurred lines.

and ultimately, it’s a call to personally disengage from these dichotomies that are often misleading and unhelpful in what can be a truly generative and ongoing dialogue about what it means to engage both god and the broader culture around us.

ok, i’m gonna shut up. i’ve got some news of the world reading to catch up on. 🙂