The scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid empire continues to widen, bringing scrutiny to, of all places, western Michigan and the Zondervan publishing company.
Among the major holdings in Murdoch’s News Corp is publisher HarperCollins, which owns Zondervan, the Christian publishing giant known for prominent Christian authors and numerous best-selling editions of the New International Version Bible.
Murdoch’s Bible connections have set the blogosphere abuzz.
The Zondervan connection to the still-unfolding scandal was first pointed out by Will Braun, former editor of Geez Magazine on his Holy Moly blog), where he described the 80-year-old Murdoch as a “Bible mogul.”
Or, as USA Today's Faith & Reason blog put it, “Would you buy a Bible from Rupert Murdoch ...? You probably already have.”
Zondervan was formed in Grandville, MI, in 1931 and has become the nation’s largest Bible publisher. HarperCollins bought the company in 1988.
Murdoch is best known in the U.S. as the tycoon who owns media properties such as Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Murdoch was forced to close one of his British tabloids, News of the World, following allegations that its reporters had hacked the phone accounts of thousands of people, including victims of violent crime and terrorism, families of dead soldiers and politicians and various celebrities.
The scandal has rattled British institutions, resulted in several high-profile arrests and resignations and thrown the country's tabloid media culture into harsh focus.
In his blog post, Braun highlighted some ethical issues the Murdoch connection raises for writers who work with Zondervan:
“For those of us who care about the Christian Scriptures, what are we to make of this mix of billionaire media tycoonery, allegations of phone hacking and bribery, and the Holy Word of God?” he asked. “What are we to make of the fact that every time we buy a Zondervan product we contribute to Murdoch’s mogul-dom, which includes a personal fortune that Forbes pegged at $6.3 billion last year.”
Braun interviewed Christian author Shane Claiborne, who has published books with Zondervan, about the potential ethical conflict and whether it would affect his future with the company. Claiborne said he has mixed feelings, but would likely continue working with Zondervan as long as he could “protect the integrity of the message.”
“I don’t think that the world exists in 100 percent pure and 100 percent impure options,” Claiborne said.
Zondervan spokeswoman Tara Powers told Christian Today that the Murdoch scandal “does not present an ethical dilemma for Zondervan,” and said she was unaware of any authors with serious concerns about the connection.
In a statement to The Grand Rapids Press, Powers said: “Throughout our 80-year history as a leading Christian publisher, Zondervan has always operated with autonomy, editorial independence, and the freedom to fulfill our mission to meet the needs of people with resources that glorify Jesus Christ and promote biblical principles.”
Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, was scheduled to publish his next book, Public Parts, with HarperCollins, but pulled it and found a different publisher.
Evangelical scion Frank Schaeffer, whose father Francis Schaeffer was a leading evangelical figure of the 1970s, goes as far as calling on Rick Warren, Rob Bell and other prominent Christian writers who have published with Zondervan/HarperCollins to stop doing business with the company:
“What serious, let alone decent religiously conscious person ― left or right, conservative or liberal ― would knowingly work to enrich this dreadful man who will go down in history as the epitome of everything that all religion says its (sic) against: lies, greed, criminality, and sheer disgusting exploitation of the defenseless that would shame a sewer rat?” Schaeffer asked in a post at Alternet.
Braun, meanwhile, ended his piece unable to reconcile his discomfort with the role of commerce in Bible publishing.
“We do not need to accept this arrangement,” he wrote. “Christianity does not need to be about the best and biggest deal, and we can trust that the Good News does not require the help of an unscrupulous empire. Part of me would love to see some readers, writers and retailers engage in some respectful, humble, Gandhian nonparticipation with respect to the big Bible business. But ... it seems unbecoming to boycott the Bible in any way at all. Alas, I too feel conflicted.”
Troy Reimink writes for “The Grand Rapids Press.”