Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Banning Books for Jesus


In August, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation published David Griffin's book, The Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11. I read the book and I urge others to read it. In my opinion, it is well written, scholarly, and makes some important challenges that should be addressed. His basic thesis is that the 9/11 Commission Report is flawed and questions behind what happened on 9/11 remain unanswered.

The point of this post is not the book itself. I am concerned about the possibility of censorship. The publishers offered their rationale for publishing the book and you can still order it. Pressure from the right has caused the publishers to distance themselves from the book. Christianity Today included these quotes from Kenneth Godshall, the board chair:

The CT article states:

Kenneth Godshall, chair of the board, explained the decision in a November 11 press release, in which he said the theological reflections of author David Ray Griffin are "helpful and timely," but that the "conspiracy theory is spurious and based on questionable research."

Quoting Godshall further:

"We believe that the research he produced is primarily taken from other Internet conspiracy theorists, and the author and our own editors did not take the time to consult other information that debunks 9/11 conspiracy theories," Godshall told CT.

This is quite different from the description of the book on the PPC website:

Probing disturbing questions that beg for a response from the Christian community, distinguished scholar of religion and popular writer David Ray Griffin provides a hard-hitting analysis of the official accounts of the events of September 11, 2001. A tireless investigator, Griffin has sorted through enormous amounts of government and independent data and brought to the surface some very unsettling inconsistencies about what really happened.

So what happened? If Godshall's comments are accurate, why didn't they check that out prior to publishing the book? Does Godshall normally publish books that take research primarily from the Internet? Or is there another reason for Godshall's apparent change of mind regarding Griffin's scholarship?

I think it is good old fashioned pressure from the religious and political right. Enter our saviors:
Jim Berkely (why he gets so much press is beyond me) of the IRD, who is quoted in the CT article:

James Berkley, the director of Presbyterian Action for Faith and Freedom, commended the decision by the PPC board of directors to correct what he called a mistake by the editors. He said the image of Presbyterians was damaged when the book was released.

"I know that this book has hit the national and secular press so Presbyterians everywhere got painted with the same brush as Griffin," Berkley said. "I know that pastors have had people in their congregations say, 'What is going on with our denomination?'"

No one in my congregation has said that. When the right sings apparently all are supposed to dance. I commend the PPC for publishing the book and I am pleased they are still promoting and selling it. I do not commend them for "distancing themselves" from the book. The distancing has nothing to do with Griffin's scholarship, but everything to do with censorship.

Check out Berkley's blog entry, What's a Responsible Presbyterian to Do? Here is a paragraph:

Two times lately, the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) has released books that embarrass Presbyterians and propound theology in contradiction to our Reformed convictions: in July, Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11 by David Ray Griffin, and in November, Why Christianity Happened, by James G. Crossley. The publishing house’s board of directors actually repudiated Griffin’s 9/11 book, but kept right on selling it.

Thus, I’ve heard many people ask that if the PPC keeps acting in independent and harmful ways, why don’t we figure out a means to disassociate the PPC from the Presbyterian Church (USA)? “Why not cut the ties and end the embarrassment?” they wonder. That’s a good question, and it’s worth thoughtful consideration.
My concern is not with Berkley and the IRD trying to flex their muscles. My beef is the wimpishness of the PPC for giving in to these tactics. Why is it important not to give in to censorship? Because, once censors succeed, they keep at it. It isn't enough for Berkley and the right to try to stop the publishing of Griffin's book. He is after other books too.


He mentioned on his blog: Why Christianity Happened? by James G. Crossley also "embarrasses" Presbyterians. I haven't read that book yet. I guess I will buy it.

Berkley and his ilk will keep at it. We need to keep at it as well. Perhaps one strategy is to buy and promote every book Berkley wants to censor and to write a letter to the PPC thanking them for publishing solid, challenging scholarship. The right wants to control what you read based on their ideology. Don't let them get away with it.

21 comments:

Mystical Seeker said...

This battle by reactionaries against intellectual freedom are played out in many denominations. Since conservative theology is intellectually untenable, their best strategy remains one of suppressing dissenting, progressive views.

The Crossley book looks very interesting. I'll have to check it out.

Viola Larson said...

There is a difference between apples and oranges and undoubtedly Jim Berkley knows the difference. One would be surprised if the Simon Wiesenthal Center published or even recommended the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion; in the same manner one does not expect a Presbyterian publisher to recommend a book fraught with such an irresponsible conspiracy theory as that found in The Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11. Kenneth Godshall was not pressured into his remarks but was instead pressured into doing his home work! He should be commended for doing so.

Censorship is the act of demanding that certain books not be published at all by anyone. We would all be surprised if John Shuck recommended a book by John Stott, Thomas C. Oden, Alister E. McGrath, Marianne Meye Thompson, Edith Humphrey or Elizabeth Achtemeier. His friends might chastise him, and we would all understand why they complained. His recommendations would not “jive” with his theological and philosophical viewpoints. In the same manner orthodox, Reformed Christians expect publishers with the name Presbyterian to offer some integrity and to be biblical in their theological and philosophical viewpoint.

Viola Larson

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that you are an expert on censorship because you've practiced it regularly?

John Shuck said...

Seeker,

I agree. Thanks.

Chris,

Point well taken. By the way, how do you do those clever little tinyurl things? I haven't been able to figure that out when making comments.

Viola,

Welcome to my blog. I disagree with your assessment of Griffin's book. His book is not beyond critique, of course. Conspiracy theories are not by definition irresponsible. We may never know what really happened on 9/11 or we may. Griffin certainly did his homework. Discovering truth is about putting forth theories and debating them with the best tools available. Good scholarship requires evidence that able to be verified and falsified. Griffin provides that in his book. Godshall is clearly mistaken.

I also disagree that the Presbyterian Publishing House is limited to publishing books that fit into narrow ideological viewpoints.

Anonymous said...

I have read all of Dr. Griffin's 9/11 related books and found them engaging.

The horrors perpetrated by the cabal of socipathic mass murderers commonly known as "neocons" is well documented. 9/11 was mearly the opening number in a ever revealing blood bath.

Who would Jesus bomb?

Mystical Seeker said...

I found James Crossley's blog at . It is worth checking out.

John Shuck said...

Seeker,

Good find! Thank you for that. Crossley provides a good answer to Berkley (and Viola).

Jim said...

John,

Greetings in this new year.

I just wanted to remind you that you are a PASTOR, a spiritual leader for the people of God. I am, too.

That makes nastly little put-downs rather inappropriate, wouldn't you think? When you talk about me, you are talking about a brother in Christ, not some easily dismissable vermin. At what point did you lose your responsibility, affirmed at your ordination, to "be a friend among your colleagues in ministry"--at the point where it just wasn't as much fun as acting superior?

Now, if you want to spiritedly discuss IDEAS, let's have at it. DEMONSTRATE where my ideas are incorrect (don't just decree). SHOW your points through Scripture and reason (not just by political ideology). ARGUE your viewpoint with logic and skill (don't just call people names).

You really don't do yourself or your ideology any favor by showing contempt for my person. That's the classic ad hominem attack, the refuge of those without valid points to make. Your posting displays:

1) Catty envy ("why he gets so much press is beyond me.") I never realized I got much press. I'm just me, sitting at a keyboard, trying to write what makes sense and is honoring to Jesus Christ.

2) Disdainful language "Berkley and his ilk...." What, might I ask, is my ilk? Since "ilk" is nearly always used disparagingly, would you care to document charges against me instead of merely hinting at them obliquely? And did you learn the harsh skill of pastoral contempt in seminary or just bring the attitude with you into ministry?

3)Rhetorical overkill ("Berkley wants to censor...." How is it censorship to write an opinion that publishing a particular book was a foolish mistake? How is that even "flexing muscles"? It's known as dialogue or intellectual argumentation. Some wacko press could very well publish the off-kilter books. No censorship enters the picture. It's just that an official Presbyterian publishing house could use better sense. The board of directors actually said just about the same thing about their editors' lack of good judgment. Would you CENSOR my ability to voice such an opinion?

John, of course you and I will hold different opinions. The thing is that you could actually show a hint of TOLERANCE for my viewpoint and even for me as a person. All this warfare talk of left and right is fatuous. Let's talk instead about what glorifies God and what is useful for advancing the Kingdom of God.

But hold the personal contempt. That's not very liberal of you.

Sincerely,

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

John Shuck said...

Jim,

Welcome. Happy New Year.

The pot calls the kettle black. It doesn't take long to look over some of your blog posts in regards to contempt for one's person. "More Dor" for instance?

Excuse me, I think I am going to order that Crossley book now.
John

Jim said...

John,

How convenient for you! No responsibility on your part? No thoughtful answers?

Just shuck and jive (and dodge and ignore and change the subject) and hope no one notices?

Let's deal with the subject at hand first--the pastoral ethics of your offhandedly treating this fellow presbyter as dirt, and the silly assertions you made and can't back up.

Your response was the intellectual equivalent of a little kid replying, "Oh yeah? Well your mother is fat and ugly!" You didn't deal with the subject.

Seriously consider your unchristian dealing with me as a fellow pastor, and then I'd be happy to explain satire to you (the "More Dor" posting) and attend to your thoughts about my writing.

Jim Berkley

Anonymous said...

Jim,
I appreciated reading your response to Rev. Shuck. I've been following his posts in various blogs for about six months now. I too was astounded by his lack of Christian kindness or compassion. I feel certain that many people are noticing his shucking and jiving and dodging and ignoring.

I'll have to say that in all my years attending church I have never encountered a pastor with such a distasteful disposition. Fortunately most of the pastors and fellow Christians I encounter are cordial and caring, even when we disagree.

John Shuck said...

I will back up my assertions.

You wrote:

"I'm just me, sitting at a keyboard, trying to write what makes sense and is honoring to Jesus Christ."

Tell us a little about yourself. Who do you work for and what exactly is your job?

I know you work for the IRD http://www.ird-renew.org, but who is that really?

You are on staff, correct, for Presbyterian Action? There is also a UM Action, and a Episcopalian Action, right?

The masthead of IRD reads: "Reforming the Church's Social and Political Witness." So how is it that you do that? Blogging, writing articles, getting the media to interview you. How else?

"I'm just me, sitting at a keyboard, trying to write what makes sense and is honoring to Jesus Christ."

I would guess that success at your job would require change, right? Success at your job would require that policies be changed, that publishers refrain from publishing books that the IRD doesn't like. Right? You are good at your job, aren't you?

By checking on the link "IRD in the Media" (from the home page go down the left link) you will find several articles about the 9/11 book and many other success stories of how the IRD has exerted its influence ("flexed its muscle") if you will.

Don't play the "I'm a pastor and I am so hurt" game with me. You have a job to do promoting the ideology of the IRD.

This is hard ball politics. I confess, you do well at it.


Oh, and "anonymous" can't think of a name for yourself?

Viola Larson said...

John,
Here is a quote taken from the about section of the IRD web site:
"The Institute on Religion and Democracy is founded upon a recognition of the lordship of Christ over all of life. Our work is undergirded by biblical faith and fidelity to the ancient ecumenical creeds of the Church. We encourage greater unity among all Christians across denominational lines.

The IRD believes that the Christian tradition has great resources for the building of a just society. Among the basic teachings with profound political implications are these: God alone is sovereign and worthy of worship. All persons are created in the image of God. Endowed with inalienable rights, persons have the responsibility to love their neighbors. A church that faithfully proclaims and demonstrates these teachings will do much to sustain and spread democracy.

The IRD makes a further judgment that Western representative democracy is, on balance, a good worthy of advancing. Among political systems of our time, democracy holds the most promise for a relatively just ordering of society. It best provides the freedom for the Church to carry out its mission. We are convinced that the Church best serves democracy by simply being the Church, true to its own calling in Christ."

This would seem to be IRD's ideology. What part of that is wrong?
Additionally, let me say I have written a great deal on the ultra-conservative racist groups in this country, both those who consider themselves Christian, "Christian Identity," and some who are pagan, mostly, "Odinists or Ásatrú" groups. All of them adhere to conspiracy theorys on all kinds of subjects including the Jews and the presidents of the United States. This tends to erase the need for the biblical truth that we are all sinners, instead there develops an enemies list such as you seem to be making. It seems that Jim Berkley has made it to the top of your list which is a shame since he is a brother in Christ who although you need not agree with him you ought to back off from insulting.

I do have an article on conspiracy theories and Christians on my web site which although not completely relevant I think would be helpful. It is at http://www.naminggrace.org/id25.htm. I believe that when humanity starts off with false assumtions they begin a fall that can end up in some very messy places.

Jim said...

John,

Here's where you display your "theology" for all to see: "This is hard ball politics."

No. This is the CHURCH. Your assumption that it is politics, and your insistence that it be played like the nastiest of political battles is EXACTLY why you feel free to act like persons and pastoral responsibilities and ordination vows don't really matter. What seems to matter to you is to score power plays that result in POLITICAL wins.

"Forget the Christian niceties, the Fruit of the Spirit, and professional courtesy or even ethics," you seem to be saying. "Just defame and slander and slash and burn." THAT'S the heart of the problem!

Now, step back and forget the "this is hardball politics" baloney. Consider that this is the church of God in which we are trying to MINISTER.

Cut the McCarthyesque inquisition: "Aha! You're a fellow traveler with EVANGELICALS! You associate with people who take the BIBLE seriously. You have been seen with (gasp!) CONSERVATIVE Christians." And let's deal colleague-to-colleague.

There's nothing hidden about me. Go to the IRD website (www.ird-renew.org) and you'll find a very public and straightforward description of the organization I serve as Director of Presbyterian Action. The Presbytery of Seattle VALIDATED this renewal MINISTRY of mine.

I serve a Christian organization; you serve a Christian organization. Your organization is a parish, and it's a noble calling. I've spent 27 years in parish pastorates, too. I now serve a national organization, dedicated to preserving a biblical, constitutional, and Reformed focus on social witness--the "cultural mandate" that complements the "evangelistic mandate" given to the Church and Christians.

You and I differ rather markedly on what we'd like to see our denomination do. We have different theologies of the church, of biblical authority, and so on. You have every right to seek to influence the direction of our denomination through reasoned dialogue. You can write informatively and persuasively, hoping to move people's hearts and minds.

And so, reciprocally, can I! In fact, in a LIBERAL democracy and in a fair and open church, such dialogue is ENCOURAGED, not despised and held forth as shady, as you seem to do.

But you seem to have bought into a mindless equation: IRD = unmitigated evil. Thus, to you, it is self-evidently damning that my ministry is with IRD. Jim Berkley works for IRD; therefore Jim Berkley MUST be evil and can be treated with any amount of scorn and derision.

That's a POLITICAL decision on your part, based on your POLITICAL IDEOLOGY. That's not a CHRISTIAN decision, based on your PASTORAL RESPONSIBILITY. And that's simply not right.

I would honor your decision to admit that, rather than shuck and jive and deflect blame (and deal coldly with "Anonymous," who wrote reasonably, only to be given the back of your careless hand).

You didn't DEMONSTRATE ANYTHING about my IDEAS. You decided, instead, to insinuate motives to my ministry. But nevertheless, I'm happy to answer your questions:

I head up the work of the renewal group Presbyterian Action for Faith and Freedom (http://www.ird-renew.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=308887). Go to the link. It's all there. We do what we say we do.

When I'm not traveling to cover events, it IS basically "just me, sitting at a keyboard, trying to write what makes sense and is honoring to Jesus Christ."

Yes, IRD is ecumenical. We have other directors like me, serving within their denominations in Methodist Action and in Anglican Action.

I do blog (http://jimberkley.blogspot.com/). I write articles (see the IRD website). I travel to events and write news and commentaries. I shine light into some dark places. I minister collegially alongside other renewal group leaders. With the nation as my parish, clear, reasonable, useful, theologically sound COMMUNICATION is my main responsibility.

When the media calls, I answer my phone and talk with them. If I prove a responsible source, they call back, and they have.

My ministry is "successful" if good and decent results occur. Theologically conservative Presbyterians are a large plurality (isn't it about 40%?) but unequally represented in Presbyterian decision-making bodies. Theologically liberal Presbyterians are a definite minority (I think around 18%) but have found their way into most of the decision-making positions. I am "successful" if an orthodox, evangelical, biblical, constitutional, and theologically conservative case is heard, made, and sustained in a decision. Thus, I try to get such information before those who make decisions.

Conscientiously providing balancing information is not "flexing muscles." One flexes muscles if one has power. Presbyterian Action has no power! We would love by the dint of solid and faithful reasoning, however, to exercise influence--to help decision makers make the most God-honoring decisions.

But we can't vote. We don't control any votes. We can't introduce overtures. We don't get placed in positions of responsibility. All we have is the marketplace of ideas, and we believe that reason, fairness, and sensibility, combined with sound theology, will win the day in a fair contest.

No, "success" for me wouldn't be "that publishers refrain from publishing books that the IRD doesn't like." It would be that publishers refrain from publishing books that make Presbyterians look foolish, books that drive good people out of Presbyterian churches in frustration, that dishonor God and lead people astray.

People support Presbyterian Action because they believe we can help them have a voice and make a difference. They despair about the state of the PCUSA and deeply desire to correct its course. It's grassroots democracy at work--people banding together to make a difference. Yes, they would like me to write so compellingly that others see the light and change their mind and ways. There's nothing particularly sinister about that!

I'm not playing any "I'm a pastor and I'm so hurt" game. I AM a pastor, and I AM appalled at your lack of collegial courtesy. You're displaying all the delicate pastoral diplomacy of Attila the Hun!

Please desist from the "This is hardball politics" attitude and come back to the Body of Christ. This is the CHURCH and we have a sacred responsibility to act as if we believe it.

I think there's a larger, kinder, fairer John Shuck--the nice pastor greeting his flock at the church door in the photo, for instance. Keyboards can make us all callous, crass, and cranky so very easily. How about pulling back and dealing with me as you would a fellow presbyter over a cup of coffee?

Sincerely,

Jim Berkley

John Shuck said...

Jim,

I just posted an article and after posting read your latest comment. On the post I apologized to you. I apologize to you again here for my un-Christian tone. Please accept my apology.

John Shuck

Jim said...

John,

Thank you. Your apology is fully accepted.

Jim Berkley

Bobby said...

Jim, from reading these posts I respectfully think you should do more than accept John’s apology; you could stand to apologize for your unkind rhetoric as well.

John Shuck said...

Jim,

In calmer tones with not rhetoric, please check out my question to you (comment #11) on the next post. This is an opportunity for you to set facts straight.

Bobby said...

Back on subject, it still looks to me like Jim Berkeley is engaged in censorship, his denials notwithstanding. Pressuring the PPC to cease publication of a book with veiled threats of severing ties from the Presbyterian Church (USA) is censorious activity, beyond merely giving a negative review of the book.

Jim, you said your measure of success is to have publishers “refrain from publishing books that make Presbyterians look foolish, books that drive good people out of Presbyterian churches in frustration that dishonor God and lead people astray.” By setting this goal and assuming this kind of judgmental role concerning what should be published, you have designated yourself a censor on behalf of us all. A great many censors have the best intentions at heart but that doesn’t change what they are doing.

Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines the censor as: “one who lacking official sanction but acting ostensibly on society’s interests scrutinizes communications, compositions and entertainments to discover anything immoral, profane, seditious, heretical or otherwise offensive.”

Jim said...

Bobby,

To be engaged in censorship means that one is in authority and can actually make the decisions that would ban a book. I can construct a wonderful case why PPC ought not to have published a book in the first place, or why if even the PPC board determines that it is ill-advised and not up to their standards, how they OUGHT to have the integrity to not promote it as something worth buying, and could quietly remove it from their book list. But I cannot CAUSE that to happen, which a censor could. I cannot PERFORM censorship.

I can reason with people. And what's so wrong with that, so dangerous that you must come down in such a, uh, censorious way about my very ideas?

In wanting noble and wise books to be printed by the OFFICIAL press of the PCUSA and in making a case for what that would be, what boundary am I overstepping? None. Yes, you do believe differently than me. Fine. Make your case. But don't cast aspersions on me for doing what you or anyone else can and maybe should do.

That's all I ask. You don't have to agree with me. I'd be overjoyed if you eventually did come around, but I'm not holding my breath. Simply display that great liberal virtue of tolerance, that says, "I may not agree with you, but you have every right to say what you think."

And one more thing. If by "censor" you mean what that description from Webster defines, I'll wear the label gladly. Good parents, good citizens, good businesspeople, and especially good pastors do that all the time. They would be negligent if they didn't "censor" thoughts and actions and messages all the time--primarily their own!

Does a preacher skip the sermon and show porn films on Sunday morning in church? Probably not, because, acting "on society’s interests. she "scrutinizes communications, compositions and entertainments to discover anything immoral, profane, seditious, heretical or otherwise offensive.”

If the PPC were to consider publishing a book by skinheads on how to identify, bully, beat up, and terrorize "sissies," I'd be offended. It would be a travesty to put the Presbyterian name on such evil trash. I would guess that you'd join me in that judgment. Oops! That would make you a censor!

Everyone draws the line somewhere. If PPC were selling snuff-porn literature, would you say, "I just LOVE it that we're a church that gives a voice to snuff porn! What a GREAT publishing house we have!" You'd draw the line well before something like that, I would guess.

So now I think I've established that we're ALL censors, to whatever extent. You're not really objecting to the thought that I'm a CENSOR; you simply disagree about the matter that I think offensive, compared to what YOU think is offensive. That's the real rub.

So, is it all right after all for me to have and speak and make a logical case for my opinion, just as it is all right for you to do the same? I sure hope so, or "progressive" has looped all the way around into "facist" territory. You sound like a decent, reasonable person. I don't think you'd really want it to go there.

Am I making any sense?

Bobby, please don't take candor and enthusiasm for a subject as anger on my part. There's not an edge intended in all this writing. I intend, rather, "education." I'd like to get some logical, true, earnest ideas across. Thanks for responding.

Have a blessed day of worship!

Jim Berkley

Bobby said...

Thanks Jim; in some ways you’re still splitting hairs; you claim you’re not engaged in censorship because the book hasn’t been successfully censored yet. Nevertheless, that is a goal you have, so it is censorious activity. I could run in a local bookstore or library and demand they pull all copies of the book off the shelf; they might not comply, but it would be censorious activity on my part. If the PPC published the book you mentioned on skinheads, I would certainly not buy it, as I imagine no one would. The marketplace would likely take care of it for us, without the need for censorship; it would probably sell about 2 copies and be a financial disaster for the publisher, and we wouldn’t have to start down the slippery slope.

Finally, I unconditionally endorse your right to have and speak and make a logical case for your opinion, and I never said otherwise. This is what bugs me about some of your posts; you make some unkind assumptions about people here, like that one, which came from left field, or maybe right field in your case. Suddenly I’m on the defensive about allowing you your opinion. I’m just discussing the issue at hand, no more and no less. It would be very “progressive” of you to just assume we grant you your right to your opinions, which are well reasoned and thoughtful, though we may disagree on a lot of it. It is your opinions, though, in which the slow march to fascism proceeds, not mine (and you also leveled the fascism charge first, not me).

I’m not trying to be hostile, but I’m gathering from your recent posts you didn’t understand my requests for an apology. Rev. Shuck apologized to you for going a little over the top in his initial post, and you demanded it from him, but you are guilty of every rhetorical violation you accused him of. I’m sorry, but it is hypocritical to demand virtue and friendliness from one party and not hold yourself to the same standard. I see your tone has softened though, and I appreciate your coming over and talking to us, it has been an overall enjoyable and enlightening blog. I think part of what I reacted to is simply your aggressive writing style; if you look over your initial response to Rev. Shuck perhaps you’ll see what I mean. If not, thanks for the discussion; peace to you sir.