Shuck and Jive

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.