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Lee Siu hin
Herbert P. Bix
Eleanor J. Bader
William e. Alberts
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T he Barna Research Group (BRG), a 20-year-old Southern California-based market research company “dedicated to assisting God’s people to do the work of the Kingdom,” has come upon some disturbing data, at least for evangelicals. To wit, although 41 percent of U.S. citizens self-identify as born-again Christians, only 47 percent believe that Jesus lived a sin-free life, and only 28 percent feel the need to recruit others to their faith. Worse, only 6 percent of born-again teens believe moral truth to be absolute; the rest believe circumstances influence behavior and waiver about the need for rigid dos and don’ts.
For the CEO of Barna Research Group, George Barna, and other evangelicals, these findings constitute a crisis. Indeed, they argue that calling oneself born-again is meaningless if individual adherents are allowed to interpret scriptural invectives themselves. Instead, they contend that born-again Christians must be united by fixed precepts: among them, that the Bible is the completely accurate word of God; that Satan is a living thing; and that salvation happens by grace alone.
But how do you drill this into the heads of the millions of self-styled born-agains who are less dogmatic?
Enter Thomas Nelson, Inc., the number one book publisher in the Christian buyer’s market. While Nelson peddles goods to every consumer group—pre-schoolers to retirees—teenagers are of particular interest to the Nashville firm and staff continually develop new products to entice them. Barna’s web- site offers insight into this demographic: “Teens have been among the most spiritually interested individuals in the nation for more than a decade…Their perspectives on truth, integrity, meaning, justice, morality and ethics are formed quite early in life.”
The question is how best to win them over—and the disposable cash they carry.
Finding an answer prompted Nelson to team up with youth pastors, Christian writers, teens, and graphic designers from Studio Four5One, an award-winning Dublin firm responsible for creating album covers for U2, Sting, Depeche Mode, and Elvis Costello. The result of their collaboration was Revolve: The Complete New Testament . A glossy, fashion-magazine look-alike, Revolve wrapped an easy-to-read version of the New Testament—“Matthew” to “Revelations”—with messages about dating (“God made guys to be the leaders. This means that they lead in relationships”); sex (“sex is a beautiful gift that God has given married people. To wonder is ok…but to fantasize about it, to think about doing it, is sinful.”); homosexuality (“the Bible clearly says that homosexuality is wrong”); and a panoply of social issues, from AIDS to eating disorders to sexual violence. Thanks to stock photos, an array of beautiful young women of every hue make Revolve an appealing—if often appalling—read.
Not surprisingly, Christians and curious others gobbled it up: 300,000 copies of Revolve have been sold since its July release. Nelson reports that it was the best-selling Bible of 2003, available not only in Christian bookstores, but in Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, and other mainstream venues. According to Nelson publicist, Marika Flatt, “Nearly everyone who got their hands on Revolve, including the New York Times Magazine and NBC’s “Today Show,” asked, ‘Will there be a guy’s version?’”
The answer was a resounding, “Yes.” Refuel was released in April and is being marketed to males ages 12-22. Like Revolve , it inserts advice on dating, sex, divorce, social activism, pornography, getting to heaven, hygiene, and becoming a missionary between Scriptural passages. As visually stunning as its predecessor, Refuel is a hefty 390 pages and urges readers to be “radical about their faith,” and not simply one-hour- a-week Christians.
Some of its offerings are what you would expect from an evangelical publication:
- “Whenever you hear Christians say, ‘Don’t date or marry someone who isn’t a believer’…. The words actually picture two animals of different breeds lashed together, yanking each other to plow in different directions. That’s what happens when you let a non-Christian friend rule you. To be a well-matched guy-girl couple or even really tight same-sex friends, you’ve got to be going in the same direction. Or you get your heads ripped off.”
- “If you give yourself to someone before marriage, you break God’s command. But you’re also setting yourself up to get shredded.”
- “The Bible doesn’t specifically address masturbation. But can it be separated from lust? The Bible forbids that, doesn’t it? And besides, getting that kind of solo physical release is unhelpful because it trains you to be selfish about your sexuality.”
While Refuel urges readers to “protect girls,” it also admonishes them to iron their clothes, use deodorant, shower, floss their teeth, and clean their bedrooms. What’s more, it reminds them “there are over 2,300 verses in Scripture that command us to take care of the poor, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked.” Organizations—many of them secular—where one can volunteer or intern are listed; a “Travel the Road” section offers information on both long- and short-term missionary opportunities for those with a yen to proselytize.
Refuel doesn’t mince words: according to the “Bible-zine’s” introduction, “The Bible is about radical devotion and revolutionary people.
“It is a book that God breathed into the hearts and minds of people who were grappling with life and rising to the challenge of faith in the extreme.
“These stories were written by and about dreamers and risk-takers…. Because God inspired them, they are 100 percent accurate and reliable…. Jesus was all-the-way man and all-the-way God. He was the truest revolutionary of all time.”
Them’s fighting words and their intent is to up the number of folks whose evangelical fervor matches that of George Barna and associates. Teens—developmentally open to a wide range of ideological extremes—are a logical group to court. But Thomas Nelson is casting a wider net. Another “Bible-zine,” Becoming , intended for adult women who might otherwise prowl the self-help aisle, will hit bookstores in July.
Eleanor J. Bader, a freelance writer and teacher, is the co-author of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.