More on Publishing--A Cautionary Tale

Before he left, Frank posted this piece, which made some pointed arguments concerning the responsibilities of publishers. Among them was this: "Publishing books is a form of teaching. In exactly the same way that a University tacitly promulgates what its faculty teaches as truth, a Publisher is tacitly promulgating what it prints and distributes as truth."

I happen to agree with that statement, but I wonder if publishers do.

Consider this real-life example, brought to us courtesy of today's Wall Street Journal. Just in time for the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a publishing house under the auspices of the PCUSA has published a book that claims that the U.S. government orchestrated the WTC bombings to help secure a global empire.

Here are some questions.

First: does the author, David Griffin, have a right to be heard? Well, the First Amendment says he does.

Second: does Presbyterian Publishing Corp. have an obligation to publish him? If you're Henry, perhaps you think that it does. But unlike the Blogosphere, in the publishing world, just because you've written something doesn't mean it is entitled to be printed.

Third: why would a publishing house knowingly publish something that, in the words of the moderator of their own general assembly, is "too over the top to be taken seriously"? Apparently, we're not alone in asking this question, as the front page has a link that answers that very question.

Here's where the red flags go up. Did you notice the word "conversation?"

As I said before, this is not the Blogosphere, and not everything that is written automatically gets a approval with the push of the "publish" button. So what qualifies this book to achieve dead-tree status?

Professor Griffin’s thorough research and intellectually rigorous arguments have persuaded us that this book should have a place in that conversation, regardless of the conclusions readers come to accept.

Maybe it's just me, but this sounds like academic-speak for "whether this is actually true or not is immaterial--you need to think about it."

Want more? Here is the statement of the rationale for publishing the book from the President & Publisher of PPC, Davis Perkins.

The claims David Ray Griffin makes in Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11 will not be universally accepted by his readers, but the arguments supporting those claims merit careful consideration by serious-minded Christians and Americans concerned with truth and the meaning of their faith. Professor Griffin employs established principles of intellectual argument in a book with 192 pages of carefully researched text and 49 pages of extensive scholarly notes. This book is not an off-the-wall polemic but rather a considered work that deserves to have a place in the public forum of discourse about Christian faith and U.S. policy.

The mission statement of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation calls for us to publish “resources that advance religious scholarship, stimulate conversation about moral values, and inspire faithful living.” We believe that Griffin’s book fulfills all three of these aims and accordingly that publication of Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11 was a responsible act on our part. We sincerely hope publication of this book will challenge American Christians on both ends of the spectrum–and in the middle!–to see beyond their respective ideological impulses and provoke discussion on substantive issues about faithful citizenship in this country.

In other words, the ends justifies the means. The "end" of provoking a "discussion on substantive issues about faithful citizenship in this country," justifies the "means," which is publishing a book whether or not the claims will be convincing or are even true.

That, friends, is frightening, though perhaps not so suprising. Most organizations experience mission drift, and that drift inevitably seems to be a liberal one. When your starting point is the rejection of many or most of the core doctrines of Christianity (such as the PCUSA has), is it really that much of a stretch to get here from there?

In closing, let me take this opportunity to sound a cautionary note, particularly to those of you in the Emerging Church: this is exactly what happens when you value the conversation over the truth.