January 27, 2005,
Rolling Stone has seen the light. After rejecting an ad for a new translation of the Bible aimed at young people, the magazine has realized the error of its ways. The ad for Zondervan's Today's New International Version of the Scriptures, which the publication had turned away only a couple of weeks ago, is now slated to run in a mid-February issue.
In a way it's almost funny, that Rolling Stone, which has published countless covers of practically naked pop tarts Gwen Stefani in her bra is on the current issue ruled the low-key ad which declares the Bible "makes more sense than ever" as "unacceptable. " Why? Because of, according to Kent Brownbridge, the general manager of Wenner Media, "the spiritual message in the text." He said that the magazine "was not in the business of advertising for religious messages."
Zondervan, the nation's largest publisher of Bibles, has aimed this translation which it describes as "Timeless truth: Today's language" specifically at readers in their teens and twenties. It is also advertising Today's New International Version (TNIV) in The Onion, Modern Bride, and on mtv.com.
When Rolling Stone first refused the ad, Zondervan officials offered to change the text but were rebuffed. Then Christian and conservative talk-show hosts got into the fray.
On Tuesday Rolling Stone backed down and agreed to run the ad without any changes. According to Lisa Dallos, a spokeswoman for the publisher the company had "addressed the internal miscommunications that led to the previous misstatement of company policy and apologizes for any confusion it may have caused." That's corporate speak for total capitulation. Holy Rollers: 1, Rock and Rollers : 0.
But then mass media magazines and television are incredibly uncomfortable about religion. Even though editors and producers know the facts that 90 percent of Americans believe in God, and that 74 percent say their faith and only their faith gives them the most elusive of modern grails, a sense of inner piece.
Yet only a tiny handful of TV shows ever mention religion or make it a plot point. Sitcoms and dramas are so up-to-the-minute about every other happening in American life that the most popular shows are "based on a true event" or "ripped from the headlines." Except about religion. Unless, of course, it's about a child-molesting priest or a born-again who goes bad and takes out the Sunday choir with him. Even when Joy Behar on The View said "Thank you, Jesus" on the last day of one of her many diets, the politically correct ABC censor deleted her words before re-broadcasting her show. Oh, TV, of little faith.
Magazines are no different. And not because talking about religion might bother the readers. I once tested a magazine called Women's Faith and Spirit and readers reacted very positively. But when I described the magazine, which was to be aimed at devout women, to a marketing team from Proctor & Gamble, they became closemouthed and uncomfortable. " Religion," they said, ignoring that this is a deeply religious country, "is so exclusionary." And recently when a women's magazine with a high proportion of red-state readers published a religion-focused Christmas issue the New York based advertisers were made very uncomfortable. Hey, let's keep Christ out of Christmas.
Still women's magazines know that more than two thirds of women pray each day so they tend to promote "spirituality" which is warm, soft, fuzzy, and "me-centered, " rather than religion, which is definitely not. Shot with a soft-focus lens, spirituality in women's media has morphed into another method of stress reduction. Lulling and inoffensive, spirituality is more about taking long walks and buying $65 Jo Malone scented candles than making ethical decisions or moral judgments. It's another way to calm ourselves, refresh ourselves, or applaud ourselves. As a Catholic girl friend of mine has said choosing between Origins Fretnot tangerine bath bars or L'Occitane lavender bath salts is just not the same thing as going to confession.
I doubt if the flap over the Bible ad has put Rolling Stone on the path of righteousness. But then God's messengers work in mysterious ways. Nowadays nothing gets attention like controversy. And because of the publicity, the demand for the TNIV has accelerated, Zondervan is shipping it into stores ahead of schedule. Yes, we all love old time rock'n'roll but let's never underestimate the power of old-time religion.