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NEWS STORY: Magazine censured by evangelical group over Bible translation stories

c. 1997 Religion News Service (RNS) The ethics committee of the Evangelical Press Association has found that World magazine, an independent conservative journal, has fallen”seriously short”of abiding by the organization’s code of ethics in its reporting of a controversy concerning Bible translation. The three-member committee’s report followed an investigation triggered by complaints from Zondervan Publishing […]

c. 1997 Religion News Service

(RNS) The ethics committee of the Evangelical Press Association has found that World magazine, an independent conservative journal, has fallen”seriously short”of abiding by the organization’s code of ethics in its reporting of a controversy concerning Bible translation.

The three-member committee’s report followed an investigation triggered by complaints from Zondervan Publishing Company and the International Bible Society. The complaints revolved around articles in the magazine’s March 29 and April 19 issues titled”Femme Fatale”and”Battle for the Bible.” In the articles, World reported that plans for what it called a”unisex-language”edition of the most popular Bible translation in the United States were being fueled by a feminist agenda.

As a result of a firestorm of protests from conservative evangelicals, the Colorado Springs-based Bible society announced May 27 it was canceling plans for a proposed New International Version (NIV) that would substitute gender-neutral words, such as people, for gender-specific words, such as mankind.

The EPA ethics committee found the two articles were”written in sincerity”but were distorted and sensational. World was particularly criticized for not contacting Zondervan Publishing House, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based publisher of the NIV Bible, for comment.”This committee believes that World’s prominent linking of Zondervan Publishing House and a `feminist seduction,’ in view of World’s failure to contact Zondervan for comment or explanation, is inexcusable,”said the report, dated July 1.

The committee also found that World did not protect Zondervan’s reputation.”Instead, its (Worlds’) articles engage in a set-up job: They draw spurious connections between feminism and Zondervan, the International Bible Society, and the Committee on Bible Translation, and then leap to a discussion on women’s roles in churches,”the committee stated.”World seriously maligns the reputations of Zondervan, the IBS, and the CBT.” The Committee on Bible Translation is a group of scholars in charge of the NIV translation. The copyright to the NIV is held by the IBS.

The ethics committee concluded its report by recommending the magazine publish a”full account, with equal prominence”the positions of Zondervan and the International Bible Society.

In addition to the three-page report, one member of the ad hoc committee wrote an addendum with additional concerns.

Wesley Pippert, director of the Washington program of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, wrote that he agrees”in general”with the ethics committee’s findings, but was concerned about the magazine’s First Amendment rights.”Even though slashing journalism has never been my professional style, I am wary of doing anything that would abridge any journalist’s (including members of the Evangelical Press Association) fundamental right to engage in this,”he said.”If the EPA is going to require balanced stories by its members, what will happen when a non-Christian group, such as Hindu or Buddhist or perhaps Unitarian, demands that an EPA member publish a balanced story complete with its non-Christian views?” Pippert’s comments will be considered as part of the committee’s report by EPA’s board. The board is scheduled to meet next on Oct. 18, but new EPA president David Neff, executive editor of Christianity Today magazine, said the issues could be considered sooner by conference call.

World publisher Joel Belz, who just completed a two-year term as EPA president, said he was”stunned”by the committee’s findings.

Belz said the committee”never talked to anyone from World magazine”before issuing its report.”I think it’s important for readers to remember that this is not a statement of the Evangelical Press Association,”said Belz.”It’s a recommendation to its board from an ad hoc committee. As such, it has no weight until EPA processes it.” Belz said only the first of the two stories investigated by the committee did not include a Zondervan response, and that was because the publisher was not a focus of the article.”The story was about translation,”he said.”It was not about marketing and production. … There were four minimal references to Zondervan in that first story and we stand by all four of those minimal references.” He pointed out that the second story included a sidebar labeled”Zondervan’s View”with four paragraphs of comments from Jonathan Petersen, Zondervan’s director of corporate affairs.

While Belz continues to believe his magazine’s articles were true and the cancellation of the plans for the NIV edition prove it, Petersen says the plans were disrupted because of World’s misinformation.

Petersen also said the sidebar Belz referred to was not sufficient for fair reporting.”Four paragraphs as opposed to the number of pages that have been committed to this in World _ I think some people could see that as being an inequity,”Petersen said.

Zondervan and IBS officials were pleased with the committee’s report.”We are satisfied with the findings of the committee and we trust that World magazine will listen to its peers concerning the matter,”Petersen said.

Said Dean Merrill, vice president and publisher of IBS:”I think the committee has done a very thorough and helpful job in looking at this whole complicated situation and for many people who have wondered what’s really going on, this will shed light on the subject.”

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