By Bob Allen
Six months after a controversy over its decision to publish Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, the publisher of authors including John Piper, Bill Gothard and David Platt has announced organizational changes increasing distance between its conservative Christian customer base and a more liberal-leaning imprint formed in 2012.
The Crown Publishing Group, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, announced Nov. 4 that Steve Cobb, president and publisher of WaterBrook Multnomah, will retire in March 15 after 19 years with the evangelical division launched in 1996.
Cobb also heads Convergent Books, a religion imprint of Crown “for a broad range of Christians who are drawn to an open, inclusive and culturally engaged exploration of faith” announced in November 2012.
That became an issue for some Multnomah authors and customers with the April 22 release of Vines’ book arguing the case that the church’s traditional opposition to homosexuality is based on a misreading of the Bible.
A Christian Post opinion headline labeled it “a shameful day in evangelical Christian publishing.” A World Magazine headline asked “Can a divided publishing house stand?” with a subhead “A Christian publishing group goes from Desiring God to questioning God’s Word.”
Matt Barber, founder and editor-in-chief of BarbWire.com, accused WaterBrook Multnomah of deception for promoting Convergent as a sister imprint under the parent company Random House.
“In truth, it appears that WaterBrook Multnomah and Convergent are effectively one and the same — same head, same staff, same offices, same printers and even the same ink,” Barber wrote April 16. “Only the name has been changed to protect the guilty.”
WaterBrook Multnomah withdrew under pressure from the National Religious Broadcasters in May. Jerry Johnson, a former Criswell College president who was hired as NRB president last October, said the issue boiled down to a member of the organization “producing unbiblical material, regardless of the label under which they do it.”
Multnomah author Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Christianity Today he believed the company “is in serious danger of crashing its brand in terms of evangelical trust.”
Baptist Press published a story in July about the future of the Christian publishing entity subtitled, “Will profit trump traditional orthodoxy?”
“Publishing houses are going to have to wrestle with what their starting point is,” Selma Wilson, vice president of the B&H Publishing Group at LifeWay Christian Resources, told the Southern Baptist Convention news service. “If your starting point is to make money or your starting point is to be a New York Times bestseller, you’re going to do different things.”
Convergent Books responded April 16 with an article written by Cobb titled, “Why Publish God and the Gay Christian?”
“We can agree that the cultural battle over same-sex relationships and the Christian church is one of the defining issues of this generation,” Cobb explained. “Convergent Books is publishing God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines because we believe it offers a thoughtful examination of Scripture on the topic of same-sex relationships from a bold, young, evangelical writer whose first calling is to promote a civil, loving and biblically based conversation on the subject.”
In addition to Cobb’s impending retirement, Tina Constable, senior vice president for Christian publishing at the Crown Publishing Group, announced that Alexander Field, presently publisher of trade books and multi-media for Christian publisher David C. Cook, will become vice president and publisher at WaterBrook Multnomah in December.
Convergent Books will move from Colorado Springs to offices in New York City. It will be led by David Copp, currently executive editor for religion imprints at Crown Publishing Group/Random House Inc., in a new role of vice president and executive editor of Convergent Books.
“We are at a transformative moment in the life of the Crown Publishing Group’s religious publishing program,” Constable said. “With our WaterBrook Press, Multnomah Books, Convergent Books and Image imprints, ours is the only such program in trade publishing with dedicated imprints to serve every major Christian tradition.”
“Religious publishing is a core business for us — and one that we are strongly invested in growing — by building upon the firm foundation established under Steve,” she said.