Sunday, January 27, 2008
Even before the 2004 elections or the launch of Narnia film franchise, there was so-called joining of sacred and secular in a marketing campaign which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with books, movies or political candidates. It was the 2002 “Chevrolet Presents: Come Together and Worship” concert/speaking tour sponsored by General Motors and featuring a number of leading CCM artists and Max Lucado, a popular preacher and author. Chevrolet and General Motors hoped to get some sales mileage out of that tour, although their hopes were somewhat dashed. But the secular business world became fascinated by the success of Mel Gibson, Disney and Rick Warren in marketing their products via evangelical churches. Secular corporations also wanted a piece of that pie.
Thus in 2007, Chrysler launched the introduction of a new luxury SUV model by sponsoring a Patti LaBelle gospel music tour through fourteen black American megachurches. Megachurches in particular have begun to attract the interest of a growing number of secular corporations and service providers, who now regularly consult seminary professors and church researchers to devise marketing strategies most likely to succeed in a church setting. For instance, a financial planner looking for more clients consulted Greg Stielstra, Vice President for Marketing of the Christian Trade Group of Thomas Nelson Publishers. Stielstra told the planner that the number one reason for marital discord is finances, and that church-going couples experiencing such trouble first consult their pastors. He put the planner in touch with a number of local pastors, who now refer many of their church members to this financial planner. There are many examples of such “networking” nowadays.
And now I must confess a certain problem which I believe to have an actual medical basis, namely, that it's hard for me to handle cheese. When I was a kid, I could drink milk, though I didn't like it all that much, and over time I lost my ability to digest anything other than yogurt. But I was really turned off by cheese. My parents believed that my dislike of cheese was some sort of finicky childishness, and eventually I also came to believe that this was true. Yet as an adult, there were times when, if I walked into a room in which a strongly-flavored cheese dish was being cooked, I would start feeling nauseous. Even now, certain strong cheese smells can make me feel like I'm about to hurl.
The money-driven cheesiness of the modern church experience is a cause for nausea. Just writing about all of this makes me want to hurl. I remember times during my search for a “healthy church” in which I would hear the pastor or presiding elder of some big modern church exhorting his audience to “Buy Book X, because we really want to support that kind of book, and it can be used as a witnessing tool!” This was also done to us when the Passion movie came out. And one time I heard a pastor hawking his youth minister's new worship CD, saying something like, “Folks, you have a wonderful opportunity to hear Justin's great heart for worship! You'll be blessed by his passionate lyrics,” etc. But has it really come to this, that now in 2008, the secular marketers whom I spend so much time and energy avoiding are waiting at church to shake me down the moment I set foot inside?
And what does this say about the sort of things one can expect to hear from the pulpit? Some people still go to church in the expectation that they will meet someone who is willing to tell them the truth. When the church and the pulpit become simply another organ of secular corporate big business, that expectation vanishes and the church becomes yet another expression of cheesy corporate commercialism.
Commercialism defines the culture of American evangelicalism. Commercialism is the antithesis of truth-telling, because truth-telling involves risks. Telling the truth does not always lead to increased sales of things. Truth-tellers are frequently unpopular. Commercialism, on the other hand, emphasizes the quarterly report and the bottom line, and its tendency is to stick with “what sells,” with proven formulas for commercial success. The Christian faith has been known historically for its martyrs, for its unpopular, Scriptural, risk-taking, “Thus says the LORD” truth-tellers who more than once “turned the inhabited earth upside down.” The faith of today's evangelicalism is quite tame in comparison. To be sure, we have our CCM praise/rock/metal/hip hop bands, our action movies and our books. But they are all so commercial, so identical, so formulaic, so insincere. They are paycheck efforts.
Let me illustrate by playing movie critic for a moment and analyzing three movies I saw within the last three years, namely, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Sixth Sense (yes, I saw it for the very first time in 2006), and Osama. All three movies have similarities. Two of the movies are about people facing situations beyond the physically normal, movies which require an audience to suspend disbelief for a while and buy into the movie's premise. Children are the main focus in all three movies. And two of the movies were risk-taking works of art. The Sixth Sense was M. Night Shyamalan's first blockbuster. During the making of the movie, however, he was an unknown, and the studio which backed him took a risk. Shyamalan did his best to craft a ghost story which, while frightening, was also a multi-layered statement about life. The acting, moreover, was superb. Shyamalan and his cast showed that it is possible to tell a gripping, thought-provoking story with a small cast, ordinary settings and few special effects. I do not believe in ghosts, nor do I share Shyamalan's views on life. But he was able to draw me into his world through that movie.
Osama was every bit as powerful as The Sixth Sense. It had no ghosts, unless one counted the ghosts who haunted the face of the young actress, Marina Golbahari, who played the title role. In that role, it seemed as if she was more than acting, as if she was actually re-living in vivid flashbacks the horrors of surviving under an extremist religious government. It was twice a risk-taking venture – first, because it was not destined to be a moneymaker, and second, because those who made that movie risked their lives to make it.
The impression I got from the Lion, Witch, & Wardrobe, on the other hand, was that this was a movie that was made solely to collect money from evangelicals. The story was subtly twisted away from C.S. Lewis's original version in that the focus was no longer on Aslan entirely, but rather on Peter's evolution into a king. Aslan as Divine allegory was de-emphasized, and became instead, Aslan as interesting cartoon character. Disney did this in order to make the movie commercially salable to a wider audience. Yet in doing so, they weakened the narrative flow and dramatic movement of the story. The Disney version seemed sort of hacked together. The wisecracking American-style villains were another tacky departure. And the kids were horrible actors, merely going through the motions, except, maybe, the kid who played Edmund.
If the Narnia movies, unfortunately, are the high point of evangelical culture, then much of the rest is unspeakably tacky. (For instance, the Left Behind books will probably never be used in a high school literature class.) But this sort of thing is what is hawked from church pulpits Sunday after Sunday in many places. Even now, I'll bet that millions of churchgoers will be reminded today of how the upcoming Prince Caspian can be used as a witnessing tool. We are told that we must have the latest Purpose-Driven, Every Man's Study Guide to the Next Big Thing (for a small fee, of course). It's all produced in order to collect a paycheck, not to tell the truth. Now much of evangelical publishing has been taken up with teaching us how God wants to bless us and make us successful, and secular marketers have discovered the benefits of going to church. Are you trying to find out where to spend the blessings God wants to give us all? All you have to do is ask some megachurch pastor to hook you up with a businessman in need.
This brings up another thing about the present evangelical culture, namely, the glorification of worldly success. I am thinking of people like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and others who preach and write so much about securing material wealth by seeking God's blessing. What they are actually doing is promoting a very false idea of life in general, and especially of the life we all can expect to be living during the next few years. The life they offer us is one which our secular, commerce-dominated society loves, namely, a life of unending and ever-increasing consumption. Just name it and claim it and it will come to you. And if it doesn't, well then, just rebuke the demon of poverty and cast it out!
The problem is, however, that we are now starting to face functional, structural, global limits to consumption. World crude oil and oil liquids production is now around 85 to 85.5 million barrels per day and hasn't risen for over thirty months, according to the Energy Information Administration. Dozens of countries around the world are facing energy shortages of one sort or another. This is leading to a slowdown of economic growth. And our excessive consumption is visibly and demonstrably destroying the earth. There are also the economic troubles we are now facing because of the subprime mortgage crisis – a crisis caused by too many people trying to get something for nothing. These problems are God's way of telling us that we have become greedy and are in need of a change. These problems can't be named and claimed away or rebuked away. But we are not listening to what God is saying. When hard times come, as they certainly will, many evangelicals will be utterly unprepared, spiritually and emotionally. They will collapse like a house made of matchsticks.
The commercialization of the evangelical church is just one more thing that has made church unsafe for many people. Think about it. How many junk mail ads do you receive each day? And some of them are cleverly disguised to look like Government notices – until you open them up and discover questionable refinancing offers. How do you feel when you know you're being hustled? How many people have signed up for the National “Do Not Call” list? Why do you suppose they did so? How many people have Caller ID and Anonymous Call Blocking? If there was a National “Do Not Junk Mail” list, how many people do you think would sign up? How many people are there who are sick and tired of being hustled? They go to church, expecting it to be a safe, truthful place, and are they supposed to let themselves get hustled there? It's bad enough that they have to dodge pleas to buy tacky books, CD's and DVD's, that a portion of their money goes toward paying royalties to read a Bible translation or to sing a worship song. What kind of freak three-ring circus is this, that they now have to deal with insincere, paycheck pastors introducing car salesmen and financial planners from the pulpit? Does this make me angry? You bet it does. Who broke my church?
The next post will be my final post on the topic of Money. Anger will be a big part of that post.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The Zondervan Corporation was founded in 1931 in Grandville, Michigan, by Peter and Bernard Zondervan. Its specialty was the publication of Christian books, including Bibles. In 1932, the brothers opened their first bookstore in Grand Rapids and in the next year began publishing books under the Zondervan imprint. In 1959, the company bought a religious music company, Singspiration, and in 1960, it took over the publication of Halley's Bible Handbook, buying the rights from a private concern. In 1966, the company acquired Harper Row Publishing Company's Bible department, which transferred to Zondervan the publication rights to a number of Bibles and Bible textbooks, including the widely adopted Harper Study Bible.
In 1971, Zondervan invested capital in the financially troubled International Bible Society and its translation of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, an investment that paid off handsomely when that publication, completed in 1978, became a best-selling Bible, ranking second only to the King James Version. During the first part of the 1980s, Zondervan acquired other companies, including, in 1980, the John T. Benson Company, a religious music publisher, several book publishers, and Tapley-Rutter Co., a specialty bindery. It also acquired a foreign subsidiary, Marshall Pickering Holdings Ltd., a UK-based printer and publisher of religious books and music. Zondervan became a publicly traded company in 1976, and by 1983 its annual revenues were $93 million.
From 1984 to 1988, the company suffered financial troubles due to accounting irregularities which resulted in lawsuits and SEC sanctions. Therefore, in 1988, Zondervan's directors sold the company to Harper Row for $56.7 million. Later, Harper Row merged with Collins Publishing to form HarperCollins and Zondervan became a division of HarperCollins. In 1989, prior to the merger of Harper Row and Collins, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation bought Collins. Thus HarperCollins, and its Zondervan division, are wholly-owned by Murdoch's News Corporation. HarperCollins, through Zondervan, owns the publishing rights to the New International Version of the Bible. They own the rights to the works of C.S. Lewis. They also publish Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven franchise, and the works of Lee Strobel, Jim Cymbala and Philip Yancey.
In becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of a secular company, Zondervan is by no means alone. Anther “Christian/religious/inspirational” subdivision is Waterbrook, owned by Doubleday/Random House, which is in turn owned by Bertelsmann of Sony BMG. There is also Warner Faith, a division of Time Warner. Thomas Nelson was recently bought by a private equity group called InterMedia Partners VII, which also bought Integrity Publishers. Howard Publishing is now owned by Simon and Schuster.
The publishing arm of Zondervan was more easily assimilated into HarperCollins than was the bookstore arm, however, due to a difference of values between the secular executives at HarperCollins and the Christian executives of Zondervan. Therefore, in 1994, the management of the Zondervan's Family Bookstores chain purchased it from HarperCollins in an amicable buyout. The buyout group was headed by Zondervan's Family Bookstores president and CEO, Leslie Dietzman, with the additional financial backing of a group of private individuals who were not affiliated with any other corporation or company. The bookstore chain became known as Family Christian Bookstores.
From 1994 to the present, Family Christian Stores has acquired several other store chains, and now also owns Joshua's Christian Stores, among other subdivisions. In 1999, the investment firm Madison Dearborn Partners began investing in Family Christian Stores. Madison Dearborn has a wealth of experience in specialty retailing. It now owns over 70 percent of Family Christian. Family Christian Stores is the largest Christian bookstore chain in the United States, followed by Lifeway and Berean. Incidentally, Berean Christian Stores was started as an independent chain in 1934, but was bought by Standex International in the 1960's. Standex is a technology company that makes food service equipment, air distribution products, industrial engraving equipment and hydraulics products, among other things. Standex sold the Berean chain to JMH Capital, a private equity firm, in 2006.
Thus it can be seen that most of the largest “Christian” publishers are largely or wholly owned by secular corporations, as are two of the three largest Christian bookstore chains in the United States. Well, then, what do these people sell? The answer falls into three broad categories: Bibles, nonfiction books that teach/instruct/inspire, and fiction. What is the character of these three offerings?
Zondervan and Thomas Nelson both publish Bible translations produced by the International Bible Society. Thomas Nelson also publishes the New American Standard Bible, produced by the Lockman Foundation. These are typical of translations which arose during the 20th Century because of concerns that the language of the King James Bible had become archaic and therefore hard for modern people to understand. Now, in what I am about to say, I assure you that I am definitely not one of those “King James Only” fanatics. I have no problem at all with other translations, as long as they are literal and accurate.
But the King James Bible is a public domain document, because it was published in 1611 A.D. Thus people have become used to using it freely as a public domain document, including extensive quotes in published works, as well as inclusion in song lyrics. The new translations, however, were not released in the public domain. For each of the newer translations, there are restrictions, such as limitations on the number of verses that can be copied, reproduced, recorded or included in song lyrics, as well as the requirement to include a copyright statement in each reproduction. The NIV has the most restrictive limitations. In fact, if a person opens a Web page containing NIV scriptures, he is not legally allowed to re-post those Scriptures onto another Web page. Uses of the NIV which deviate from their stated restrictions must be approved in writing by Zondervan. These restrictions on the uses of the various translations can all be found on the web pages of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.
The other book types produced by Christian publishers were covered somewhat in my post, “Money: Wonderland – A Trip to a Christian Bookstore.” I will briefly re-state them here. Nonfiction books are predominantly about breaking free from bad habits/addictions; miracles and prophecy; successful parenting; inspirational talks, biographies or books “based on a true story”; and financial success. Books on doctrine or Bible exposition, aside from prophecy, account for less than a third of the nonfiction sold in these store chains. “Financial success/life coaching” books are popular, including the titles coming from Thomas Nelson's new Nelson Business imprint, books such as The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell, as well as titles by Zig Ziglar, Todd Duncan, Don Soderquist, and Laurie Beth Jones, who wrote Jesus, CEO. There are also financial success books written by a man with an improbable name, the Rev. Dr. Creflo A. Dollar. And last, but not least, there are the conspiracy theory books, which often go together with the prophecy books, and are typically extremely patriotic and radically pro-war, especially regarding the Middle East.
Christian fiction of course existed throughout much of the Christian era. It really took off in its modern lucrative paperback form with the works of Janette Oke and the “translations” of George MacDonald's books by Michael Phillips. Christian fiction is where a lot of the money is at. But in order to understand what is sold as “Christian fiction”, one must understand how the Christian publishing industry defines their target audience. Penelope Stokes, in her book, The Complete Guide to Writing and Selling the Christian Novel, says, “Let's be honest here. Our customers are not, by and large, bright-eyed, eager, deeply spiritual intellectuals who want to be challenged, educated, and stretched. They are ordinary people – usually women and middle-aged – who want a good story with strong values, likable characters, a fast moving plot and a satisfying ending.” This assumption – that the target audience of Christian fiction is rather simple-minded and easily satisfied – explains much of the formulaic, genre writing found in Christian fiction books – and in Christian movies also, by the way. Complex characters don't usually exist in Christian novels, nor is the message in any way complex.
How are these books written? The answer may surprise you, but often the Christian books that are supposedly written by a famous author are actually written mainly by a ghostwriter, whose name is never mentioned on the front cover of the book. This is true of books supposedly written by Gary Smalley, Bill Hybels and Pat Robertson, for instance, according to one source. In the early 1990s, Colorado radio minister Bob Larson, whose name is on a novel trilogy that began with Dead Air, sued a woman who broke confidence by claiming she was the real author. The top-selling Christianity in Crisis by radio host and "Bible Answer Man" Hank Hanegraaff ended in a lawsuit by a ministry staffer who claimed to have done much of the work. I am no stranger to the practice of ministers relying on “ghostwriters.” The “head honcho” of the abusive church I used to attend, which is described in my first few posts, used to deliver Bible prophecy sermons which were basically plagiarized from books written by G.H. Lang, an early 20th century Christian writer. But this head honcho would claim that he got his messages by “being on his knees before God with an open Bible, laboring in the kitchen of Heaven!” He's going to feel heat in that kitchen some day...
The “Every Man” series of books also bears mention, although it is not such a blatant case of ghostwriting. However, on each book of the “Every Man” series, Stephen Arterburn is listed as the main author. Yet if you read the authors' introduction to the first book, “Every Man's Battle,” you will discover that the book was mainly written by another man. When that man approached Doubeday about getting his book published, he was basically told that it needed some “star power” in order to maximize its chances of wide readership. Thus the partnership with Arterburn was created. The “Every Man” series also illustrates another aspect of Christian publishing, namely, the tendency to take a successful book and turn it into a franchise, complete with sequels, study guides, and speaking tours. And the speaking tours are lucrative ventures in their own right. For instance, Beth Moore will be speaking at the Qwest Arena in Boise, Idaho soon. It will be a two night engagement. The Qwest arena seats at least 5,000, and tickets to the Beth Moore event are $55 each. You do the math.
Lastly, there is the political world view of mainstream Christian publishing – socially and fiscally conservative, pro-business, pro-America, and as I have mentioned, radically patriotic and pro-war. I personally agree with some of this. Homosexuality and abortion are un-Biblical, and should be opposed. But Christian publishing also unquestioningly supports many of the positions of the present-day Republican party – positions which may also be un-Biblical, positions which I will examine in detail when we leave the subject of Money and move on to Power. (By the way, these positions are increasingly being adopted by the Democrats also.) For instance, books sold in Christian bookstores do not question the rationale or justification for the invasion of Iraq. They solidly support the Bush administration's denunciations of Iran, and some of them call vehemently for an American military strike against Iran. There are no books about global warming or environmental stewardship sold in Christian bookstores. No mention is made of fair trade, or the damage being done to Third World cultures by Western economic practices. There are no books promoting nonviolence.
Here again I must mention Zondervan and its position as a subsidiary of a media empire owned by Rupert Murdoch. The Wikipedia page describing Murdoch spells out his use of his media resources to achieve political outcomes favorable to him. During the run-up to the Iraq war, all of the newspapers and other news outlets owned by him issued editorials supporting the war effort. In 2006 he supported the Senate reelection of Hillary Clinton, who is now running for president, and who both supported the Iraq invasion and the branding of Iran as a terrorist state. Both Iraq and Iran are supposed to have large amounts of oil reserves, by the way. One can only wonder whether Zondervan is now being used to promote an interpretation of Christianity which is favorable to Mr. Murdoch's interests.
Sources (I have to list sources. Plagiarism is evil and I have to be able to sleep at night without dreaming of eternal fire):
- Wikipedia articles about Thomas Nelson Publishers, Doubleday, Random House, Zondervan, HarperCollins and Rupert Murdoch
- David at http://faithinfiction.blogspot.com/
- "Ghostwriting Haunts Christian Publishing," Larry Witham, Charisma Magazine, July 2002
- "A Christian Publishing Scandal," David Aikman, Charisma Magazine, July 2002
- "Whatever happened to Christian publishing?", Gene Edward Veith, WORLD Magazine, July 1997
- Christian Ghostwriting Services Advertisement at The Scribe's Ink, http://www.thescribesink.net/
- "The Scandal of Evangelical Dishonesty," Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, http://www.epm.org/
- Post by Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, on 12 July 2007, www.michaelhyatt.com/fromwhereisit
- Standex International website
- Thomas Nelson press release, 23 September 2003, “THOMAS NELSON RE-SIGNS MAXWELL TO FOUR-BOOK CONTRACT”
And if I referred to someone's work and forgot to include the reference here, please, someone, let me know. There was a lot of material to digest...
Sunday, January 13, 2008
This post will be a somewhat challenging post, because it has many factual details to consider. For that reason it is a challenging post for me to write, because I want to be accurate. I will begin by describing the history of two Christian music companies, and show how they are representative of the place of Christian music within the music industry.
Sparrow Records was founded by Billy Ray Hearn in 1976, as an outlet for contemporary, traditional and children’s church music. Its artist roster has, at times, included such famous names as Keith Green, John Michael Talbot, 2nd Chapter of Acts and Michael Card. However, Keith Green was less than satisfied with the business arrangement between himself and Sparrow after a while, as that arrangement hindered his growing conviction that he should give his music to whoever wanted it, for whatever people were able or willing to pay, rather than charging a set price for the music. So, in 1979 he severed his ties to Sparrow and began to distribute his albums as he saw fit. According to Wikipedia, by 1982, Keith Green had shipped more than 200,000 units of his album, So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt under his new distribution arrangement, with 61,000 of those 200,000 albums being given out for free.
In 1992, Sparrow Records was bought out and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of EMI, a British media corporation, and one of the “Big Four” music/electronic media corporations. Sparrow is part of the EMI CMG subdivision, a religious arm which also includes the labels ForeFront Records, Gotee Records, Tooth and Nail Records, and EMI Gospel. Eddie Degarmo is the Publishing President for EMI CMG, and is also on the board of advisors for Christian Copyright Licensing International, or the CCLI, for short. I shall have more to say about CCLI later on. As for Mr. Hearn, he is now a member of the Board of Directors of the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA for short. I shall have more to say about the RIAA also, later on.
Essential Records was founded by Robert Beeson in 1992, as part of a “second wave” of contemporary Christian music (also known as CCM). Essential signed artists whose sound was a breakaway from the more straight-ahead rock or folk-rock sounds of CCM predecessors such as Benny Hester, Don Francisco, Keith Green, Phil Keaggy and so forth. The new sound was instead a sort of fusion between the acoustic revolution typified by “MTV Unplugged” and Shawn Colvin on the one hand, and the acoustic guitar-driven “alternative pop” of Hootie and the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews Band, on the other hand. CCM artists in this second wave included Jars of Clay, Caedmon's Call, Third Day and Jennifer Knapp, bands whose lyrics, like those of many secular “alternative” artists, were often metaphorical and indirect, as opposed to the declarative, straight-ahead lyrics of the “first wave” artists.
In 1993, Essential Records was also bought out by a large secular music/electronic media corporation, the Zomba Group, based in Germany. Zomba was bought out by the Bertelsmann Music Group, also known as BMG, and eventually Essential became part of Sony BMG, another of the Big Four music/electronic media corporations. Essential is now part of Sony's Provident Music Group, which includes Brentwood Records, Benson Records, Flicker Records, Beach Street Records, Reunion Records, Praise Hymn Music Group, Provident Specialty Markets, and the Provident-Integrity Distribution venture. Sony is also a contributing member of the RIAA.
In the early days of CCM, before the personal computer made such a huge impact on modern society, many CCM artists and the companies they founded tended to view their music in much the same way that Keith Green did: as a ministry to God, to be given freely to whoever was in need of it. To be sure, many of them considered themselves to be full-time “evangelists with guitars”, and thus worthy of the support of the Church, but it is hard to imagine that any CCM artist from the '70's to the early '90's would ever have sued anyone for singing a cover of that artist's song, or for reprinting song lyrics, or for copying an album to share with a friend, as long as these uses were for the purpose of ministering the Gospel and not for profit. But the secular media soon discovered that CCM was popular, and thus lucrative, and so began wave after wave of buyouts of companies that had originally been started by sincere Christian musicians. With the change of ownership came a change of rules.
The new secular masters of the lucrative CCM business began to enforce copyright law with the same rigidity and vengeance that they had exercised all along with secular music. This rigidity and vengeance took on some surprising forms, once personal computing and the Internet became widespread. When widespread sharing of music became possible, Sony responded in 2005 by shipping CD's containing secret digital rights management (DRM) software that automatically installed itself onto people's computers to prevent them from unauthorized copying of Sony CD's. Unfortunately, that same software made these computers vulnerable to viruses, while hindering operating system performance. Sony was successfully sued for this by those who had bought their CD's, and wound up recalling all affected CD's from the market. It is not known, however, if Sony fixed all the computers which had been damaged by their CD's.
The digital revolution also inspired both big media corporations and software corporations to create the concept of “intellectual property” and to impose restrictive conditions on the use of intellectual property owned by the big corporations. For instance, it became illegal to buy a DVD of a movie, take it to your house, and show it to the neighbors on your street. That DVD was licensed to be viewed by the purchaser alone (including, I suppose, his immediate family), but if one wanted to show the DVD to a larger audience, one needed to buy an additional license for every showing of the DVD. It also became illegal to copy songs from a CD to computer, even if you owned the CD and were simply trying to make a backup copy. These and many other restrictions were codified in a landmark piece of Federal legislation, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, signed into law by President Clinton in 1998.
To follow the letter of the new law meant having to pay a lot of money for things that were formerly free – free of charge, free of hassle and free of restrictions. But for those who were unwilling to follow the letter of the law, there was the RIAA, waiting in the wings like a gang of thugs in an alley. The RIAA ruthlessly sought to enforce the new restrictions through subpoenas of records from phone companies and Internet service providers (ISP's). The RIAA initiated hundreds of lawsuits against private citizens, seeking penalties of tens of thousands of dollars for each alleged illegal download of a song. In a number of cases, the RIAA sued college students enrolled in computer engineering courses at universities, for inventing file management systems that “could be used for illegal file sharing”, regardless of whether these systems were used for that purpose or not. The RIAA has sued single mothers on fixed incomes. It has sued people who never owned a computer, and has even sued a woman who later turned out to have been dead for a long time. At first, defendants who wanted to fight the lawsuit were required to pay the court costs and lawyers fees of both sides. This exerted tremendous pressure on defendants to settle, even if they knew they were innocent. The RIAA required that defendants who wanted to settle had to pay all of their assets and savings to the RIAA. According to James McQuivey of Forrester Research, EMI, an RIAA member, was until very recently, one of the most die-hard supporters of the RIAA tactics, although since being bought out in 2007, they have started to change their approach. (Sources: Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig, released under Creative Commons license in 2004; “I Sue Dead People”, Ars Technica, 4 February 2005, http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20050204-4587.html; “EMI, Apple partner on DRM-free premium music”, Caroline McCarthy, News.com, 2 April 2007; RIAA vs. the People: Two Years Later, Electronic Frontier Foundation, http://www.eff.org/)
All of this legal sound and fury did not achieve the effect for which the RIAA had hoped, namely, to revive lagging sales of CD's published by the Big Four corporations, who, by the way, control over 70 percent of the music market in the United States, and who had blamed lagging CD sales on “digital piracy.” But the flurry of lawsuits did not go unnoticed by certain key individuals in the Church and in Christian music. For churches were among those sued by the RIAA and by some of its member companies. Enter the CCLI.
According to Wikipedia, CCLI is “a privately owned company that was founded in the US in 1988 by Howard Rachinski, who is the President and CEO...the aim of CCLI has always been to provide services to facilitate worship..., benefiting the churches, while at the same time benefiting the copyright owners.” The CCLI is based in Portland, Oregon, where Howard Rachinski resides. Howard is also part of the leadership team at City Bible Church, also in Portland. The CCLI arose as an organization offering churches a one-stop source for properly licensing and paying royalties on every form of electronic media used by the member churches.
The CCLI issues a number of licenses, such as:
- the Church Copyright License, for the reproduction of songs
- Photocopy/Music Reproduction License for the photocopying of worship music
- SongSelect which provides online access of worship song lyrics, sound samples and download of lead sheets, chord sheets & SATB hymn sheets
- Video License, in a joint venture with MPLC, under the company name of Christian Video Licensing International, for the copyright licensing of the playing of videos / DVDs for church activities
- Screen Vue, for movie scenes and illustrations for use in sermon illustrations
- and finally, Song Touch, for MP3 song downloads
CCLI has also expanded from the United States to such countries as Australia, Botswana, Canada, Germany and many others. Its member churches in the United States number over 140,000. It is constantly seeking to expand into new markets for providing licensed content to churches.
The CCLI website repeatedly stresses the need to obey the law, and the severe penalties (up to $150,000 per infraction) for doing things which require a license without having that license. And the CCLI has pioneered the concept of “per use” fees. In other words, every time a church displays a lyric to a copyrighted praise chorus on a projection screen, it must pay a fee. Every time a church plays a licensed video or DVD, it must pay a fee. It does not matter that churches are classified as non-profit organizations; they must still pay. According to the Oak Ridger newspaper, in 2006 the CCLI collected over $20 million in revenue per year. The CCLI states that that revenue is shared with member artists and copyright holders. Yet how much of that $20 million is profit is unknown, since they are a private company and do not disclose their financial records to the public.
When you go to church therefore, you will notice at the bottom of every lyric projected on a screen a CCLI catalog number, with copyright information for that particular song. Songs that are in the public domain are also listed in the CCLI catalog, although they do admit that no royalties are required for these songs. But sometimes the praise and worship industry will take an old hymn, change some of the older English to a more modern form, add a few extra words, and voila! Yet another CCLI-licensed, copyrighted song is born. This is what happened to “When I survey the Wondrous Cross,” with the addition of the modern refrain, “Oh, the wonderful cross! Oh, the wonderful cross!” etc. In fact, even modern praise band arrangements of old, public-domain hymns such as “Amazing Grace” are now being copyrighted, and are subject to CCLI licensing. Every time these songs are sung in a church, there is a very good likelihood that part of the offering made in that church is going toward paying for the right to worship.
So here we are to worship, here we are to bow down, hear the money meters whirring in the background...
(Additional source regarding the CCLI: “As hymnals are replaced by video screens, Christian music licensing group takes center stage”, the Oak Ridger, 7 April 2006; http://www.oakridger.com/)
Saturday, January 05, 2008
The place was rather large. Immediately as I walked in I saw a life-sized plaster Nativity setting, with a blond-haired, blue-eyed Joseph and Mary staring raptly down at a blond-haired, blue-eyed baby Jesus lying in the manger. Just to the left, against the wall, was something unexpected – a display of locally produced canned salmon and preserves, with a small flat-screen TV showing a lady discussing recipes. Had I not been on a mission, I might have gotten hungry. There were also plates, mugs, saucers, and so forth, all decorated in a style reminiscent of Thomas Kinkade, and all costing anywhere from around $10 to over $30 each.
As I continued moving to the left, I saw another plaster Nativity scene and a shelf of books and gifts marked, “Christmas Clearance.” Many of the books were heartstring-tugging “inspirational” stories with pictures of mild-faced middle-aged female authors on the backs and pictures of blond-haired, blue-eyed little boys and girls on their front covers, faces often showing expressions of rapt wonder. From perusing the back covers and dust jackets, it seemed that many of the stories had plots involving not-so-subtle “miraculous visitations.”
Moving on toward the adjacent wall, I saw a large number of paintings bearing the usual inspirational verses on them or carved into the picture frames (things like Psalm 46:10, but definitely not things like Mark 9:47-50), and then I ran into yet another life-sized plaster sculpture. This one showed yet another blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus , this time as an adult with a mild face, and several children, all blond-haired and blue-eyed, surrounding Him. One of the boys was on His knee.
By this time I was near the back wall of the store. On the back wall was a display of pastoral helps. A couple of books stood out to me, each dealing with the youth culture and how, since many of us have become adults, we have forgotten completely how youth think – thus the need for these books to show us how to have an effective youth ministry. Right next to the ministry books was a display of various worship accessories, including things needed to celebrate Catholic Mass. On the same shelves were bottles of anointing oil – with a 5 ounce (?) bottle to be had for as little as $30.00! Of course, if you couldn't afford the large size, you could always get a 1 ounce bottle for $8.00. (I am guessing at the sizes, since I didn't read them when I was looking at the bottles. All I know was that that was a lot of dough to spend for such a small amount of oil.)
All that kitsch was fascinating, but I had gone into the store to look at the books, so I turned my attention to more of the books. There was a large selection of “inspirational” novels, one of which dealt with a young boy (blond haired and blue eyed on the front cover) who wanted to play football, and the reluctant mentor who befriended him and his mom. This theme of people coming together by Divinely ordained romantic coincidence was prominent in several of the inspirational novels. As far as authors go, there were the usual suspects, such as Janette Oke and Jan Karon, but there were surprises as well, such as Jerry B. Jenkins of Left Behind fame, who with his wife, authored a novel in this group.
I had spent a bit too much time in the inspirational section, so I moved on to the conspiracy/end times section. There were several books talking about the threat of Islamic jihad and how Iran is supposedly infiltrating the United States with sleeper cells who are about to perpetrate a “nuclear 9/11” attack on America. One author's dust jacket even went so far as to say that the United States must attack Iran in 2008, or else there will be dire consequences. Also, there was the conspiracy/end times fiction, with novels from Lahaye & Jenkins, and from Oliver North.
I moved on to the "Christian Living"/devotional section, and found a few books on finance, breaking free from bondage, how to harness the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit in your life so that you can experience miracles and healing, and so forth. These were authored by some “usual suspects” such as Beth Moore, but there were authors I had never heard of, including the author of one finance book that caught my eye. It had perhaps 200 pages, but it was written in what looked like 16 point type, and it was sprinkled with heartwarming anecdotes which backed the author's assertion that if you just followed his plan, you too could be financially independent and have (lots of) money in the bank. One of the anecdotes said something about how a couple was now debt-free and had a BMW too! Icing on the cake! And there was a book about winning principles to apply in life, written by a coach for some pro football team whose name I never did get.
I wound up in the biographical section, where of course there were the usual books paying tribute to C.S. Lewis. There were also books showcasing the faith of President George W. Bush, and of Condoleeza Rice. There was a short autobiography by Amy Grant, and there were a couple of books containing inspirational stories about God's protection of our troops.
Speaking of troops (and of music as well), somewhere back while I was near the NYMEX light sweet anointing oil selling for $$$ a barrel, I became aware of a song playing over the store speakers. The song was about a father saying goodbye to his ten-year-old son, because the father was going off to fight in a war - “that's what soldiers do” was the refrain, or something like it. The song exhorted the son to trust in Jesus, and that if the father didn't make it back, they would still all meet in Heaven some day. The song was part of an album made by a duo – Monk and Neagle – of whom I had never heard until just then. The song pulled my interest in another direction, and as the store was now closing, I made a hasty dash over to the Christian music section to take a quick look. There I found that the largest genre of Christian music is the “praise and worship” variety. There was also standard CCM – hip-hop, metal or pop, depending on your tastes; but none of these categories seemed to be more than a third of the size of the praise & worship category.
Having an interest in things related to Narnia, I last looked at the Narnia section of the store. It is relatively bare now. To be sure, there are all the seven books actually authored by C.S. Lewis. But there were relatively few of the knockoffs which came out after the “Lion, Witch & Wardrobe” movie – books written by people who never came within a country mile of C.S. Lewis, books with titles like “Peter's Quest,” “Susan's Journey” or “Finding Aslan,” books whose copyrights (and authors too, probably) are all owned by Disney or Harper Collins. I know I'm getting the titles wrong, but they are close enough. I was assured by the store staff that more of those books would be coming out in the next few months.
And with that I had to leave. I had stayed fifteen or twenty minutes past closing time, and to their credit, the store staff was too nice to just bluntly throw me out. Rather, they found me at ten minutes past closing and informed me that “...the store is uh, supposed to close at seven, but there's no rush...”
This store, and thousands of stores just like it, are at the center of contemporary American Christian culture – they define that culture, and are defined by it. Stores like this store, and the merchandise therein, set the tone for much of evangelical thought. Stores like this, and the corporations who stock their shelves, define the current evangelical worldview. But the corporations are largely secular. And many of the writers and musicians write and sing because they or their corporate sponsors want something – money or political power. Therefore, the stuff merchandised in Christian bookstores is determined largely by the same market forces that drive the merchandising of every other aspect of life in modern America. I will discuss this in more depth in my next post.