By DAVID CRUMM,
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine and books
“Be the change you wish to see,” Gandhi says on bumper stickers. Personally, I prefer to repeat the words of a pastor friend, the Rev. Marsha Woolley, who ends her telephone voice-mail message with, “I hope you’re out there doing something good for the world.”
Over the past week or so, our authors have been out there doing so much good that we are devoting our Cover Story this week to just a handful of these inspiring examples. Making the world a better place by publishing important new voices has been the core vocation of ReadTheSpirit, since our founding. That mission now is fueling a major expansion this year to bring even more authors and cutting-edge publishing projects into communities everywhere.
Let’s start with the story of David Gaynes, a man who was a complete stranger to us one week ago …
‘A PASSOVER FREEDOM STORY’
Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation is a landmark book that tries to help the countless congregations divided by evangelical denunciations of gay and lesbian men and women. As a pastor, Ken saw many families divided within his own congregation; he also was heartbroken by the way religious condemnation can fuel teen suicides. So, Ken’s book takes a new approach to reading the Bible—an approach Ken calls “the Romans road.” You can read the three introductions to the book by Phyllis Tickle, Tanya Luhrmann and David P. Gushee here. You can read much more about the book and the controversy it has touched off here. Ken recognizes that many evangelicals vigorously disagree with him and welcomes civil dialogue. However, some critics have crossed over to angry personal attacks.
Down in Asheville, NC, veteran writer and media professional David Gaynes had never heard of Ken Wilson until recently. Gaynes and his family were celebrating Passover with the traditional retelling of the Exodus story and discussion of how we all should defend freedom everyday. At one Jewish community seder in Asheville, Gaynes recalls, the rabbi challenged each person: “How are you helping to make the world more free?”
That was the very day Gaynes’s media agency received a request from an old client. He hadn’t worked for this client for a while, so he did his homework and discovered that the project involved an evangelical publishing group. Then, he discovered that this group had recently published a particularly pointed attack on an author named Ken Wilson. This attack troubled Gaynes, whose family includes a gay son, and he wanted to learn more about this Ken Wilson. So, he dug further, finding a Detroit Free Press profile of Ken and his new book. (We’ve got a link here.) Gaynes was particularly struck by Ken’s words in that story “that being evangelical is about ‘welcoming previously excluded groups … to make the good news accessible to those who haven’t had access to it. That’s my task. That’s what a church is supposed to do.'”
Gaynes knew full well that his old client was offering a good-sized payday—but, right away, he sent a long letter to the client, declining to take on the new project. In the letter, he explained his own perspective on Ken’s inspiring book: “I do not believe that my son should repent of his homosexuality any more than I intend to repent of my heterosexuality. Both equally inherent and un-chosen personal attributes arise from the same source: our Creator. Loving my son as I do, and feeling as I do, I respectfully decline the current project with thanks. I am sure that you and your client will be better served by someone and anyone more aligned with your publisher’s viewpoint than I am.”
And then? Gaynes published the entire story, including the letter, on a Jewish blog. The headline? “A Passover Freedom Story”
As editor of our online magazine and publishing house, I spotted Gaynes’ column, Googled his office telephone number and soon was talking to Gaynes himself. I told him: “As one media professional talking to another, I’ve got to say: This was a remarkable thing to do. It was courageous that you turned down the contract. It was amazing that you published the story for the whole world.”
“I’m completely OK with sharing my story,” he said. “I’m speaking from both my heart and mind here. My reactions here were instantaneous. There wasn’t any: Wait a minute. Now, if I do X or Y, then … Not at all.”
“Why such a strong response?” I asked, and he said what I’ve heard countless parents and loved ones of gay men and women say over the years.
He said: “I would never want to do anything that would render me unable to look my family in the eye.” And, that’s precisely why millions of younger Americans are staying away from gay-condemning churches—as documented by the Public Religion Research Project.
As a skeptical journalist, though, I pushed Gaynes harder. “Come on,” I said. “Didn’t you have some internal struggle? I know from talking to you, today, that you needed this payday—and it would have been a good-sized check. Didn’t you struggle a little bit?”
And I could hear the smile in his voice as he responded. “No, it wasn’t like that at all,” he said. “It seemed beyond coincidence, uncanny really, that this happened right after the Passover seder. It was as though some Power in the universe was saying: ‘You really feel this way? Let’s find out.’ And as much as that was a needed payday, I think of it as a tiny price to find out beyond any question that my values are not for sale.”
I praised him. “Well, it’s terrific to meet you on the phone here and I’m so impressed …”
But he cut me off. He shouldn’t be praised for doing the right thing, he said. “This is our work as human beings on the planet.”
And to that, I could only say: “Amen.”
LATE-BREAKING NEWS: As we prepared to publish this column, we got word from the well-known emergent-church writer and activist Tony Jones that he has written a new piece about Ken Wilson’s book that will be appearing soon in the widely read Christian Century magazine. Thanks in advance, Tony, for all your good work on the planet!
PROMOTING ‘POSITIVE BUSINESS’
Speaking of high praise, as Editor of our publishing house, I learned that—as this school year ends at the University of Michigan—our long-time columnist and author Dr. Wayne Baker was honored among his colleagues at the Ross School of Business. Wikipedia’s tracking of business school rankings says that, in recent years, the Ross school sometimes has been ranked No. 1 in the nation and nearly always in the Top 5. The award presented to Dr. Baker was a major career-spanning honor, partly due to his research on American values.
The Senior Faculty Research Award was given to Dr. Baker “in recognition of his influential research, his stellar international reputation as a thought leader in the study of management & organizations and his dedication to building and maintaining a strong research environment at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.”
And this week? Dr. Baker is one of the featured presenters at the Ross School’s first annual “Positive Business” conference. All this week, Dr. Baker is writing about the conference in his popular OurValues column. At the conference, his new book United America will be featured.
You can read much more about the nationwide response to United America here. And, you can download many free resources related to the new book in this United America resource page, including two different full-color charts of the 10 uniting values.
LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Dr. Baker just wrapped up a series on Moms for the centennial of Mother’s Day and was featured, for his research on parents’ values, in this Washington Post column. Also, his book was covered by Dick Meyer (a top journalist who formerly headed divisions for BBC, NPR and CBS) in a new Scripps column that is syndicated widely across news sites nationwide. Here’s Dick’s column as it was presented in Cleveland. To all the journalists covering United America—thanks for doing something good for the world!
MOM’s 10 COMMANDMENTS OF HEALTH
This week, we also were pleased to watch author Debra Darvick on television, talking about her ongoing visual project: “Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health.”
If you haven’t read about this unusual project, then click here to read Debra’s story about appearing on TV this past week. Her “10 Commandments” are a re-voicing of the traditional Decalogue or 10 Commandments as if a Mom (or other wise and caring Parent) were voicing timeless wisdom about living a healthy and happy life. Debra had the text printed in poster form, designed by our ReadTheSpirit art director Rick Nease, in a format suitable for hanging on a refrigerator door or bathroom wall.
And—hurray—the idea is catching on!
Thank you Debra for all the good you’re doing for the world!
AND SO MUCH MORE …
This is just a sampling of the exciting stories that inspire our colleagues as we wake up each morning and get to devote another day to working for our readers. Among the other recent news …
MSU STUDENTS LAUNCH 3 NEW ETHNIC GUIDES
This ongoing project at Michigan State University School of Journalism now has welcomed dozens of students preparing a half dozen guides under the direction of the school’s instructor Joe Grimm. Learn about the launch of their three latest guides, which combat bigotry by clearing up the real questions that real people ask every day about “the others.”
Global peacemaker, author and activist Daniel Buttry continues to circle the world as a representative of American Baptist Churches, the denomination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Not only is Dan organizing the publication of uplifting new stories online in our Interfaith Peacemakers department—but he’s also spreading his collected peacemaking stories around the world. We just got word this week that a new translated edition of one of his books may be prepared for use in a particularly important region of Asia. (Stay tuned for more on that later.) That spread of Dan’s message—and the messages of our other authors—is possible because of the unusual, fast-and-flexible publishing system we have developed.
NORTH AMERICAN INTERFAITH NETWORK
We heard more news, this past week, about the national conference coming to Detroit (at Wayne State University) in mid-August, called the North American Interfaith Network. That’s a wonderful opportunity to come and meet me, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, and many of our authors as well. Learn more by following the links from this story about our MSU students. (For news on NAIN, read the first item in that story, headlined “Join the MSU Project.”)
FINALLY—A WORD ABOUT GANDHI
Did you know that the famous “Gandhi bumper sticker” isn’t directly quoting the Mahatma? In fact, the slogan does express Gandhi’s teachings, but the actual quote is believed to have come from his grandson—also a global peace activist—Arjun Gandhi. About a decade ago, Arjun contributed to a book that summarizes the Mahatma’s teachings—and the phrase, “Be the change you wish to see,” was born. The quotation, usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi was researched by The New York Times in 2011. Turns out, that line appears nowhere in the 98-volume collected works of Gandhi.
The closest Mahatma Gandhi got to crystallizing that message: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As we changes our own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards us. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
And to that word of wisdom, we also say: Amen!