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NRB Forces Out WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers Over Sister Imprint's 'Gay Christian' Book

Update (Nov. 4, 2014): Crown has announced that it is separating the location and leadership of Convegent and Waterbrook Multnomah.

A leading Christian book publisher has resigned its membership in the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) after a dispute over God and the Gay Christian, a new book published by an affiliated imprint.

In a letter to board members, NRB president and CEO Jerry Johnson said that employees of WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, the evangelical division of Penguin Random House, worked on the book. The book, which argues that same-gender sex is not sinful, was published by Convergent Books, a 16-month-old Penguin Random House line that describes itself as "publishing books for progressive and mainline Christians who demand an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith."

"Unfortunately, while the Multnomah Publishing Group is separate from Convergent, as a legal and business entity, the staff of the Multnomah and Convergent operations are substantially the same," Johnson wrote. "Most notably, Steven W. Cobb serves as the chief publishing executive for both groups. … Other Christian workers do so as well. … This issue comes down to NRB members producing unbiblical material, regardless of the label under which they do it."

Cobb also oversees Image, Penguin Random House's Roman Catholic imprint that falls under the Crown Publishing Group division with WaterBrook Multnomah and Convergent. The Christian divisions are located in the same Colorado Springs offices. Crown and Penguin Random House are based in New York City.

"I asked them to reconsider and end the practice of having Christian workers from their publishing house work on Convergent projects," Johnson wrote. "They declined to do so at this time and asked how we would respond. I told them that if they wanted to remain NRB associate members, I would have to refer the matter to our Ethics Committee for review, or they could agree to resign their membership. They agreed to resign immediately."

Johnson declined to speak with CT and said his written thoughts about Multnomah's decision, which he wrote as part of a report sent to the NRB board by chairman Bill Blount, speaks for itself.

Meanwhile, Matthew Vines's book has prompted a strong response from longtime WaterBrook Multnomah author Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, including a full-length e-book.

"I believe that Multnomah is in serious danger of crashing its brand in terms of evangelical trust," he told CT. "I am quite certain that a host of evangelical authors share this deep concern."

Cobb said in an online statement released before the NRB letter that Convergent published the book "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." No Multnomah staff were forced to work on the book, he said. "I met with our entire staff, in small groups, to discuss it—and to emphasize to everyone my long-standing policy: No colleague of ours is ever expected to work on any book we acquire that violates their personal beliefs. Indeed, I did have a few staff members who came to me for further private discussion, and asked to opt out of working on this title."

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