Johnson's letter likewise notes, "You should know that the conversations were Christ-honoring and professional in tone; there was no bitterness on either side. We and they expressed a desire to revisit the issue of their membership if they separate the staff of WaterBrook Multnomah from the work of Convergent in the future."
In a brief written statement to CT, Cobb referenced Johnson's description of the tone of the conversations. "I couldn't agree more," he said. "In light of that, I believe that any further sharing of specifics would be a breach of the mutual respect between our two organizations, and I have no further comment on this topic."
While NRB's focus is its Christian radio, television, and Internet broadcasters, it lists several other Christian publishers as members, including Zondervan and Thomas Nelson (which are owned by NewsCorp's HarperCollins Publishers), and independent publishers Tyndale House and Harvest House.* The annual NRB conference attracts thousands of attendees and bills itself as the "world's largest annual gathering of Christian media professionals."
Random House created WaterBrook Press in 1996, then purchased Multnomah Publishers a decade later after Multnomah's expansion plans failed in the wake of the runaway bestseller The Prayer of Jabez. The imprint has a robust backlist, which includes David Platt's Radical, John Piper's Desiring God, and Stephen Arterburn's Every Man's Battle. But it has no titles on the current bestseller lists of either the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) or the CBA (an association of Christian stores).
In 2001, before being acquired by Random House, Multnomah dropped one of its most popular authors, novelist Philip Gulley, over his plans to publish a book promoting universalism. Gulley's latest, Living the Quaker Way, was the first volume published by the new Convergent imprint in September 2013. God and the Gay Christian is Convergent's eighth book.
While Convergent ramped up, an imprint aimed at a similar readership significantly pulled back. Like Convergent, Jericho Books is headquartered in an evangelical capital (Nashville) along with an imprint focused on evangelical readers (FaithWords, along with "positive, affirming" imprint Center Street). Like Convergent, Jericho is owned by a much larger New York publishing giant (Hachette) and is overseen by a longtime Christian publishing executive (Rolf Zettersten, formerly of Thomas Nelson and Focus on the Family). But in December, Publishers Weekly reported that Jericho's publisher, Wendy Grisham, was leaving the company and that Jericho would be significantly "scaling back" its titles. Its authors include Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jay Bakker, Philip Yancey, Shane Hipps, and Brian McLaren. Neither FaithWords nor Jericho are members of NRB.
Robert Jeffress, who pastors First Baptist Church in Dallas and is a board member for the NRB, said he wasn't part of the Multnomah decision, but he supports it. Jeffress said he published nine books through WaterBrook before switching publishers several years ago.
"I have great respect for Steve Cobb and consider him a personal friend," he said. "However, I do think it is a mistake for any Christian publisher to legitimize a point of view that is a clear perversion of Scripture."
Jeffress had not read Vines's book, but said the debate centers around its claim that biblical texts on homosexuality have been historically misinterpreted.
"I think you have to perform hermeneutical gymnastics to come to that conclusion," he said. "While there are many topics up for debate, this is not one of them for those who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture."
*Note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly named Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) as a member of NRB. It is not. We regret the error.