The latest issue of Rolling Stone just arrived in my office. It's loaded with ads that promise us the world: better cars, better music, better TV, better sex, a better environment—but nary a word about a new Bible.

I know: Rolling Stone, the king of rock 'n' roll magazines, isn't the first place we'd think to look for an ad for God's Word. But Zondervan, the nation's largest Bible publisher, tried to buy an ad in RS for Today's New International Version (TNIV), but got turned away. According to a story in USA Today, the rock mag told Zondervan it has an unwritten policy against accepting ads containing religious messages.

The rejected ad shows a contemplative 20-something guy and includes the title, "Today it makes sense more than ever." The text at the bottom of the ad says, " … [Y]ou wonder where you can find real truth. Well, now there's a source … It's the TNIV … It's written in today's language, for today's times—and it makes more sense than ever." The Bible's cover is shown in the lower left corner.

There's no use of the word "God" or "Christ." But apparently Rolling Stoneobjected to the word "truth" in the ad's text. "It doesn't quite feel right in the magazine," Kent Brownridge, general manager of Wenner Media, parent company of RS, told USA Today. "We are not in the business of publishing advertising for religious messages."


Thumbing through the January 27 issue, which features a scantily clad Gwen Stefani on the cover (and whom RS calls a "Rock Goddess"), there are many religious-sounding ads:

  • the HBO series Carnivale, which bills itself as "the final battle between Good and Evil," pitting a fugitive with "hidden talents" facing off against a "shadowy evangelist" named "Brother Justin." A recent episode features a statue of the baby Jesus talking to someone, while elsewhere, Brother Justin "breaks ground on his new temple and dedicates it to the child martyrs of the Dignity Ministry." Ican only assume that no "religious message" is being promoted here, or else RS wouldn't accept the ad.
  • Friends of the Earth warns about global warming and boasts, "We have the know-how to change the course of humanity." The Bible also claims that know-how; so why is one ad allowed, and the other rejected?

An ad for MasterCard proclaims: "There are some things money can't buy. For everything else there's MasterCard." Really? We know of some shops that won't take credit cards, in essence proving this ad a lie. So, RS will accepts ads with an apparent lie, but rejects those that talk of "truth."

Other ads make claims far more unverifiable than the TNIV's. An ad for a "personal lubricant" promises "a night to remember" and that "sex will never be the same." That's quite a promise. The Nissan Frontier's ad, meanwhile, claims that its special features yield "the biggest sweet spot of all." That sounds like a declaration of exclusivity; how can Nissan claim to have the real truth on sweet spots?

On its website, Rolling Stone lists its regular advertising clientele, including car companies, movie studios, alcohol products and much more. One of its advertisers is Novartis, a pharmaceutical and consumer health company that, among other things, seeks "to ease suffering, and to enhance the quality of life," and "to be recognized for having a positive impact on people's lives."

I bet Zondervan feels the same way.

The RS ad was part of Zondervan's $1 million campaign to reach "spiritually intrigued 18- to 34-year-olds." Surveys show that 53 percent of that age group read the Bible less than once a year or never, so it's a noble campaign—and outlets like Rolling Stone are an idea way to reach that audience. The Onion will carry the ad, and MTV and VH1's websites are also scheduled to carry similar Zondervan ads. So why not Rolling Stone? For a magazine that has long trumpeted freedom of speech and artistic expression, the decision to ban the Bible ad seems a bit hypocritical.

So what's Rolling Stone really afraid of?

Mark Moringis online managing editor forChristian Music TodayandChristianity Today Movies.

Related Elsewhere:

This isn't the first TNIV controversy.