As any dutiful American should :), I was watching 60 Minutes recently when Steve Kroft was interviewing President Obama. They discussed many things that are going on in our world these days and then Steve asked our President why the United States was taking the lead in responding to the ISIS threat. President Obama leaned forward in his seat, got quite animated in his response and basically said that the world expects us to lead and that our country had a unique role to play in responding to crises. This got me thinking.
I have traveled quite a bit as an adult and lived overseas until I was fifteen. There is no question that America plays a unique role in this world. For better or worse, we are admired and reviled, emulated and despised. It is pretty rare to come across someone who has a neutral opinion of the United States or Americans in general. Some have even referred to us as “the last true superpower”. While there is certainly a case to be made that we have not always wielded that power carefully, it is also true that our nation has engaged in remarkable humanitarian efforts around the world. The 4,000 troops on the way to Liberia are just the latest example.
In the world of Christian book publishing, the reality of American dominance is even starker. Some researchers have estimated that as much as 80% of all evangelical Christian literature being made available around the world today had its origins in the United States. An article just published in Christianity Today reported on a new study that has been completed on reading habits in Africa. Interestingly, those polled in the Central African Republic listed Billy Graham as their favorite author, in Kenya, Ben Carson took the top spot and in Angola, John Maxwell headed the list. This information correlates well with data from with the CLC ministry that I serve as Rick Warren and other prominent American authors are best sellers around the globe in many different languages.
Unfortunately there is another reality that is also affecting the reading habits of Christians around the world. Platform matters as much in other countries as it does in America. These authors are not just popular because of where their books were first produced, but also because of the power of these authors and their publishers to get the word out. In many cases this has meant that some of the most problematic books and teaching on the prosperity gospel have massive audiences because of their publicity on TBN and The God Channel. The lowest common denominator, “Christianity Lite” is increasingly the first thing to be translated and published because it was initially a block buster in the USA and is now being marketed heavily overseas.
Added to this is the continued consolidation of the American publishing marketplace and the recent purchases of several Christian publishing houses by major secular publishers. Today, it is fair to say that as much as 60% of all Christian books are published by companies that have a non-Christian parent organization. While the full results of this trend are still unfolding, one thing is becoming clear, more and more books are being produced for “itchy ears” and sales potential is clearly becoming the primary reason to publish a Christian book.
Luke 12:48 says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Evangelical Christian publishers in America today have a unique obligation and responsibility to use their power wisely. Certainly, all publishers have to make money to survive and that is an increasingly challenging proposition in the rapidly changing world we live in. Despite this, Jesus also said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” I for one do not have any desire to drown with a millstone around my neck. Next week, I will share some thoughts on how we can “share the wealth” more effectively. We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world.