A Christian ministry wants to deliver custom-designed New Testaments to newspaper subscribers around the country as part of an effort to find innovative ways to spread a Christian message. But even in the Bible Belt, not everyone thinks that's a good idea.
International Bible Society-Send the Light is planning on spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to distribute Bibles with 11 newspapers during 2007 and 2008. New Testaments would be packaged in pouches on the outside of newspapers, much like soap or other sample products.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced in May it would deliver more than 200,000 New Testaments the last Sunday of the year. David House, the newspaper's reader advocate, said he received about 70 e-mails split between backers and those opposed to packaging the scriptures with newspapers.
"Do you have any idea how blatantly offensive this boneheaded move is to the thinking public?" a Fort Worth reader wrote in one of several letters to the editor on the topic.
Some of the outcry has come from one of the least likely sources -- Christians. Bob Ray Sanders, the Star-Telegram's vice president and associate editor, said some worried that the Bibles tossed on the lawn with the newspaper would be thrown away because most people already own a Bible.
"I expected that we'd get some criticism, but I thought it would be coming from people who were not Christian or not religious at all. Many of the complaints we got were from people who were Christian and didn't like the idea," said Sanders.
After an initial outcry in May, the paper told subscribers they could opt out of the delivered Bibles, which include the New Testament and local Christian testimony.
One reader wondered if he could halt other newspaper ads he doesn't like.
"Please note on my account that I want to receive the New Testament and 'opt out' of all other forms of unwanted solicitation and advertising. I want no toxic hair cream, no aspartame-filled gum or any other form of unwanted advertising and solicitation," he wrote.
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The Colorado-based International Bible Society published the New International Version of the Bible in 1978, and is one of the world's largest translators and distributors of scriptures. The group merged with Carlisle, England-based Send the Light, one of the largest distributors of Christian literature, earlier this year.
The Bible ministry's "City Reachers" project aims to reach newspaper subscribers in eight regions, according to its Web site.
But fundraising for the projects has been slow. None has raised even half the money needed to finance the initiative yet. In Fort Worth, the group faces an Oct. 31 deadline to raise $438,000; so far, only a little more than $13,000 has been collected through church offerings and other efforts.
If the money can't be raised, the project may be delayed.
The society's Paul Tolleson said major fundraising in Fort Worth and other cities has only just begun. Some campaigns already have been delayed, but none have been canceled.
Tolleson expressed frustration with the complaints.
"It's disappointing that anyone would object to getting a Bible, which is the best read book in the whole world and has been for hundreds of years. They have the right to do with it what they want to," he said. "Do they object to getting a bag of Quaker oatmeal or Tide detergent or an AOL disc?"
On the Net:
City Reachers: http://www.ibs.org/cityreachers/index.php
by Matt Curry]
Associated Press writer Angela K. Brown contributed to this report.
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