Colorado Springs has its official daily newspaper: the Gazette.
And, thanks to the International Bible Society, Colorado Springs now has its own customized Bible.
This Sunday, Dec. 19, the two will officially join hand in glove. That's when all 91,000 Gazette subscribers will retrieve from their driveways or their porches -- or their rooftops -- copies of the New Testament, tucked inside the newspapers standard blue plastic wrappers.
The cover of the customized Bible is a panoramic photograph that squeezes in downtown buildings, the Air Force Academy chapel and Garden of the Gods with Pikes Peak as a backdrop. Inside, in addition to the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, etc., Colorado Springs' version includes a brief history of the city, as well as testimonials from two "regular" locals who have found God. Rhonda, 38, is pictured in a leather Harley girl get-up and talks about how, after "reckless years of being chained to alcohol, drugs and empty relationships," her life has been turned around by Jesus. Jos, 74, is a "former military tough guy" with a woman in every port who is now getting to know God. In his testimonial, Jose declares, "Maybe God isn't through with me yet." Hey! That's almost exactly what the famously cantankerous Doug Bruce said to a bunch of Republicans when he was seeking their endorsement for county commissioner earlier this year. Maybe the newly elected Commissioner Bruce's testimonial will make the second edition.
Anyway, for the International Bible Society, it's a winner. It gets new souls to save. And the Gazette? Well, the newspaper will make $36,000 for distributing the New Testament, as well as proceeds from a full-page ad that will appear that day thanking 130 local Christian churches and ministries (including Focus on the Family and New Life Church) who shelled out the money to pay for the insert.
"This is kind of an exciting thing for us," said Bob Jackson, of the Colorado Springs-based International Bible Society. The organization already has customized Bibles to target, among other special interest groups, prisoners and mothers and even has "desert camouflage Bibles" for soldiers, with a camouflage-theme cover (with at least nine commandments included). But can people actually find Jesus in a blue plastic newspaper bag? Jackson can answer that, quoting from Isaiah, 55:11: "It is certain and true; My word will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
Colorado Springs is merely the first city where the International Bible Society plans to distribute the New Testament inside daily newspapers. Jackson said the group is currently in discussions with the Denver Post to distribute a Denver version; Seattle, Nashville and Santa Rosa, Calif. are also high priorities.
From the Gazette, there has been -- at least so far -- scant warning or public discussion about the undoubtedly controversial decision to distribute Bibles. An article detailing the plan appeared two months ago in the newspaper's Oct. 16 lifestyle section, in which Gazette publisher Bob Burdick compared the plan to other endeavors, like giving out laundry detergent and America Online computer disks. "Just because we distribute something doesn't mean we endorse it or don't endorse it," said Burdick.
The article did not include any quotes from the editor of the Gazette, Sharon Peters, who did not return a phone call seeking comment. But Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, an organization that promotes responsible journalism, underscored the importance that newspaper leaders should weigh money-making endeavors with ensuring that the public's perception of the newspaper's journalistic integrity is not altered, undermined or compromised.
"If I were the editor I would want everyone in my community to feel that the pages of my newspaper are there for them," McBride said. "I would want nonbelievers and Muslims and Jews to feel this was their paper as well."
The Gazette's editor so far has remained publicly silent, but, not surprisingly, over at Temple Shalom, the city's largest Jewish congregation, the matter has already been widely discussed. Leave it to say, not everyone is thrilled. Temple Shalom administrator Mary Simon says some congregants plan to cancel their subscription in protest. But they also have another idea for people who don't want the New Testament with their Sunday newspaper. Temple Shalom plans to collect unwanted Bibles and deliver them to a church or a homeless shelter that needs them. "We're trying to make a positive statement," Simon said.
Now that's admirable, especially since the Gazette initially planned to distribute the New Testaments on Dec. 12, until some bright bulb realized that day falls in the middle of Hanukkah and maybe, just maybe, getting a Bible from the Gazette might be an even harder slap in the face to non-Christians.
From Temple Shalom's perspective, there is a more disturbing consideration: respect for that which is holy. For many Jews, putting Bibles in plastic sacks and then throwing them on the ground is desecrating God's word. "We don't even put our Bibles on the floor," Simon noted. "If a car runs over it, or it falls into the gutter, that's desecration; it's the name of God."
The International Bible Society's Jackson notes that evangelical Christians embrace a far different tradition. "We want to shout His name from the rooftops," he said. "This is an efficient and powerful way to send out the news."
All the news the Gazette sees fit to distribute.