A new Bible that includes singer Lee Greenwood’s licensed lyrics to “God Bless the USA” and America’s Pledge of Allegiance is off to a rough start.
The custom Bible’s Tennessee-based seller, marketing firm Elite Source Pro. led by Hugh Kirkpatrick, lost a manufacturing agreement to print the New International Version Bible text after a petition circulated in response to an article in Religion Unplugged, asking Zondervan and HarperCollins to drop the project. Neither HarperCollins nor its evangelical publishing groups Zondervan and Thomas Nelson will support the Bible product anymore. Zondervan released a statement that the publisher never finalized a formal agreement with Elite Source Pro.
The “God Bless the USA” Bible includes the full texts in the public domain of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and Pledge of Allegiance, without commentary. The Bible was marketed for pre-sale for $49.99 and expected to ship in September 2021 for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“This is a toxic mix that will exacerbate the challenges to American evangelicalism, adding fuel to the Christian nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiments found in many segments of the evangelical church,” the petition by Utah-based Christian John Morehead reads.
The NIV is the best-selling modern English translation of the Bible and is licensed in North America by HarperCollins Christian Publishing Inc, a parent company of Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, evangelical publishers. Zondervan is known for its NIV Bibles, associated Bible study materials and evangelical Christian books, while Thomas Nelson publishes King James and New King James Bibles and evangelical Christian books.
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In response to an article in Religion Unplugged, several Christian authors who have published with Zondervan, led by Shane Claiborne, wrote a letter condemning Christian nationalism and criticizing the “God Bless the USA” Bible. Zondervan issued a statement May 25 distancing itself from the project.
“Zondervan is not publishing, manufacturing or selling the ‘God Bless the USA Bible’,” the statement emailed to Religion Unplugged reads. “While we were asked for a manufacturing quote, ultimately the project was not a fit for either party, and the website and marketing of the NIV project were premature.”
HarperCollins Christian Publishing had suggested the NIV text to Kirkpatrick, he said, and gave him quotes for the printing, which HarperCollins would have arranged.
“The sample [of the ‘God Bless the USA’ Bible] they sent us to review was from Zondervan,” he said. “They sent me a physical Bible in a physical box and it says NIV Zondervan on the Bible.”
Bible publishers often produce custom Bibles for special events or groups from Christian sororities to sports teams. Printing the entirety of the NIV Bible text in the U.S. requires a license from HarperCollins Christian Publishing Inc. or a manufacturing agreement with them. Zondervan explains on its website that obtaining the license requires layers of approval, including approving descriptions of additional content that will be added to the Bible text and knowing the target audience and size.
Kirkpatrick initially requested 1,000 “God Bless the USA” Bibles and then based on pre-sales, asked for 20,000 more. The Bible was doing “very well in pre-sale” with about 700 orders, Kirkpatrick told ReligionUnplugged before the Bible’s agreement with HarperCollins was reported.
On May 25, Kirkpatrick met with HarperCollins Christian Publishing representatives hoping to explore options to produce the “God Bless the USA” Bible with the New King James translation through Thomas Nelson.
“They’re [HarperCollins] trying to figure a way to get it done,” Kirkpatrick said ahead of the meeting on Tuesday. “They want to keep everybody happy. They want to keep their fans on the left and right.”
In the end, HarperCollins decided to halt production of the “God Bless the USA” Bible. They worked “very graciously” with Kirkpatrick, he said, to give him digital files of the Bible that he plans to print with a King James translation that is not copyrighted. The whole ordeal only set him back a few hundred dollars, he said. When asked if he had paid for the first 1,000 Bibles that HarperCollins had agreed to print, Kirkpatrick said he wasn’t supposed to comment on that.
“Let’s just say I have [the money] back,” he said. “This doesn’t matter, whether they paid me back. The customer is going to get their product or they’ll get a refund… the God I believe in is running the show, not me.”
A HarperCollins representative said that there was not a financial transaction with Kirkpatrick.
In 2009, Thomas Nelson published the American Patriot’s Bible, which uses the New King James Version and is marketed as “the one Bible that shows how ‘a light from above’ shaped our nation.” The Bible does not include U.S. founding documents but includes several articles arguing America’s founding was divinely inspired, commentary like “Seven Principles of the Judeo-Chistian Ethic” and quotes about scripture from founding presidents. The patriot’s Bible is edited by Dr. Richard Lee, former president of the Pastors’ Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention. HarperCollins Christian Publishing Inc. acquired Thomas Nelson in 2012.
News Corp, the media conglomerate owned by Rupert Murdoch that includes Fox News, bought the publishing house Collins and merged it with Harper & Row to create HarperCollins in 1989. Since 2012, Thomas Nelson and Zondervan have operated as publishing groups of HarperCollins Christian Publishing Inc.
Another similar Bible that wraps in parts of America’s founding documents is the Founder’s Bible that includes evangelical author David Barton’s commentary on the documents and Bible passages that he argues influenced the creation of the U.S. Constitution and government. The Founder’s Bible uses the New American Standard Bible translation, published by the Lockman Foundation.
This article originally appeared in Religion Unplugged and is reprinted with permission.
Meagan Clark is the managing editor of Religion Unplugged. She has reported for Newsweek, International Business Times, Dallas Morning News, Religion News Service and several outlets in India, including Indian Express and the Wire.