Christian Publishers are Marginally Christian
: a brief history:
During the 1950s, a group of evangelical and fundamentalist leaders founded the Christian Booksellers Association with the intention of assuring that their followers and those they hope to reach with their message could be provided with material in accord with the message and agenda of the churches represented.
A result of this effort was the creation and proliferation of bookstores aligned with the CBA mission. And to provide this market with merchandise a whole new brand of publishers emerged.
Perhaps the CBA founders only hoped to provide outlets for their preferred varieties of Christian thought and entertainment, but over the years the movement has resulted in something far more pervasive, which is the essential separation of “Christian” publishing from “mainstream” publishing, and the consequent need for authors who wish to be read to write for one or the other.
Meanwhile, and perhaps in part because of the CBA phenomenon, the common opinion of Christians has deteriorated. We are more than ever viewed as being deluded, weak, or simply foolish. And “mainstream” publishers are wary of books that present us in ways contrary to the beliefs of the readership they seek.
What many authors face, then, is a CBA publishing establishment dedicated to the needs of its essential constituency, the leadership of evangelical and fundamentalist churches; and a “mainstream” publishing community reluctant to address our faith or its people in a positive or serious way.
So, what is an author to do if the books that have most moved him or her are by writers such as Feodor Dostoyevski, Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, or Soren Kierkegaard, any of whom be would likely be rejected as heretical by the CBA publishing houses, and considered too overtly Christian for mainstream readers?
That is a question that prompted the founding of Perelandra College.
A brief history of Perelandra College:
In 1975, we moved to Iowa City so I could study at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. My stay there was rich and memorable, but it also marked the first time we had let credit card balances go unpaid. The move had cost us our jobs and our home in San Diego. I thought, “There has to be a less disruptive way for apprentice writers and teachers of writing to learn their crafts.”
Twenty some years later, Pam and I left our positions at a Christian college largely because Creative Writing and the arts in general ranked near zero among the school’s priorities. And this was the norm in Christian higher education, we had discovered.
We had often asked each other the question I later found expressed in an editorial on ChristianityToday.com:
“Those who call on Jesus for salvation are given the Holy Spirit. It’s through the spirit’s power that we, simple jars of clay, are able to shine golden and do wonderful things beyond our human capacity. So, why do Christians, who claim access to the original creator, so often produce poor art?”
Maybe, we thought, it’s because they’re not encouraged or mentored to make quality art.
We couldn’t remember the last time we had found a gripping, thoughtful novel in a Christian bookstore by anyone other than C.S. Lewis.
We had nowhere to direct our truth-seeking, imaginative undergraduate English majors who wanted to become writers. Hundreds of secular writing programs existed, we knew, but in our estimation they most often produced creators of admirable, even dazzling style, but shallow, nihilistic, lurid or faddish content.
Our pastor, Charlie Gregg, invited us out to dinner. After the meal, he asked, “So what is your dream?” Surprised, we looked at each other then began to speak of an online writing program where creative people could find kindred spirits, resources, encouragement and direction.
Pam mentioned L’Abri, Frances and Edith Shaeffer’s spiritual retreats, and our vision of a similar community where non-dogmatic truth seekers and people of faith could nurture their spirits while at the same time earning credentials that would help them make a living and find places from which they could mentor others.
Charlie became a friend of our vision, and the congregation he pastored helped us support the founding of the college.
The next years we spent gaining approvals, first as a non-profit corporation, then as a licensed college, approved by the state of California to grant degrees, and finally as an accredited institution, which we remained from 2007 until July 2012.
While preparing for the college’s five-year accreditation review, the founders of World Education University approached us with the offer of a merger. What they essentially wanted was our accreditation, but they assured us they would keep our programs intact while using an innovative facebook-like business model to allow our students free tuition. They made a good case and appeared to have the financial clout and knowledge base to succeed. Meanwhile, our accreditors were under pressure from the feds to get tougher on colleges, and we were growing slowly. I was pleased with our growth, from five students to thirty in a year, but as the accreditors indicated they weren’t satisfied, our governing board agreed to the WEU merger.
The accreditors not only denied the approval for a merger but also withdrew our accreditation, asserting that we were not a financially “going concern.”
Now, as granting unaccredited degrees is rather pointless, we are testing a model of offering single classes and certificate programs, which in a sense puts us back to square one, only without the generous support we had the first time.
Still, we are determined to pursue our original mission, to build the college as a resource center for writers inclined to write the truth no matter if their visions fit into the moneymaking plans of either CBA or mainstream publishers.
The future of Perelandra College:
• No matter what, we will continue to offer classes we have developed, work to improve and augment them, and to develop new classes to help writers meet all the challenges a rapidly changing world presents.
• We are seeking partnerships with other colleges in order to gain the acceptance for college credit of our classes and programs.
• We will continue to build and nurture business relationships with literary agents, editors, and publishers who share our vision.
• We intend to make this website a place where writers can find direction to every sort of helpful resource.
• We are formulating long term goals and strategies, which you can read about on our What page.
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