Bible Gets Girly Makeover

BY Eleanor J. Bader

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Capitalism is nothing if not inventive—and where a market is perceived, products inevitably follow. Take niche Bibles.

In 1999, Thomas Nelson Inc., a Christian publisher, teamed up with Audio Adrenaline, a Nashville band, to form Extreme for Jesus, a subsidiary geared to young consumers. Their first release was Extreme Teen Bible, designed “to show teens that the Bible can be cool and encourage them to be radical about their faith and outspoken in their attitudes and convictions about the Savior,” says Nelson spokeswoman Laurie Whaley.

It sold well. But market research revealed something startling: Buyers of the Extreme Teen Bible were largely young males.

“We took a step back and by 2001 were looking to develop a Bible for teen girls,” Whaley continues. “We knew that gender-specific products did well, so we started by asking 1,000 girls from around the country—in focus groups and online through the Extreme for Jesus Web site—how they felt about the Bible. They told us they didn’t read it. It was too big. We asked them what they read instead and the answer was magazines.

So, this summer the company released Revolve: The Complete New Testament, a glossy, multicolored fashion magazine look-alike. The first 40,000—available exclusively in Christian bookstores and at concerts and music festivals—sold out within a month. A second printing of 120,000 will hit chain stores before Christmas.

It’s likely to stuff many a stocking. What’s more, as the first Bible geared to teenage girls, it’s meant to fire up its audience and prompt them to actively spread the Gospel in their high schools and communities. Revolve includes the entire New Testament—Matthew to Revelations—as well as a panoply of less lofty messages, from beauty tips to dating advice to quizzes about self-esteem and body image. As you’d expect from a publication crafted by religious conservatives, readers are encouraged to be helpmates to men. Surprisingly, though, the editors seem to take several pages from feminist playbooks and repeatedly steer readers away from becoming doormats for Jesus.

It’s a confusing mix, wrapped in a hip, contemporary package. In fact, Revolve was designed by Studio Four5One, a Dublin firm that has done work for U2, Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello and Sting.

Then there’s the text. “There are no thee’s and thou’s,” says Kate Etue, senior editor at Nelson. “The translation we’ve used puts the Scripture, which was written thousands of years ago, into everyday English. It makes it relevant. It isn’t just words strung together. It’s God speaking directly to the girls.”

And God’s message?
  • “God made guys to be the leaders. This means that they lead in relationships.”
  • Revolve girls don’t call guys. Guys need to step up and be the man.”
  • ”Dating a nonbeliever is like playing with fire. God wants Christians to marry other Christians.”
  • ”Sex is a beautiful gift that God has given to married people. To wonder is OK, to learn about it from a purely educational standpoint is OK, too. But to fantasize about it, to think about doing it, is sinful.”
  • “The Bible clearly says that homosexuality is wrong [Romans 1:24-27]. It’s against God.”
Yet for all this, Revolve is more than a guide to heterosexual subservience.

Another section posits the following:
  • “Does your guy expect you to jump up and get him a fresh Coke when you’re watching the game? Does he think it’s your job to make the popcorn? What about cleaning up around the house?”
“The Bible says husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies,” the magazine offers. “If he doesn’t respect you, end the relationship. … Make sure he is treating you the way Christ treated the church. With respect. With dignity. Selflessly.”

Other sections of the “magazine” discuss AIDS, domestic violence, eating disorders, pregnancy, racism, rape, sexual abuse, and alcoholism and drug use. Although neither abortion nor birth control is mentioned, the rest of the information is downright rational, even helpful.

“My cousin who sexually abused me when I was younger is going to be moving into the house,” one Q&A column confesses. “I tried talking to my mom and dad but they will not listen. I am scared and not sure what to do.”

Revolve urges the questioner to “speak up. That’s the first step in confronting evil. Keep telling your parents and other people in authority—whomever you can find. Don’t ever be alone with this person. Stay with friends if necessary till he is gone.”

Social action also rears its head: “There are over 2,300 verses in the Scripture that command us to take care of the poor, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. What are you doing to live that out?” Revolve asks. Information on several dozen groups from the Youth Conservation Corps to Head Start provides would-be activists with a stepping-stone to involvement.

To some, Revolve is innovative, awesome and valuable. To others is it vapid, reactionary and abhorrent. In reality it is both. Sections of the magazine are revoltingly misogynistic and homophobic; others offer sound information and useful referrals.

Still, readers can’t help but be struck by an unexpected reality: Revolve has clearly been influenced by the women’s movement. It encourages girls to go to college, find careers and develop a healthy body image. At the same time, it condemns sexual experimentation of all kinds and is intolerant of those who test the waters of alternative lifestyles. Apparently, a publication geared to Christian females can take a pro-woman message only so far.

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Eleanor Bader is a teacher and freelance writer from Brooklyn, N.Y. She is a frequent contributor to The Brooklyn Rail, RHRealityCheck.org, elevateddifference.org, ontheissuesmagazine.com and Truthout.

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