Porn from the Papal Knight

From the Christian Post (links added):

Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., has responded to a number of charges against its founding pastor, Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren, for not disciplining global media executive Rupert Murdoch over his alleged ownership and expansion of pornographic channels in Europe.

Chris Rosebrough, head of the Calif.-based Christian Accountability Network, was one of a number of Christians who earlier this month said that Warren should “call Murdoch to repentance and/or put him out of the church.”

…According to London-based magazine The Business, Murdoch has been secretly building a stable of wholly-owned pornographic channels for his BSkyB subsidiary. The British publication claims that BSkyB now owns and operates its own pornographic channels – the 18+ Movies selection – after years of hosting third-party content only.

(The report in The Business actually appeared a year ago)

According to Rosebrough, Warren has declined to criticise Murdoch because Murdoch’s News Corp owns Zondervan, the evangelical imprint that publishes Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life. Warren, however, now says that Murdoch has no links with his church – which is a bit embarrassing for him since he had previously boasted of being the Dirty Digger’s pastor. Joseph Farah, who hates Warren for his support for causes such as action on global warming and dialogue with Syria, has seized the opening:

The only person I know who ever made the claim to be Murdoch’s pastor is Rick Warren, who has done so at least twice publicly in reports he has never repudiated. In fact, his church has reprinted those reports appearing in the Orange County Register and the New Yorker.

In the New Yorker interview published in September 2005, Warren is quoted as saying: “I had dinner with Jack Welch (former chief executive officer of GE) last Sunday night. He came to church, and we had dinner. I’ve been kind of mentoring him on his spiritual journey. And he said to me, ‘Rick, you the biggest thinker I have ever met in my life. The only other person I know who thinks globally like you is Rupert Murdoch.’ And I said, ‘That’s interesting. I’m Rupert’s pastor! Rupert published my book!'”

In the Nov. 12, 2006, Orange County Register story, Warren was asked about pastoring a man who publishes tabloids featuring topless women. He responded: “I don’t have to agree with 100 percent of what another person does in order to work with them on the 20 percent that we do agree on.” The article also points out Murdoch was among the first patrons to support Warren’s PEACE plan, contributing $2 million.

But while aiming at Warren, Rosebrough and Farah have missed an even bigger target: the Vatican. As the Independent reported in 1998:

The Roman Catholic church is receiving complaints from worshippers following news that Rupert Murdoch has been awarded a papal knighthood from Pope John Paul II.

Senior Catholics are said to have been “mystified and astonished” when they heard that the purveyor of newspaper sex, scandal and nudity was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory at a ceremony in Los Angeles last month.

News of the award was kept out of Mr Murdoch’s British titles – the Sun, the Times, the Sunday Times and the News of the World – at his request, although it is provoking outrage in the religious media and in Ireland, where many Catholics have reacted with anger that Mr Murdoch, who is not a Catholic, appears to have been honoured purely for donating large sums of money to the church.

(Murdoch showed his gratitude for the honour by announcing the appointment of Pope Benedict XVI with the UK Sun headline “From Hitler Youth to Papa Ratzi“)

But the bigger story here is what it means for someone like Murdoch to have control of a religious publishing empire. I’ve already blogged some previous disputes: in 2005 there were Christian complaints about Zondervan’s use of Chinese labour to print Bibles, and in the early 1980s Murdoch’s take-over of the British Christian publishing house of Collins led to the departure, in disgust, of editor Robin Baird-Smith, who had been asked to produce a sensationalist book concerning a serial-killer. Of course, the picture is more complicated than that: both imprints also publish good deal of thoughtful material by authors such as Philip Yancey, and (as I noted here) Zondervan is now much more up-market than it was in days when it was churning out crap by the likes of Hal Lindsey. Defenders of Zondervan have also pointed out that, as a businessman, Murdoch is hardly going to risk de-valuing the imprint by interfering with it. However, ownership by Murdoch is always a problem for credibility – and the Rosebrough-Warren spat shows that any association is now suspect.