Following months of nationwide demonstrations and advocacy efforts on behalf of #BlackLivesMatter and actions at the Big Five trade publishing houses to diversify the industry, PW asked evangelical Christian publishers what they are doing to better represent people of color on staff and in books. Responses varied, and many industry members acknowledged more work needs to be done.
The Evangelical Christian Publishing Association (ECPA) has been addressing the issue of diversity for the past five years, according to Stan Jantz, president of the organization. ECPA’s efforts to add voices of color to Christian publishing include bringing diverse speakers and panelists to networking events, working with strategist Skot Welch, president of Global Bridgebuilders, and consulting with Dr. Theon Hill, a specialist in diversity and inclusion. The organization has produced webinars for member publishers on the topic of diversity, while also generating a list of books addressing racial justice and reconciliation. This list, as well an "Authors of Color" book list, were promoted in Christianity Today during September, October, and November.
The ECPA’s Christian book proposal website, which connects prospective authors to member publishers, allows users to self-identify their ethnicity, and to date, 156 BIPOC writers have submitted their manuscripts, according to Jantz. The organization is also working to diversify its awards program with modified criteria and the recruitment of more judges of color.
“We have other projects in our scope for 2021 as we continue to listen and desire to resource our members toward their goal of diversifying their staffs and publishing programs,” Jantz says.
The most comprehensive program PW found at independent religion publishers is at InterVarsity Press (IVP). Twenty-two percent of the press’ 90 employees are people of color, according to IVP’s publisher Jeff Crosby.(PW's most recent salary survey found whites comprised 84% of industry employees; Lee & Lows diversity survey found 76% were white). Crosby notes that the press will develop and host a series of workshops on cross-cultural competency with help from Adrian Pei, author of The Minority Experience (IVP, 2018) in the next year. IVP also recently launched its Every Voice Now initiative (EVN), which will focus on developing, marketing, and selling books by authors of color and recruiting diverse professionals.
“Led by a group of four staff of color with more than 70 years of publishing experience between them, EVN includes a specialized fund to support and amplify voices of color, both through our authors and books and also through projects to increase cultural competency and diversity in our organization, plus a podcast featuring our authors of color,” Helen Lee, associate director, strategic partnerships and initiatives, told PW.
The Every Voice Now podcast explores challenges faced by writers of color, and it launched on October 26. “Through these latest efforts, we hope to continue making forward strides in our multiethnic publishing program, a commitment that IVP has maintained throughout its nearly 75-year history,” Lee says.
Diversity is "woven into the DNA" of Brazos Press, an imprint of Baker Publishing, said Jim Kinney, associate publisher and editorial director of Brazos and Baker Academic. The press will release books by authors from a variety of racial backgrounds—including Tiffany Bluhm, M. Daniel Carroll R., Kaitlin Curtice, Duke Kwon, and Brenda Salter McNeil—“who bring Christianity into conversation with an array of human experiences,” Kinney says. He adds: “But we have more work to do if we are to have an author list and staff that year-after-year represents more fully the wonderfully diverse body of Christ.”
One publisher spoke frankly about the representation of people of color on staff. Eerdmans president and publisher Anita Eerdmans acknowledged that staff at the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based press is “overwhelmingly white,” but there is currently a hiring freeze at the company due to Covid-19. Once that changes, Eerdmans plans to add more people of color to its ranks. Despite a static staff, Eerdmans continues to look closely for new voices from diverse backgrounds to add to its already robust list of authors of color, Eerdmans said.
B&H Publishing says it is responding to a greater need for diversity and inclusivity, though no details about any new actions were provided. B&H’s publisher Devin Maddox tells PW that all Christian publishers can improve by acquiring, hiring, and winning the trust of more diverse people, but “this is very difficult to achieve in a challenging marketplace.”
“We have a very tangible sense that the momentum of our industry is headed in a very positive direction on all of these fronts, not only at B&H, but with nearly every Christian publisher in our industry,” Maddox said. “We are proud of the measurable progress that has been made, but we are not satisfied; we are more excited about the future than we are content about the present. "
As part of Penguin Random House, WaterBrook Multnomah did not have anything to add to the company’s efforts to be more diverse and inclusive. PRH has started a wide array of diversity and inclusive programs.
Another Christian publisher owned by one of the Big Five trade houses, HarperCollins Christian Publishing has incorporated diversity into core objectives at all levels, according to a spokesperson for the organization.
"We are expanding our talent recruitment strategies to attract a pipeline of diverse talent, as well as providing additional educational and training programs for all our employees," the spokesperson added. "We continue to build on the success we have had with Christian content and author development, as well as expansion of distribution reach. We are also establishing strategic partnerships with diverse organizations that share a common vision and mission for Christian content and have historic success in maintaining relationships in diverse communities."