Kingsway and the Frightening Art of Stone Throwing: a Response to Paul Slennett

IF YOU’RE ON Paul Slennett’s emailing list you’ll no doubt have received a copy of his recent comment about the Kingsway polls, but you may be scratching your head and wondering where that comment is. You’ll find it directly on the polls themselves:

  1. Is Kingsway’s practice of comparing their own prices to their own RRPs in order to present things at a discount fair?
  2. Is a meeting in London on July 21st the best way forward for this discussion?

Paul writes:

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone”

I believe God is speaking to us through the words of Jesus about the tower of Siloam:

4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

If we gave a contemporary application to these verses, it could read like this:

Do you think that Kingsway are more guilty than us booksellers? I tell you, no! But unless we repent we too will be judged. In the same way, do we think that the Christian bookshops and STL that had to close last year are more guilty than the rest of us? I tell you, no, but unless we repent we too will all perish.

It’s an important point that Paul raises and I take this opportunity to thank him for doing so. I have replied (on both polls, since Paul left his comment on both polls) as follows:

Hi Paul and thanks for your observations.

I have no interest in throwing stones: the last thing I want to see is Kingsway destroyed. On the contrary, it’s because I want to see Kingsway thrive and excel that I am highlighting this issue. I and several others raised these questions with Kingsway privately long before they were raised in public, but Kingsway failed to address the issue constructively.

As followers of Christ do we not have a duty of care towards our brothers and sisters in the faith to challenge them when they go astray? Do we not have a responsibility to highlight hypocrisy when we see it? Is this not what you now believe yourself to be doing in challenging my challenge to Kingsway?

You are right: we all need to examine ourselves. I am painfully aware of Jesus’ teaching about those with logs in their eyes attempting to remove splinters from others’ — but does that teaching take away our responsibilities towards one another? Should we remain silent when we see the “Tower of Siloam” about to collapse on our neighbours’ heads?

The tower may have collapsed on the old STL — but does that mean we should stand back and allow another tower to collapse on Kingsway? Should we not rather be there amidst the rubble helping dig the survivors out?

If you haven’t done so, Paul, please go read my post In Defence of Kingsway: I say again what I essentially said there: Kingsway are not the enemy. I want to continue trading with them and I want to continue supplying their product to my customers — but they need to work with me, with all of us, to make that possible.

I expanded on why I believe it’s important to speak out on issues such as this on my personal blog a few weeks ago in a post entitled Seek ye the good. There seems to be a tendency in some Christian circles to think that we should always and only adopt a lovey dovey sugar’n’sweet niceness in our dealings with each other: we should never criticise, never call one another out for fear of being like those people who dragged that woman — who was undoubtedly guilty, scripture does not pretend otherwise — before Jesus. Let’s face it, who wants to be on the receiving end of that sort of comment from Jesus: Let the one without sin cast the first stone.

But there are important differences in this scenario: those people who dragged the woman before Jesus were out to test him, if possible to bring him down; and if the truth be known I suspect they didn’t care one whit about the woman or her ‘sin’ — if she died as a result of that confrontation, tough. She was nothing but an object to her accusers, a conveniently weak and defenceless person who they could use to trap the prophet who threatened the status quo.

In our scenario, we have Kingsway, a giant of the Christian publishing world, a company so large that by John Paculabo’s own admission, if STL’s prospective buyers had got wind of the fact that Kingsway were considering withdrawing from their STL distribution agreement then those buyers might well have had second thoughts about taking on the business; almost certainly, a significantly lower price would have been secured for the deal: Kingsway, a company that prides itself in its work to alleviate poverty through the Ray of Hope Amazon River Kids project and now in its support of issues of justice and mercy in its promotion of the Micah Challenge.

No: no weak damsel here betrayed by the very men to whom she had turned for what may have been her only way to make a living. Instead, the situation is turned upside-down and back-to-front: we who look up to Kingsway as a company to lead the way, who look up to John Paculabo as a man who we honoured at CBC 2007 with the Angus Hudson Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding service within and beyond our trade, who look up to Kingsway as a trading partner enabling us to make a living — we find ourselves betrayed over a simple matter of trade justice that requires nothing more than an executive decision to put right.

And so, with this woman, we kneel at Jesus’ feet … guilty as charged: making a living from selling Kingsway product. Kingsway have the power to take that trade away from us, to deliver it direct to our customers themselves — but now they are caught in the very act of that delivery, like a rabbit in the glare of a car’s headlights … and as Jesus sweeps his gaze across our trade, I wonder what he sees?

He bends down and writes something in the sand. Siloam’s tower teeters on the edge of another collapse. Who will shout a warning? Who will pick up the pieces? How can I remain silent?

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One thought on “Kingsway and the Frightening Art of Stone Throwing: a Response to Paul Slennett

  1. As a response to Paul’s comments, I would like to offer the following opinion.

    In this passage Jesus is drawing attention to an attitude that assumes that those who have become victims in this way must themselves have sinned – a reaction that fails to demonstate solidarity with these victims, but instead splits them off into a category that means that no pain need be
    felt on their behalf, no uncomfortable questions need to be asked. These natural or man-made disasters need not become the occasion for examining our own lives and making changes, but instead become the opportunity to demonise another group of people, leaving our own lives untouched.

    Now I can see to some extent how this can be applied to the situation with STL – we could perhaps profitably ask what our own part might have been in the genesis of that disaster; but I fail to see what clear application this has to the situation at Kingsway. What is the disaster that has
    happened to Kingsway that the link can be made to?

    If this is a general exhoration to keep our attitudes in check, well and good, but I remain to be convinvced that it is a good application of the passage in question. The threat of unspecified disaster generally simply serves to numb our sensibilities rather than achieve anything very useful.

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