In an unusual criticism of its own product, the board of the Louisville-based Presbyterian Publishing Corp. says a book fell short of its editing standards with its “spurious” claim that the Bush administration orchestrated the 9/11 terror attacks.
But the publisher will continue selling the controversial book, “Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11,” by California theologian David Ray Griffin.
The book stirred controversy this summer when published by the corporation, which is the official publishing house of the Louisville-based Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Critics said the corporation was undercutting the denomination’s credibility by publishing conspiracy theories under its name and that of its long-respected imprint, Westminster John Knox.
Griffin is “a distinguished theologian” who has published a number of books with the corporation, said a statement by Kenneth Godshall, chairman of its board of directors. “This particular volume is not up to (Westminster John Knox) editorial standards and not representative of the publishing program.”
The statement said “the conspiracy theory is spurious and based on questionable research.”
Griffin said yesterday he was disappointed by the response. “I wish they would have contacted me and said let’s have a discussion about this,” he said. “€¦ No, they just meet behind closed doors and make a statement.”
In an interview, Godshall said no one would be disciplined for approving the book.
“We are not recalling the book or renouncing it,” he added. “We’re just expressing the point of view of whether it meets our publishing standards. I think we’ll just let the book find its own way.”
The book has sold 8,500 copies and has had two print runs, said corporation president Davis Perkins. He declined to comment on the board statement but said it would continue to be offered along with about 1,500 other books in its backlist.
Griffin’s book is divided into two sections. The first outlines claims that the Bush administration secretly engineered the slaughter of thousands of Americans on Sept. 11, 2001 — and that numerous government agencies helped in the cover-up — as a pretext to boost its “demonic” imperial power. The second half urges Christians to resist such power, just as early Christians resisted the Roman Empire.
Among Griffin’s contentions are that the World Trade Center towers collapsed because of secretly planted explosives, not because they were weakened by fires caused by crashing airliners.
He also claims the U.S. military could have intercepted the four jets if they were really hijacked and that the hijacker accused of slamming a jet into the Pentagon lacked the skills to do so.
Griffin noted the corporation’s statement didn’t specify what was wrong with his research.
“This is something I’ve worked on almost daily for years,” Griffin said. “I doubt any of the €¦ members of the board have spent nearly the time on it I have. They were really not in the position to make such a statement.”
But Godshall said in an interview that Griffin failed to take into account rebuttals of his theories, such as one published by Popular Mechanics.
“We gave Dr. Griffin a platform that he did not have before for his views,” Godshall said. “He had previously published two other books about 9/11 from a smaller publisher €¦ that did not get the same level of media attention. While the book is his responsibility, the fact that we published it connected it to a church-owned publisher, so we felt the need to explain to our own constituency the decision to publish.”
Godshall said the board would continue to defend the editorial independence of the corporation, which receives no funding from the denomination. He said it would be “unfair” to judge its total publishing program based on one book.
The publisher has long been known for publishing specialized books on theology and church life as well as books on religion for the general public.
Godshall said he wasn’t aware of the corporation board ever issuing such a statement about one of its products before.
Gary Mulder, director of Protestant Church-Owned Publishers Association, a trade group, said he doesn’t “recall it happening among denominational publishers before. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.”
One of the book’s critics, Alan Wisdom of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, welcomed the corporation board’s statement.
“Let us hope that the (corporation) editors will learn a lesson and refrain from future dalliances with the loony left,” he said in a statement.