InterVarsity Press (IVP) has apparently been told by the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) that IVP will no longer be welcome to sell their books as an exhibitor at SBL meetings from 2017. What horrendous thing has IVP done? Apparently their only “crime”—and it is not a crime, as SBL willingly admits—is to have a different view on same sex marriage than does SBL. SBL has clearly over-reached in its estimation of itself and for whom it speaks. It certainly doesn’t speak for me.
I have been a member of SBL since 1987, have presented nearly 50 times at SBL meetings of various sorts, have served on various steering committees of the society (including co-founding two consultations/sections), and have published with SBL Press. In other words, I have more than earned my right to speak candidly about SBL. I am also a proud IVP author, as well as being an author with numerous other publishers.
To put it bluntly, I am not just disappointed but outright appalled that SBL would consider limiting the ability of IVP to conduct its business as an exhibitor at future SBL annual meetings. Regardless of one’s view on the matter of same-sex marriage, for SBL to assume responsibility for enforcing such restrictions upon IVP goes well beyond any reasonable mandate and smacks of the “nanny-state” mentality (or worse). It also violates SBL’s own declared goal of promoting open and free exchange of diverse ideas, in the hypocritical way of those who often try to restrict such discussion.
A society such as SBL has one and only one legitimate function. That function is, as a professional scholarly society, to administer a good conference or set of conferences and to publish a good journal. I suggest that SBL administration spend more time on these two functions—there is much more that could be done in each area, believe me!— rather than meddling in other people’s business. There is a regrettable and growing tendency for SBL to weigh in on social issues, such as labor disputes or other matters, and I would encourage SBL not to be involved in any of these extraneous arenas. If I had wanted to join a social advocacy group, I would have joined one. I do not want or need SBL to be one for me.
SBL is deluding itself to make the claim that the exhibition hall serves as an extension of the purpose and mandate of SBL. I am happy to acknowledge that there are many exhibitors who probably hold to different beliefs than I do. I do not confuse their position with that of SBL. To think otherwise is to take a patronizing and condescending attitude toward the intelligence of SBL members, including me. All I want from the exhibitors is to offer the sale of good products at reasonable prices. IVP has been one of those exhibitors and I wish for them to continue to do so. Those I disagree with or do not choose to support, I can simply pass by. If IVP is prohibited from exhibiting, SBL may go on a witch-hunt of all of the exhibitors (seminaries and other institutions? all other publishers?) to fulfill a self-appointed (and misguided) mission that is not in the best interests of SBL or its members. I know that it is not in my best interests.
If SBL moves forward with this unnecessary, restrictive measure, I know that I will have to reconsider my support of SBL through my purchase of SBL publications (I have been known to buy quite a few books).
Stop, SBL, while you still have some credibility, and go back to doing what you are supposed to do and leave the rest of us (and our publishers) alone to enjoy our conferences.
— Stanley E. Porter