So, what is going on at Patheos?

As the news has spread of Warren Throckmorton’s sudden removal from Patheos, many of the rest of us continue to ask why. And look over our shoulders.

The problem is, the reasons Throckmorton was given for his departure are frustratingly vague. In Throckmorton’s words: “Patheos leadership informed me yesterday that my blog no longer fit their ‘strategic objectives.’”

With so little information, it wasn’t hard for Throckmorton—and many of the rest of us—to jump to some conclusions. Throckmorton, of course, is known for writing on some of the biggest scandals in the Christian subculture. “A Christian whistleblower,” he’s blogged about Mark DriscollMars Hill ChurchK.P. Yohannan, and Gospel for Asia. Connecting the dots, Throckmorton explains: “Patheos was at the center of the Mars Hill Church and Gospel for Asia stories and now they host Mark Driscoll and K. P. Yohannan.” (Throckmorton has moved his blog to www.wthrockmorton.com, though Patheos has not responded to his request to migrate comments on his posts to his new site).

Over at unfundamentalists.com, Dan Wilkinson has been reflecting on Throckmorton’s departure. While he concedes that “Patheos is a private company and is free to choose who they want to host on their site,” the question remains: What are their “strategic” objectives, beyond “hosting the conversation on faith”?

Lacking any clear directives, we’ve been left to our own devices to attempt to ferret out what may be motivating Patheos. And to attempt to understand precisely which sort of conversation we’re participating in. One way to do this is simply to follow the money.

Here Wilkinson provides a helpful overview:

After nearly eight years of independently hosting a variety of religious and nonreligious blogs, in 2016 Patheos was purchased by BN Media, LLC. Along with Patheos, BN Media also owns Beliefnet and Affinity4.

  • Beliefnet is an “online resource for inspiration and spirituality” that BN Media purchased from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Entertainment Group in 2010. In 2013, Beliefnet refused to host a blog that included the word “feminist” in its title because “we know our readers are offended by the word.”
  • Affinity4 is a fundraising organization that has raised funds for a variety of conservative Christian groups, including the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the National Rifle Association.

But who owns BN Media?

Although this information has now been purged from their website, in 2013 BN Media publicly listed their Board of Directors as Joseph Gregory, Steve Halliday, Jay Sekulow, T.D. Jakes, and Michael McKinney. All of those individuals appear to still be part of the current BN Media organization.

Of particular note are Gregory and Sekulow:

  • Joseph “Joe” Gregory is the Chairman of BN Media. He is also a Founding Partner in the investment banking firm Ashcroft, Sekulow & Gregory, and is a charter member of the National Rifle Association’s Golden Ring of Freedom, meaning that he has personally donated over one million dollars to the NRA.
  • Jay Sekulow is a member of Trump’s personal legal team, a Fox News analyst, and the Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). The ACLJ was founded by Pat Robertson and advocates for a variety of conservative Christian causes, including anti-abortion laws and support of anti-LGBT legislation in Africa. The Guardian and The Washington Post have reported that nonprofits controlled by Sekulow (the ACLJ and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism) have paid millions of dollars to his family and relatives from charitable donations made to those groups.

After doing a bit of online investigating, I was reminded that our fellow bloggers over at Patheos Pagan began to run into difficulties the moment BN Media took over. In his description of the dispute, now former Patheos blogger John Halstead describes what was at issue in the sudden changes to bloggers’ contracts:

The most problematic part of the contact had to do with new editorial controls. The new contract allowed Patheos to edit any of posts “without limitation.” Writers were explicitly prohibited from using profanity (with some exceptions). The contract required that the “tone” (a very subjective term) resemble that of other online media with which Patheos compared itself, like Slate and Huffington Post. The contract also prohibited advertising or “self-promotion” (another vague term). And Patheos could delete any post it deemed, in its sole discretion, to be “offensive” (yet another ambiguous term).

The contract also prohibited “disparaging” of Patheos or any “related” company. A little online research revealed that Patheos is one of three companies owned by BN Media, LLC. One of the other companies is Affinity4, which is associated number of right-wing organizations, including the NRA, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, the American Family Association, and the American Center of Law and Justice.

Over a dozen bloggers ended up leaving Patheos as a result of those changes. And what, exactly does all this mean for those of us who remain at Patheos? Particularly for those of us who write on the intersection of religion and politics?

Does Patheos in fact host the conversation on faith? Or is this a sign that it will be hosting a censored, invitation-only conversation? Are there topics we would do well to avoid? (To be clear, these questions are not meant to “disparage” the site, simply to inquire about its strategic objectives going forward).

As someone who writes on feminism, on Focus on the Family, on racism and Christian nationalism, on conservative Christians and sexual abuse, on #MeToo and the church, and, yes, on Donald Trump, this question is of particular interest to me. (To be clear, I’ve never received any editorial directives from Patheos leadership; Throckmorton’s removal, however, seems to have come without warning).

Beyond censorship, I suppose there’s also the question of whose pockets we’re padding. The revenue generated from the ubiquitous ads goes somewhere. I can’t imagine my blog posts contribute in any significant way to the net wealth of folks like President Trump’s personal lawyer—he has other more lucrative streams of income, I presume.

Now that I’ve been paying more attention to the fine print of our blogger’s contract, I see that we are also prohibited from writing a “farewell” post unless its been approved by our “channel manager.” And so I should probably also clarify that, to the best of my knowledge, this is not my “farewell” post.

 

**Update: For those interested, here is a response to allegations of BN Media’s editorial influence published over at Patheos Pagan.

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