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Dobson's choice

Focus on the Family leader responds to IBS accusations in TNIV controversy

When WORLD reader Jonathan Clough recently informed the Colorado Springs-based International Bible Society he no longer would be sending contributions, he had no idea of the chain reaction his letter would begin. The letter cited objections to IBS's new "gender-inclusive" TNIV Bible and the controversial actions surrounding its release (WORLD, Feb. 23, 2002). It brought a reply from Cathe Temmerman, IBS's director of donor communications. She expressed regret at his decision, then launched into a defense of IBS's actions.

A copy of that letter landed on the desk of James Dobson, head of the influential Focus on the Family ministry across town. Saying he was "deeply concerned about the misrepresentation that continues to mark discussion pertaining to the TNIV," Dr. Dobson fired off a reply to Mrs. Temmerman on April 5. Clearly, it was aimed higher. He sent copies to IBS president Peter Bradley and others at IBS and Zondervan (publisher of the TNIV), and to selected scholars and Bible translators.

Much of his letter focused on a 1997 signed agreement that committed IBS, its Committee for Bible Translation, and Zondervan, the TNIV publisher, to abide by a set of standards for translation of gender-related words. The IBS found itself in conflict with the standards, known as the Colorado Springs Guidelines, at least as early as 1999 but waited until the TNIV was launched this year to announce its abrogation of the agreement. "Why?" Dr. Dobson asked.

He labeled as "false" Mrs. Temmerman's assertion that the Colorado Springs Guidelines "were written by people who are not Bible translators." He named Vern Poythress, Wayne Grudem, and the CBT's Ron Youngblood and Ken Barker as translators who helped draft the guidelines and then signed them. He suggested she was trying to create the impression that the guidelines were "dreamed up on the spot."

Excerpts from Dr. Dobson's letter:

"You went on to report that IBS '[withdrew from the Guidelines] after 14 months of discussion with senior leadership of Focus on the Family (the designated liaison between the Guidelines signatories and IBS).' Not once did any member of our staff agree to serve as a liaison; two of our executive vice presidents were simply meeting with IBS representatives at their request. More egregious than that, however, is your implication that meaningful interaction and full disclosure occurred between IBS and all other parties who had affirmed the Guidelines. Quite to the contrary, never was there a single mention of IBS straying from the principles set forth during our 1997 gathering.

"Documented meetings between Focus leadership and Peter Bradley during that 14-month timeframe detail Mr. Bradley's declarations of IBS's commitment to the standards agreed upon back in 1997. On April 11, 2000, he reaffirmed your organization's adherence to those criteria, and as recently as one year ago (April 18, 2001), he reiterated IBS's intention to honor the [Guidelines] in all future Bible translations.... Either there was serious miscommunication taking place within your organization, or a conscious decision was made to conceal the truth from those who might have objected to the translation.

"Of equal concern to me, however, is IBS's rationale for departing from the Colorado Springs Guidelines. When Mr. Bradley announced this decision, he justified it by referring to the 1999 Forum of Bible Agencies guidelines. We were told these guidelines contained specifications about gender-related language which ran contrary to the 1997 agreement. Again, that just isn't true: That particular aspect of translation isn't even addressed in the 1999 objectives. These two documents, in actuality, seem to be in general conformity with one another.

"When all is said and done, I'm afraid the only conclusion we can draw is that an element of duplicity has been guiding this process. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the TNIV itself, there doesn't seem any other way to account for the contradictory claims coming from so many sources. Disagreement over the finer points of Bible translation is one thing; the preservation of integrity is quite another...."

IBS communications director Larry Lincoln told WORLD no one at IBS would comment on the content of the Temmerman and Dobson letters.