(WOMENSENEWS)–The attractive model striking a confident pose on the cover of Becoming magazine looks like the odd woman out next to the busty, leggy women adorning Vogue, Glamour and Cosmopolitan.
She is modestly dressed in jeans and a jacket, not a centimeter of cleavage visible beneath her chartreuse blouse. Her wide grin is sweet, not sultry. Her chestnut hair and fresh complexion look natural, not store-bought.
That’s because Becoming isn’t promoting fashion, makeup or sex tips. The glossy magazine, which hit the stands this month, has a higher calling.
The so-called biblezine is meant to pull young women to Christianity by interspersing the text of all 27 books of the New Testament with short articles
–about one-quarter of a page–aimed at women in their 20s and 30s.
Becoming is the third biblezine published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Last year, the Nashville-based bible house issued Revolve for female teens and the first issue has so far sold 400,000 copies worldwide. The first issue of Refuel, for male teens, has so far sold 150,000 copies. All of them are scheduled to come out every 18 months.
The biblezines have been an explosive success for Thomas Nelson, which typically sells only about 40,000 copies of a new edition of a bible in a year. In its first run, about 100,000 copies of Becoming–at $16.99 a pop–will be shipped.
“Everything you’re dealing with right now, the Bible says something about,” says Laurie Whaley, brand manager for Thomas Nelson. “If you’re dealing with relationship issues, abuse, self-esteem issues, we wanted to show you where in the Bible to read.”
While the publications offer what some see as a preferable alternative to the mass marketing of women as sexual objects, secular-world detractors find that, at best, their non-biblical content boils down to the standard preoccupations with makeup and men.
“These magazines are supposed to be about something better or higher, so why are they focusing on trivial things?” griped Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing, a New York-based group that advocates on behalf of young women.
Rape Advice Draws Criticism
More pointedly, critics say the biblezines oversimplify issues in a way that is both dangerous and misogynistic. A prime example is the topic of rape.
One article in the magazine gives kudos to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network as being the largest anti-sexual assault organization and for being named one of America’s best charities. But in what some consider a failing to offer readers a direct connection to the services of the organization, the article does not include the network’s hotline number.
More worrisome to some is “Abby’s Story,” which offers readers the testimony of a female rape survivor, who learns to forgive–and presumably not prosecute–her assailant.
“I realized my rapist had continued to live and enjoy his life, while I was paralyzed by depression. I fell to my knees and begged Jesus to help me. I was reminded of the many times in the Bible we are told to forgive others.”
Valenti, who is also a volunteer rape crisis counselor, reacted negatively to the implicit recommendation for readers to follow suit.
“If you’ve been raped you need to go to a hospital, not a church,” she said. “It’s not okay to tell a survivor how they should be feeling. They need to have control over their emotions.”
Janice Crouse, senior fellow for The Beverly LaHaye Institute, a think tank affiliated with the conservative Concerned Women for America of Washington, D.C., said that telling a rape victim to simply forgive their rapist flies in the face of 2,000 years of Christianity.
“Repentance and restitution are doctrines that are just as central to Christianity as forgiveness,” said Crouse. “This is very surfacey; it’s not solidly grounded.” She added that biblezines are “examples of marketing madness and celebrity culture gone crazy.”
Bible Readers Are Older
In a 2004 study, the Barna Research Group, a company in Ventura, Calif., that tracks cultural trends and the Christian Church, found that only 33 percent of people 20 or younger read the Bible during a typical week, compared with 44 percent of people between the ages of 40 and 58.
Whaley says that biblezines, which use the New Century Version of the Bible, a 1991 translation written at the fifth-grade reading level, aim to give younger people access to the biblical teachings that can help them with everyday issues.
“It’s a paradigm shift and it’s a good one,” said Whaley of the format and style of the biblezines. “God is all about finding us where we are.”
If Becoming’s content is any indication, women in their 20s and 30s are primarily concerned about relationships.
Out of more than 200 brief articles, some 50 are about love, relationships and men. Other articles focus on being a good hostess, becoming involved in the community, health and beauty. There are no ads.
In one brief article called “Marital Problems,” Becoming cites the first book of Peter as a “mini-marriage manual” that encourages “agreement, understanding, loving, kindness, and humility; not seeking revenge, not insulting, but repaying with a blessing.”
While the magazine omits articles on education and career–unless “Serving God at Work” fits that category–Whaley denies that Becoming promotes a woman-in-the-kitchen agenda. “There’s no feature on career because there’s not a lot of writing in the Bible that talks about career,” said Whaley.
As Crouse suggests, biblezines may be the latest symptom of a fad that has taken Jesus mainstream.
Trendy clothing stores from New York to Los Angeles now carry T-shirts with “Jesus Loves Me” logos. Madonna and actress Pamela Anderson have been spotted wearing T-shirts proclaiming “Mary is My Homegirl.” Christian rock is drawing youthful crowds at “passion concerts” and “Joan of Arcadia,” a show on CBS about a high school student who talks to God, scored a People’s Choice Award for best dramatic series this year.
Like all fads, trend watchers say the current demand for biblically inspired clothing, magazines, music and entertainment is likely to die down. But in the meantime, the marketers are happily riding the wave.
Tim Flannigan, the religion buyer for New York-based Barnes and Noble, said the biblezines’ unique packaging have helped attract a whole new group of non-Bible reading teen-agers. He expects Becoming to do the same for women in their 20s and 30s.
“I expect it will sell well,” Flannigan said.
Jennifer Friedlin is a writer based in New York.