Written by W. Evan Golder
January - February 2002
One-hundred-forty years of independent publishing of news and opinion for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will end this spring when the Christian Board of Publication (CBP) will suspend publication of the denominational magazine, The Disciple.
Anticipating this decision by the CBP board of directors, the Rev. Patricia R. Case, editor of The Disciple since 1998, resigned her position.
"My mission and ministry are no longer a fit with Christian Board of Publication," she says. "To find ourselves in the information age without an editorially free publication to help us communicate with each other is unconscionable."
CBP president and publisher Cyrus N. "Russ" White announced the decision on Dec. 21, attributing it to steadily declining subscribers. Subscribers today number 19,000, down from 85,000 in 1977. The Disciple was founded in 1974 as a merger of The Christian and World Call. It is the last in a tradition dating back to The Gospel Echo in 1863.
Money also figured in the decision. The Disciple does not receive any mission funding from the denomination, although CBP is recognized as a general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Instead, the magazine is supported by its subscriptions, advertising and endowment.
The magazine continues to earn more than it spends, according to James C. Suggs and Robert L. Friedly, the retired publisher and editor, respectively, of The Disciple. However, the two do note one exception. The magazine, with editorial staff in Indianapolis, is not able to contribute what CBP believes to be its share of CBP's overall operating expenses. CBP is based in St. Louis.
"The decision to close was pure 'bottom line,'" the two write in an open letter being circulated widely throughout the denomination. "We believe all assets of the magazine, including an endowment of nearly half a million dollars, should be turned over by CBP to the General Assembly of the church, where they can be held until a continuation of the publication, or establishment of a successor, outside Christian Board of Publication can be effected. Stewardship of this priceless legacy must not be abandoned."
In his announcement, White asks what will take The Disciple's place, and answers, "Nothing—and several things," not just one new idea, but many ideas from several sources.
The Rev. Richard L. Hamm, Disciples General Minister and President, said that the closing gave him "a sense of grief" as well as "feelings of hope and opportunity." Curt Miller, executive director of Communication Ministries within the GMP's office, said that suspension of The Disciple "gives us a tremendous opportunity to improve our electronic communication tools."