Combating Online Hate Speech News

American Bible Society’s .bible domain policies restrict religious freedom online, c …

RNS photo illustration by Kit Doyle

(RNS) — A group of Bible scholars is concerned about free expression on the internet.

Specifically, they object to the way the American Bible Society is running its recently acquired .bible domain name, which they say strictly limits a wide range of faiths and essentially excludes any group with a scholarly or secular orientation.

“The internet is public space,” said John Kutsko, executive director of the Society of Biblical Literature, the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible, with about 8,500 members, mostly scholars. “It’s our understanding that .bible was registered to be public space and not have the kind of restrictions that you would expect of a domain that was proprietary or brand-oriented.”

The question became urgent after the American Bible Society acquired the .bible top-level domain name — an identification string like “.com” or “.org” — and then applied restrictive policies on who can use it.

Those policies, critics say, strictly limit a wide range of faiths and essentially exclude any group with a scholarly or secular orientation. Further, they are inconsistent with the open-ended nature of the web, which is intended to be more democratic and to allow for free inquiry.

The ABS has been managing the domain since 2016 and has so far granted about 1,190 groups the .bible domain name.

But until a few weeks ago, the ABS prohibited registrants from posting any material that “espouses or promotes a religious, secular, or other worldview that is antithetical to New Testament principles, including but not limited to the promotion of a non-Christian religion or set of religious beliefs.”

After scholars with the Society of Biblical Literature, as well as some Jewish organizations, protested, the ABS modified its policies last month, inviting the participation of Jews.

But the scholars said this does not go far enough. In a commentary published by Religion News Service last week, Marc Zvi Brettler, a professor of Jewish studies at Duke University, said the restrictive policies of the ABS raise concerns about its suitability as sole custodian for the .bible domain.


READ: Who owns the .bible?


The revised policies prohibit any content that “advocates belief in any religious or faith tradition other than orthodox Christianity or Judaism.” It also prohibits “any content that communicates disrespect for God as He is revealed in the Bible” as well as “Any content that communicates disrespect for the Bible.”

John Kutsko, executive director of the Society of Biblical Literature.  Photo by Daniel Dubois

“The policy remains at its core insufficient,” said Kutsko. “The ABS excludes those critical of religious traditions or views considered unorthodox by ABS, which is basically a good deal of scholarship.”

A short statement issued by the ABS acknowledged that it had met with “complaining parties” while maintaining that it is “in complete compliance with ICANN.” (ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the group that manages internet resources and coordinates its domain name system.)

Equally significant, the ABS has come under criticism from lawyers for requiring panelists who hear and arbitrate disputes regarding the domain name to affirm that they “enthusiastically support the mission of American Bible Society” and that they “believe that the Bible is the Word of God which brings salvation through Christ.”

Lawyers specializing in domain names call that a “litmus test.”

Doug Isenberg, an Atlanta domain name lawyer who has worked as a dispute panelist in other internet cases, said religious oaths for panelists are unprecedented.

“I’ve been a domain dispute panelist for a long time and I’ve never been asked to sign any type of statement before about my religious beliefs, or political beliefs, or anything other than a requirement that I can be neutral and impartial in reaching a decision,” he said.

In a statement, ABS said its advisory council will review the criteria for membership on the dispute panel at its next meeting this spring. The ABS declined to elaborate further.

Scholars point out that the registry agreement the ABS submitted to ICANN in 2014 was far more expansive and open-ended. For one thing, it did not mention Christianity.

That application promised that the ABS would “provide world-wide access to all qualified parties interested in disseminating or seeking information (whether non-commercially or commercially) about Bible issues, news, culture, lifestyle, entertainment or any other topic.”

Said Kutsko: “What we saw is that there’s a bait and switch between the application to become a registry operator and then the accepted-use policy.”

The 202-year-old ABS is best-known for publishing Bibles, translating them into hundreds of languages and distributing them widely across the globe.

Until 2001 the organization did not engage in evangelism, said John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College and author of  “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.”

But that’s changed. Today, ABS views itself as a Christian ministry and gives grants to a host of evangelical groups, including Liberty University and Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ).

“You’re seeing a move away from an ecumenism of a previous era,” said Fea. “They clearly are drawing a lot more boundaries around the kinds of groups they want to work with.”

The ABS, said Brettler, “has a narrow religious view and it has only a religious view. It doesn’t recognize that the Bible is widely studied and respected by people who are not doing their study from a faith position.”

Indeed, there’s no one Bible everyone can agree on. Jews order the biblical books differently from Protestants and do not include the New Testament. Catholics include a set of Hebrew texts known as the Apocrypha. Mormons have other sacred scriptures beyond the Bible. And then there are various variants. Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, for example, excludes Jesus’ miracles as well as most mentions of the supernatural.

The ABS and a group of scholars, in addition to a representative from the Anti-Defamation League, met for a video conference call in January to talk through their concerns. The call was described as cordial and candid.

“We hope they will reconsider,” Kutsko said. “We want to communicate our understanding of the kinds of consequences that will result from this, which we don’t think are in the best interest of ICANN or the general public.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

47 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • There is only one kind of True Christian (TM), and they will always be happy to tell you who qualifies.

  • “…a set of Hebrew texts known as the Apocrypha.”

    Appalling ignorance for someone who is a “senior editor”. Most of the “Apocrypha” was both composed, and preserved, in Greek.

  • It’s time for this ICANN organization to intervene and “lay down the law” (if there is any) on the ABS.

  • The first statement seems to be a misnomer.What could the ABS have, that a “group of scholars” does not have? How about persecution?

    The “group of scholars” have no respect for Christians and already know everything there is to know about Christianity, so the question is: is it just persecution?

  • Absolutely….and we’re waiting for you to make the decision to follow Christ also, Ben.

  • With the idea of a “closed” NT more and more open to question with post WW2 discoveries, a wide latitude of pespectives is surely a necessity. Throw Lilith into the equation, and the first 3 Chapters of Genesis need attentikon.

  • If ABS owns it, if they believe a set of beliefs, then I support their right to restrict usage in accordance to those beliefs. If there was a .koran domain name would we yell as loud is an anti-Islamic group wanted to use it to post against Islam. All I hear is more whining and crying becasuse someone dare stand up and say they have specific beliefs that may exclude other beliefs. So what. This is exactly why the Constitution was written so that people could believe, speak and practice whatever religion they want.

  • It seems to me that the internet today is where the United States government was in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: groups battling to see their own unique vision realized. How do we build structure while preserving freedom? At this point we don’t know where it will end up and some people are getting nervous. Could this be the beginning of a Balkanization of the internet? Only Christians welcome here. Only tennis players welcome there. Only progressives welcome in the other place. You’re quite happy to see “your place” open up, but what will happen when you want to use the place where they tell you “you aren’t our sort of people”?

  • I wish I could tell you, but I have as much interest in professional sports as I do in visiting Siberia mid winter.

  • ABS is a conservatively religious organization and can do WHAT it WANTS under its OWN moniker. Anybody who doesn’t like that idea needs to remember the first amendment. I don’t like the new Bible theme park but they are allowed under the constitution of the US, if a privately held company, to do what they want. (and for the record, I am an ordained minister in a liberal denomination, now retiredand I speak only for myself)

    In a country that worships money over God, leave the ABS to do its thing. I know I will

  • So one may have life and life more abundantly. So one may be in a good relationship with Christ and partake of His blessings.
    So one can help others to find peace with God and be used by the Creator.
    So one may experience Heaven and the blessings Christ offers for eternity.

  • Yes. That’s it. Persecution.

    Having to be part of a wider community has always been the height of persecution.

  • But which Christ? Which Jesus?

    Every Christian I know has a different one, created in that Christian’s image, after his likeness.

  • Then start a relationship with Him and see how He reveals Himself to you:

    “Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sinful life toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

    He’ll help you and He will help you through a credible church.

  • I’ve done the prayer thing. I’ve found that the Holy Spirit will testify to just about anything the petitioner wants.

    All churches — Christian and other — use common emotional manipulation to create an emotional response they declare to be the Spirit.

    https://youtu.be/8rmWXPR9DAk

  • It’s really simple. If you want me to have a relationship with your friend Jesus, invite him over sometime. I’ll make a nice meal, he can turn some water into wine, and we’ll have a nice evening discussing life, the universe and everything.

    But you can’t invite Jesus over for dinner with me. Because he’s imaginary. Not real. Made up. Neurons firing in your brain. He does not exist in reality.

  • BTW Sandi — I don;t want you to take my criticisms as in any way questioning your sincerity.

    I have been where you are and I understand the compassion many Christians are embracing in trying to convert others to their religion.

    I suspect you are only doing what you think your god belief wants you to do.

    Cheers.

  • Not to mention the many books that were considered canon prior to the committee votes centuries later.

    Shepherd of Hermes

    Clement

    The Didache etc

  • “The “group of scholars” have no respect for Christians”

    What makes you think this?

  • So true. And then what would be the contents of the NT had the Greeks been forbidden to have anything to do with its assembly?

    I suggest very different to that which the all-Jewish Jerusalem Church would have assembled. For starters, Paul & the Pauline interpolations into Hebrews would not have made it.

    The “Shepherd”, the “Didache”, the 3 Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Mary Magdalene, and the Protevangelium of James would be there instead. And thats just for a start.

    And then there is the question of the entire legitimacy of the Pauline hermeneutical tradition. And the influence of Hellenism.

  • Reactionary Catholic sites such as OUR SUNDAY VISITOR and NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER already ban progressive commenters. FEAR is at the root of this editorial behavior.

  • The INfancy Gospel of Thomas is hilarious…Boy Jesus running around killing people who messed with him.

  • “Doubt comes in at the window, when Inquiry is denied at the door.” Benjamin Jowett (1817-93)
    “The one great lesson that must forerun and make ready the Christian unity of the future is this: that contraries do not necessarily contradict, nor need opposites always oppose. What we want is not to surrender or abolish our differences, but to unite and compose them. We need the truth of every variant opinion and the light from every opposite point of view. The least fragment is right in so far as it stands for a part of the truth.” William Porcher Dubose (1836-1918)

  • But the texts that we Protestants call the Apocrypha were composed and preserved by and for Jews, at least until the “wise men of Jamnia” decided to jettison them after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. And the Hebrew text and the Septuagint (which contained the Apocrypha) were held to be equally inspired by both Jews and Christians until well after Jesus’ time.

  • All true. My point was that calling them “a set of Hebrew texts”, when they are primarily written in Greek, is a misnomer.

ADVERTISEMENTs