A few weeks ago, a spokesman for Gideon Bibles spoke at my church and the need was great, he said, for younger people to join up with a group that’s usually connected –- in the public eye –- with older men in business suits. (Membership is limited to evangelical Protestant men 21 years or older).
I went up to him afterwards and he said their chief need is for funds to continue the work. Seems that the organization hasn’t been in the public eye like better-known charities and that the popular culture has changed since the first Bibles were placed in a Montana hotel room in 1908.
A century later, when more people than ever are objecting to any sign of religion in the public square, a well-known hotel chain has decided that allowing Bibles even hidden away in a drawer is too religious. As the Los Angeles Times tells it:
When the ultra-hip Moxy Hotel opens in San Diego next year, the rooms will be stocked with the usual amenities -- an alarm clock, hair dryer, writing desk and flat-screen TV.
But you won’t find a Bible in the bedside nightstand.
Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel company, supplies a Bible and the Book of Mormon in the rooms of every other hotel in the franchise. But the company has recently decided that no religious materials should be offered at two of its newest millennial-oriented hotel brands, Moxy and Edition hotels.
“It’s because the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,” said Marriott spokeswoman Felicia Farrar McLemore, explaining that the Moxy and Edition hotels are geared toward fun-loving millennials.
Now I’ve read what Pew Research has published about 35 percent of millennials not being affiliated with a religion. The reverse is that 65 percent of them are. So, why are their desires quashed in favor of the lower 35 percent?
The article doesn’t go there. It continues:
But a recent survey by STR, a hospitality analytics company, found that the percentage of hotels that offer religious materials in rooms has dropped significantly over the last decade, from 95% of hotels in 2006 to 48% this year.
Among the reasons for the change, according to industry experts, is a need to appeal to younger American travelers who are less devout than their parents or grandparents and to avoid offending international travelers such as Muslims or Buddhists.
And then there is this practical issue: Many newer hotel brands install shelves rather than nightstands with drawers next to the bed, making it difficult to be discreet about offering a Bible. A copy of the Scriptures on a bedside shelf makes a more pronounced statement than a Bible slipped into a drawer.
That’s a 50 percent drop mentioned in that first paragraph. Since then, it's come out that the survey data quoted in this piece is not accurate. When Quartz.com quoted the survey, it said the numbers dropped from 95 percent to 79 percent; not as huge a drop. Today (Friday), Facts and Trends clarified it all, explaining that actually, numbers are up from 2015, when 77 percent of hotels surveyed said they carried religious material in their rooms. So, 79 percent is the correct percentage.
My question about the Muslims and Buddhists (and other non-Christian religions) is this: Why assume offense when something is sitting hidden in a drawer? How many of us even open the drawer next to our hotel bed?
Then the reporter offers this interesting tidbit:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes separation of church and state, wrote to 15 major hotel companies last year, asking them to keep Bibles out of hotel rooms.
The group succeeded in the last year in getting hotels operated by Arizona State University and Northern Illinois University to remove all Bibles from their rooms.
The foundation also created a sticker that reads: "Warning: Literal belief in this book may endanger your health and life." The group has encouraged its supporters to affix the stickers on any hotel room Bible they find.
The Gideons are eventually quoted, but not until the bottom half of the piece, plus the words furnished by their spokesman don’t seem to jive with the article. What goes unsaid is that the Gideons aren’t out there to minister to fellow believers. They’re there to provide Bibles to the exact folks who claim they’re offended by it all. The “fun-loving millennials” spotlighted in the article are exactly who this organization wishes to target.
There's a few incongruities in this otherwise informative piece. Why is a hotel empire associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taking this step? Were there any savvy Mormons who could have commented on this? I would imagine there are.
Also, the pastor tacked on at the end of the piece is not from an denomination known as a bastion of evangelicalism. One might think that, naturally, a pastor in a Congregationalist church would be fine with no Bibles in hotel rooms. Couldn't the reporter have ferreted out some Southern Baptists interested in this topic? Again: You know they are out there. Call.
I wish the spokesman could have been nudged to provide a comment about the chains that are not stocking their Bibles. The Gideons don’t rely solely on hotels but have diversified into prisons, the military and public schools.
In all, the article was quite informative but there is this assumption that (a) the Bibles are there for the devout instead of the non-devout and (b) they only appeal to older people. Maybe the reporter doesn’t remember that the Jesus movement of the 1960s and 1970s began among teen-aged and 20-something baby boomer hippies.
The bottom line: I'm encouraging reporters to go beyond the story, ask better questions and look around a bit more. A similar piece in Christian Today by religion beat pro Ruth Gledhill mentions that the new Trump Hotel opening up in Washington DC not only has Bibles in every room but furnishes -- upon request -- a Quran (together with a prayer rug), Talmud, the Bhagavad Gita and several other religious books upon request.
For instance, if hotels are so keen on not offending people, how about turning off availability to pornographic TV channels? One swats at a gnat and swallows a camel, as the verse goes. You used to be able to find that saying in Matthew 23:24, courtesy of your hotel Bible. These days? Maybe not.