Texas Religious Right Charity with UK Links Tries to Liquidate
Richard Bartholomew printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jul 26, 2008 at 04:49:41 PM EST
In 2006 the British SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, founded 1698) sold off its chain of Christian bookshops to a Texas-based Orthodox Christian organisation called St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. While traditionally the SPCK bookshops have been known for their wide range of intellectually-serious theology and Biblical scholarship, the new owners had a decidedly more right-wing agenda, which it quickly made clear by instructing shop managers that copies of the Koran should not be stocked. At the time, the SSG website featured warnings about "the explosion of Islam" in England and against Catholicism, declaring the Orthodox Church to be the sole path to salvation.

Over the past two years there have been increasing claims of mismanagement, and in June a bookshop manager who had been made redundant committed suicide. The SSG is now attempting to go into liquidation - and a British blogger who has been consistently critical of the organisation over a long period has just received an all-American SLAPP, resulting in posts being taken down to avoid the possibility of a libel action.

British bloggers are quickly stirred to action when libel threats are bandied about, and word of SSG's "cease and desist" demand resulted in the "Spartacus effect" of bloggers offering solidarity. The Wardman Wire (link added) spread news of the threat:
We have another blogosphere Libel Action...

Dave Walker [back-up site here - RB], the official Lambeth Conference Cartoonist in Residence, has taken 75 posts down on his blog after being threatened with Libel Action by the new owner of SPCK - the oldest chain of Anglican Bookshops. He has been reporting the story of alleged mismanagement for two years.

The SSG's owner is Mark Brewer, who is managing director of the Texan law firm Brewer & Pritchard. According to the Brewer & Pritchard website, Brewer is a member Saint Joseph (the Betrothed) Orthodox Christian Church (Antiochian Archdiocese). That would appear to be this church, in Houston. The Antiochian Orthodox church split from the National Council of Churches in the USA in 2005.

Brewer claims that ongoing criticism of the SSG in the Church Times has been motivated by the fact that the Times' owner (SCM-Canterbury) controls some rival bookshops. News of the liquidation was reported in the UK Bookseller in June:

Three weeks ago brothers Phil and Mark Brewer, who run the charity, told staff and publishers that SSG LLC, the trading company that operates the former SPCK chain, had filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code--a form of bankruptcy that allows a business to continue trading.

However, Verlie Rios, a court clerk in Houston, told The Bookseller that this had been converted to Chapter 7 bankruptcy in court. "It basically means the business is in liquidation," she said. "There will be a meeting for creditors on 22nd July."

However, not all has gone to plan, as the Church Times now reports:
THE OWNERS of the former SPCK bookshops chain have been halted by inconsistencies in their petition from declaring themselves bankrupt in a United States court. They are said to owe thousands of dollars to hundreds of creditors.

The Bankruptcy Court in Houston, Texas, has issued a notice that says it intends to dismiss the motion for bankruptcy unless it hears from the owners by Monday 4 August.

Randy W. Williams, the trustee of the bankruptcy courts, had filed the motion to dismiss the bankruptcy motion because, he said, the company that petitioned for bankruptcy, "St Stephens the Great LLC", did not exist. What did exist was "St Stephens the Great", which bore the same name and same tax code as the charity in the UK that took over SPCK shops' staff and assets. It is with that charity that many creditors were in dispute....Mr Williams said that it was not in the best interest of the "extensive" creditors that the proceedings should be so far from the UK, where almost all the "tangible business" took place.

Another British blog Ministry of Truth, has done some further digging, finding gems such as:
SPCK's remaining bookshops, including those in Durham and Chichester Cathedrals have been transferred to companies called ENC Shop Management Co, Durham Shop Management Co, and Chichester Shop Management Co. all of which are listed on Companies House as foreign companies (Houston registered, again) and all having the same secretary and directors...

The downfall of the SPCK bookshops is very sad;  when I was an undergradate studying religion in the mid 1990s, I found the local shop to be an incredibly useful and stimulating scholarly resource. Further, the scandal must damage the reputation of the SPCK, which is one of most important UK publishers of academic books on subjects such as church history and Biblical scholarship, as well as theology.

(Hat tip: Dave Cole)

UPDATE: Talk Islam draws attention this blog on the subject.

- at least 5 sites, maybe more, in the Anglicanosphere have the Walker posts in full. No word yet on whether the mirror sites have been SLAPPed. At any rate, it might take some time, considering the mirror sites are in different countries.

On gaining control of the shops, Brewer threw out all the comparative religion stock (most notably, the Quran) and "liberal theology" stock, a fair amount of the serious theology stock, and started in with gift items of the American Evangelical style, plus a few icons.

The Brewers are adult converts to Orthodoxy. Their congregation is pastored by an ex-Episcopalian priest and assisted by an ex-Southern Baptist pastor. Only the deacon is cradle Orthodox.

by NancyP on Mon Jul 28, 2008 at 09:18:16 PM EST

Would it be possible to re-post some or all of Dave Walker's blog posts being suppressed in the UK on this site?

by Pierce R Butler on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 01:56:33 PM EST

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