If you’re reading this your response was probably, ‘Yea, what did happen to the Door? I loved that magazine. It was hilarious. That is until it got …’Well, you aren’t the only one.
The answer is ‘Yes, they are still around.’ Sort of. They have been publishing regularly and continuing to mail issues out a couple of months late, just like always. That is until very recently.
The people at The Wittenburg Door were the first I thought of when researching a documentary film I was doing about religious satire. As the kid of a youth minister and grandson of a Pentecostal preacher, The Wittenburg Door was regularly found in the stack of reading material under our coffee table. I read it right along side my MAD magazine.
Preparing to shoot my documentary, I gave them a call. I spoke to the managing and senior editors. “Sure, come on down (to Dallas, Texas). You can interview anyone you want and film our editorial board meeting.” As I found out, they were very used to having film crews around, given their parent organizations involvement investigating fraudulent televangelists. They gave me access to everything and anything. With nothing to hide, they answered any question I would ask, including the ones that led to very personal revelations. Occasionally they got ticked off at me – but only when the question was superficial or when I was not equally willing to be personally honest.
My short experience with them was profound. Not only did I learn a great deal about the magazine and use of satire but my religious beliefs were challenged. I did not leave Dallas feeling comfortable and reassured, reminded that my spiritual journey is not meant to be easy and that if I ever get too full of myself or high-and-mighty, I deserve a satirical kick to the spiritual privates.
So what happened to The Wittenburg Door? First off, the magazine has never been a moneymaker. I was told that it is “$60 to $70,000 in the red every year.” The difference has been made up by “the kindness of strangers.” There was a kindly benefactor who was making up the difference … until recently. But the people at The Door won’t kiss and tell.
Second, the Trinity Foundation and The Door are going through structural changes. The Trinity Foundation, who own and run The Wittenburg Door, are a community of people who, in part, conduct private investigations into religious fraud (and have been providing Sen. Chuck Grassley and the Senate Finance Committee with information about some of these televangelists including Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, etc – the ‘health and wealth’ preachers). They provide food and shelter for homeless in Dallas and for people recently let out of prison. They also hold daily Bible studies and church services that are open to the public. Business and financial restructuring have put the spring ’08 issue of The Wittenburg Door on hold.
The third (and probably most significant) thing that has happened to The Wittenburg Door was the illness and passing away of the magazine’s managing editor, Harry Guetzlaff. It came as a surprise and has been devastating to this small and tight knit community. But Harry ran The Door; he made things happen, organized getting the magazine to the printers and out to the public. He was a fascinating person (not without his complications) who believed whole heartedly in The Door and was one of the most supportive people I have ever met. Please go to www.wittenburgdoor.com to read more about Harry.
That’s where The Door is now. But there’s another part to the story. As I’m taking my film around to audiences, I get a curious response from people who say they “used to be a fan of the magazine before it became mean.”
In doing research for my film I read every copy of The Wittenburg Door and I detected a shift in the magazine around the mid 1990s. By ‘shift’ I mean a change in the way the magazine was presented and some of the targets of their satire. This recognition was confirmed when I found out that Mike Yaconelli had given the magazine to Ole Anthony and the Trinity Foundation in 1995. Current Door senior editor, Bob Darden, said that when The Trinity Foundation took over The Door they wanted to increase satirizing televangelists, especially since they had been so involved investigating them before becoming magazine publishers. I think this is what people are referring to when they say that The Door became ‘mean,’ hence canceling their subscription.
Personally I am deeply offended by the egocentric and often criminal behavior of many televangelists being broadcast. I don’t understand why Christians and the greater church neglect to condemn what televangelists are passing off as the gospel of Christ. Isn’t that what Jesus did in the temple? That’s what The Trinity Foundation has been doing.
But it’s satire. The Wittenburg Door has always gone after people who take themselves too seriously, using satire to point out when they are putting their self-interests above the message of Christ. Satire is a great prophet tool (as was used by most Old Testament prophets and Jesus) and the prophetic message of The Wittenburg Door is needed as much today as it ever.