It only seems appropriate that after one hotly debated issue related to licensing, it should be followed with another. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that we were starting up a Theology on Tap through Asbury here in Livermore. However, the morning after I wrote the post, I received an email from an employee of Renew International who works with the Theology on Tap program. Her email basically said “That’s great that you’re offering that – you just can’t use the name “Theology on Tap” or any derivatives.” Thus began a conversation that talked about issues of copyright, fairness, derivatives and the like.
I don’t really want to rehash those – as I’m certainly no expert on copyright law. But I did want to share with you my followup conversation with Renew International concerning this issue.
I spoke with a representative from Renew International (which is a non-profit organization) and she said that the Theology on Tap program has been a well-established Catholic program, done according to very high standards for the past 30 years. They offer support, materials and a list of speakers who could come to your area – all for $150/year and a $75 renewal fee each year. I shared with her that while I appreciate the offer, I was not interested in those resources and just wanted to gather some folks together over some beers and talk theology. She said, “That’s great. Do it. Just don’t call it Theology on Tap.”
She made the comparison to Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” and said that if I tried to do a program like “Meaning Driven Life” or anything like that, “Rick Warren would be all over you!” (Apparently rick is okay with The Porpoise Diving Life though…) I just don’t think that’s a fair comparison.
I get where they’re coming from to some degree. I think they don’t want people “stealing” a Catholic idea and using it and possibly trying to convert Catholics. I think they have that fear. But “Theology on Tap” seems like such a generic phrase – why the hot pursuit of anyone who is trying to do ministry (not at all thinking about – or even aware of – the connection to the Catholic church)?
The official response from Renew International Theology on Tap is below:
Our work in getting groups registered for Theology on Tap is not about enforcing the copyright on the program; rather, we’re looking to create a high quality and consistent experience for those who participate in the events that go by the name “Theology on Tap”. For the last thirty years, Theology on Tap has come to encapsulate a particular form of ministry—outreach to young adults in their 20s and 30s in a comfortable setting, usually in a Catholic context. We want to make sure that peoples’ expectations of what Theology on Tap is are being met when they attend events promoted by this name. If we did not seek to create this consistent experience by working with Theology on Tap groups, we would be doing both you and us a disservice by not staying true to the intention of the program.
We are open and willing to work with those who are looking to reach out to young adults in a manner that is respectful of the Catholic tradition. We ask groups of other denominations to stay true to the mission and intent of the program, and to work through proper channels within their respective denominations.
We charge a modest licensing and membership fee which we feel is justified by the resources, publicity, and web presence we provide, including a step-by-step Manual on how to successful begin and sustain a Theology on Tap program. If any group finds it difficult to pay this modest fee, we try to work with them to ensure that this vital ministry can prosper wherever there is interest.
To give them credit, they do say that they will work with ministries who find it difficult to pay the modest fee. So I suppose I could say that, but we’re not really a struggling church. In the end, I think it’s simply a question of whether they really do want to further this ministry? Are they making it easier for churches to do ministry when they contact them and demand that they use a different name? Are they making it easier for themselves to continue with their ministry when they spend time on the phone talking to bloggers about this issue (which they did with me, but they said themselves they don’t really have time for this – let alone time for litigation…)? Or are their efforts to keep a tight grasp of the name simply doing a disservice to the ministry and to others who wish to participate in this kind of kingdom work?
I’d offer that it’s limiting ministry – making it harder for those who want to meet the needs of young adults in this way – and not furthering Christian unity. But I’d love to know if you think differently.