For Gloria Gaither, her and husband Bill Gaither’s The Gaither Homecoming Bible was “a big chunk of work.”
After all, their new edition of the New King James Version of Old and New Testaments (subtitled Inspiring Hope Through Scripture, Song, And Story) contains color-enhanced features including Gloria’s explanations of the inspiration for 25 Gaither Southern gospel classics, stories behind 50 of the world’s most popular hymns and gospel songs, 230 devotional articles by over 60 friends and Gaither Homecoming artists regarding their favorite Bible passages, and Gloria’s Scripture devotions and inspirational poetry.
Published by Thomas Nelson, the Gaither’s Bible also has a greater, understandable emphasis on music. Scriptural passages pertaining to music are shaded in green, and quotes from noted people of faith reflect on the importance of music in the life of believers.
Additionally, five articles by Gloria address the significance of music throughout the bible and in the lives of today’s believers. Gaither Homecoming music artists whose devotionals dot the 1,676 pages of text include Jeff and Sheri Easter, Mark Lowry, The Isaacs, The Hoppers, Russ and Tori Taff, Mylon LeFevre, Squire Parsons and Lulu Roman.
“One of my favorite verses is, ‘Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength [Nehemiah 8:10],’” says Gloria, equating joy with singing—and finding plenty of examples in the Bible.
“I suggested that the editor go way back to Martin Luther and before, and get things that well-known believers through history have said about music and singing in their personal walk with the Lord–and those are beautiful, too,” she says, then recites a Luther quote included in the Gaither Homecoming Bible: “I am strongly persuaded that after theology there is no art than can be placed on a level with music; for besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy of the heart.”
Ironically, when first approached by the publisher, “We went kicking and screaming every inch of the way!” says Gloria. “What the world does not need is another celebrity Bible! So we all rolled our eyes, but they were very persistent and we finally said, ‘We’ll just have a conversation’ and sat down with the whole marketing staff at a big table and discussed the prospects.”
Gloria recognized “a new generation that doesn’t read the Bible and are biblical-ignorant,” she continues. “They find out about it if they watch quiz shows—and know the answers to the most complicated physics questions, but not the simplest thing about the Bible!”
She also envisioned her consumer to be in “the middle generation, that was taught Scriptures and the great hymns and gospel songs by their parents—not from a line in a book or a sermon.”
Rather, “they’re grateful to their parents for their heritage, but at the same time worried about their own kids: They’re not churchgoers or Bible readers, and the world is harder than it’s ever been.”
For this middle generation, then, the Gaither Homecoming Bible is “a thank-you to their parents, and their heritage to give to their kids.”
“I didn’t want our Bible to look nostalgic or like grandmother’s wallpaper,” adds Gloria, “but to appeal to my grandkids at George Washington University, to be classic and not trendy-looking: It’s the serious word of God, full of ‘light and life’—two words I say over and over.”
All the work that went into the Gaither Homecoming Bible was worth it, though, especially because of the participation of the many Homecoming artists, Gloria notes.
“We all help each other and back up each other, and you don’t see that in artists very much,” she says.
The Gaither Homecoming Bible, of course, takes its name from the Gaithers’ signature Homecoming concerts and extensive line of associated concert CDs and DVDs. The Homecoming shows, which began in 1991, have involved a huge lineup of venerable Southern gospel greats and younger artists carrying on the tradition.
But as the years have gone by, Gloria has counted 27 funerals of the aging legends, and “a backstage that’s like a ding-dong school with children [aged] all the way up to college.”
Remarkably, her husband was about to “hang it up” in 1990, Gloria says, after 35 years in the business.
Bill Gaither had grown up in Alexandria, Indiana and had graduated from Anderson College. Having been influenced by pop vocal groups like the Four Freshmen and the Four Aces, he had started the Bill Gaither Trio with his brother Danny and sister Mary Ann in 1956 (Gloria later replaced Mary Ann), and in the early 1980s launched the Gaither Vocal Band male vocal quartet.
“He figured the Vocal Band had done its thing, and was working on a Southern gospel-flavored album as the last little hoo-ha of his career,” she recalls. “So they were doing this three-minute radio cut for the TV camera, and he invited his heroes—like Jake Hess, Vestal Goodman, some in their sixties, some in their seventies—to sing on one song. He was like a kid in a candy store, and they all got to singing and it turned out to be a holy hootenanny! I was at home with the kids,and he called me and said, ‘Oh, my Lord! If that camera caught anything in that room!’”
Southern gospel, Gloria notes, “was passé then, and when Bill asked about the rest of the footage that was shot besides the three minutes they needed, the record company said they were going to throw it away. So he asked for it and took it down to Anderson College and edited four hours down to 90 minutes. It’s affectionately known in our house as ‘The Video.’”
Bill Gaither was so happy with The Video that he went back to the record company and said, “’I’d like to do this again—on purpose,’” reports Gloria. “That was 150 Homecoming videos ago!”
So the Gaithers are now applying the Homecoming concept to the Gaither Homecoming Bible.
“While the whole philosophy is to aim at that middle generation, it’s also for both generations on each side,” says Gloria. “Thomas Nelson wanted to put in 25 Gaither songs, and we asked our Homecoming artists to contribute and they were overjoyed to: They’re not writers, but told wonderful stories about how the word of God affected their lives.”
Gaither Vocal Band member Mark Lowry, whose been with the Gaither organization for 25 years and is also a major Southern gospel star independently for his antic solo singer-songwriter/comedy performances, was reluctant to be part of the project at first.
“’No! I don’t want to be part of that. I don’t want my name anywhere near a Bible!’” he recalls telling Gloria. “I thought it was a bad idea, but Bill and Gloria kept harping at me to be part of it and I finally gave in. Gloria can be very persuasive, you know!”
Then he was less than thrilled with the books he was offered to write about.
“She gave me all the books nobody else wanted—like the book of Judges!” says Lowry, who wrote two devotionals relating two Judges and two more based on Joshua. “I mean, please! I’ve never even read the book of Judges! Everybody chose their favorite Scriptures out of the New Testament and beat me to the punch.”
But Lowry has since seen a positive response to the Gaither Homecoming Bible and is glad he’s a part of it.
“I hope it helps someone out there to hear my story, or Bill’s story, or anyone else’s story about how certain Scriptures have come to life for us in the middle of our own struggles,” he says.
[The Examiner wrote the CD liner notes to Gaither Vocal Band’s Lovin’ God & Lovin’ Each Other and The Best Of The Gaither Vocal Band.]
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