Relevant’s bimonthly magazine has a print circulation of about 50,000, and its podcasts attract 280,000 listeners monthly, according to its own promotional material.
In his blog post, Henry described an argument he had with Strang over coverage of Black History Month. Henry said his plans to post one article a day on the subject were met with complaints by Strang that the site would have to publish seven or eight articles each day to “offset” one article about race. While Henry kept his title, his editorial power was stripped after the exchange, he wrote.
Henry said that when he first worked there, Relevant wanted to avoid taking any strong stances that could be polarizing, especially to a white, male, conservative-leaning readership. Editors were encouraged to “stay above the fray” when it came to controversial issues, he wrote, reflecting the priority that white evangelical organizations place on presenting a unified front.
“They often employ centrist rhetoric about the alleged virtues of playing the middle,” he wrote.
In response to Henry’s blog post, several former employees of the magazine wrote about their experiences on social media, describing the magazine as a toxic work environment.
Rebecca Flores, who was managing editor for Relevant, wrote in a blog post Friday that Henry’s post confirmed her own experiences. In her post, she said that Strang suggested the magazine feature a black rapper with a noose around his neck as a “shocking image to symbolize his lynching by white evangelical America” after the rapper was criticized for his support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
She told him at a meeting that it was bad idea, she said. “I just hoped he would trust me. Instead, Cameron Strang grew exasperated with me and I think we left it at having to agree to disagree.”
Ryan Hamm, who worked at Relevant as an editor and managing editor from 2009 to 2012, told Religion News Service that Strang responded inappropriately to a discussion among magazine staffers about poor newsstand sales of an issue that featured a photo of the band the Roots on the cover.
“[Strang] said, as I recollect, ‘Well maybe our audience doesn’t want to see scary black men on the cover of Relevant,’” Hamm told RNS. “As soon as he said that, [I thought], ‘If that’s true, then I have no interest in writing for this audience, and I’m done.’” Hamm is now employed at a nonprofit organization that fights religious persecution.
On Monday, Strang wrote that he was stepping aside. He described it as “a sabbatical, or a leave of absence,” rather than a resignation. “I’m sorry for my toxicity and insensitivity in leadership,” he wrote. “I don’t want to be that person anymore.”
Strang did not say who will step into his role as chief executive, adding that the magazine has 11 people on staff. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Washington Post.
Strang said he would “use an extended period of time to engage a process of healing, growth and learning. I will be seeking counseling, as well as reaching out to Christian leaders about ways I can grow and better understand important issues, especially about race and equality.”
Relevant is seen by many in the evangelical world as a somewhat edgier publication, one that has been more critical of the Trump administration than other evangelical outlets. Strang’s father, Steve Strang, runs Charisma magazine, which has been a platform for many pastors who support President Trump.
In 2008, Cameron Strang decided not to give a prayer at the Democratic National Convention as he had planned, citing a desire to not seem partisan. The magazine has tried to present a range of beliefs on political issues; for example, Strang visited Israel and the Palestinian territories and later argued for equal rights for Palestinians in the magazine. Relevant asks its readers to see immigration reform as a Christian issue and urges them to consider being “pro-life” as more than being antiabortion.
The controversy around Strang reflects the tendency of many evangelical leaders to focus on giving their “consumer base” what they think they want, said Aaron Hanbury, who was editorial director for Relevant from 2015 to 2017.
“This is how we get Instagramish, cliche-riddled evangelicalism,” he said in an email.
Hanbury said he witnessed Strang behaving poorly as a manager, but those were issues he thought were common in other workplaces.
In an email to the Post on Tuesday morning, Hanbury clarified an earlier question from the Post of whether he personally witnessed Strang behaving in racist or racially insensitive ways.
“The story Rebecca shared about the idea of photographing a rapper in a noose — I was in the room for that; it was actually in my office," he wrote. "In trying to communicate that I don’t own any particularly egregious stories — I’m not the object of them — I think I mistakenly implied that I never witnessed or was privy to such instances.”
He said he thinks that Strang’s success despite his lack of skill reflects a broader problem: Evangelical leaders are promoted for reasons that have nothing to do with their competence as faith leaders.
“Cameron, like countless evangelical celebs, is only a leader in the faith space because he started and leads something [in this case, a media company], and he’s attractive, hip and publicly charismatic,” he said. “We evangelicals have been far, far too quick to [equate] apparent financial-organizational success and aspirational personalities with faith leadership.”
This story has been updated to clarify what Aaron Hanbury witnessed during his time at Relevant.