Last month, Relevant Podcast listeners heard a familiar voice in their earbuds: founder Cameron Strang, returning to the show’s lineup—and to leadership at Relevant Media Group—six months after stepping away due to public criticism from former employees.
Though Relevant promised to be transparent with its efforts to address Strang’s alleged racial insensitivity and difficult leadership style, it did not bring up the process again until the April 10 update announcing his return as CEO.
In the meantime, the bimonthly Christian magazine had not sent out an issue to its 27,000 paid subscribers since Strang left in September, leaving fans to wonder about its future.
Strang told listeners that he’s “excited to be back” for a new era at Relevant as it prepares to revamp and expand its podcast offerings, transition to a yearly print publication, and relaunch its website, all under an advisory board newly enlisted to oversee leadership of the 10-person staff.
Relevant’s loyal followers, some of whom have been around for its entire 20-year history, are excited to hear Strang’s voice again. But as much as they hope to see the kind of progress the company has promised and prayed for, a few have questioned the lack of communication.
“When the print issues stopped coming, I was disappointed but figured the company was trying to figure out how to move forward. I suspected they had lost a lot of advertisers & revenue,” wrote Erin Bird, an Iowa pastor, in a Twitter thread responding to the April update. “I’ve patiently walked thru this w/ you, actually prayed for you guys (& those hurt), & was hoping to see a repentance from Cameron that would show the world how to truly apologize.”
Bird, who subscribed to Relevant for 17 years, echoed what other fans said: He likes Strang and Relevant, which makes it even more disappointing that their response has fallen short and ultimately led him to stop reading and tuning in.
“Hearing an update that shared nothing about seeking relational reconciliation broke my heart,” Bird told CT. “All I heard was how difficult this season has been to Cameron, but not how grieved he was about the hard season he put others through as their boss.”
Strang’s sabbatical was prompted by accounts of racial insensitivity and poor leadership that previous editors, including Andre Henry and Rebecca Marie Jo Flores, say they experienced while working with the small staff at Relevant’s office in Orlando, Florida. Within a week of their criticism making headlines in late September 2019, Strang issued an apology and took a leave of absence to “engage a process of healing, growth, and learning.”
Strang, whose father Stephen Strang is the publisher and CEO of Charisma magazine, launched Relevant in 2000. He was 24 at the time, setting out to reach Christian 20-somethings and 30-somethings in a departure from cheesy or “culture wars” content targeted at young adults.
Its magazine, website, and podcasts—which now receive over 690,000 downloads a month, according to the company—offer a hip but faithful take on the world of pop culture and Christian life, with celebrity-clad cover stories and interviews with figures like Lecrae, Jim Gaffigan, and Lauren Daigle.
Strang declined to be interviewed for this article and instead directed CT to an April 17 podcast episode, in which he discussed his return with outgoing editor and producer Jesse Carey and writer and editor Tyler Huckabee. Carey, who served as publisher during Strang’s absence, did not respond to multiple requests sent by CT over the past two months.
“I decided to go away to handle this in a private way,” Strang said in the 23-minute podcast discussion. “I tried to learn from this. Honestly, whether I succeeded or not, I tried to set an example of humility and leadership and teachability.”
Strang’s reflections echoed points raised in his September apology, where the 44-year-old CEO lamented his own “unhealthy” and “toxic” leadership, as well as the recent update posted by Relevant, which cited the pace and workload of running the company as major stressors.
“As a small, independent company with big goals in an always-changing media ocean, Cameron often led RELEVANT like a constantly redlining speed boat, going fast and making quick turns with little margin,” the company’s statement said. “This recent season opened our eyes to how that approach led to stress and a lack of health in our organization, and for that both Cameron and the RELEVANT executive team wish to extend a sincere apology.”
On the podcast, Strang did not mention former staff members by name but said he was “deeply sorry for hurting people that were close to me” and asked concerned listeners “for the grace to walk this out” in the long term.
Right after Strang left last September, Carey assured listeners that they would “be transparent about how things are going and who are the leaders that are speaking into Cameron and speaking into Relevant.”
That didn’t happen over the sabbatical period, and the April updates don’t share specifics about how Strang has addressed the concerns raised or whether he has pursued reconciliation.
On the podcast, Strang brought up weekly counseling as a primary means for addressing the “core issues” that led to his unhealthy leadership and referenced taking to Christian leaders during his months away, but did not name any particular leaders, curricula, or programs he learned from.
With Strang’s return on April 15, the company’s announcement said, “he and the team have worked hard to internally address the criticisms in substantive and tangible ways.” Relevant Media Group appointed an advisory board to provide accountability and receive human resources complaints, which the company lacked before.
The board includes Carey (who recently left the staff but continues to appear on the podcast); author and activist Christine Caine; pastor Dharius Daniels; nonprofit leader David Docusen; and Bible Media Group president Tessie Guell Devore.
While Strang said on the podcast that he did not follow Relevant articles or podcasts during his sabbatical, he spent the time thinking big picture about his company’s future, including the decision to put the print magazine on hiatus because it had become unsustainable financially.
Relevant’s promotional material claims “in a recent survey, our readers say they keep the magazine on their coffee table for over 9 months.” Lately, though, subscribers haven’t had much choice; the most recent issue, featuring Malcolm Gladwell on the cover, came out eight months ago.
Click here to read more.
Source: Christianity Today