If you stay in a hotel room in the U.S. or many other countries of the world, you’ll find a “Hotel Bible” or sometimes more commonly known as a “Gideon Bible” in the nightstand. Most people know that “the Gideons put it there” but really…what’s up with that? How did it start to be and why is it not always the case nowadays?
Well, I found out! 🙂
The Gideons are an evangelical Christian association that was founded in Wisconsin in 1899. The organization began in fall 1898, when two traveling salesmen, John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill, both of Wisconsin, met in a hotel room they shared, where they discussed the formation of an association. In May 1899, the two met again and decided the goal of their association would be to unite traveling salesmen for evangelism. They decided to call their organization The Gideons, after Gideon in the Bible, a man, “who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results.”
The Gideons began distributing free Bibles in 1908, when the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of a hotel in Montana. In the 100+ years since, they’ve become Gideon International and, thanks to donations, distribute Bibles, for free, to hotels all around the world. They’re also the ones who distribute free Bibles to hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, etc.
Why is this changing?
Essentially, because the U.S., as well as the world, is changing. Although Pew Research Center suggests that roughly 70.6% of Americans are currently Christian, that still leaves many people who are either of non-Christian faiths (5.9%), other world religions (0.3%), other faiths (1.5%), or unaffiliated (22.8%). And that’s to say nothing of the fact that if you look at the world as a whole, only roughly 31% of the world’s population is Christian (followed by 23% Muslim, 15% Hindu, 7% Buddhist, etc.).
And in the 21st century, where world travel is an everyday occurrence, more organizations, including international hotel conglomerates, are acknowledging that many people of non-Christian faiths are sleeping in their rooms and may not want access to a Bible. Or maybe to not JUST a Bible. So…
- Marriott International, which was founded by a devout Mormon, has Gideon Bibles AND The Book of Mormon in their hotel rooms (and since their merger with Starwood, former Starwood hotels also have both books). Well, except when they don’t…
- …Case in point, Moxy and Edition brand hotels, both Marriott brands aimed at Millennials (40% of which claim no religious affiliation), have no religious materials in their rooms, because “…the religious books don’t fit the personality of the brands,” said Marriott spokeswoman Felicia Farrar McLemore.
- In the Middle East, chances are good you may find a Quaran in the hotel room (and sometimes a prayer mat, too).
- Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG), which is the parent company of Holiday Inn, Kimpton, Crowne Plaza, Candlewood Suites and several other hotel brands, doesn’t require managers of more than 5,000 hotels in nearly 100 countries to put Bibles in each room. “Our hotels have the flexibility to offer religious materials to their guests if they choose to do so,” said spokeswoman Caroline Huston.
- You can find The Teaching of Buddha (sometimes next to a Gideon Bible, sometimes not) in many hotel rooms in Japan. You may find them in some hotel rooms in the U.S., as well. Either way, they’re provided by the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism, which is based out of Tokyo.
- Travelodge hotels in Britain removed Bibles from their rooms, “in order not to discriminate against any religion,” the company said (the hotels keep copies at the front desk that guests can borrow upon request).
- Publications from The Church of Scientology or Christian Scientists can be found in some privately-owned hotels or small chains.
- The Wyndham Hotel Group, which is the parent company of Travelodge, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Ramada Inn, Days Inn, Howard Johnson, and several other hotel brands, doesn’t require Bibles in any of its 15 brands of hotels worldwide.
- More and more copies of the Bhagavad Gita are showing up in hotel rooms, thanks to the work of local Hare Krishna temples and the fact that roughly 40% of hotel owners in the U.S. are of Indian descent (nearly 80% of the population of India is Hindu).
- One non-religious reason why there are fewer Bibles in U.S. hotel rooms is that some hotels are taking a more “bare-bones” approach and using shelves instead of furniture with drawers. Apparently hotel owners, for various reasons, don’t want to leave Bibles out on shelves, out in the open (although some hotels have taken to putting them in this odd place, instead).
- There was also this on Reddit:
The bottom line is, whereas Gideon Bibles could be found in 95% of U.S. hotels in 2006, they were in only 48% of them in 2016. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is definitely a matter of Your Mileage May Vary, but no matter which side of the fence you’re on, you have to admit that the times, they are a-changin’…
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary