From the very beginning the publishing ministry has been a very important activity in the Adventist Church. Since a considerable part of my church career has been in the publishing branch, I am always alert to see and hear about new developments in this department of church work. And indeed, there are presently some interesting developments.
The leadership of the church has urged the two large denominational publishing houses in the USA to start negotiations about a possible merger in the near future. This concerns the Review and Herald Publishing Association, with an impressive history that goes back as far as 1850, and the Pacific Press Publishing Association, that was founded in 1872. The first is in the East of the US, in Hagerstown, not far from Washington, DC., while the last is in Boise (Idaho), in the West of the country.
Both the Review and Herald and the Pacific Press are not just publishers, but also printing establishments. In the past such a combination of publishing and printing was rather common, in the SDA Church as well as ‘in the world’. Today, however, it is rather the exception than the rule that a publisher prints its own publications. In the two major Adventist publishing establishments, however, a very major part of the employees is involved with the actual physical production: pre-printing, printing, binding, etc. But here are two serious problems: there is a significant over-capacity and, due to financial restraints in recent years, the two houses have not invested enough in modern technology. These two issues are the primary reasons why a merger is deemed desirable. By fusing the two companies efficiency could be improved and the production capacity could be better harmonized with actual needs.
An interesting detail is that the one remaining company would no longer function directly under the auspices of the General Conference, but rather under the responsibility of the regional office for North America.
There will have to be a lot of meetings, and six different boards will have to give their approval, before a merger-process can actually take place. In the past a number of times a plan for such a merger has been advanced, but until now it had never been approved by all the boards. For there is one aspect that has nothing to do with considerations of business or technology, but is essential for many.
In the late nineteenth century Ellen White has clearly emphasized that there should be more than one publishing house in the United States. She indicated that centralizing all power in the hands of just a few men was highly undesirable. (See, e.g., her statement in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 171.) In the past the governing boards concluded that they should not go against the clear advice of Ellen White. One does not have to be a prophet to predict that this element will once again dominate in the discussion. Already in the past few days, since the announcement was made, many church members wonder how it is possible that this initiative for merger talks comes from top church leadership, among whom Ted Wilson has an important (or decisive) voice. Has he not pleaded, since being elected asthe church’s president, that the church ought to listen to the prophetic voice of Ellen White? And might her advice in this important matter now be disregarded?
This issue will no doubt, bring a lot of vociferous debate. Must, however, advices of more than a century old still be considered relevant, even when the circumstances have radically changed? There will be different opinion on this matter.
But I hope another aspect will also receive adequate attention. How important is it that the printing of denominational publications takes place in a church owned printing establishment? I have concluded long ago that it is often far more efficient to let be printing be done elsewhere. Most Adventist publishing entities in Europe have, over the past three decades, come to the some conclusion.
If the two American publishing houses would discontinue their printing business, a totally new picture would emerge. And in that case, one could wonder whether a merger would still make sense. Perhaps it would be better to have a number of (smaller) centers where publications are created from an Adventist perspective. Would that not be preferable above having one institution that decides what all Adventists should read and what ought to be presented to others in the name of the Adventist Church?
And then, there is something else that I hope will not be forgotten. I have often felt that much more could be done with regard to a world-wide promotion and marketing of the products of the two publishing houses that are now urged to merge. Yet, in the end, it seems to be much more important to ensure that our books and other publications have a maximum distribution, than to guarantee that they have been printed on Adventist presses!