I felt frustrated and unbelievably sad when I read about the plan to distribute in the coming years a billion copies of the Great Controversy by Ellen G. White. The president of the General Conference made the announcement at a meeting of the ASI—the independent organization of Adventist Services and Industries. The organization is known for its conservative tendencies, but has among its members quite a few people with deep pockets, who may be expected to make large donations to pet projects of the president.
It is no secret that pastor Wilson and a number of his strong supporters have a special relationship with this particular book by Ellen White. Her own instruction that this book should be distributed as widely as possible provides the marching orders. One wonders about the timing of this project, however, less than a year before the leadership of the church is up for (re)election. Do they want to be seen as the kind of strong leaders that make such daring plans? But, really, is this the best they can think of when it comes to letting the world know what the Adventist message is all about?
The plan to distribute one billion (free, unsolicited) books raises all kinds of questions. How many of these free books will actually be appreciated by the recipients? How many will actually be read? (And I am not just referring to the hundreds of millions who are illiterate.)
And, do we really want the entire world to read this 19th century book, that was written against a background that totally differs from today’s world. Apart from the fact that the book is very Euro- and America-centered, and does not address situations in other regions of the world, it also contains the kind of language about other faith communities (Roman Catholics in particular) that many would nowadays consider offensive or even hate-speech.
Do we really want to launch this project at a time when, more than ever before, a significant percentage of our membership wonders about the credibility of Ellen White as an inspired modern-day prophet? Will this one-billion-book plan not put further fuel on the fire? What does it tell those church members who have serious doubts about the ministry of Ellen White, that all issues around her inspiration are so blatantly ignored?
What does it say about the stewardship principles of the church to mass-produce such a huge quantity of books that results in an enormous amount of waste that will end up in landfills around the globe? Is that giving an example of a careful use of the earth’s resources? Going through with this plan could cause a terrible PR disaster for the Adventist Church. This danger may well lead many church entities around the world to be very reticent in promoting the plan. Speaking about stewardship: whoever will foot the bill, is this a responsible way to spend so much money? If the project would succeed, hundreds of millions of dollars would be involved. Millions of people, who live at the margins of their societies, could receive food and medical help if these funds would be made available for that purpose. Millions in developing countries could be vaccinated against Covid-19. If that were done, it would make me proud of my church!
It gives me some comfort to think that the project will probably fail or not succeed in the measure that the initiators envisage. It will be difficult to “sell” the project to the leaders of many of the “lower” organizations. The General Conference and other sponsors may also face much adverse publicity and even some legal obstacles. Moreover, the logistical problems are immense. How likely is it that the book can be widely distributed in large parts of Africa, China, India, the former Soviet Republics, the slums in the megacities of South- and Inter-America, etc.?
We must become much better in presenting our message in ways that radiate world-wide relevancy, and that respond to the needs and issues of people in the twenty-first century. Saturating mail boxes everywhere with an unsolicited 600-page 19th century religious book, that is mostly focused on past developments in North America and Europe, with conjectures about the future, may give a feel-good sense to the planners of this project, but will do little beyond that. It makes me frustrated and sad.