A one-billion book project

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.

8 thoughts on “A one-billion book project

  1. Ray Morris

    What a total waste of money. It gives all the wrong signals. I am ashamed at this initiative.

  2. Edwin Torkelsen

    This looks like TW suffers from megalomania with resulting loss of his grip on reality for all the reasons you mention.

    At a production and logistics cost of 1 dollar per book, the total cost will be 1 billion dollars. That is not exactly pocket money …

    Is there no one who can call TW to account, and stop this madness?

  3. Brigitte Demattio

    I’m so glad to read and share your rational view of the one-billion book project and I do hope that the project will fail and the money be spent for people who suffer catastrophes. Even if someone called TW to account, I suppose he wouldn’t understand or change his mind. Like Ray Morris, I’m also ashamed of this initiative and ask myself what I as a parishioner could do to stop that madness. Does anybody have an idea?

  4. Ella Rydzewski

    I have already received a question from a relative asking if this actually comes from my church. I will have to say yes, but will add some background.
    The travesty here is that members never understood inspiration of either the Bible or EGW. I think we have inspired writers in our midst today. She said herself that every flash of intellect came from God. If she believed that I can understand her use of other materials. I can also understand her view of the world was limited to her century. She gave warnings about the future as seen from her century. Now we have other “beasts” as there have been through history.
    Jesus said he did not know when he would return. I believe he was also limited by his era and culture, and that includes knowledge. He had only vague prophecies that, like those in the past, could be interpreted by those in the future as in their time. Always people were to be ready of his soon return. In the scheme of things 2000 years is soon.
    Having known Mable, probably the only EGW relative still alive in my time (she is deceased now), I heard about the kindness and care of EGW and how she loved children and took them into her home. I heard about her pleasant character.
    I read Graybill, Rhea, Numbers, and passed on Daily, just reading his articles. Rhea was not so bad as publicized–it was his horrible title that ruined the book, Graybill was scholarly; Numbers had a dark tone that did not feel like scholarship but something else. I felt he used it as a step up in his field. I remember his mocking of wigs causing insanity. It seems to me the term insane was used a lot in those days for anything from annoying to mental illness. If you think of the wigs of the era, they were often full of mites, bugs, and I even heard of a mouse nest found in one. The term “bees in your bonnet” had its origin with wigs of the past. Even modern wigs are scratchy. As for judgmental, that was the language of the era– to correct others. If you ever find a magazine of the era, you will find the same kind of language. I don’t know why we try to make her writing fit this day of computers, Iphones, TV, etc. and being politically correct.

    We have taught that biblical prophecy was conditional–but not EGW? I think you can see the hypocrisy here. No, the lady was not perfect and sometimes made poor judgments. But look how God used her.

  5. Carsten Thomsen

    I can’t decide whether to ignore it, passively boycot it, active promote boycotting it, or making sure that none of my contributions be used for it.

    I any case, it is a terrible example of “Christian Stewardship” by the leadership.

  6. Daniel Bosch-Queralt

    I’m a translator and, as a language professional, I think I understand the point here. Although we may not be aware, when reading something others have written, we are interpreting the text. Even when writer and reader share a language, words never mean exactly the same for them both. There are some nuances that may interfere the communication. If this is true for contemporary people, it will be more reasonable to think that when the writer and the reader live separate times those nuances will grow up until such a degree that communication becomes, at least, very difficult.

    This is the case of Ellen G. White’s writings and us. She lived and wrote in the 19th century. Her writings were addressed to the people of her time and she used the language of her time. She was a daughter of her time. That means that she assumed the assumptions of her time, which are not the assumptions of ours, and she used the language of her time, which is not the language of ours.

    When she writes about the geopolitics of the end-time, she points out that Turkey would be one of the countries that would come into contention in the final conflict. At that time, in 1911, when the last version of the book was published, the world was immersed in a pre-war climate in which the axes of the conflict that would erupt three years later began to be drawn. It is quite normal, then, that she thought, because she also saw the second coming imminent, that Turkey would intervene in the final crisis. In short, she fell into the trap of what I call apocalyptic speculation; for it is not up to us –neither to her– to speculate about not accomplished prophecies. That alone should be enough to invalidate the use of “The Great Controversy” as a tool for evangelism. It is too focused on its time events and not on the most timeless aspects of the plan of redemption.

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