Sunday morning delegates to North American Division year-end meetings addressed the Great Controversy Project, a favorite initiative of the General Conference President, Ted Wilson. The project involves raising the money and finding the will for mass distribution of Ellen White’s famous book, and many NAD leaders appear to have mixed feelings about it.
Reports on “Share Him,” the evangelism initiative led by former General Conference President Robert Folkenberg, took up the first part of the meeting. By far the most conversation, however, attended a motion presented about mid-morning by Columbia Union President Dave Weigley. Later tweaked a little, the motion, in both versions, was meant to assure that Adventist publishers would not ship orders or otherwise facilitate mass distribution of The Great Controversy without explicit go-ahead from a local conference authority.
The project, which in the NAD will be called The Great Hope Project, would see its “grand launch,” as NAD President Dan Jackson put it, on January 1, 2012. Emphasis in this division would be on an abridged, “contemporary,” version of The Great Controversy, here re-titled The Great Hope.
Jackson himself repeatedly expressed support for “local conference” control of what is done in the Division’s various parts. Local entities could elect to distribute the book, even the “full volume,” as widely as they would like. He encouraged everyone, however, to make sure that human “relationships” are preserved and enhanced. The elephant in the room, not once mentioned explicitly, was the book’s no-holds-barred critique of the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities with which Adventism competes.
From the platform thoughtless, or untargeted, distribution was clearly seen to be a danger. But one conference president, Jay Gallimore of Michigan, complained that limiting independent groups or individuals from flooding ZIP codes of their choice with free copies of the book was, in effect, the “shackling” of lay people.
One person who supported the motion was Bill Robertson, President of Adventist Healthcare in the Washington, D. C., area. The distribution “method,” he said, should not endanger “relationships”—overwhelmingly, in his own professional life, relationships with community members who are not Adventist. These relationships are necessary, he said, for effective healthcare ministry. The implication was that harming them would be less likely if local authorities have say-so over how the project develops in their respective domains.
Most speakers, and most in the audience, seemed to agree with Robertson and the several others who spoke on behalf of the motion. Just before lunch it was passed by a wide margin.
Afterwards I spoke at with one delegate who speculated on an interpretation analogous to the ones Kremlinologists offered during the Cold War. These students of Soviet discourse took face-value meanings as somewhat clouded windows onto the real message. It seemed to him that goings-on revealed that delegates are at least somewhat doubtful about the Great Controversy Project, at least as the General Conference leadership envisions it.
One problem he himself feels, he said, is that The Great Controversy anticipates imminent legislation requiring the death penalty for persons who worship on Sunday instead of Saturday. But this seems out of step with the direction of American culture, where surveys show that the sway of religion is weakening, not to mention that of the death penalty, which (for any crime) seems to be losing public support. It is no easier to imagine Sunday-related, death-penalty legislation, he said, than to think Prohibition will soon return.
What seems certain is that in the NAD this project will generate strong feelings both positive and negative. And what seems desirable, at least to me, is that the project occasion new reflection on what it means to have The Great Controversy as a key element in the heritage we share and intend to propagate.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3514