"The Great Controversy Project is a unique presidential initiative with the goal of distributing massive quantities of Seventh-day Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White's book, The Great Controversy, as part of the church’s worldwide Tell the World emphasis."
That presidential initiative, as described on the Great Controversy Project website, is well underway (it started with President Ted N. C. Wilson's inaugural address in 2010). While there may be reason for the president's office to take heart (President Wilson often describes those reached through the initiative in his public addresses), the response from the Web-going public has been tepid at best.
In 2013, when the Great Controversy Project placed over one million paperback copies of "The Great Controversy" on top of mailboxes throughout Manhattan, David Blend, writing for Thrillist, wrote an article entitled "Seriously, what the hell are you supposed to do with this?" The article began:
You come home at 10:15p to find four copies of this ominous work displayed over your apartment's mailboxes. Do you:
1. Move out immediately -- screw the deposit.
2. Laugh that there's somebody out there so crazy they think people still read books.
3. Take a copy for the novelty value
The article, it turns out, is indicative of the way many city-dwellers, who are among Adventists' favorite target audiences for evangelistic efforts, have responded to the "Great Controversy" mass-mailings. But the way Adventist-Laymen's Services International (ASI) characterized the initiative, you'd never know it.
"Last spring Justin Montero, a New York City Bible worker, began noticing a strange phenomenon. Everywhere he went, people were reading The Great Controversy!" ASI wrote on their website. ASI, a powerful, conservative network of Adventist bussinesspersons and fundraisers, helped organize financial backing for the project. "Remnant can print and mail the books for as little as $1.09 apiece, making this outreach project affordable for both large and small communities," ASI wrote.
Remnant Publications, a parachurch publishing company took on the task of publishing and distributing the books.
Remnant Publications laid their cards on the table in a website post outlining their effort to reach San Francisco:
Over the past year Remnant Publications has been sending mass mailings of The Great Controversy to major cities in the United States. So far we’ve blanketed New York City; Washington, DC; and Charlotte, NC, with nearly two million copies of this crucial end-time book.
Our supporters made this possible by funding the printing and mailing costs for the books. Now we’re reaching into the San Francisco Bay area in California.
San Francisco is not the easiest community to reach. For years the city has been at the forefront of the gay movement. In fact, 15 percent of San Francisco residents are homosexual. The area is home to the University of California-Berkeley, a hotbed of liberal ideas. It also contains the affluent communities of Silicon Valley, where high-tech companies like Google and Facebook are changing the world on a daily basis.
San Franciscans were unamused. "Did anyone else get this religious book in the mail?" wrote a Reddit user called NightWriter500. "There's no address on it at all, so we're wondering how it ended up in the mailbox. My roommate is screaming bloody murder about a renegade mailman putting unsolicited religious text in people's mailboxes. Did everyone get one?"
In the comments section of a separate online article about Remnant's blanketing of Charlotte, North Carolina with the paperbacks, a mail carrier talked about the mailing from the Postal Service's point of view.
As a mail carrier, I had to deliver these books to every one of my customers. The Post Office was flooded with calls after the carriers delivered to their respective routes. Some would call blaming their carrier for leaving a "religious book" in their mailbox trying to "convert" them. Others on my route would either leave the book on top of the mail box or leave it in their box while only taking the mail out, as if to protest in their own silent way. These books were not well received in Los Gatos, Ca. I have been carrying one around with me for months with the intent of reading it, but just couldn't get past the first sentence for some reason. I finally Googled the book title and found out what it was and who it was written by.....needless to say, it's now in the recycle as of this morning. Something I should have done a very long time ago.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of the Great Controversy Project to date came just this morning from Jules Suzdaltsev writing in San Francisco-based The Bold Italic. Suzdaltsev wrote to San Francisco residents explaining why their mailboxes were recently flooded with "God Propaganda" (his words). He called the Great Controversy's arrival "unwanted, unordered, and inexplicable." Suzdaltsev suggested that to impress San Francisco residents, Adventists would have done better donating to a non-profit than trying to impress people with books from their gone prophet.
What these Seventh-Day Adventists have missed, however, is that SF’s gay-friendly, liberal community isn’t easily reachable through a somewhat homophobic web crusade and an unsought religious text. The Adventists would probably have more luck getting support by donating that quarter of a million to any number of SF charities. You know, like Jesus would’ve done. Just a thought.
Title Image: Delivery of "The Great Controversy to San Francisco, from a story by sfist.com.
Jared Wright is Spectrum's managing editor.