On Sunday, June 21, 2020, The Tennessean, a Nashville-based newspaper that’s part of the USA Today Network (owned by Gannett Corporation), ran a full-page ad claiming that “Islam is going to detonate a nuclear device in Nashville, Tennessee.”
The ad featured a composite image of Donald Trump and Pope Francis in the foreground and an American flag and what appear to be fire and protestors in the background. It was signed “The Ministry of Future for America,” an Arkansas-based fringe organization that states its mission is to:
“proclaim the final warning message of Revelation 14 as identified by the prophecies of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. The end-time fulfillment of Bible prophecy is no longer future-for it is taking place before our eyes. The historic, prophetic understanding of Seventh-day Adventism is now present truth.”1
“We are under conviction to not only tell you but to provide evidence that on July 18, 2020, Islam is going to detonate a nuclear device in Nashville, Tennessee,” begins the ad, which claims to provide an overview of the prophecy, and encourages readers to visit a link “where the defense of each of these issues is presented fully.”
The ad goes on to claim that Donald Trump is the final president of the United States, and that “his struggle with the Democratic Party is also a subject of prophecy…” Furthermore, the ad claims that the “Third World War” will “begin in earnest when Islam strikes the USA again, as on 9/11, but now with a nuclear weapon on July 18, 2020.” Russia, Putin, the Roman Catholic Church, and “the backslidden Seventh-day Adventist Church” are referenced as well:
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church was given prophetic light through the writings of Ellen G. White, which they have chosen to hide under a bushel rather than fulfill their responsibility. That responsibility included giving this very warning message; for it is from the writings of the prophetess they claim to believe and accept that Nashville is marked as being destroyed by a ball of fire, and her description easily fits the description of a nuclear weapon.”
The closing paragraphs of the ad offer the plea that it is “…our hope that you will avail yourself of the information we are offering before it is too late, but whether you hear or not, this letter is being sent so that we might fulfill our responsibility as watchmen, for to not do so would mean that the blood of all those that perish is the upcoming nuclear strike would be required of our souls.”
Social media backlash was swift after Twitter user @asmiff shared photos of the print ad, which were retweeted over 8,600 times as of this writing.
This morning, the Nashville @Tennessean — the largest newspaper in the state — published a full-page ad from a far-right client warning “Islam is going to detonate a nuclear device in Nashville, Tennessee.” It’s accompanied by photos of Donald Trump and Pope Francis. pic.twitter.com/9vvUbteSIh
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) June 21, 2020
The full ad can be read by clicking here.
The Tennessean, which has a daily circulation of 95,311 and a Sunday circulation of 212,839,2 strongly denounced the ad, apologized to its readers, and announced it was launching an investigation into “how a paid advertisement from a fringe religious group was published on Sunday in violation of the newspaper’s long-established standards.”
According to The Tennessean, its advertising standards “clearly forbid hate speech. Advertisements that do not meet the paper’s standards are routinely rejected for publication.”
Kevin Gentzel, President of Marketing Solutions and Chief Revenue Officer for Gannett, stated on Twitter that the ad had clearly violated their advertising standards. “We strongly condemn the message and apologize to our readers. We are immediately investigating to determine how this could have happened.”
Ryan Kedzierski, The Tennessean’s vice president of sales for Middle Tennessee, also issued an apology:
“This advertisement should not have been published within The Tennessean and we are sincerely sorry that this mistake took place. We are extremely apologetic to the community that the advertisement was able to get through and we are reviewing internally why and how this occurred and we will be taking actions immediately to correct.
“No words or actions can describe how sorry we are to the community for the advertisements that were published. We will be utilizing the advertising dollars that went toward the full-page ad placements and donating those funds to the American Muslim Advisory Council.”3
Michael A. Anastasi, vice president and editor of The Tennessean, weighed in as well, calling the ad “horrific and utterly indefensible.” He continued,
“It is wrong, period, and should have never been published. It has hurt members of our community and our own employees and that saddens me beyond belief. It is inconsistent with everything The Tennessean as an institution stands and has stood for and with the journalism we have produced.”4
Like most news organizations, the editorial and advertising departments of The Tennessean function independently of each other, so editors and reporters were not involved in the decision to run the ad.
Religion News Service spoke with Jeff Pippenger from Future for America who took responsibility for writing the version of the ad that appeared in Sunday’s paper. A different version of the ad, which did not mention Islam, ran in Wednesday’s paper,5 and was written by “a friend from Ireland,” said Pippenger. According to RNS, “Pippenger said the ministry paid for the ad, which he said was inspired by the work of Ellen White, one of the co-founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church.”6
Pippenger told RNS that “he and the others behind the ad consider themselves Seventh-day Adventists, ‘though some such as me have been removed from their membership by the Adventist Church because of our prophetic beliefs.’”
According to The New York Times, Pippenger is demanding a full refund from The Tennessean, but would not say how much the ad cost.
“I stand by all the content in the ad and the content in the website,” he said. “It seems to me the criticism is more aimed at the editorial staff at the newspaper, and the criticism about my religious convictions is simply what happens when you let your religious convictions out into the public arena.”7
An article from The Tennessean published late Monday afternoon announced that the ad cost $14,000 and that Future for America would receive a refund. According to the article, Future for America is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt non-profit, whose purpose is “evangelism.” The group “reported $1,195,650 in assets in 2018, according to tax documents.”8
In addition to refunding Future for America its $14,000, Gannett will donate that same amount to “the American Muslim Advisory Council, a Nashville-based advocacy group. The company is also giving the council $50,000 in advertising credit, which will be used for multiple Islamic organizations.”9
“Sabina Mohyuddin, executive director of the American Muslim Advisory Council, confirmed plans to accept the donation from The Tennessean. She said Tennessean executives had reached out to apologize.
‘We're grateful that they've opted not to benefit from the proceeds of that ad,’ Mohyuddin said. ‘We can use that for something good in the community.’
There is work to do, Mohyuddin said. Muslims throughout Middle Tennessee are worried the ad will spark continued discrimination or violence against them or their places of worship.
‘A huge target was placed on our community,’ Mohyuddin said.”10
The Tennessean also announced in the article that following its internal investigation into the matter, the advertising department’s sales manager had been fired. The company also plans to coordinate with the American Muslim Advisory Council on diversity and sensitivity training, and employees will receive “refreshed training” on policies regarding hate speech.
The North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church strongly condemned the ad and distanced itself from the fringe organization in a statement issued on Sunday, June 21, 2020, which was sent directly to The Tennessean, Religion News Service, and posted to the NAD’s website and social media channels. It’s included in full below and can also be read on the NAD’s website by clicking here:
“The claims made against the Muslim community have caused pain and strife. We soundly reject these hateful and dishonest words. Further, we need to be clear: there is no connection between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and this group and their teachings, which serve to hurt and cause disharmony.
“One of the Adventist Church’s Fundamental Beliefs states, 'In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation' (Fundamental Belief 14, Unity in the Body of Christ).
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church requests that the Nashville Tennessean repudiate the advertising and publicly state there is no connection between the Adventist Church and this group.”
Not only does the ad briefly mention the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the group used quotes from Ellen G. White, one of the Adventist Church’s founding members, out of context. “The Ellen G. White Estate rejects any interpretation of Ellen White’s writings that suggests she predicts a specific target of impending disaster, the timing of any such event, or a connection to the Muslim or any other faith group,” said Jim Nix, director of the Ellen G. White Estate, an entity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters.
In addition to the full response on Sunday, the NAD also sent two tweets on the morning of Monday, June 22, 2020. The first, published at 7:07 a.m. (EDT) stated, “We are deeply disturbed by the hurtful ad published by @Tennessean. The claims made against the Muslim community have caused pain and strife. We soundly reject these hateful words. We need to be clear: there is no connection between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and this group”
We are deeply disturbed by the hurtful ad published by @Tennessean. The claims made against the Muslim community have caused pain and strife. We soundly reject these hateful words. We need to be clear: there is no connection between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and this group
— NAD Adventist (@NADadventist) June 22, 2020
The second was a response to the RNS article. The NAD quote-tweeted the article at 10:03 a.m. (EDT), stating, “The claims made against the Muslim community have caused pain and strife. We soundly reject these hateful words. We need to be clear: there is no connection between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and this group.”
The claims made against the Muslim community have caused pain and strife. We soundly reject these hateful words. We need to be clear: there is no connection between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and this group https://t.co/11FA7NdoCU
— NAD Adventist (@NADadventist) June 22, 2020
According to Dan Weber, communication director for the NAD, the slightly different wording between the two tweets is due to the fact that Twitter does not allow users to tweet the exact same thing twice.
Some Adventists on Twitter criticized the NAD for stating there is no connection between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Future for America.
Trevan Osborn (@trevano) wrote, “I appreciate the NAD condemning the ad. However, we need to be honest that there IS a connection to the Adventist Church. They use EGW quotes and Adventists love creating end-time scenarios. Soul searching is needed on why so many current and former SDA’s do this stuff.”
The NAD responded, “People misquote or abuse beliefs, but that's no reason to blame the belief. This group was disfellowshipped by the Church for their abuse of Adventist teachings. Like other Christians, we proclaim and believe in the Second Coming, but don’t set a timetable or make predictions.”
Matt Shallenberger (@mjshally) wrote, “‘There is no connection...’ Technically true, but there obviously was a connection at some point. Seems like that should be addressed.” To which the NAD replied, “The leaders of the group were disfellowshipped after many years of conflict with the church. Their teachings have no basis in foundational Adventism.”
Read the Twitter thread here.
Other Adventists praised the Church for its quick response. Sarah Sulton (@Simplysaved) wrote, “This is a true blessing to hear our Adventist leadership taking a stand!” and Ryan Sinclair (@NirvanaMonk116) said, “I’m so proud of the Church standing up for the dignity of all peoples and faith groups.”
This incident has raised several important questions — on prophetic interpretation, journalistic integrity, freedom of speech, and perhaps most importantly, interfaith dialogue. What responsibility, if any, does the Church bear for members and former members who misinterpret or misrepresent the Church’s official teachings? In a country and a world that is so polarized on so many issues, how do we communicate our beliefs in a way that heals rather than harms? Put simply, what does it look like to follow the greatest commandments of all, to love the Lord our God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves?11
Notes & References:
1. Future for America “About” page: https://www.futureforamerica.com/index.php#about, accessed June 22, 2020.
2. Circulation numbers for The Tennessean as reported on Wikipedia.org: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tennessean, accessed June 22, 2020.
3. “Tennessean apologizes, launches investigation after 'horrific' ad runs in print editions,” Tennessean.com, accessed June 22, 2020.
5. “Tennessee Newspaper Apologizes for ‘Utterly Indefensible’ Anti-Muslim Ad,” NYTimes.com, accessed June 22, 2020.
6. “Tennessean editor denounces ‘horrific’ Nashville Islam nuclear prophecy advertisement,” ReligionNews.com, accessed June 22, 2020.
7. “Tennessee Newspaper Apologizes for ‘Utterly Indefensible’ Anti-Muslim Ad,” NYTimes.com, accessed June 22, 2020.
8. “Manager fired, training planned, money donated to Muslim council after ad runs in Tennessean,” Tennessean.com, access June 22, 2020.
11. Mark 12:30-31
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
Image: Photo of top portion of Future for America’s ad which appeared in The Tennessean on Sunday, June 21, 2020.
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