North American Division and General Conference ignore inspired counsel

On Wednesday, June 19, the General Conference and North American Division administrations forwarded to the boards of the Pacific Press Publishing Association and the Review and Herald Publishing Association a request for the two organizations to consider a merger in the near future.

According to a press release issued by the North American Division, the boards of both publishing houses met separately on Wednesday evening, and each voted to consider a yet-to-be-developed merger proposal. In addition, each board authorized its board chair and its president to represent the institution on a task force that will develop a detailed merger proposal to be completed by the end of September 2013. The boards will then be asked to vote on the detailed merger proposal.

The Review & Herald, based in Hagerstown, Maryland, and the Pacific Press, Nampa, Idaho, are both General Conference-sponsored institutions, but the merger proposal would affiliate the combined entity with the North American Division, rather than the General Conference. “A publishing house closely linked to church infrastructure and intimately involved with planning, implementation and coordination of witnessing and nurture programs is a key component in accomplishing our mission objectives,” said President Dan Jackson of the North American Division.

This is not the first time the brethren have contemplated such a consolidation. The last time they suggested it, Ellen White came forward with decisive counsel against such a move:

The policy of consolidation, wherever pursued, tends to the exaltation of the human in place of the divine. . . . Never should our publishing houses be so related to one another that one shall have power to dictate as to the management of another. When so great power is placed in the hands of a few persons, Satan will make determined efforts to pervert the judgment, to insinuate wrong principles of action, to bring in a wrong policy; . . . Warnings have been given me that it is not wise to consolidate the Pacific Press with the Review and Herald publishing house. Time will convince all that this matter is too serious a thing to be trifled with. . . . There should be no controversy on this point. There must be no more determined binding up with the interests in the [The Review & Herald] so that it shall absorb the Pacific Press, making them one organ. The Pacific Press must stand by itself. The two institutions cannot better advance the work of God in consolidation, as has been contemplated. It is God's will that they stand as independent bodies. . . . He [God] would have His institutions independent of each other, and yet in perfect harmony with each other. . . . The Lord has shown me that these two institutions are to be kept as separate as two branches which, though distinct, both center in the parent vine. They are not to be merged into one, but are to be kept distinct, yet each is to derive its nourishment from the same source. . . . God would have had the Pacific Press Publishing House stand free and clear, and untrammeled by any power. . . . God has presented to me, which I have presented to you, that the Pacific Press should stand on its own individuality, relying upon God, doing its work in God, as His instrumentality—the human agent working with God, contrite in spirit, meek and lowly in heart, ready to be taught of God, but not subject to any earthly power that shall propose plans and ways that are not after the light God has given. Be on guard. Be on guard, and do not sell your religious liberty to any office or to any man, or board or council of men. Ellen White, The Publishing Ministry, p. 152-155.

Ellen White was clearly shown that the spiritual health and welfare of the publishing work lay in decentralization, not consolidation. To whatever extent economies of scale could be achieved by consolidation, this was more than offset by the need for independent editorial staffs, and avoiding consolidation of power in the hands of a few:

At times it has been urged that the interests of the cause would be furthered by a consolidation of our publishing houses, bringing them virtually under one management. But this, the Lord has shown, should not be. It is not His plan to centralize power in the hands of a few persons or to bring one institution under the control of another. Testimonies, v. 7, p. 171. Also Publishing Ministry, p. 144.

In view of this clear counsel from the pen of inspiration, it is surprising that a proposal of consolidation would be urged under the administration of Ted Wilson, whom many believe to be more conservative than his predecessor.

Both publishing houses currently operate in the black. And yet, according to the NAD press release, the merger plans are being justified in part by economic considerations, particularly investment in printing capacity:

Each must make important decisions regarding its vision for the future and the investment of capital to maintain efficiencies in publishing and printing processes. Such decisions will have far-reaching impact. In light of present surplus manufacturing capacity it is believed advantageous for the two organizations to plan for the future as one unit rather than separately and to be directly connected to a North American Division mission-driven distribution system.

Printing and publishing are two separate enterprises. This website is a publisher—this article will be read by thousands of people, just as if it were in a printed magazine—but ADvindicate does not print anything. Many periodicals that existed previously in printed form, such as Newsweek, now exist only as websites, and many widely read magazines, such as Slate, have never been printed. Even when a book is printed, the publisher and the printer are usually different companies. The publisher accepts a submission for publication, edits the book, hires a printer to manufacture the book, and then markets the book. Publishers hire printers on a competitive basis, and many publishers are availing themselves of low-cost printing in Asia.

Printing is an intensely competitive industry, and one in which, as correctly noted in the NAD press release, there is significant overcapacity. It makes no economic sense for our denominational publishing houses to add printing capacity. But perhaps more interesting is the fact that the combination of publishing and printing enterprises within our publishing associations has historically been problematic. In order to keep the presses busy when not printing church material, the publishing houses took in “commercial work,” meaning that they printed non-Adventist material on a contract basis. Ellen White frequently warned against “commercial work,” either doing too much of it:

I am grieved when I see our printing offices doing so much commercial work, virtually saying to the world, 'Bring your work to us; we will do it for you.' We have more work for the Lord than we can possibly perform. There is much to be done that we will overlook unless we are baptized with the Holy Spirit. We desire that commercialism shall be purged from every office. Publishing Ministry, p. 166.

Or printing material with objectionable content:

There is another class of literature, more defiling than the leprosy, more deadly than the plagues of Egypt, against which our publishing houses need unceasingly to guard. In accepting commercial work, let them beware lest matters presenting the very science of Satan be admitted into our institutions. Let not works setting forth the soul-destroying theories of hypnotism, spiritualism, Romanism, or other mysteries of iniquity find a place in our publishing houses.... Publishing Ministry, p. 163.

In a world in which there is overcapacity in printing, and razor-thin margins for printers, it makes little sense for the church to be in the printing business in any substantial way, especially if it means taking in “commercial work.” The demand for printed material will only continue to decline. (I have not owned a printed Sabbath School Quarterly for over two years, since the material is available online and as an android smart phone app.) We can simply contract our necessary printing, as most publishers do.

But while we do not necessarily need to be in the printing business, we unequivocally and absolutely do need to be in the publishing business, and with at least two denominationally affiliated publishers in North America. It was probably a mistake to close Southern Publishing, but it would be a catastrophe to effectively close the Pacific Press. As Ellen White counseled in the strongest possible language, we should strive to avoid a situation in which a few people control all the official church publishing in North America.

It is bad enough that the contemplated merger is directly contrary to the plainest inspired counsel but, to make matters worse, the combined institution will be affiliated with the NAD rather than  the GC. It takes no gift of prophecy, just ordinary powers of observation, to note that the NAD is far more liberal than the world Seventh-day Adventist Church as represented in the GC. We have seen this with regard to the ordination of women, and in regard to sexual matters generally. We saw Dan Jackson's apology tour to La Sierra, where he pandered to the rebellious faculty and opined that David Asscherick should be “spanked” for calling attention to La Sierra's spiritual declension and anti-Adventism. The prospect of reducing our two publishing houses to one, and then placing that one institution under the control of Dan Jackson should cause every conservative Adventist deep-seated unease.

It has long been the trend that the official publishing houses are becoming more liberal, and conservative Adventist material is being self-published or published by small, independent publishing houses. This planned merger, especially the transfer of affiliation from the GC to the NAD, can only accelerated that trend and make it permanent. It is devoutly to be hoped that this merger plan will be reconsidered and then scrapped.