by Ervin Taylor, September 13, 2015: Readers of theAdventist Today web site and anyone living in Philadelphia who listens to or reads local media in or around that city may be aware of the recent mass mailing of a book, The Great Controversy, to 700,000 individuals living in that city or surrounding area. The mailing was intended to be coincident with a visit to Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love,” by the current Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis.
As readers of Adventist Today will know,The Great Controversy is a 19th-century work based on an extensive editing of materials originally produced by and under the name of a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, Ellen Gould Harmon-White (1837-1915). Like a wide cross section of many other evangelical and later fundamentalist Protestant authors belonging to a wide range of conservative Protestant churches in 19th- and early 20th-century America, White was very critical of the theology and history of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. Obviously, the heritage she reflected went back centuries, based on the long-standing, intense hostility that existed between Protestants and Catholics beginning at the time of the Reformation and continuing down into the late 19th century in many countries in Europe before being transplanted across the Atlantic to the United States.
A regrettable part of that heritage was the continued affirmation of conspiracy scenarios concerning alleged attempts of Roman Catholics to establish some sort of political advantage, usually by some nefarious means in America. Anti-Catholic hostility was exacerbated during the 19th century because of the competition for employment with native-born Anglo-Saxon Americans due to the large influx of immigrants from Catholic countries in Europe, especially Ireland. It even had a 19th-century political expression in America with the formation of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish “Know-Nothing” political movement.
We can be encouraged that the organization which was responsible for the mailing of the Great Controversyvolume was not the official Seventh-day Adventist Church. The organization was Remnant Publications, based in Michigan. However, the message that this mailing was clearly intended to communicate is an anti-Catholic message and the source of that message emanates from a part of the Adventist tradition. In light of this action on the part of members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is here proposed that the President of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church send the following letter or some version of it to the Pope asking for his understanding and forgiveness.
Here is a draft of the text of such a letter that would be written on the stationery of the General Conference of SDAs:
His Holiness, Pope Francis
00120 Vatican City
It is recently come to my attention that certain misguided members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States have distributed a book, written by the co-founder of this Christian denomination, to many individuals living in the city of Philadelphia, prior to your upcoming visit to that city.
That book is entitled The Great Controversy. That volume was written in the 19th century at a time in the history of the United Sites when the relationship between Protestant and Catholic Christians was much less than ideal. Unfortunately, that book reflected various very regrettable negative aspects of that relationship. A predecessor of mine has noted that the anti-Catholic views that this book endorses have been “relegated to the ash heap of history” by current Adventist leaders and lay persons.
I currently hold the position of president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and in that capacity I am writing to you to extend the apologies from a leader of one group of Christians to another, asking for your understanding and forgiveness for the unfortunate actions of a small number of members of the Christian faith tradition which I represent.
At a time when all Christians of good will should be seeking to come together to solve the serious problems facing our world, the actions of a few should not be allowed to confuse and disrupt that cooperation. It is in the spirit of that concern that this letter is being sent to you.
Please accept this apology in the name of all members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church who wish you and the church you represent the blessings of God.
Ted N.C. Wilson