Ellen G. White
The White Lie!
Order Walter Rea's book: "The White Lie"
Chapter 11: A Matter of Ethics
Historical evidence that leaders knew White was not inspired, but suffered from medical problems... They just forgot to tell the flock!
Much more than one can encompass or digest has been written about Ellen and her "borrowing." Doubtless more will continue to be written as various ones seek to clear their heads a Id hearts of the long, sorry misconceptions. Doors that have been shut for a hundred years or more are now being painfully opened by a different generation. One can hope that enough feet have been put firmly in the doorway to keep the door from being slammed all the way shut again. Some who have written before the 1970s to protest what was taking place seem to have been opposed so successfully that a generation or two of Adventists have been taught fallaciously.' Additional material will be forthcoming as the times demand and as the scholars continue to discover what lies under the surface. Much has been said for many years about the secretiveness of the White Estate and about their extremely stringent policies even for friends of the church who seek the information that leads to knowledge of truth. The inability to have access to source material without smuggling it out naturally intensifies suspicion. But times have changed since 1844. Now the only doors that remain really closed are the ones that lead to the minds of today's communicants, who in blind loyalty go on parroting the "party line," zealots without regard for accuracy or honesty. These doors are the hardest to open, for they have been closed by those persons whom they felt they had a right to trust-whose minds, in turn, have been closed by fear to think or investigate, lest the curse of the supersalesmen come down upon them. Even worse are those who fear that God, who is ever on trial in such matters, wants the blind to lead the blind through the desert wasteland.
Studies have established certain points that are irrefutable. Even Robert Olson, of the White Estate, has conceded as much, in his letter of September 4, 1980:
Let me assure you . . that we are doing our best to do what we believe needs to be done. The nineteenpage paper you referred to on Ellen White's use of uninspired sources has been published in the Australian Division Union paper. It has also been translated into German and published for all of our ministers in West Germany. A somewhat modified version of the article was published In the new youth Sabbath School quarterly which is issued currently m Lincoln, Nebraska. We have also made this article available to our conference presidents around the circle and have presented the matter in many of workers' meetings both here and abroad However, we feel that this is simply a preliminary step. The General conference Committee has voted to ask one of our professors from Andrews University to engage in a twoyear study in which the writings of Ellen White on the life of Christ are to be investigated in depth, especially on the question of literary borrowing. 2
Could this be the same Robert Olson who stood before an audience at Loma Linda less than two years before and said that there was really nothing to all this discussion going on about Ellen and her writings 3 On the other hand, Olson's statement cannot be considered to mean there is a new opendoor policy at the White Estate office. A later letter of that year (October 1980) reveals how closed that White Estate vault still is: "Elder does not look at these matters as I think he should." 4 And his words to the inhouse group two years earlier were not idle when he said that the one chosen to do the work would
...cost the White Estate nothing for Jim's [Cox] time, and I do believe that we can stay close enough to him so that the conclusions he arrives at would be essentially the same as the conclusions we would come to were we doing the work ourselves. We could ask Jim to make a report every two or three weeks to a committee. 5
But the press is stronger than the sword. Olson's sword has been dulled m combat with the press, even if some of that press was only the quickcopy machine. Members in at least some parts of the world have been becoming aware for themselves for the first time of the magnitude of the problem with Ellen's illegitimate use of the work of predecessors and of the fact that some questions have to be answered. Worldwide, many Adventists are no longer willing to accept the unethical answers that their super salesmen have given them
The ethical problems can be summed up by reviewing the evidence that a good deal of research in recent years has revealed substantial information about Ellen's life and writing.
1. It is now clear that Ellen was not original in her writing; her material was taken from other sources-on all subjects, In all areas, m all books. 6
2. It is likewise clear that Ellen was indeed substantially influenced by her surroundings, her associates, and other religious writers from whom she drew (copying, paraphrasing, and the like).7
3. The one disclaimer that had been made known in a general way (that the introductions of the 1888 and 1911 editions of The Great Controversy) does not truthfully deal with the issue. Why would anyone quote from another's published work without intending to cite that person as his authority?
4. It has now been conceded that Ellen had much more help than the church members had been led to believe and that her helpers did indeed have great latitude in selecting and arranging material and m final editing. 8 Furthermore, in addition to the editorial assistants who are fairly well known-Marian Davis, Clarence C. Crisler, Dores E. Robinson, Mary Steward, Fannie Bolton, Mary H. Crisler, Sarah Peck, Maggie Hare, and H. Camden Lacey-a later release by Willie White calls attention to others less well known about: "From 1860 and onward, some of her manuscripts for publication, and some of her testimonies, were copied by members of her family." 9 Then he named such copyists as Lucinda Abbey Hall, Adelia Patten Van Horn, Anna Driscoll Loughborough, Addie Howe Cogshall, Annie Hale Royce, Emma Sturgis Prescott, Mary Clough Watson, and Mrs. J. L. Ings. There may well have been others.
5. Ellen did not have the last word on what was written and did not always have the final say on what was published. 10 Even could it be proved that she was "always in control," that would not settle the ethical questions.
6. It cannot be maintained either in good scholarship or in good conscience that "verbal inspiration" was the problem with those who saw and understood what was going on. They knew what was going on and did not accept the writings as from God and thus did not condone what was being done. 11
7. If and when anyone expressed convictions about these matters, that person was served with a personal condemnatory testimony, or asked to leave, or, even worse, labeled as an enemy of the church and truth. 12
8. Not all the early fathers and church workers accepted or believed that everything Ellen wrote was from God and was always inspired. Her authority was not the final authority with them. 13
9. Ellen herself well knew what was being done, had a part in it all along, and encouraged others who worked for her to do the same and say nothing about it. 14
This last statement (item 9) seems to create the greatest ethical problem for the Adventist Church at the present time. Robert Olson has Judged that one person's approach "is to lead his listeners to believe that Ellen White was dishonest and deceptive." 15 Because of the sensitive nature of this charge, it is necessary to bring knowledgeable witnesses to the stand to testify what they saw or said.
No one now defending Ellen and her acts was living at the time of her activity. Not even Grandson Arthur can be an acceptable witness. His grandmother was past eighty years of age when he was born. Whatever work she had done for the church had been done without Arthur's observation or knowledge. Certainly Ronald D. Graybill and Robert W. Olson (both of the White Estate offices) were not present and therefore must be disqualified as reliable witnesses. Furthermore, all three have builtin biases and conflict of interest. Their positions, reputations, and monetary compensation make them unacceptable in any court of arbitration as firsthand or dependable witnesses. The only advantage they may have that others of our times do not have is their access to material and information that they refuse to divulge.
But there were witnesses who did see and did express themselves They need to have their day in court, if only in incomplete form.
Who's who? In the White Plagiarism scandal:
Here is what they thought about White's inspiration:
1. John N. Andrews.
One of the church founders; studious writer; editor. A contemporary of Ellen White's, her friend and helper. Some of his ideas and words were included in her printed material as she formulated her theology.
J. N. Andrews, who at the time was in Battle Creek, was much interested.
After one of the meetings he told her some of the things she had said were much like a book he had read. Then he asked if she had read Paradise Lost .... A few days later Elder Andrews came to the home with a copy Paradise Lost and offered it to her. 16
2. Uriah Smith.
Editor of the Review during Ellen White's time, a personal friend of the Whites; a writer whose material found its way into Ellen's theology in several of her books.
It seems to me that the testimonies, practically, have come into that shape t at It IS not of any use to try to defend the enormous claims that are now
3. George B. Starr.
Evangelist, minister, teacher, administrator. He accompanied Ellen White to Australia and always defended her writings and reputation.
put forth for them .... If all the brethren were willing to investigate this matter candidly and broadly, I believe some consistent common ground for all to stand upon could be found. But some, of the rule or rum spirit, are so dogmatical and stubborn that I suppose that any effort m that direction would only lead to a rupture of the body."' 17
On leaving my room I passed Sister White's doorway, and the door being ajar, she saw me and called me into her room, saymg, "I am m trouble, Brother Starr, and would like to talk with you." I asked her what was the nature of her trouble, and she replied, "My writings, Fannie Bolton." 18
4. Fannie Bolton.
Editorial assistant to Ellen White in Australia. Often praised for her editorial and writing ability. Discharged by Ellen.
I tried for years to harmonize what seemed to me inconsistency in the work with a worldly literary maxim that requires an author to acknowledge his editors and give credit to all works from which he quotes. In contending that Sr. White was not open about this matter, I supposed myself standing for a principle of ordinary justice and literary honesty, and looked upon myself as a martyr for truth's sake. 19
5. Merritt G. Kellogg.
Friend of the Whites; half brother of John Harvey Kellogg; probably the first Adventist to reach California and hold evangelistic meetings.
In 1894 [in Australia] Mrs. White told me that in writing the Great Controversy, and preparing it for the press, Marian Davis and Fanny Bolton had charge of it. She further told me that these girls were responsible for certain things
which went into that book in the shape which they did.... Mrs. White did not tell me just what wrong was committed by the girls. I suppose the reason why she spoke to me on the subject was because of the tact that Fanny Bolton had come to me.... I told her just what Fanny had told me.... "Now, ' said Sister White with some warmth, "Fanny Bolton shall never write another line for me...." From that day to this my eyes have been open.
6. John Harvey Kellogg.
Surgeon, inventor, health advocate, writer, lecturer, teacher, businessman. Longtime personal friend of the Whites. I do not believe in her infallibility and never did. I told her eight years ago to her face that some of the things she has sent to me as testimonies were not the truth, that they were not in harmony with the facts, and she herself found it out. I have a letter from her in which she explains how she came to send me some things.... I know people go to Sister White with some plan or scheme they want to carry through under her endorsement of It and stand up and say, "The Lord has spoken," and I know that is fraud, that that is taking unfair advantage of people's minds and of people's consciences... and l have no sympathy with that thing, and I toed W. C. White so long ago. 21
7. Mary Clough.
Niece; daughter of Ellen White's sister Caroline. Although not herself an Adventist, for a time literary assistant, publicity agent, and helper with the White writings. Discharged by Ellen. [George B. Starr quoting Ellen White] I want to tell you of a vision I had about 2:00 o'clock this morning.... There appeared a chariot of gold and horses of silver above me, and Jesus, in royal majesty' was seated in the chariot. I was greatly impressed with the glory of this vision .... Then there came the words rolling down over the clouds from the chariot from the lips of Jesus, "Fannie Bolton is your adversary! . . ." I had this same vision about seven years ago, when my niece, Mary Clough, was on my writings. 22
8. George W. Amadon.
Served fifty years in various capacities in the Review and Herald Publishing Association, and in the church, in three cities. Friend of the Whites.
I knew a large share of it ["How to Live"] was borrowed .... [With reference to "Sketches from the Life of Paul"] I said that Sister White never writes the prefaces to her books; I happen to know that others write them; and I said it ad been stated formally m the preface of the book that such things had been taken from other works, that what had been copied verbatim ought to have been in quotation marks, or set in finer type, or in footnotes or something of the sort the way printers generally do.... She never reads the proof .... Sister White never in the Office sat down and read proofs properly .... You know in the days of the Elder James White] how her writings were handled just as well as I do. 23
9. Arthur G. Daniels.
Minister, administrator; noted as one of the strongest leaders of the Adventist Church; president of the General Conference 190122. Close personal friend of the Whites; in Australia
Now you know something about that little book, "The Life of Paul." You know the difficulty we got into about that. We could never claim inspiration In the whole thought and makeup of the book, because it has been thrown aside because It was badly put together. Credits were not given to the proper authorities, and some of that crept into "The Great Controversy "-the lack of credits.... Personally that has never shaken my faith, but there are men who have been greatly hurt by it, and I think it is because they claimed too much for these writings. 24
10. Benjamin L. House.
College professor of religion; present at the 19 Bible Conference.
But such books as "Sketches [from] the Life of Paul," "Desire of Ages," and "Great Controversy," were composed differently, it seems to me, even by her secretaries than the nine volumes of the Testimonies. 25
11. W. W. Prescott.
One of Adventism's great educators; biblical scholar; Review editor; founder of two colleges, president of three. Helped in amending and contributing to Ellen White's book material. It seems to me that a large responsibility rests upon those of us who know that there are serious errors m our authorize books and yet make no special effort to correct them. The people and our average ministers trust us to furnish them with reliable statements, and they use our books as sufficient authority in their sermons, but we let them go on year after year asserting things which we know to be untrue.... It seems to me that what amounts to deception, though probably not intentional, has been practiced in making some of her books, and that no serious effort has been made to disabuse the minds of the people. 26
12. Willard A. Colcord.
Minister, editor, religious liberty secretary of the General Conference.
This making use of so much matter written by others, in Sister White's writings, without quotes or credits, has gotten her and her writings into quite a lot of trouble. One of the chief objects in the late revision of 'Great Controversy" was to fix up matters of this kind; and one of the chief reasons why "Sketches from the Life of Paul" was never republished was because of serious defects in it on this ground. 27
13. H. Camden Lacey.
Professor of Bible and biblical languages at five Adventist colleges; minister. Personal friend of the Whites.
Sr. Marian Davis was entrusted with the preparation of "Desire of Ages" and . . she gathered her material from every available source..:. She was greatly worried about finding material suitable for the first chapter (and other chapters too for that matter) and I did what I could to help her; and I have good reason to believe that she also appealed to Professor Prescott frequently for similar aid, and got it too in far richer and more abundant measure than I could render.
14. Healdsburg Ministerial Association.
A report in the local town paper of their comparison study of five books from which they determined Ellen White had copied; March 20,1889. Elder Heale would have the Committee believe that she is not a reading woman. And also ask them to believe that the historical facts and even the quotations are given to her in vision without depending on the ordinary sources of information.... Would not any literary critic, Judging from the quotations advanced and a comparison of the passages indicated, conclude that Mrs. White in writing her "Great Controversy,' vol. iv, had before her the open books and from them took both ideas and words? 29
15. James White.
One of the founders and organizers of the Seventhday Adventist Church. Teacher, editor, businessman, publisher, minister, administrator. Husband of Ellen. Every Christian is therefore in duty bound to take the Bible as a perfect rule of faith and duty. He should pray fervently to be aided by the Holy Spirit in searching the Scriptures for the whole truth, and for his whole duty. He is not at liberty to turn from them to learn his duty through any of the if's. We say that the very moment he does, he places the gifts in a wrong place and takes an extremely dangerous position. The Word should be in front and the eye of the church should be placed upon it, as the rule to walk by and the fountain of wisdom, from which to learn duty in "all good works." 38
16. Ellen Gould White.
The copier and compiler of all the vaunted 25 million words put out in her name. The notice given in the Review of 24 June 1858 of her first serious attempt at a book announced that it was "a sketch of her views of the great controversy between Christ and his angels, and the Devil and his angels.'' 31 A few weeks later the book was advertised for sale, by "J. W.," announced as not of "divine origin and authority but as a sketch of Mrs. White's views." Of the second volume two years later, she wrote:
Having borne my testimony, and scattered several books containing my visions, m the Eastern, Middle, and Western States, and formed many happy acquaintances, I have felt it my duty to give my friends and to the world a sketch or my Christian experience, visions, and labors in connection with the rise and progress of the third angel's message.
In preparing the following pages, I have labored under great disadvantages as I have d to depend m many instances, on memory, having kept no journal till within a few years. In several instances I have sent the manuscripts to friends who were present when the circumstances related occurred ,for their examination before they were put in print. I have taken great care, and have spent much time, m endeavoring to state the simple facts as correctly a, possible.
I have, however, been much assisted in arriving at dates by the many letters which I wrote to Bro. S. Howland and family, of Topsham, Me. As they for ~ he period of five years had the care of my Henry, I felt it my duty to write to them often, and give them my experience, my joys' trials, and victories. In many Instances I have copied from these letters. [Italics a e .]
Such is the testimony of some of those around the prophet who saw, said they saw, and in most cases were separated after they said it.
Testimony will not be solicited from the long list of those who knew her well but were rejected and ejected from the cause because of what they knew. Among these are Crosier, March, the people in the "Iowa movement, the "Wisconsin fanaticism," Dudley M. Caoright, the Ballengers, Alonzo T.Jones, Louis R. Conradi, George B. Thompson, and scores of others. Their testimony would be strong against Ellen's " 32
ions" and "inspiration," but they are not allowed to speak because they left, or were driven from, the church because of their knowledge and willingness to share that knowledge. Surely it is true, as one union conference president remarked at Glacier View in 1980, that most of the "bright lights" of the movement have been driven out of the church over the authority of Ellen White. 33
Other testimony could be gathered from such as William S. Peterson, Jonathan M. Butler, Ronald L. Numbers, and the other Adventist scholars of note in modern times who have searched with diligence to discover truth and separate it from fantasy. Their voices are almost always muted by the hysteria of those who do not wish to see or who will not allow others to see. The findings of the Don McAdamses and the Roy Graybills might lend preponderance to the mounting evidence of those who see-but their material and efforts have been impounded by the White Estate under one guise or another in the name of religion. Only when religious freedom can be at last won and academic freedom can be at last exercised within the church will the members be assured that truth is not forever on the scaffold and wrong forever on the throne for Adventism.
This is not to say that all the names listed, plus others not listed, believe that Ellen White was a fraud or that she deliberately, consciously each time she wrote, sought to decieve. It does say, however, that the human nature and the human method of her work were under scrutiny from the beginning and that honest people with honest questions often have not received honest answers.
Those who accept with reasonableness the facts of Ellen's unacknowledged use of the work of others readily recognize the presence of an ethical problem. Those who excuse her for her unacknowledged use of the work of others have interesting, but different, explanations as to the ethical problem. From those who see no ethical problem to concern themselves about has come only flat denial-as though the "2.6 percent" of Cottrell's study (of only limited scope as far as Ellen's overall work) is sufficient excuse.
An attempt must be made to separate, if possible, each attitude and defense, and to lay that defense alongside some yardstick of morality or ethical behavior to see how Ellen and her helpers measure up.
1. To those who do not see, or do not wish to see, that Ellen copied anything (or if she did, it was so minimal as to raise little or no question), Jack W. Provonsha, professor of ethics at Loma Linda University,seems to be speaking in one of his papers:
The issue of Ellen White's alleged literary dependency has now been fairly well laid out on our collective table. Most informed Adventists now have at least some awareness of her extensive use of quotations, parallels, and paraphrases and the general, formal structural similarities in her writings to books with which she and her editorial assistants are known to have been familiar....
The few who have known of its wide extent have apparently been reluctant to share that information with rank and file church members presumably out of concern lest this weaken Ellen White's position of authority in the church. This reluctance continues to be expressed as an attempt to minimize the quantity of dependency
This effort is understandable but misplaced It may also prove to be counterproductive in the end. If the issue had been dealt with candidly from the beginning, we might now be spared what is and will continue to be a wrenching experience for many sincere church members. 34
But there will always be those who do not wish to see and will try to convince others that they should not see either. To this class, the words ascribed to an Arabic sage must apply: "He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool. Shun him."
2. Those who do see, but cannot bring themselves to believe that God would allow Ellen to do something that was unethical or wrong, justify what she did by saying that others before her had done what she did; therefore it must be acceptable. Perhaps Robert Brinsmead gives as clear an answer to this type of reasoning as anyone:
It is true that there is evidence of literary borrowing by different biblical authors. But in such cases they used material that was the heritage and common property of the convenantal community. It was not private property, and there was no pretense of originality. With Mrs. White, however, the circumstances were much different. Without acknowledgment she used the literary product of those outside her own religious community, copyrighted it, and demanded royalties both for herself and her children. Right and wrong are to some extent historically conditioned, but we do not have to surmise the literary ethics demanded in Mrs. White's day. The facts are not ambiguous. She did not conform to acceptable literary practice. 35
To this group, the sage would say, "He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep. Wake him."
3. There are those who would argue that ethics are determined by those around us and that "situation ethics" determined Ellen's conduct and therefore what she did is excusable. For those who rationalize thus, it should be pointed out that, with this type of thinking, anything goes that goes with anything. If where one is at the time is the correct place to be, and whatever the crowd is doing at the time is correct and necessary to do, then one does only what others see fit to do. To its extreme, this reasoning says: If others are going to hell, let's follow them there. Such persons must have know better than to argue that unacknowledged copying from other authors was an acceptable practice in Ellen's day. That argument simply is not true. In a great deal of the matter Ellen copied from, authors gave credit when they used materials of others, and some of them did so elaborately and gladly. Ellen never did. The information coming to light reveals that she could not. For its is obvious that if the church, or Ellen, or her helpers, had honestly revealed from whom and how much they were taking from others, God, their pretended authority, would be exposed as very minor, if not nonexistent, in their program.
To today's supporters of this misplaced ethicbymajority, the sage might say, "He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is simple. Teach him."
4. There are those who accept what they see and, like it or not, feel that it should be acknowledged. But they reason that Ellen's conduct is not impugned, inasmuch as God established different standards for prophets. This seems to be the position that Provonsha tends toward. A critic of Provonsha's view wrote him thus:
The above observation leads me to what the draft indicates your central thesis to be. I offer a rephrasing of that thesis, and your positive support of it, in a way which I submit approaches a rephrasing which might be acceptable to the critic of the General Conference's authorized [Glendale] review committee's action, [which] you quote at pages 5 and 6 of the draft. He, and many readers, might well say of the paper that "it takes the position that prophets (and other inspired writers) are so different from the rest of us that they are not bound by traditional concepts of honesty, and they are not dishonest if they copy without giving credit, and even deny their dependency on others, and though 'mere ordinary people' would be liars and frauds if they performed the acts in question those folks are not at fault because of their different status. 36
It is not likely that everyone would be able to follow Provonsha into his world of ethical philosophy and come up with his pat answer to the problem. Perhaps, too, Provonsha did not have fully available to his thinking all the facts and ramifications necessary to complete a picture of seventy years of deception, for his paper does not deal with the ethics of those who helped Ellen continue with the white lie throughout her whole life.
5. There are other shades of meaning that come to the minds of numerous persons who individually wrestle with the ethical problem as they become progressively aware of more facts. Perhaps one aspect that needs serious consideration is a term that injurisprudence is called "diminished capacity."
White suffered from medical problems:
Ellen's childhood injury and the resulting physical problems are well known and well documented. Beginning with that accident and following through adolescence and middle life, she was subject to physical seizures" that often accompanied what her followers came to call her open visions. At times we are told that she was unconscious of anything around her though at times she retained control of her movements. It is often boasted by the church that she started with a weak untrained mind and an emaciated, disfigured body-the weakest of the weak." At least five times it is recorded that she was stricken with "paralysis" and that many times she felt that she was about to die; often she was unconscious for extended periods of time. 37 Under these physical conditions especially during her early years, her mind was often in the same condition as her body, at times in the quicksand of despair and at times on the mountaintop of glory.
This mental and physical state was noticed early in Ellen's experience A remarkable testimony has been left on record concerning her condition and her recognition of it, as early as 1865 later published in 1877. Because of the sensitive nature of the information it is best to reproduce several paragraphs of the pages that deal with it.
When giving to a Conference at Pilot Grove in 1865, an account of her visit at Dr. Jackson's Health Institute, she stated that the doctor, upon a medical examination, pronounced her a subject of Hysteria. Now to those who have confidence in Dr. Jackson's skill as a physician, this declaration of his furnishes a clue to her supposed divine inspiration. According to medical authorities hysteria is a real disease, but of a very peculiar type, affecting not only the body, but also the mind; producing phenomena of a very marked though much varied character, the disease acting upon different persons and temperaments, and thus producing varied results.
When Dr. Wm. Russell, then of the Battle Creek Health Institute, wrote to us expressing his doubts as to the divine inspiration of the visions, and asking for the evidence we had on that subject, we cheerfully complied with his request, sent him the published works, and also a brief synopsis of the work we now present to the public. We also called his attention to Dr Jackson's medical opinion in Mrs. White's case, and solicited his also for publication in the book. To this he replied, July 12th, 1869, that he had made up his mind same time in the past, "that Mrs. White's visions were the result of diseased organization or condition of the brain or nervous system." Here then we have the testimony of two medical gentlemen, in whose skill as physicians Mrs. W. and S. D. Adventists generally have confidence, agreeing in their opinion as to her predisposition to a diseased condition of the brain and nervous system.
Bearing these testimonies in mind, let us go back to her first vision and see if we cannot, from the attending circumstances, obtain a reasonable and commonsense solution of the phenomena in the case. According to her published works, Mrs. White, at the age of nine years, met with a very serious misfortune in having her nose crushed in by a blow from a stone, producing a permanent disfigurement of the features. Whether this accident was the producing cause of her predisposition to hysteria we do not of course know, but one thing is certain, if it did not originate it, it a~s~ravated, as Dr. Russell describes it, "a diseased organization or condition of the brain and nervous system." This is proved by the fact that for three weeks after the accident she lay in a state of total unconsciousness, the brain being so much in urea as to cause a cessation of its functions for that time.
Elder White also says of her health at the time of her first vision, in Life Incidents, p. 273: "When she had her first vision she was an emaciated invalid, given up by her friends and physicians to die of consumption. She then weighed but eighty pounds. Her nervous system was such that she could not write, and she was dependent on one sitting near her at the table to even pour her drink from the cup to the saucer."
Shortly after her recovery she seems to have turned her attention to religious subjects, with which she became deeply impressed, until at the age of twelve she professed conversion and joined the Methodist church. Her religious experience at that early age was of a peculiar type; at times she would be exalted to the very pomt of ecstacy, and again depressed to the regions of despair. This unfortunate condition of the mind does not seem to have been caused by surrounding outward circumstances, which were all favorable to her profession of religion, but by pleasant or unpleasant dreams and Impressions.
About this time the Advent doctrine was preached in Portland, Maine, where her father's family resided, and including herself became interested in it, so much so that in 1842 she constantly attended Advent meetings, though still a Methodist. The result of the passing by of the time in 1844 was the division of the Advent people into two portions, one portion falling back on the position that the coming of the Lord was near but admitting that the '43 and '44 movements were mistakes, the others claiming that the Lord had led them out thus far and that the past would be fully justified; the latter class finally going off into the shut door error, asserting that the Bridegroom had come, and that the time for the salvation of sinners and nominal Christians and apostate Adventists was past. In Elder White's Life Incidents, pages 183191, he gives an interesting account of the shut door history. Mrs. White (at that time Ellen G. Harmon,) was identified with the latter class, who held their meetings at her father's house, showing that she was constantly under the influence of this terrible delusion, the power of which none can properly appreciate but those who witnessed or participated in it. Under these circumstances, and with her diseased organization or condition of the brain and nervous system and predisposition to hysteria, it is no wonder that she had what is called a vision, and that just as might be expected her vision would correspond in the main features with the religious views she entertained, as wehave clearly shown in this work.
On this point Eld. White bears another testimony from his Life Incidents, page 272, (published in 1868,) where he says, "She has probably had, during the past twentythree years between one and two hundred visions. These have been given under almost every variety of circumstance, yet maintaining a wonderful similarity; the most apparent change being that of late years they have grown less frequent and more comprehensive." This is all very natural and reasonable, under the circumstances. As Mrs. White's health has improved the visions have become less frequent. As the mind and its operations are the result of human organization, so a healthier physical constitution would produce a better and a healthier state of mind; and as Mrs. White has improved in health, her brain and nervous system have taken on a more natural condition, and her trance states have been less frequent; and as she has advanced in matters of general information (her early education being almost totally neglected in consequence of her feeble health,) her visions have become more comprehensive-a very natural consequence-which is one of the best evidences of her visions being an emanation of her own mind.
That the phenomena of Mrs. White's visions, suspended animation, and miraculous powers, are the result of a disordered physical and mental organization, the following extract from Dr. George B. Wood's [Practice of Medicine,] p. 721 of Vol. 2, which has fallen under my notice, is corroborative, and corresponds with some of Mrs. White's experience in vision, particularly her rising with a large Bible in her hand, raising it above her need, and pointing to and repeating passages from it. In treating of mental disorders, and explaining the cause and phenomena of trances, he says:
'Ecstasy Is an affection in which, with a loss of consciousness of existing circumstances, and insensibility to impression from without, there is an apparent exaltation of the intellectual or emotional functions, as if the individual were raised into a different nature, or different sphere of existence. The patient appears wrapped up in some engrossing thought or feeling with an expression upon his countenance as of lofty contemplations, or ineffable delight. Voluntary motion is usually suspended, and the patient either lies insensible to external influences, or as in catalepsy, maintains the position in which he may have been attacked. Sometimes, however, the muscles obey the will, and the patient speaks or acts in accordance with his existing impulses. In these cases, the disease borders closely on somnambulsm. The pulse and respiration may be natural, or more or less depressed; the face is usually pale; and the surface of the body is cool. If the pulse is increased in frequency, it is usually more feeble also. The duration of the attack is very uncertain; in some instances not exceeding a few minutes, m others extending to hours or days. Upon recovering from the spell, the patient generally remembers his thoughts and feelings more or less accurately, and sometimes tells of wonderful visions that he has seen of visits to the regions of the blessed, of ravishing harmony and splendor of inexpressible enjoyment of the senses or affections." 38
These astonishing pages reveal some sobering facts that can be verified:
a. An accurate description of Ellen White's mental and physical condition was given in the way that she often stated them.
b. The analysis of her condition was done by qualified medical persons who in some cases were acceptable to the Whites.
c. The observations were made early in her life by persons who knew her lifestyle and observed her firsthand.
d. The story of the shut door, which was kept hidden for over a hundred years, as revealed (and has now been confirmed by the White Estate), Ellen White did indeed believe, teach, and even have a vision that the door was shut for sinners after 1844.
More interesting, perhaps, are the facts that others, some also physicians, had noticed the similarity of her state during her "visions" and had diagnosed her condition similarly. William S. Sadler, friend of the White family, once a true believer and an elder in the church, and later a physician, wrote in 1923:
It is not uncommon for persons in a cataleptic trance to imagine themselves taking trips to other worlds. In fact, the wonderful accounts of their experiences, which they write out after these cataleptic attacks are over, are so unique and marvelous as to serve the basis for founding new sects, cults, and religions. Many strange and unique religious movements have thus been founded and built up. It is an interesting study in psychology to note that these trance mediums always see visions in harmony with their own theological beliefs. For instance, a medium who believed in the natural immortality of the soul, was always led around on her celestial travels by some of her dead and departed friends. One day she changed her religious views-became a "soul sleeper," and ever after that, when having trances, she was piloted about from world to world on her numerous heavenly trips by the angels, no dead or departed friends ever made their appearance m any of her visions after this change in her belief 39
The record of Ellen's visions of other worlds can be verified in Early Writings to see if the information related by Sadler applies to her. He goes on with other interesting observations:
Nearly all these victims of trances and nervous catalepsy, sooner or later come to believe themselves to be messengers of God and prophets of Heaven; and no doubt most of them are sincere in their belief. Not understanding the physiology and psychology of their afflictions, they sincerely come to look upon their peculiar mental experiences as something supernatural while their followers blindly believe anything they teach because of the supposed divine character of these socalled revelations. 40
Sadler then goes on to corroborate what the doctors of the 1860s and 1870s had detected:
Another most interesting phenomenon I have noticed in connection with trance mediums, who, as previously remarked, are in the majority of cases women, is that these trance or cataleptic phenomena which In some respects are very similar to attacks of major hysteria-only carried out still further -I say, it has been my experience that they usually make their appearance after adolescence has been established, and in no case which ~ nave observed, or of which I have known, have these phenomena ever survived the appearance of the menopause. The character of the phenomena associated with these female prophets or trance mediums is always modified by the appearance of the "'change of life'' 41
Again, it is interesting to notice that what the doctor stated is what happened in Ellen's case. She stopped having "open visions" around the time of life that the menopause occurs 42 It is likewise of interest to note that cessation of her visions coincided with the death of James White, her husband.
A later writer has picked up the physical theme in his doctoral dissertation written in 1932:
There is not the slightest evidence that she at any time in this condition learned a single thing that was not well known before by her associates. While the writer would not go so far as to say that she was "mesmerized" by her husband, he [the writer is fully convinced that the content of her early "visions" was almost entirely determined by the problem he James White] was interested in and devoting his time to, at the time of the manifestation. . . . Later on, after his death, her gracious approval was the object most to be desired among a certain type of Teader and office holder who used all sorts of methods and devices to secure her support for his enterprises
When White was using every possible means to bring about organization, his wife "saw" that it was God's plan; when he was brought under suspicion m the operation of the printing plant, she was shown that this was not pleasing to God. When he by pen and voice was urging "systematic benevolence" [regular financial giving to the church] she had a "vision" supporting It. At the time he was engaged in the writing of health pamphlets-she was shown her "great vision" on health reform. This list might be continued with a substitution of favorite leaders, for her husband, until her death 43
Linden, in 1978, reviewed the observations and theories of psychologists and psychiatrists of the mid19OOs seeking clues as to the causative factors of visionary phenomena. Both psychological and physical factors were seen as necessary to be taken into consideration 44 Perhaps the final and most satisfying answers about Ellen White could be given for the white lie if the White Estate would release the details of her medical history from beginning to end.
Another writer has discovered a different type of reasoning for the problem of Ellen's copying without giving credit, as well as her belief in her own "visionary originality." M. Ronald Deutsch (The New Nuts Among the Berrzes) relates in his chapter entitled "The Battles of Battle Creek" how Charles E. Stewart wrote Mrs. White in reply to her public statement that she "was directed by the Lord" to invite those with "perplexities . . . regarding the testimonies" to "place upon paper" their "objectives and criticisms," and she would answer them. Friends of Stewart published his lengthy letter (which included copies of additional correspondence from and to others) as a pamphlet in October 1907-after five months had elapsed without a response from Ellen White. The preface of the pamphlet stated that he had received a properly signed registration receipt but no answer.
Deutsch quotes the following opinion from his book:
I believe she is a victim of autohypnotism. She has actually hypnotized herself into believing that these visions are genuine. I don't think she willingly sets out to deceive-she's gotten into the visionary habit-but I do blame those who foist upon the people a scheme which ~s nothing more or less than a gross fraud 45
The year 1907 was a long time ago. The matter of Ellen's health problems and the concerns of the doctors of her day might have been forgotten if these questions didn't keep coming up from time to time. As recently as 1981 an article appeared in the Toronto Star of May 23:
A rock that hit the forehead of a founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Ellen Gould White, when she was 9, almost certainly accounts for her visions, which are the basis of the church's doctrine, two doctors say.
The blow caused a form of epilepsy, Dr. Delbert Hodder and Dr. Gregory Holmes of Connecticut said, in an interview. They were in Toronto to describe their findings to the American Academy of Neurology meeting at the Sheraton Centre recently....
Hodder an Adventist, says the report by him and Holmes (who is not an Adventist might heal the rift in the church.
"They've been looking at it in a theological way," he said, but his research shows "she can be explained medically." 46
To many it might seem that the medical argument is the best way to account for the ethical question raised by her deception, although it would not justify those who, obviously knowing of her condition (and thus her weaknesses), continued to help her expand the white lie. Also it would generate some degree of sympathy for Ellen's actions-on the basis of diminished capacity alone. Likewise it would help to explain the many inconsistencies in her "visions" that the church has had to deal with or excuse or cover over through the years.
It may be that the last line of the words of the Arabic sage apply in this view of the ethical problem: "He who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise. Follow him."
References and Notes
1. See Guy Herbert Wluslow, "Ellen Gould White and Seventhday Adventism," Dissertation (Worcester, MA: Clark University, 1932); and W. Homer Teesdale, "Ellen G. White: Pioneer, Prophet," Dissertation (University of Calif., 1933)
2. Robert W. Olson letter to Daniel C. Granrud,4 September 1980.
3. Robert W. Olson, "Ellen G. White and Her Sources," Tapes of address to Adventist Forum, with question period, at Loma Linda University Church, January 1979.
4. Robert W. Olson letter to Daniel C. Granrud,2 October 1980.
5. Olson to EGW Estate Trustees, 29 November 1978, p. 5.
6. Appendix, comparison exhibits in general.
7.1Jonathan M. Butler, "The World of E. G. White and the End of the Wor d," Spectrum 10, no. 2 (August 1979): 213. Also Donald R. McAdams expanded this theme at the 2829 January 1980 meeting of the Glendale Committee on EGW Sources.
8. W. C. White, quoted by Robert W. Olson and Ronald D. Graybill. Tapes of seminar at Southern Missionary College in the fall of 1980.
9. W. C. White to General Conference Committee, 3 October 1921.
10 John Harvey Kellogg], "An Authentic Interview ... on October 7th,
11. The indication in my book is that few, if any, of those knowledgeable as to the making of Ellen White's books entertained the idea of verbal inspiration.
12. See the list of "witnesses" that follows in this chapter.
13. Linden, Winslow, Teesdale, and others make it clear that an evolution of value as to the "inspiration" and "authority" of Ellen White's writings took place over the years.
14. No one seriously argues that Ellen did not know what she was doing, or what was being done. Indeed, the problem would be much more serious if she did not know. l his chapter is concerned with how different ones at different t~mes sought to solve the problem.
15. Robert W. Olson letter to Daniel C. Graorud,2 October 1980.
16. Arthur L. White in his 1969 "supplement" at the of the facsimile reprint of EGW, The Spint of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 535.
17. Uriah Smith to Dudley M. Canright, 22 March 1883.
18. Ellen G. White Estate, "A Statement Regarding the Experiences of Fannie Bolton in Relation to Her Work for Mrs. Ellen G. White," Document file 445, p. 8. This release contains a section giving "Elder Starr's report" of his conversation with Ellen White concerning Fannie Bolton.
19. Fannie Bolton to "Dear Brethren in the truth." A rough draft in EGW Estate Document File 445.
20. Merritt G. Kellogg, handwritten statement, ca. 1908.
21. Uohn Harvey Kellogg], "An Authentic Interview," 7 October 1907, pp. 2339. Kellogg's statements stenographically recorded.
22. George B. Starr, in EGW Estate "A Statement Regarding ... Fannie Bolton. EG\V Estate DF 445.
23. UHK], "An Authentic Interview," pp. 3336. George Amadon's statements, stenographically recorded.
24. [Bible Conference], "The Bible Conference of 1919," Spectrum 10, no. I
(May 1979): 34.
25. Ibid., p. 52. ;~;
26. W[illiam] W[arren] Prescott to W. C. White, 6 April 1915.
27. W[illard] A[llen] Colcord letter, 23 February 1912. See chapters nine and thirteen.
28. H. Camden Lacey to Leroy E. Froom, 11 August 1945. H. Camden Lacey to Arthur W. Spalding, 5 June 1947.
29. [Healdsburg, California] Pastors' Union, "Is Mrs. E. G. White a Plagiarist?"Healdsburg Enterpnse (20 March 1889).
30. James White, "The Gifts of the Gospel Church," Reviez~J 1 (21 April 1851): 70. (Reprinted in Review 4 [9June 1853]; 1314) Quoted by Earl W. Amundson, "Authority and Conflict," read at Glacier View Theological Consultation (1520 August 1980).
31. [Editorial notice], Review 12 (24 Tune 1858): 48.
32. Ellen G. White, Spiritual Cfts, vol. 2, preface.
33. Earl W. Amundson, "Authority and Conflict," p. 25.
34. Jack W. Provonsha, "Was Ellen White a Fraud?" Loma Linda University, 1980, p. 1.
35. Robert D. Brinsmead,Judged by the Gospel, p. 172.
36. J. Jerry Wiley to Jack W. Provonsha, 22 May 1980.
37. H[enry] E. Carver, Mrs. E. G. White's Claims to Divine Inspiration Examined, 2nd ed. (Marion, lowa: Advent and Sabbath Advocate Press, 1877)pp. 7580.
38. Ibid., pp. 7580.
39. W[illiam] S. Sadler, The Truth about Spiritualism (Chicago: A. C. McClu rg & Co., 1923), pp. 15758.
41. Ibid., p. 159.
42. According to the SDA Encyclopedia (see "Visions," p. 1557), Ellen White's last "open vision" was in June 1 84. Linden, in The Last Trump, says that James White emphasized that "her muscles become riaid, her joints fixed," and her eyesight needed some time to accommodate it self back to normal.
43. Wmslow, Guy Herbert, "Ellen Could White and the Seventhday Adventism," Dissertation (Worcester, MA: Clark University, 1932) p. 290.
44. Linden, Ingemar, The Last Trump, pp. 159163.
P 45. hi. Donald Deutsch, The New Nuts among The Berries, Palo Alto Ca Bull
46. Manlyn Dunlo~, "Were Adventist Founder's Visions Caused by Injury,"
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