Part 3. The Beginnings of Adventism: As the Twig was Bent, So Grew the Tree: Ellen White, Seventh-day Adventist’s Prophet for Profit.

Written by Michael W. Pursley 

35.2_595_EGW-CopyrightAnd in their greed
they will exploit you
with false words.

— 2 Peter 2:3 ESV

sheep“Our financial matters stand well,
and there is wealth yet in our pens.”

— James White, Letter to Ellen White,
Feb. 18, 1881

There is no example in the Bible where a Godly prophet took advantage of his inspiration to enrich himself. The prophets of the Bible generally worked hard, had little and died poor. Mrs. White and her husband began poor. She says: “We entered upon our work penniless” (Testimonies, Vol. I., p. 75). But as soon as they became leaders, they commercialized their work, and managed to supply themselves well. They soon had abundance, and used means for themselves lavishly. They would always have the best of everything, and plenty of it. Everywhere they went they required to be waited upon in the most slavish manner. At an early campmeeting in Michigan they sent their son Edson out in camp crying: “Who has a chicken for mother? Mother wants a chicken.” Mrs. White dressed richly, and generally had a number of attendants to wait on her.

When Elder White died, it is said he left some $15,000 or $20,000 [$356,763 or $475,685 in 2013 dollars]. He took advantage of his position to benefit himself and family financially, and she aided him by her revelations. She received a larger salary than was paid most of the ministers of the denomination; received pay for all her articles furnished to the leading papers of the denomination (while others generally contributed theirs gratuitously); besides receiving a large and increasing income from the royalties on all her books. For several years before she died, because of the “peculiar position” she occupied in the church, she was paid a higher royalty than was paid other authors in the denomination.  –The Life of Ellen White

How did this occur?
How far did it go?
Who knew about it?
What evidence is there?

These are just some of the questions that I had to ask myself one morning a long time ago.  It was spring, I had just had to defend a term paper which I written in Christian Theology class, -and the ordeal had been bloody. My paper had been on, how God initiates salvation on his own accord, and it had not been well received, by this time I was way tired. On the way to the library at Southern Missionary College, I happened to overhear a couple of students talking about a quote from letter they had heard about: there is wealth yet in our pens” one student claimed that Ellen White had said it, the other said no, he thought the quote was from James. Stopping to ask the guys about the particulars of this quote, they just turned and stared at me.  

This, I decided however, could not wait. Turning around I went straight back to the theology department. Confronting one of the professors of the department, I told him what I had overheard and asked the professor if it was, in fact, the truth.  With a deep sigh, the good professor simply looked at me and asked, “why does everything have to be a battle with you, Michael? This unadvised statement of James, was simply to reassure Ellen that this was how God was going to provide for them….”  Leaving me to stand there, he turned away saying nothing further. And so, wanting unbelievably hard to believe and trust him as my professor and as keeper of the Adventist flame, and also trying desperately hard to be, or at least look like a good ministerial student after my controversial paper, I quite simply left it at that.

blue_pill_red_pill1-478x346After having recently talked to a lot of Seventh-day Adventists on Face Book, I am convinced that many of them are in the same place, or quandary that I was in; they are very tired of the controversies, they are trying unbelievingly hard to be good little Adventists, they are also scared silly of getting off the “Remnant Train,” also they want with every fiber of their being, to trust the spiritual leaders that they have always trusted and have decidedly committed themselves to following. What a shame. However, if you are one of those who would rather be left alone, contented where you are in Adventism, may I just gently say that this post is not for you. I don’t want you to be offended. Because it is unfortunately, decision time. For you must at least metaphorically decide between the red pill and its opposite, the blue pill, each represents the choices between embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red pill) and the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue pill).

Since we have already started our examination with what James White left Ellen, lets keep working our way backward.  And by the way, I quote  funds translated into today’s dollars in Red, for ease of understanding the significance of the amounts.

D. Anderson points out in his web page that, She [Ellen White] may have started out penniless in the 1840s, but that situation was soon reversed. By the late 1850s she was making over $1,000 [$27,598.04] a year on royalties. Mrs. White earned $11,435 in the decade of 1856 to 1866.* In terms of year 2013 dollars, that is [$292,309], or over $29,000 per year. Yet these were still lean years compared to what she would make later on. In the 1890s and 1900s she was making $8,000 to $12,000 per year in book royalties. In year 2013 dollars, that amounts to $220,558 to $330,837 per year!

That type of income would easily place her among the top 1% of wage-earners in the world!

However, we have not even begun to count the other White enterprises that they were involved in. We are also not counting the income that James received on his own personal royalties, nor are we counting their dual enhanced salaries as ministers and Ellen’s extra salary enhancement which she demanded for her unique role in the church.

As D. Anderson further points out, “James wrote books, and although we have no figures on his royalties, it can be presumed the Whites enjoyed the income from his writings as well. James was known as a shrewd and gifted businessman. He wrote a letter encouraging Ellen to write more books, holding out the prospect of increasing their income: “With the increased demand for our writings…there will be an income of several thousand dollars annually, besides the immense amount of good our writings will do….”

Even using the preliminary numbers that we are ascribing here, I want the reader to compare this particular prophet with a description of God’s true prophets found in Hebrews 11…. See if you can see any differences between the two. Oh, if you are not embarrassed by the differences presented, well, you should be.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:

19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.

24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;

25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

28 Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.

29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.

31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.

34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:

36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:

37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;

38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

* Mrs. White’s earnings were also reported in the November 6, 1866, issue of Hope of Israel.

In our next issue we will look a little deeper into the finances as well as the White’s corresponding life-style