Lifestyles of the Rich and the Prophetic: The Beginnings of Adventism. Part 3-B

P1-AO863_SHEEPG_D_20090225174544 (1)“…shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God;  and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness…” -1 Peter 5:2 .

To the Shepherd:”Thou shalt Not Fleece the Sheep!” 1 Peter 5:2 (condensed) .

 “…Her priests instruct for a price And her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the LORD saying, “Is not the LORD in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us.”

-Micah 3:11

About this fleecing of sheep…

In Part 3, “Ellen White, Seventh-day Adventist’s Prophet for Profit” we looked at some of the more damning financials of Ellen and James White.  And I use the term “damning” cautiously here. I do not want to be misunderstood.  There is certainly no sin to earn an income, correctly, properly, and within the bounds of Christian propriety.  But when we are looking for “wealth” from the ministry of a pastoral office, especially that of a prophetic office, as James indicated; that is for James to direct and encourage an increased writing of “vision” filled literature, on Ellen’s part, indicates an “out-of-bounds,” Christian ethic.  However, it does not prove that Ellen White was a false prophet in and of itself, for Balaam himself was also convicted for trying to prophesy for greed. “…having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;” 2 Peter 2:15 NASB.

As Dirk Anderson reasonably points out, that unlike Jesus, the apostles, as well as many of the Biblical prophets who were often poor and desolate, Mrs. White lived a life reserved for some of the wealthiest of her day…

628x471While we do not know all the details and things that occurred behind the scenes, we do know that the Whites were able to purchase an elegant estate home named Elmshaven, located in exclusive Napa Valley area, complete with 74 acres of prime land. But the deal didn’t end there. Included with her private residence were the following:

  • A two-story office building with library and vault
  • Two cottages used as living quarters for her staff
  • A barn and stable stocked with livestock and equipment

The question might be raised here, why does anyone need those kind of accommodations? Another question might be asked is, were these additional facilities vacant, or were they actively used? In a broad sense these two questions are linked together. Here is what we know:

LandmarkSign_3706_160-1The White’s had both a household and office staff at her Elmshaven estate in 1913. Her large full-time staff consisted mainly of 14 people, which included a personal nurse (Sara McEnterfer), a cook, a copyist, a seamstress, farm hands, several secretaries and various other office assistants and office personnel.

Here is the rub. It has not been released as to how many of the staff were actually paid directly by Ellen White. Considering how much it would cost to maintain such a large cadre of people. Salaries alone would have been a fortune. But when you include feeding, equipment, farm supplies, travel expenses; for the Whites were always traveling, as we shall see, then the annual budget most likely would have been a small fortune. 

However, there is another consideration.

34_595_EGW-CopyrightIt is possible that at least some of the office staff may have been placed on the payroll of the SDA church… After all, for a number of years she was about the only thing that kept the church together (which is the subject of another post).  When this church leader, or that church leader would decide that Seventh-day Adventist teachings did not square up with the bible, Ellen White would have another vision… and strangely, it would be about them, some sin that was in their life; some secret sin. Also, she would predict that people would fall away from her teachings, and would therefore go to hell. To say that she singlehandedly kept the church together, and was absolutely necessary for the churches survival is not an understatement.  For the young images (1)denomination therefore, to pay her to keep her happy and contented, is not outside the pale of logic, or this group’s business ethics (But that is also the subject of another post).

As we have seen so far, the real estate, facilities, and private accommodations, together with a large and well diversified staff are all consistent of a wealthy and influential lifestyle which the White’s enjoyed and were fruits from the “wealth yet in our pens.”  

Once again, we are indebted to Dirk Anderson for his observations. The following is adapted from his website.

Not only did the Whites earn big money–they spent big!  There is no doubt they spent money lavishly on themselves:

  • The Whites were frequent visitors to spas and health resorts, such as Our Home on thedansville Hillside, the Dansville Clinic in New York (pictured on the right). Mrs. White also spent time at the Rural Health Retreat in Saint Helena, Dr. Kellogg’s Health Clinic in Battlecreek, and various others health resorts.
  • 629.4(1)_595_EGW-CopyrightWhile criticizing others for wasting their money on photography, the Whites spent freely on photographs at a time when they were quite expensive. A letter written to James in 1876 indicates $500 was spent on one negative. In year 2013 dollars, that is over $10,782.63!
  • According to her critics, Mrs. White “dressed richly.” 
  • scan0025Mrs. White apparently had an appetite for fine meats. In 1882, she wrote to daughter-in-law Mary Kelsey White, asking her to purchase some “herrings” and “oysters”. According to Dr. John Kellogg, Mrs. White celebrated her return from Europe in 1887 with “a large baked fish.” When she visited the Battle Creek Sanitarium during the next several years, she “always called for meat and usually fried chicken,” much to the consternation of Kellogg and the cook who were both vegetarians.
  • Mrs. White was a world traveler during an era when world travel was quite expensive. Not only did she travel across the United States, but she also traveled to Europe and Australia, ostensibly to assist with the work in those locations.

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[The more one reads of Ellen and James White’s life from unsanitized sources, and the more one reads of her writings from the few unsanitized manuscripts obtained from unauthorized sources, the more one is convinced that they are not witnessing a pastoral ministry, much less a prophetic ministry, but rather a machine, or an organization whose mission is to ensure its own survival. An organization which starts off with many more misses than hits, but slowly gains speed as it gains traction. An organization, that owes not its life to the Bible, but to the near single-handed work of Ellen White. An organization that has from the beginning typically destroyed its own wounded.

To be sure, it was a symbiotic relationship between Ellen and those early players, as it is even today. Ellen needed the umbrella of the church to spread her “writings,” and the SDA church needed Ellen to vindicate and justify their own experience. In the end, each needed the other, to make sense, to give reason, to give purpose, and to justify those events that happened back in 1843 – 1844; and from there, to justify as to why the SDA Church is here now. –MWP]