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]

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