The White Lie!

By Walter T. Rea

Chapter 10: The End of All Things

The last of the big five in the Conflict of the Ages series — Prophets and Kings — was published in 1916, the next year after Ellen’s death at nearly eighty-eight years of age. It continued the pattern that had sold well for seventy years—copying from other writers who had preceded her on the subject.1 This book has not been one of her most popular, however, possibly because it is limited to a period or a subject about which not a great deal had been published to copy from. It contains more Bible texts than any of her other books, and a good many fillers were used to pad the book when the stories ran out.

It might be thought that Ellen’s death would bring the end of the copy work. But that was not to be. Willie White had other plans—and they were spelled out in his request to the Executive Committee of the Adventist General Conference in a letter of October 1921.

For years [she] had stated over and over again that she wished us to gather together from her writings those things that would show our people that the health reform principles were a gift from God to the Seventh-day Adventist people. ...

Several times when mother was speaking to me and to Brethren Crisler and Robinson about the work that we were to do after her death, she referred to this book on the Health Reform movement as one of the most important matters to be given attention. ...

Another work which Sister White wished to have published, and for which material was gathered under her instruction and regarding which she instructed us to go forward as soon as we could after her death, is a choice selection of her sermons preached during her two years of labor in Europe. These she desired to be printed in connection with a brief sketch of her labors in Europe .... It would be a valuable addition to our denominational literature in the French, German, Swedish, and Danish languages.

If this compilation could have been made while mother was able to supervise it, it could have gone out with the same authority as her other writings, but as we were not able to do this in time for mother to supervise it, it will be necessary to put it out upon another basis. [Italics added.]2

What a pity! With Ellen really gone and not able to “supervise” what had been garnered in for seventy years, it was going to take some engineering to convince the faithful that what was to come down the pike after her demise was still coming from Ellen and still in the name of God.

But today there is hardly one of the faithful who can distinguish between material written and published before Ellen’s death and that which has come after. No one seems to feel that it is necessary to make such a distinction. If Ellen ever touched an idea, or even told others to touch it (including Willie), doing that specific thing must be the will of God, and the material must have been from God—and that, they say, is the end of that. Ellen believed and taught that her material would live and speak as long as time would last. She had reached a level in one lifetime with her believers that none of the Canon writers had ever reached in their time. Furthermore, she had reached parity with the Bible. It was part of her stated belief that such should happen:

Abundant light has been given to our people in these last days. Whether or not my life is spared, my writings will constantly speak, and their work will go forward as long as time shall last. My writings are kept on file in the office, and even though I should not live, these words that nave been given to me by the Lord will still have life and will speak to the people.3

For Adventists, the curtain was never going to fall on this nineteenth century woman and her writings. Their shifting interpretation of the “last generation” of Matthew 24; their change of dates for the Second Advent; their closing and opening and closing of doors of mercy; their modification of the sanctuary position—never would there be an end to the changes if the brethren could maintain that things were just as they had always been. The supersalesmen had set the pattern, and their congregations were to buy, and buy, and buy the material of Ellen for all time. New light would be furnished at new intervals whenever occasion called for it. Instruction would be handed down whenever the natives became restless. New goals would be set whenever old ones wore out. New slogans would be invented to replace those that had gone before. Everything would be done in the name of God through Ellen’s pen—even long after evidence was available that Ellen, with a great deal of able help, had filched most of her material from others and was indeed, as one writer said, a literary kleptomaniac:

As Sister White travelled about expounding her hygienic ideas, people often said to her, “You sound just like Dr. Jackson,” so that she was put to some pains to explain that she had never heard of Dr. Jackson’s health magazine, the Laws of Life, which succeeded The Letter Box, until after the revelation of June, 1863, nor had she read any of the other works of Dr. Jackson. This may have been the truth without being the whole truth. Mrs. White undoubtedly knew of how Dr. Jackson had put Elder Himes back on his feet. And in January, 1863, when two of the White's children caught diphtheria, Elder White most fortunately happened upon a letter of Dr. Jackson’s printed in the Yates County Chronicle, at Penn Yan, New York, giving his methods for treatment of diphtheria, adapted for home use. Impressed, the Whites applied them ana the children recovered. If Mrs. White seems reluctant to acknowledge a debt, we can only reflect that so were Father Graham and Dr. Alcott. And Mrs. White was consistent. She carried the same policy over into her literary labors, which later caused much rancor, and the use of harsh expressions by her critics, such as “literary kleptomania.”4

How was it all done? Not unlike what has been done to the minds and psyches of “true believers” of all times. Who started the Crusades, that ancient rush to madness? Who drew the first blood in the holy wars of the past? Who still glares from the one-eyed tubal monster in the living room, spitting fire and brimstone from all the channels that accept heavenly advertising? The supersalesmen of the psychic, of course. The divines, the clerics, the men of the cloth — the ones that the ignorant, the guilt ridden, and the fearful have sold their souls to. The faithful still tramp the streets ringing doorbells to infect others. They accost strangers on the corners with their stolen wares. Oh, they may or may not know that what they carry to peddle in the name of their saint did not come from God—but it no longer makes any difference. The thing that does make the difference is that they believe it comes from God and that this gives them a holy calling and sets them apart as the righteous.

Clergymen of whatever brand know this formula. For generations they have handed down the torch from others who believed and perfected the idea that their faith, their clan, their interpretation, was the only true one among equals. With that thought safely tucked away in the minds of the true believers, the clergy can now turn to the method of presenting their Clan Plan, their true faith, in the most attractive package.

To a large degree, the success of all clergymen is to convince the congregation that they have the three C’s — they have care, they have the couch (the training), and they have connections with the Almighty.

It may be true for those who give their body to be burned on some dark, heathen shore or those who bestow all their goods to feed the poor5 that some do care. But the ones who do are the few and far between. Observation teaches that many clergymen do not really care. Like the family doctor of old, few give house calls anymore, few still pray with their members about their problems, and few understand the people’s needs, much less how to meet these needs. In today’s world of glamorous religious television, big-name stars in radio evangelism, and the “permissible lie” in advertising, these supersalesmen have a product to sell — and religion pays its hucksters well. What they care for are the same ordinary, everyday needs for themselves that other mortals in any vocation have or want, and filling these needs takes most of their time and talent. In the case of Adventist leaders, the recurring lists of those involved in conflict-of-interest schemes supports this thesis.6

True, the clergy may have the couch or some special training. But training in what? Often the training is-in the art of magic, of mythology, of the unseen and unreal. If they were forced to stand in line at the unemployment window of the world and put up their expertise as a pledge of worth to the public, who would hire them? What line of work would they be qualified for? What could they do to be useful to themselves or to society, aside from their magic? Often these supersalesmen of the psychic are thirtyish before they are finished with their “continuing” education. They face the future with (1) a mountain of debt; (2) a wife (which the profession demands); and (3) two or three kids (optional, but often picked up along the way by mistake). Then they discover that they are locked in for life (often in a position they themselves know they are not suited to) and that they will be in jeopardy if any thoughts of their own come up criss-cross of the system. The tighter the Clan Plan they work under, the less their chance of survival if they try to sell any idea that the system or the Clan does not accept.

So they become the happy warriors of religion. They sell the idea that they have connections that will make them and their friends first in line at the heavenly gates. If anyone can get you into the hereafter at wholesale rate, they can. Tetzel was not the first or the last to sell indulgences, nor did (or do) the Catholics have a monopoly on heavenly concessions. All supersalesmen sell the advantages of their particular name brands. In the cults and sects, it’s the brand of their saint and what is required by that saint to be saved. In the larger and longer established forms of religion, it’s the Clan Plan, mother’s religion, the faith of the fathers, the true light.

All this merchandise can be packaged and sold only by the supersalesmen of the psychic, because from time immemorial people have bought the idea that they, and only they, have the proper connections with the Judge upstairs. The clergy thus are the thought molders of God, the keepers of the keys for Saint Peter, the people’s last great White Hope for the hereafter.

In reality, what they sell is fear. Fear of the here, the now, and the hereafter as well. Happiness can come for a child from a wooden horse on a merry-go-round. It can shine forth from the eyes of the innocent in a marriage vow or be felt in the warm embrace of an aging couple at the setting of the sun. But fear must be manufactured by the divines and made to seem real in the minds of the beholders. Like its twin, guilt, fear must be formed and shaped out of the ignorance of the unknown, the constant straining after the unknowable and unobtainable, the continual selling of the undesirable.

To do a proper job of their selling, all supersalesmen must have a talisman — an object believed to confer on its bearer supernatural powers — a John Bunyan, a Gulliver, a Hans Christian Andersen, a Joseph Smith, a Mary Baker Eddy, an Ellen G. White.

A talisman helps us to see what we want to see — a saint, a fantasyland, something Very Important. In the hands of supersalesmen, the talisman becomes a marionette that they manipulate to control their audience. Shadows become substance and substance becomes shadows. In the hands of the master manipulator, reality begins to fade; the present blurs. Thus the participant trades the reality of today for the fear and hope of tomorrow — while only the supersalesmen knows how the strings are being pulled.

In the end, when the curtain falls on the last act, the participators and the audience are no more fulfilled than at the beginning; they are still driven by fear to a place they can’t describe, for a reward they never obtained. If they are restless, they may drift away, only to be captured by the antics of another marionette show operated from behind by another supersalesman of the psychic.

Organized religion has always destroyed God through its supersalesmen, who have always done it through their saints. Sometimes those saints have not been as visible as Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, or Ellen White — but they are there nonetheless, whether they speak the language of Father Aquinas, Mother Mary, or Sister Ellen.

In any case, the saints are the marionettes used by the supersalesmen to gain control of the audience. The audience learns to laugh when the puppet laughs and cry when the puppet cries. They learn to see what the puppet sees and to hide from what it does not wish to see. At times the audience and the marionette seem as one, ever moving in an unreal world to an unreal end, where neither the marionette nor audience really discerns the plot of the play or understands or enjoys its movements.

But behind the curtain, manipulating both the marionette and the audience, is some supersalesman of the psychic, you can be sure. The take-home pay is too great to let the show go on without a manager. And who has proved through the centuries to be a better manager of people than the supersalesman with his marionette saint?

Adventism has had its supersalesmen and its marionette, Ellen. First came James White, the author of the white lie. He, more than any other, knew the power of the product he was selling. He encouraged and helped Ellen in her first writings and guided her through many a pitfall. In the year he died, 1881, he wrote to Ellen about the wealth to be found in her writings:

I shall have a picture that will readily sell for $2.00 a copy. ... We must get out certain books. These we shall not complete in California or in Battle Creek, unless we keep away from the Office and its business. . . . Our financial matters stand well, ana there is wealth yet in our pens. In this way we can leave something that will tell when we may be gone. [Italics added.]7

The previous year he had written:

But I must still plead that we take time to get out certain books. We are better qualified to do this than certain ones who are ambitious to flood the market with their books. ...

I prefer to receive nothing back from the Sanitarium and College, and in order to have means, to act our part in point of giving to other enterprises, we should receive liberally on our books. With the increasing demand for our writings, and the new Way of Life picture, there will be an income of several thousand dollars annually, besides the immense amount of good our writings will do.8

How close Gold and God walk together in the world of the white lie.

James organized and expanded her writings to the benefit of the Whites. When he left the scene of action, his place was assumed by son Willie. In subsequent years, the criticism came to be that often Willie was Ellen.9 Then when Willie’s term ended, Arthur was on hand to carry the White legend forward. His hands held the strings that gave expression to his grandmotherly marionette. His influence was a factor in the decision of what “truth” was released and when and to whom. His selective “revelations” of “new material” on “new” subjects throughout the years kept the audience always on the lookout for special light.

No one can successfully challenge the fact that the White boys, from James to Arthur, have set the music, played the tune, and pulled the strings of the Ellen G. White marionette show. Ellen may or may not have done little to restrain her legend, but much evidence indicates that she was swept before its flood by her own supersalesmen.

There were lesser stage managers too. Whoever needed authority on a given subject found it in Ellen and her writings. If J. N. Andrew's or Uriah Smith needed endorsement and acceptance for their theories and ideas, they found a ready market when their merchandise was sold through Ellen.10 When Fanny Bolton, niece Mary Clough, and “book maker” Marian Davis, and others sold their wares through the pen of Ellen, no one complained about the “beautiful” passages from such work as Steps to Christ, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessings, and The Desire of Ages, until they didn’t receive their proper credit.

In time the whole show got out of hand—and the words of anybody and everybody now became God’s (not even Ellen’s) and were henceforth inviolable and as though set in stone, or at least concrete. The brightest of the founding fathers, however, knew that Ellen did not get all her knowledge straight from God. They held some of the strings themselves. Hence, neither they nor Ellen feared any deviation from every molehill of that mountain of instruction — because they had a good idea where most of it came from, and in themselves they knew that God was not the author.James White himself very early made that clear in the Review so long ago as to be forgotten by today’s readers:

Every Christian is, therefore, duty bound to take the Bible as a perfect rule of faith and duty He is not at liberty to turn from them to learn his duty through any of the gifts. 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.”11

A few years later he wrote an even stronger statement:

There is a class of persons who are determined to have it that the Review and its conductors make the view of Mrs. White a test of doctrine and Christian fellowship. What has the Review to do with Mrs. White’s views? The sentiments published in its columns are all drawn from the Holy Scriptures. No writer of the Review has ever referred to them (Mrs. White’s views) as authority on any point.12

The white lie theme may have started out as a solo, but soon it became a duet, then a quartet, and then a chorus. Today one can still hear the great choir. It rose to a crescendo at the 1980 Glacier View meeting appointed to silence Desmond Ford, who believed in mercy, not centuries-long investigation. The Adventist Review still bangs out its cacophony of fears and judgments to all those who may not like the way the strings of the marionette show are pulled. The snappy hum of the presses — cranking out all the minutiae of directions for the faithful, each one stamped with a quote or a paraphrase from Saint Ellen — is part of the beat. And through the administrators, in their efforts to whip up the troops for one more mad dash up some hill of financial endeavor, the rattle of the drums goes on.

But above all the sound and fury rise the chants and babble of hundreds and thousands of “true believers.” By now few of them know accurately or care who was the composer or how the oratorio came to be. By now it is just important, and easier, to believe and promote the idea that the whole show was all planned and run by God, in every infinitesimal detail, via Ellen’s books.

The Adventists have yet to learn, as does many a “true believer,” and unbeliever alike, the fullness of the glorious news that salvation was already extended to all, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, at the Cross, and is effective upon acceptance. It is not being begged or negotiated somewhere in the courts above while Christ was held outside the door for 1800 years, and the world was closed off from the action or benefits of God’s love by some shut door, whether in 1844 or in 1984.

For any “true believer” who worships his God through a saint of his choice, it is a difficult thought that salvation is free and mercy is always available to all, saint or sinner, regardless of which saint one worships through. The very system of worship-through-saint demands obedience to a set of rules devised by some group of supersalesmen hiding in the shadows behind their puppet— their saint. If the true message of the Canon should catch on, those salesmen would lose their claim to the heavenly franchise they sell through their marionette for the control of their faithful. It would not do well for their system if the “true believer” should discover the real Desire of all the ages, the Patriarch of all the prophets, the Actor of all the Apostles, and the King of all the prophets — Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It would be the end of all the neverending all-consuming great controversies in all their lives for all time.

References and Notes

1. Appendix, Chapter 9 Comparison Exhibits on Prophets and Kings.

2. General Conference of SDA, Executive Committee to W. C. White, 3 October 1921, p. 5.

3. Ibid., p. 3.

4. Gerald Carson, Cornflake Crusade (New York: Arno Press, 1976), p. 73.

5. 1 Corinthians 13:3.

6. Adventist Layman Council, SDA Press Release (ca. January 1981).

7. James White to Ellen G. White, 18 February 1881.

8. JW to EGW, 17 April 1880.

9. [John Harvey Kellogg], “An Authentic Interview...on October 7th, 1906.

10. See Appendix, Chapter 9 Comparison Exhibits on Prophets and Kings.

11. James White, Review (21 April 1851).

12. James White, Review (16 October 1855).

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