Daily Archives: February 5, 2016

A remarkable conflict

I know Gilbert Valentine as a sharp historian and talented author. I am thinking in particular of his book The Prophets and the Presidents (Pacific Press, 2011), in which he offers a fascinating account of the rather complicated relationship between Ellen G. White and three of the presidents of the worldwide Adventist Church in her days. The book paints a very human picture of Ellen White, her feelings for certain person and the manner in which she often tried to influence—or even to manipulate—the decision making process of the church.

A week or so ago I saw another book of his for the first time, hidden in a corner on a shelf in the Adventist Book Center in Melbourne: The Struggle for the Prophetic Heritage. The subtitle clearly defines the topic of the book: Issues in the Conflict for Control of the Ellen G. White Publications, 1930-1939. It was published in 2006 by the college in Thailand where Valentine taught theology at the time.

Gilbert Valentine details in this book the history of the conflict between church leadership and those who were responsible for the care for the literary heritage of Ellen White after her death in 1915. This did not only concern the rights of her books that were published during her life, but also a great number of letters, diaries and other, hitherto never published, documents. Some aspects of her last will were rather unclear on the question who would inherited the unpublished manuscripts and who would, therefore, make the decisions about a possible future publication of them. In any case, Willen C. White—the oldest son of Ellen White who had been named in the will as one of the trustees who were to care for the writings after her death—saw himself as the legal owner of at least part of her literary heritage. He, therefore, felt that he could make the decision about any further publication. Top church leadership vehemently disagreed and preferred that there would be no further publications besides the books, etc that had been published during Ellen White’s life.

The matter was further complicated by the fact that Ellen White had a very considerable debt at the moment of her death, which could not be covered by the assets she left behind. The leaders of the church were unwilling to take on this responsibility and forced the heirs to temporarily hand the assets (as e.g. her home in California) over into the custody of the church, until sufficient royalties from the sale of her books would have been received to clear the debt.

Those who want to read the full story of the (at times quite bitter) controversy between the trustees of Ellen White’s literary heritage and the church, should read Valentine’s book. For most readers of the blog it might be difficult to lay their hands on a copy of this book. I looked in vain for it on amazon.com and on the website of the Adventist Book Center. However, I discovered that the book may be downloaded from: http://www.restoringtheoldpaths.com/uploads/Struggle_for_the_prophetic_heritage__2_.pdf.

Some readers may find the book quite disconcerting. How was it possible that it would not be until 1939 that a satisfactory solution was found for the question what to do with the unpublished documents, since this was a major cause for conflict? Repeatedly William White emerges from the story as a rather stubborn person who had a difficulty realizing that the work of Ellen White was the communal ‘possession’ of the church, rather than the private property of his family.

I thought that I am rather well informed about most aspects of the history of Adventism, but this book filled a definite gap in my knowledge. However, it did not worry me unduly. Ellen White was not a saint, nor were her sons. And the church leaders that feature in Valentine’s account were also far from perfect. But this also applies to most of us today, and certainly to me personally. But in spite of this we may gratefully acknowledge that we are part of something bigger than us as individuals and may trust that our good Lord still wants to use us—with our gifts and talents but also with our imperfections and stubbornness.