Almost from the first time I heard of her, early in my teens, I became a devotee of Ellen G. White and her writings. I learned to type by copying from her book Messages to Young People. In high school and college, I often went from room to room in the dormitory, gathering Ellen White quotations from others to use in my preparations for becoming a minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was during those days that I conceived the idea of preparing an Adventist commentary by compiling from the writings of Ellen White all the statements pertaining to each book of the Bible, each doctrine, and each Bible character.
Early in my ministerial life, which began in central California in the latter 1940s, I compiled two volumes of Old and New Testament Bible biographies, incorporating with each entry the pertinent quotations found in Ellen White’s works. …and a third volume on Daniel and the Revelation, all based on Ellen White’s works, and soon these books were sold in most Adventist Book and Bible houses and used in many Adventist schools and colleges in North America.
While working on my projected volume four (Ellen White’s quotations on Bible doctrines) I happened across something interesting at Orlando, Florida, where I was pastor of the Kress Memorial Church, named for doctors Daniel and Lauretta Kress, noted pioneers in the Adventist medical work. The Kress family gave me an old book by Ellen White, Sketches from the Life of Paul, published in 1883 but never reprinted. When I showed this book to a church member one day, I was told that the problem of the book was that it was too much like another book that had not been written by Ellen White, and that it had never been reprinted because of the close similarities. Being of an inquiring mind, I did a comparison study and discovered that some of the criticism seemed to be true.
Later, after I transferred to California, the Wellesley P. Magan family, also from established pioneer Adventists, were members of my congregation. At the death of Wellesley’s father’s widow, Lillian Magan, I was given a book from the Magan family library—Elisha the Prophet by Alfred Edersheim. On the flyleaf was Ellen White’s signature. By now, because of my constant use of Ellen White’s books, I had become so familiar with them that I readily recognized similarities of wording and thought as I examined Edersheim’s book.
Still later on, while studying at the University of Southern California toward a Ph.D. degree, I was shocked to come across a seven-volume work on Old Testament history by the same Edersheim. This time I found, in volumes one to four, that Edersheim’s chapter titles, subtitles, and page headings paralleled and were many times almost identical with the chapter titles of Ellen White’s Patriarchs and Prophets (1890). Time and study made it obvious that Mrs. White had obtained liberal help from these additional Edersheim works. Further investigation would reveal that Edersheim had written also a New Testament history on the life of Christ, and in this too there were additional similarities with Mrs. White’s Desire of Ages.
Although disturbing, these findings were not too upsetting to me at that time because the White Estate in Washington always seemed to have excuses for Ellen’s “borrowing.”
Not until Bruce Weaver, a young seminary student at the Adventist Andrews University in Michigan, discovered an unmarked file of my work and comparisons in the White Estate duplicate material housed in the library there, did things begin to take on the air of a mystery tale. The White Estate accused Bruce of stealing the material from the library, although he only copied and returned it. In the end, Bruce was dismissed from the seminary and from the ministry—but not before he had taken a significant part in the drama.
What he had found in the file was not just my material and the critique of it, but copies of some White Estate in-house letters by Robert W. Olson and Arthur L. White revealing the concern these men at the office in Washington showed about Bruce’s discovery of the material I had been sending to them as evidence of Ellen White’s copying. Both had recorded their suggestions for dealing with the Rea problem. Subsequent years revealed that they had adopted Arthur White’s method—which was, in essence, to stonewall the matter and use as much pressure and double-talk as possible.
Olson took to the stump in an all-out effort to blunt the impact that my findings were beginning to have, for by now people in various regions of North America were asking for evidence found in my research. At an afternoon presentation by Olson in January 1979, at Loma Linda University in California, someone in the audience asked about Mrs. White’s borrowing from published sources. Olson’s reply was to the effect that there was nothing to it, that all of her writings were her own. He then volunteered that there was some minister in Southern California making waves with allegations about borrowed material from her key book, Desire of Ages, but that there was nothing to these rumors.
To say that I was in a state of shock after the meeting is to put it mildly. My file at that time already held several letters from that same Olson encouraging me to keep sending him my comparisons of Ellen with her contemporaries. Furthermore, he had personally talked with me when he was in California only a short time before and had sought my promise that I would not publish any report on my work until he and the White Estate staff had been given additional time to survey the material. I had agreed to his request, and the fact of the agreement and been recorded in the in-house memo that he wrote afterward and that I held in my files.
So now I knew that Robert Olson either had a very short memory or was telling a white lie. In any case, it was obvious that the White Estate people knew much more than they were telling.
The files of the White Estate had referred to a book by William Hanna called The Life of Christ. Within 24 hours after the Loma Linda meeting, I obtained Hanna’s book. From that time on, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know.
In January 1980 a committee meeting was held in Glendale, California. This meeting was called by General Conference president Neal C. Wilson at my urging that consideration be given to the scope of the findings of Ellen White’s literary indebtedness. Eighteen of the church’s appointed representatives went on record that what my research showed was alarming in its proportions but that the study should continue—with additional help.
Spectrum [magazine] later reported my dismissal by the church after 36 years of service
Walter Rea, The White Lie, Prologue, pp. 19-22.