Pirates of Privilege by Walter Rea
THE PRICE OF REFORM
It is a strange and fascinating study that in the 150 years since the concocting of Adventist ideas not one serious attempt has been made to analyze, criticize or destroy the concepts promoted by the organization by scholars outside the church. No Catholic, whom the Adventists have hated from the beginning, has ever spent the time or effort to meet some of the distortions on its history that Adventism has promoted. No serious protestant historian or theologian has felt it necessary to spend the time correcting the misstatements of the protestant past that Adventist evangelists promote in their attacks on the protestant world. No acknowledge or noted historian or geologist has attempted to set right all the assumptions that have now been proven false, that were stressed by Ellen White or the church she founded.
The long list of critics from beginning to the present day are the names of men who worked and held high office, some very high, in the church’s structure. As these men became knowledgeable and informed, both in the background of Ellen White and the church’s structure, they either left the church and faded from view or expended some or much effort in trying to inform the membership of what they had become aware of and were not allowed to talk about. For this effort they were criticized without mercy, condemned without just cause, and smeared without concern for their reputation or person. Up until 1975 when the government made it mandatory, even the retirement was used as a weapon against church reformers. Each and every year, the General Conference Working Policy Book, which is denied to the clergy, as well as the membership, contained the statement:
No worker can regard the fund as an arbitrary provision from which aid can be claimed as a matter of personal right, regardless of the conditions upon which the fund is provided by voluntary action of the organizations contributing to it. The employment of an individual by the Seventh-day Adventist denomination does not therefore in any way guarantee sustentation assistance to such person, since allowances from the fund are made by voluntary action of the General Conference and its subsidiary organizations. 1
Thus this fund was often doled out or denied by the leaders of the church if one did or did not behave according to their acceptable standards. I can still remember the first time that I realized that the church could control a worker up to the grave by denying him a surviving wage if he would not be controlled in his attitudes, lifestyle or utterances.
In spite of the efforts of the church to starve them into submission or to stain their reputation into compliance, there is no serious evidence that all or any of the reformers of the past were evil men. There is no record that they were in trouble with the outside world for morals, ethical, or financial misconduct. No F.B.I. was questioning their involvement, no I.R.S. was checking their records, no S.E.C. was concerned with their compliance, and no indictment was threatened because of their mismanagement of church funds. Yet, regardless of this, the church is more willing to accept and trust a leadership that has been tainted by scandal, caught with their hands in the till, investigated by all of the above mentioned organizations and even censored by the church itself, than give any credence to the information that has come through the last hundred years from reformers within its own ranks.
These thinkers, scholars, ministers and doctors of the past had good minds. They must have known the price that would have to be paid for their inquiries and studies. They were not unaware of the record of the past within the church and the prices that many had paid for their efforts and attempts to bring a truer picture of Ellen G. White to the membership. Those who had worked within the system saw some of the corruption in high places and saw how it was overlooked and even condoned. Why they would they take the certain path to self destruction and isolation? Knowing that in their later life, with nothing but denominational experience and education to fall back on, they would not be marketable in any other reasonable position outside the church, why would they advance their demise? Not all the answers will even be given, but to believe that these were all evil men with hatred toward the church they served, or were all power hungry for position and power, or were out to destroy the system they had given their life of service to, is much too easy an answer even for the simple minded.
There are some answers, though, and they should be looked at. One of those answers was stated so well by the Spectrum of 1984:
The difference was not intellectual capacity. It is not necessary to administer I.Q. tests to observe that both sides had their quota of brilliant and pedestrian minds. The difference was not scientific training. Many progressives felt that once their conservative brethren (scientist, administrators or educators) saw the data they would take the only course open to reasonable men and reevaluate their traditional positions. This assumption was naïve. Nor was the difference loyalty to the church. While the historical record shows that it is harder for progressives to retain their loyalty to the church (often because of the obstacles placed in their path by conservatives), it is important to recognize that many progressives were profoundly loyal to the church. 2
While the article is talking about a different subject it is not unrelated to the topic of Ellen and her record and authority. There certainly is no proof that Numbers, Graybill, Ford or Rea were not loyal to the church unless loyalty is defined as not being controlled by some of those in it. What rules did they violate, what procedures did they transgress?
It could be true that some of the methods used by the reformers of the past could be improved upon. But then so could the methods of the church structure itself. History is not too kind in its record of the actions of the men who always postured as the “saints within the structure,” as opposed to the “sinners” outside the system, especially when those sinners had often been abused, misused and excommunicated by some of those “saints.” Methods are something to dialogue and confer about. Methods come by experience and trial and error; only thus can they be improve or changed by honorable men. Often methods are only reactions from other poor methods and not a consistent mode of operation at all.
There are other reasons that change comes with such torture in Adventism. Often the leadership of the church depends upon old, used, tired, uneducated men who have risen to success on the shoulders of their superiors, not through intelligent efforts of their own. Therefore such men are dependent on the system and those shoulders of their superiors, for without the support of those superiors they would be nothing in either place or position. Many do not read, do not study, do not think, but only react to any threat from either the right or the left. Their last desire is movement in any direction; thus they oppose any thought or actions that would “rock the boat.” They have a good thing going for them and they know it and do not want it exposed or threatened.
Another more malignant problem in the Adventist system is Ellen white, herself. Believing as she did and teaching as she did, that she was either all of God’s or none, there is no choice. Therefore everything she did, wrote or touched, even her shopping list, is often considered holy and inviolate or “inspired.” Anyone that attempts to cross this morass is sure to be shot down. To try to extricate the church’s dilemma by playing semantical games with the word “inspiration” is not only unsatisfying but purely dishonest. The inconsistency of this position will continue to haunt Adventism forever unless they reach higher ground. The proof of that statement is found in the works of Ellen herself. She encouraged, advanced and promoted the idea of reform herself in all she wrote. Listen to her words and works:
In refusing the warning of the first angel they rejected the means which Heaven had provided for their restoration. They spurned the gracious messenger that would have corrected the evils which separated them from God (Great Controversy, p. 380)
The Redeemer of the world never spurned true repentance, however great the guilt, but He hurled burning denunciations against Pharisees and hypocrites. There is more hope for the open sinner than for this class . . . . As a people professing to be reformers, treasuring the most solemn, purifying truths of God’s word we must elevate the standard far higher than it is at the present time. Sin and sinners in the church must be promptly dealt with, that others may not be contaminated. (Testimonies, Vol. 4, p. 185)
There are many false prophets in these days, to whom sin does not appear specially repulsive. They complain that the peace of the people is unnecessarily disturbed by the reproofs and warning of God’s messengers. As for them, they lull the souls of sinners into a fatal ease by their smooth and deceitful teachings . . . . Those who seek to cloak sin and make it appear less aggravating to the mind of the offender are doing the work of the false prophets and may expect the retributive wrath of God to follow such a course . . . . God has no sympathy with the evildoer. He gives no one liberty to gloss over the sins of His people, nor to cry, “Peace, peace,” when He has declared that there shall be no peace for the wicked. Those who stir up rebellion against the servants whom God sends to deliver His messages are rebelling against the word of the Lord. (Testimonies, Vol. 4, p. 185)
Indignation often kindles in the heart of the sinner against the agent whom God chooses to deliver His reproofs . . . . God’s chosen servants should meet with courage and patience whatever trials and suffering befall them through reproach, neglect, or misrepresentations because they faithfully discharge the duty that God has given them to do. They should remember that the prophets of old and the Savior of the world also endured abuse and persecution for the word’s sake . . . . Those who by unwise sympathy encourage men in rebellion when their self-love is smarting beneath merited reproof are not the friends of God, the great Reprover. God will send reproof and warning to His people as long as they continue upon earth. (Testimonies, Vol. 4, p. 180)
Deal faithfully with wrong-doing. Warn every soul that it is in Danger. Leave none to deceive themselves. Call sin by its right name. Declare what God has said in regard to lying, Sabbath-breaking, stealing, idolatry, and every other evil. “They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” If they persist in sin, the judgment you have declared from God’s word is pronounced upon them in heaven. (Gospel Workers, p. 502)
The Lord reproves and corrects the people who profess to keep His law. He points out their sins and lays open their iniquity because He wishes to separate all sin and wickedness from them, that they may perfect holiness in His fear. (Testimonies, Vol. 5, p. 662)
Reproofs always hurt human nature. Many are the souls that have been destroyed by the unwise sympathy of their brethren; for, because the brethren sympathized with them, they thought they must indeed have been abused, and that the reprover was all wrong and had a bad spirit. The only hope for sinners in Zion is to fully see and confess their wrongs and put them away. Those who step in to destroy the edge of sharp reproof that God sends, saying that the reprover was partly wrong and can devise to make the reproofs of none effect will accomplish his design. Some will lay blame upon the one whom God has sent with a message of warning, saying, He is too severe, and in so doing they become responsible for the soul of the sinner whom God desired to save. . . (Testimonies, Vol. 3, p. 329)
God’s ministers must lift up the voice like a trumpet, and show the people their transgressions. The smooth sermons so often preached make no lasting impression. Men are not cut to the heart, because the plain, sharp truths of the word of God are not spoken to them. . . When will be heard once more in the church the voice of faithful rebuke, “Thou art the man”? If these words were not so rare, we should see more of the power of God. The Lord’s messengers should not complain of their efforts being fruitless until they repent of their love of approbation, their desire to please men, which leads them to suppress the truth, and to cry, Peace, when God has not spoken peace. (Gospel Workers, pp. 149,150)
He (God) shows us that when His people are found in sin they should at once take decided measures to put that sin from them, that His frown may not rest upon them all. But if the sins of the people are passed over by those in responsible positions, His frown will be upon them, and the people of God, as a body, will be held responsible for those sins . . . If wrongs are apparent among His people and if the servants of God pass on indifferent to them, they virtually sustain and justify the sinners, and are alike guilty and will just as surely receive the displeasure of God; for they will be made responsible for the sins of the guilty. (Testimonies, Vol. 3, pp. 265,266)
This is quite a heady mandate for any reformer, so I rest my case. The problem is that the Adventists have never felt that those statements applied to them but were directed at others, the club, their club, their church, that was above even their own prophet. The state has allowed the church, any church, to pollute, pervert and circumvent all the laws passed to help keep men honest. They are literally above most, if not all human laws. There is no commandment I know of in the ten that a person cannot violate and survive in Adventism. But I had violated the eleventh commandment of the church which has always proven to be greater than the other ten. It was “Thou shalt not put forth thy hand upon the Lord’s anointed,” in this case the Adventist structure and clergy. No one has ever violated that commandment and survived in Adventism, and neither could I. You just can’t squeal on the system and expect their blessing even if you are proven right in your information. One could go on recording Ellen’s words in this fashion indefinitely.
If those are “inspired” words from God, how can I be condemned for what I did? If they are “inspired” why has the church so obviously rejected them as pertaining to themselves when they come from their prophet? If they are “inspired” who stands condemned: the ones that used them to try to bring about reform or the leaders that still continue their shadowy practices and tell their white lies? If they are “inspired” why has the church settled back as if nothing happened at all and the clock stopped in 1844? Yet Wilson in the October Review could still quote Ellen in Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69—“When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.” If this statement is “inspired,” then the coming of the Adventist Christ in indeed a long, long way off, if the characters of the Davenport investors are to be considered.
Rather, it is much easier to believe that in the light of all the new evidence not all she said was “inspired” or relevant to the world or the church. Indeed, I now recognize where some of the statements quoted from her in this chapter had their origin, and it was not from God but copied from others. They may still be good useful statements with meaning, but having been washed through others they give some insight as to why the lack the force from God to convert the mind or the heart of the Adventist leadership. If the power we possess which we have always claimed truly comes from the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit had been allowed to work in some of those lives instead of second hand statements copied from others, in the name of Ellen G. White, perhaps Davenport and the divines would never have happened and The White Lie would never have been written. But the events of the Pirates of Privilege tell us clearly that where there is no vision from God, the people do indeed perish.
What are some of the lessons to be learned from this sad experience?
A. In order to be truly free morally, in order to have a correct living relationship with God, man must have free access to truth. That truth or those facts must be untampered with, free from suppression, deletions, corrections, or interpretation and manipulation from others. To the extent that any information is wrong, garbled or twisted by others, to that extent decisions based on that false information will end up hurting and harming those who make those decisions.
B. Beware of any supersalesman, any divine or system that tries to sell you any idea in religion that is “unique” or “the truth” for all time. Remember that “truth” in religion has been around for millenniums and there are many tests that can be administered to find out what is “truth.” No one has ever had a monopoly on it.
C. It is very difficult, if not impossible for people with a sectarian mind in religion to understand that others who do not agree with them can also be right. After all they may both agree with “truth” but interpret it differently. There is no evidence offered in Scripture that divisions in interpretation of truth are sinful or harmful unless our actions make it so.
D. Trust is not a right, or a divine commission. God has earned our trust or He hasn’t, likewise, leaders of any organization, religious or not. If the leadership is not trustworthy they don’t deserve our trust. It is not a divine right. It is perhaps in this area that the leadership of Adventism has its greatest problem. Those leaders believe, some sincerely, that God has given them their position and therefore the people should give them their trust no matter what they do or what their actions say. Nothing could be further from the truth of the matter.
Editor’s note. In the original manuscript there are two subsections labeled “D.” I have continued this arrangement for the sake of reference against the original manuscript.---- KW
D. Love and Law are not mandated or separated in Christianity. They walk side by side. God’s law is love and if the Adventist Church that preaches law so much really believed what they preached, they would be known in their community as a people of love. It would show in what they did to each other. How can a community believe that Adventism is a message of God’s love when they often watch what harm the members do to each other? If we hate and destroy each other over interpretations, how can we be expected to love those not of our faith who find it hard to understand our beliefs chiseled in the stone of dogmatism not the fleshly tables of the heart of love?
E. If there is no final judgment, no final place of arbitration, then I have indeed been one of Adventism’s greatest fools, not because I was proven to be false, to the contrary, but because the system can destroy its critics and reward its faithful. But believing as I do that there is a heavenly tribunal, I could not do other than I did and that was to call sin by its right name.
F. There is a thin line between human greed and prudence. Most of the personalities that represented the church were in the high bracket of church work. They received more than most others do of the perks of their profession. Even their retirement was stacked in their favor, yet they often plead, as Pierson did, that they were only being prudent. What they really were being was greedy.
G. Once it is clear to a person that no one in Adventism sits on the committee that decides where we end up in the hereafter, it is much easier to adjust to the real world around you and begin to get back to the fundamentals of Christianity which are love, peace and goodwill toward all men. IT IS TRUE THAT ADVENTISM HAS TAUGHT US ALL THE LAW. WHAT A HUMAN TRAGEDY THAT BY THEIR ACTIONS THEY DID NOT TEACH US TO LOVE THAT LAW.
THE RACE OF LIFE
When you sit all alone at the end of a day
And the shadows that fall are all gray
And you know that the trials that you face all ahead
Are the ones that will not go away.
And you count up your loss and you tally your gain.
And you weigh in the balance of life
And you trust to the scale as it tips to your end
That the peace will out weigh all the strife.
For you know there was good, and you sense there was bad.
In a mix that was conditioned by time.
But you pray as you sit with your memories alone.
For the deeds that you do with their motives tacked on
Are reviewed by an impatient hoard
For often the things that you thought were well done
Were the acts that were largely ignored.
So the wise and the sound, as they travel through life
Would beware what the people would seek
And will travel their path with a vision in mind
That will lead them at last to the peak.
When you stand all alone at the setting of sun
And the reckoning of time is all through
May the Savior of men who reviews your whole life
Be the one that to Him you’ve been true.
For the vote of the crowd has no meaning or form
In the race that we run among men
But the goal that we seek and the prize we obtain
Is the crown we may win in the end.
Not the shout of the crowd or the curses of men
Are the forces that finish the race
But the test of a life when its lifetime is through
Is to seek and obtain His rich grace.
CHAPTER VI FOOTNOTES
1. General Conference Working Policy, Revised October, 1966, p. 306.
2. Edward Lugenbeal, “The Conservative Restoration at Geoscience,” Spectrum, Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 24.