Pirates of Privilege by Walter Rea







It has been clear to those who wanted to know that Adventism has and continues to have serious flaws in structure and procedure. It is a closed shop as far as the layman and membership is concerned. It is strictly a party of the clergy, the super salesmen of the psychic, as I have pointed out in The White Lie: 1  It is a system formed by those salesmen, run by those salesmen and operated and controlled by and for those salesmen. The layman has little or nothing to say or do with its operation. In the eyes of the clergy they have one function and that is to supply the money to run the system.


In 1969, while still a pastor in the church, I had written to Elder Blaker, Pacific Union President, stating some of these concerns and asking for at least a look into some ideas that would make a more open church. I felt then, as I do now, that the church was choking for lack of openness and participation from the bottom up. The letter was one of special pleading:


Thank you for the letter and your kindness in listening. You have a great talent there. The thoughts we talked about are not all mine but have come over the years from observation and discussion with many in the ministry.  Here are some of them put to pen.


One has only to look at the transcript of a graduate of Theology and he is impressed with deficiency, not in the accumulation of hours but the barrenness of objective courses and thinking. For decades the minister has stood at the peak in academic training to his congregation. This is no longer true. It is also a false assumption that a  training in Theology as constituted in our program, prepares a minister for the practical, objective problems that present themselves in his everyday life. While he is dealing with lawyers, administrators, doctors and laymen whose training and work is mechanics, electronics, mathematics, and similar objective occupations, he is completely deficient in these areas.


This deficiency becomes more glaring in the minister's operation of church boards, committee meetings, school programs and wherever he is brought into conflict by his subjectivity or value thinking and the objective, pragmatic problem of life, both in the church and among the people. Such conflicts and frustrations have engendered discouragement and may contribute to the declining interest in the position of pastor or parish ministry. Many a minister would leave his profession if it were not for the fact that his system has robbed him of any effective way of making a living if he does go. He thus stays in the system being equally unhappy and inefficient, praying most fervently that the Lord will come soon and deliver him from the dilemma.


There are several practical suggestions that might be helpful in meeting the problem as far as academic perusals are concerned. One would be to encourage in the ministerial program more objective courses, stressing practical vocational and problem-solving courses in the area of practical life problems. It is safe to say that in the course of a 40 year ministry that one will encounter an infinitesimal number of theologians who wish to discourse with you on determinism, or one may search in vain for a Greek to practice his minor on, while the problems in sociology, juvenile delinquency, logic, mathematics, business administration, are ever present. Who's ever stressed in Adventism to the Adventist ministry that finances occupy a large portion of a minister’s time and energy? Yet where are the courses in bookkeeping, auditing, and like subjects? These should be a must.


A second and more dramatic solution and, I believe, far more relevant and practical, would be to require all ministerial students, upon graduation, to have a B.A. or B.S. in some vocation of his choice, exclusive of teaching. It is parenthetical to say that in my opinion, too many disappointed preachers have ended up as incompetent teachers. With this practical step a man having once tried the ministry and finding it repugnant, or for various reasons wishing to switch, would not end up licking stamps in the Bible House or driving the Conference moving van during the summer. He could take his place with confidence in the community of men without a stigma or a sense of guilt or a sense of frustration because of his past.


Many a man has been held to the work merely by the overwhelming fact that he was not qualified through the system of his denomination to do anything else outside of it. Under a new outlook, with a qualified degree in a field of his choice he would not only be qualified but certified to take his place in industry or commerce. Having given him an opportunity to obtain an option, thus giving him security and pride of position, dedication to the ministry would be much more real and enduring.  The denomination could then embrace two or three years of seminary training to round out what they feel must be final ministerial necessities.


Another formidable hurdle in the matter of security and meaning comes when the intern hits the field. He is given to understand that he must now ignore his 26 or 28 years of competitive studies in which he must strive for grades to obtain position as well as status and recognize, he is informed, that in the organization there is no position and thus no advancement. He must submit himself to whatever program the Conference specifies, whether he is qualified or not. He must resign himself to serve under a minister who may not be qualified, participate in evangelistic meetings that are often ill-conceived and poorly executed and yet hope that through this maze of inconsistencies he can gain enough favor with the brethren to finally be ordained, thus putting God's stamp of approval on him for life.


It is recognized by those in the field that very little thought has been given to the intern's program of training in the area of pastoral ministry. The glaring injustice leaves him at the mercy of one man, a Conference president, who may or may not be trained in the handling of personnel, who may or may not have been a successful pastor, who may or may not understand the problems of the parish priest. If this is not enough he is often assigned to the pernicious whims of a likewise unqualified pastor with little or no experience except in accumulation of years often in frustration and failure itself. One thing the denomination seems to have overlooked in this area is that survival does not mean success.


Would it not be much wiser to have a man in charge of personnel in the Conference whose sole responsibility would be the pulpit and the pew? He would answer to no one except the Conference Committee, but would be available at all times for the problems in the church and the ministry. He would have no executive functions but to deal with personnel problems. If such a position would threaten the local Conference President, then I would suggest a committee made up of eight to ten pastors, with perhaps a teacher or layman if the idea was to be extended to their fields. A minister or an intern would be allowed without fear of reprisal to state his problems to such a group in candor.


Such a board could not only mediate problems, but perhaps in the ideal, could head them off. Such a man or board could recommend placement rather than the haphazard subjective method that is used at the present time. It is possible that such a method could be pooled throughout North America to give a much more objective approach to the filling of vacancies. Whatever is done must be done quickly to insure young men that they are wanted and necessary and to help break down the conviction that they must be 45 years of age or even older before the denomination can express confidence in their ability.


Finally, Jack, this would tie in with my thoughts on our laity and our young men being informed as to open Committee Meetings. If these Committee Meetings were held once a quarter in the various districts and allowance was made for all who wished to attend, it would go a long way toward consolidating laity and organization. Young interns as well as young ordained men should be allowed visiting privileges on Conference Committees. Perhaps if three or four young men could sit on a committee for six months without voting rights they would be more knowledgeable and, I believe more appreciative of the problems of a Conference and administration, likewise the laity. Any method. whereby position or authority can be delegated on the basis of ability and fairness rather than the petty privilege of position would do a tremendous amount to bring in rapport and thus, spirituality between administration and the field.


There are other methods that one could use to make the ministry feel relevant and necessary, such as the structuring of workers meetings for their interest, the use of their experience and knowledge on committees both in the office and in the field, the recognition of their support in a tangible way from the Association in the matter of wills and legacies, plus a practical approach to their own personal problems rather than expecting subjection through the arbitrary voice of authority.


I guess I had better stop before you get the impression I am liberal as well as an idealist. What I guess I am saying is that we ought to practice in our own ranks the Christianity we preach to others.


It is always FUN to be and HAVE a part of the work, Jack. Tell your administrators to stop taking that fun away from us as pastors and ministers.  2


As with most of my letters, ideas, suggestions and pleadings, the letter and ideas that they represented were ignored in favor of arbitrary control and arrogant supervision. In fact, it was this same approach that caused the other problem that I was involved in, the matter of Ellen G. White and her role in the church. It was with the hope we might have some openness and dialogue that most of us that were doing work in this area continued. But that was a forlorn naive hope that simply could not be if one understands Adventism.


In order to understand the whole of the Davenport problem it is necessary to understand some of the problems of the Ellen G. White controversy. In both areas, the same men control, make decisions, ignore counsel, and sack dissenters. In both cases, if laymen had played any significant part, if the facts had not been kept from them, the results would have been much different. In my case the two problems merged because of my special knowledge in both areas and my desire and efforts to inform the church as a whole in order to effect change. How foolish I was to believe that anyone or anything could change the leaders of Adventism to any position that might threaten their control or position of power.


When Walter Martin wrote The Kingdom of the Cults  in the 1960s, his definition of a cult was very gentle. He said:


By the term "cult" I mean nothing derogatory to any group so classified. A cult, as I define it, is any religious group which differs significantly in some one or more respects as to belief and practice, from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture. I may add to this that a cult might also be defined as a group of people gathered about a specific person or person's interpretation of the Bible. 3


Martin goes on to list three major cults - Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Christian Scientists  - but leaves out Seventh-day Adventists entirely. In fact, he defends his choice of exclusion by adding to the Appendix a section entitled, "The Puzzle of Seventh-day Adventism.” 4 In his second chapter, "Scaling the Language Barrier," Martin refers directly and specifically to Seventh-day Adventists, but does not seem to perceive it:


It is therefore possible for the modern theologians to use the terminology of the Bible and historic theology, but in an entirely different sense from that intended by the writers of Scripture . . . one must face the fact that the originators and promulgators of cult theology have done exactly the same thing to the semantic structure of Christian Theology as did the modern theologians. So it is possible . . . to utilize the terminology of Bible Christianity with absolute freedom, having already redesigned these terms in a theological framework of his own making and to his own liking, but almost always at direct variance with the historically accepted meanings of the terms. The student of cultism, then, must be prepared to scale the language barrier of terminology. First, he must recognize that it does exist, and second, he must acknowledge the very real fact that unless terms are defined when one is either speaking or reading cult theology, the semantic jungle which the cults have created will envelop , making difficult, if not impossible, a proper contrast between the teachings of the cults and those of orthodox Christianity. 5


Had Martin's definition been more precise and his observations more astute, surely he would have included Seventh-day Adventists. He seems to sense this error of judgment years later in an interview in the July 1983 Adventist Currents, when he reviews his past contacts with the Adventist and concludes that either he was misled by some of the spokesmen of the church or they really did not have the authority to represent the true picture of the church. 6


It is understandable that Martin should fall into the error of misreading the facts about Adventists. Many others have done the same. It is because the inquisitor is often led to deal with the promises of Seventh-day Adventists and not their practices. Martin knew some Adventist ministers as friends; they were not fanatics. He was fooled by the fantasies he was told; he was never shown the facts. The language of the cult as used by Adventists colored his vision; very seldom, if ever, are the practitioners, such as the ministers of the flock, or laymen, allowed to speak for the church. Rather the seminarian, the theologian, the institutional employee, or the retired monastic mind is the spokesman for what is called "Adventist Truth." Because of this forced practice, the true picture of Adventism is seldom seen or known by the non-Adventist. This was the problem for Walter Martin, and he seems to sense it when he says years later that he was lied to by some in the church and double-crossed by most concerning his agreements with the church about the distribution of his book The Truth about Seventh-day Adventists.


This exchange was printed in Adventist Currents:


CURRENTS: Was there a prior agreement as to what would happen to your book when it came out?


MARTIN: Oh, yes. We would distribute the book and promote it through Christian bookstores, through Eternity Magazine, and anyplace else we could.


CURRENTS: Even though you had been doing that for a few years?


MARTIN: I have faithfully done that. And they were to take my book and get it into all the Adventist bookstores and publishing houses so that the Adventist could see the work I had done. They reneged on that. The General Conference reneged on that, and Anderson was very upset.


CURRENTS: Do you know who to define as General Conference in that case?


MARTIN: I don't, and wouldn't make an accusation. But they did not keep their word. As a result, only QUESTIONS ON DOCTRINE came out in Seventh day Adventist bookstores. THE TRUTH ABOUT SEVENTH-ADVENTISM did not.


In addition to that, they wrote a book to answer my book without giving my book a hearing. That was wrong . . What they did was censure the Adventist people.  7


In contrast, Anthony Hoekema had no difficulties whatsoever in recognizing Adventism for what it was and said so in The Four Major Cults, published in 1963, where he lists Adventism as one of the four. He had no trouble doing so because his Chapter 6, "The Distinctive Traits of the Cult," is neither gentle or evasive, but clear, to the point, and inclusive. His operational definitions are such that anyone can use them to evaluate whatever cult non-cult he wishes. He lists these traits as follows:

             1. An Extra-Scriptural Source of Authority.

 2. The Denial of Justification by Grace Alone.

 3. The Devaluation of Christ.

 4. The Group as the Exclusive Community of the Saved.

 5. The Group's Central Role in Eschatology. 8


He then goes on to apply these five traits to the Seventh-day Adventists. Their extra-scriptural authority is Ellen White, their prophet. Their justification before God is accomplished by works. Christ is interpreted by Ellen White through her writings. No scholar is allowed to advance any idea of importance that does not agree with any statement she has ever made. The Adventists have always taught that they are the exclusive community of the saved and that he or she must be an Adventist to enter the kingdom if he or she has ever had the opportunity to hear the church’s message. Finally, the book The Great Controversy, again written by Ellen White, makes Adventism the central figure in closing events.  9


Adventists have in the past and at the present denied all five traits or categories, but as always it is the language barrier, or the use the cults make of theological terminology that throws the unaware off. While denying that any of the traits exist in their church, the keepers of the Adventist press, the thought-molders of the ministry, and the public relation experts go right on selling a religion that exhibits all five of them to the membership through the church press and programs.


Like most conservative organizations, there is little freedom of expression or choice for Adventists concerning attitudes or actions that conflict with church thought or tradition. Because of the belief that it is wrong to marry outside the church, there is little influx of ideas from other individuals or groups or other forms of expression of belief. No one teaches in Adventist colleges, academies or grade schools except denominationally trained workers and believers. Even the administration of the colleges handpicks its teachers. Thus free expression and the exchange of opinions are effectively controlled by the system. If the label "church" was stripped from the organization, it could be seen as a tightly controlled political organization using the people's money to control those same people. The recent studies of the political structure of the church would seem to confirm this view. 10


These observations have been confirmed over the years, but recent events can be cited for evidence that all is not well within the structure. In the early seventies a great deal of information came to the fore concerning the writings of Ellen White, the church's prophet. This information was conveyed to readers of Spectrum, an Adventist journal for scholars in 1980 by Donald McAdams, president of the Texas-based Southwestern Adventist College:


In 1970, 55 years after the death of Ellen G. White, Adventist scholars began for the first time to examine critically her writings and to share their conclusions with the community of Adventist intellectuals. The scholarship started with a cluster of articles in the autumn 1970 number of Spectrum. Other articles, a book and several unpublished manuscripts followed. Ten years later, we can see that the 1970s introduced a new era in the study of Ellen White.11



Ronald Numbers, a professor in the church's School of Medicine at Loma Linda, California, kicked off the smoldering controversy over Ellen's reliability and authority with his book Prophetess of Health in 1976. 12 It caused great consternation among Adventist leaders and was discussed widely by Adventist scholars, and even received some national attention. The church wrote a defense against it and distributed it to its membership. It was not that the material was so new that got Numbers into trouble and later fired. It was not that he proved that others before White had written what she said she had been told by God in visions. It was not even that he had discovered that large parts of her "visions" on health had been lifted from others, often word for word. What did isolate Numbers from the system was the attitude he expressed in his Preface:


In so doing, I have parted company with those Adventist scholars who insist on the following presuppositions: (1) that the Holy Spirit has guided the Advent movement since the early 1840s, (2) "that Ellen Harmon White was chosen by God as his messenger and her work embodied that of a prophet," (3) "that as a sincere, dedicated Christian and a prophet, Ellen White could not and did not falsify," and (4) that the testimony of Mrs. White's fellow-believers "may be accepted as true and correct to the best of the memory of the individuals who reported." It seems to me that such statements, particularly the last two, are more properly conclusions than presuppositions. 13


That did it! Those thoughts and ideals might be acceptable rules of thought for scholarly research, but Numbers should have known that knowingly or unknowingly he was violating the cardinal rule of Adventist scholarship, which was that one must have a presupposition, a born or cultivated bias, to deal with any of the facts and ideas concerning denominational history. Those presuppositions and biases must be made to color the Adventist scene.


There was another shocker in Ronald Numbers’ book besides the lack of presuppositions-- his casting doubt on Ellen White's integrity as well as her credibility. The church is involved in health in a big way, with Ellen White, directed by God, of course, getting the credit. In one of her strongest health "visions" she received the instructions from heaven to abstain from flesh foods of all kinds. So strong was she on this issue that one of the badges of Adventists is vegetarianism. She is quoted in her testimonies as saying:


I have been instructed that flesh food has a tendency to animalize the nature, to rob men and women of that love and sympathy which they should feel for everyone, and to give the lower passions control over the higher powers of being . . . . We are not to make the use of flesh food a test of fellowship, but we should consider the influence that professed believers who use flesh foods have over others. . . . Shall we not bear a decided testimony against the indulgence of perverted appetite? Will any who are ministers of the gospel, proclaiming the most solemn truth ever given to mortals, set an example in returning to the fleshpots of Egypt? Will those who are supported by the tithe from God's storehouse permit themselves by self-indulgence to poison the life-giving current flowing through their veins? Will they disregard the light and warnings that God has given them? 14


Yet in spite of the fact that Adventists put vegetarianism on such a high moral and spiritual plain because of Ellen White and her writings, Numbers charges that White ate meat much of her life, a charge the White Estate has acknowledged. Numbers refers to Willie, Ellen White's son, when he says:


When the inevitable rumors began circulating that the prophetess had not always lived up to her own standards, Ellen White protested that she had indeed been "a faithful health reformer," as the members of her family could testify. But even her favorite son Willie related a different story. Years after his mother's death he told of the many setbacks in her struggle to overcome meat, of the difficulties in finding competent vegetarian cooks, and of lunch baskets filled with turkey, chicken, and tinned tongue. Yet despite these lapses, both he and his mother seem to have regarded themselves as true vegetarians-- in principle if not in practice. 15


Such a double standard led many of the readers of Number's book to wonder why, if as White claimed, God gave her instruction in these matters, didn't she follow His advice, or did she know all along that God had said nothing of

the kind?


Another disruption followed on the heels of Ronald Numbers' book that not only questioned the integrity of Ellen White and her ideas but the reliability of her theology. Many of those familiar to Adventist history, such as A. F. Ballenger, W. W. Prescott, L.R. Conradi, and W. W. Fletcher, had in times past raised questions concerning the main pillars of Adventist doctrine, such as the twenty-three hundred days, the heavenly sanctuary, and the pre-Advent judgment. Now it was Desmond Ford's turn. Ford, chairman of the Theology Department of Avondale College in Australia, was exchange professor at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California when he accepted an invitation to speak to the local forum chapter on October 27, 1979. At that meeting he brought to his listeners' attention the inconsistencies of the church's position. Martin and Donald Barnhouse had determined and stated  years before that they considered the Adventist judgment just another example of the face-saving double-talk employed by the church, considering that the Millerite movement of 1844 had failed with its date setting to produce the Second Coming of Christ. What the Adventists had invented was the theology that when Christ did not come-- and, as they believed, the door of probation was closed for the world-- that they had misunderstood the whole concept. So now they felt that God had hidden the real truth to test the believers as to their sincerity and that now the judgment was really going on in the heavenly sanctuary above, where no one could see it, thus not being able to prove that the idea was right or wrong. The outcome of the Ford review was never in doubt. He, like Numbers before him, did not bring his suppositions to the committee at Glacier View, where the meeting of his peers took place. They demanded his resignation with a strong statement in defense of Ellen White and the church's position:


(a) HILLS: Are we to tell our people that we have been wrong? Doesn't Sister White use this argument?


(b) STRAND: The crucial issue is how Ellen White used these texts (Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6).


(c) WILSON: You never listen to your brethren. If you believe in Ellen White, and the brethren tell you what they think you had better practice what you preach. If you are not willing to accept the counsel of your brethren . . . .


(d) WILSON: It is not the role of the Review to give contrary views equal time, or to promote "new light" before that light has been studied by responsible groups. . . . The bottom line, of course, is the role of Ellen White in doctrinal matters. 16


It was clear from the meeting that there was to be no honest inquiry into Adventist belief or practice. It was clear that Ford, for all his degrees, including two Ph.D's, was out and that the scholars who had taken part in his review were only allowed to be there to provide support for the decision concerning him that had been made long before the event. It also was a remarkable display of cultic double-talk when the church told the world that Ellen White was a lesser light and Bible was the church's first authority.


Raymond F. Cottrell, formerly associate editor of the Adventist Review, the Adventist in-house organ, protested:


One person after another has been raising those (questions) for 75 years. As a church, we have dealt decisively with the people who did so, one by one, but we have done little or nothing yet by way of providing the church with viable answers to the questions they asked. We have treated the questioners as if they were trouble-makers, and the questions as if they did not exist, except in someone's perverted imagination. It would be difficult to defend this long-standing default on our part as a responsible, Christian way of relating to what we all recognize as a major theological problem.  17                                                                                                                                                     


Once again the Adventist church was brought to the door of truth and inquiry by one or more of its scholars, but church leaders chose to keep that door shut. Once again they were confronted with honest men seeking honest answers, but chose to take the popular, dishonest course. As always, the super salesmen of the system were willing to use the language of the cult to deceive the unaware and ignorant. But this time the price was much higher. The learned, the talented, and the moneyed people of the church began to raise questions and to withhold their services and funds. Questions surfaced not only about the integrity of Ellen White but her reliability in doctrinal matters. After all, in over one hundred and forty years, not one major or minor denomination had accepted the Adventist theory of investigative judgment, and many thought that over half of their own theologians did not accept it either.


Two of the biggest explosions for the church were set off in the 1980s by Ronald Graybill and this writer. The latter episode focused worldwide attention on the misuse and abuse of the materials handled by the church. The Graybill affair reviewed for all who wished to see the control exercised by the White Estate - the keepers of the keys in all matters of the Adventist prophet, Ellen White - over the facts and fables handed out since the church's founding.


Ronald Graybill had been a research assistant for thirteen years and was designated an associate secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate. On April 1983, Graybill went before the committee at John Hopkins University for his doctrinal dissertation, "The Power of Prophecy: Ellen G. White and the Women Religious Founders of the Nineteenth Century.”  He was successful in that defense but it was to be the last of his victories. He had placed a five year embargo on his manuscript, but without his consent a copy of his work was obtained and circulated throughout the church world-wide.

The results were predictable and immediate. The back page of the November 1983 Adventist Review announced to its readers:


The dissertation and its impact on Elder Graybill's ability to function as a spokesman for the Ellen White Estate were discussed at a meeting of Ellen G. White Estate board of trustees on November 3. The board voted to place Graybill on administrative leave, to suggest that he prepare a written response to questions raised concerning the dissertation, and to invite him to meet with the board at its next session (December 5), when the matter is to be discussed further. 18


Fast on the heels of the article came another in Christianity Today, “Another Scholar Is in Jeopardy over Ellen White.” 19  In the article they theorize:


Douglas Hackleman, editor of the magazine Adventist Currents, which holds the nontraditional view of White, calls the issue of Graybill’s procedural violations a “red herring.”  “”The real problem,” Hackleman says, “is that for most Adventists, the dissertation will have the effect of demythologizing Ellen White.”  Hackleman asserts that a decision by the foundation not to retain Graybill would testify to its tendencies to hide the facts about White. 20



The process of “demythologizing Ellen White” had gotten into high hear in the preceding years, but Graybill’s work brought out several points and new material to support these facts: (1) skepticism about Ellen White’s prophetic gifts, (2) doubts about her character and integrity, and (3) that Ellen White might have produced visions as they were needed to maintain her authority.  The dissertation also suggests that she was somewhat of a witch doctor, calling the wrath of God on all those who refused her instructions or exhortations.


But Graybill’s real problem was not, as others before him had said, his lack of presupposition and his candor.  It was that as a privileged member of the White Estate, he had used material that had not been released for public scrutiny.  Much of what he used had been classified by the White Estate has secret, or sensitive, or embarrassing to persons still living, or, as in the case of national defense, top secret.  He had violated the basic rule of the White Estate, and that was to go public with material that Arthur White, the grandson of Ellen White and the real keeper of the keys since his grandmother’s death, had forbidden to be seen.


Neal Wilson, General Conference President of the Seventh-day Adventists, tried to make the situation sound spiritual when he reported to the church:


On the other hand, the record shows, according to Dr. Olson of the White Estate, that Graybill has been a productive worker and has written  articles, prepared shelf documents, and traveled extensively in behalf of the White Estate, giving lectures that have helped to answer some of the questions being raised in recent years. Graybill affirms his confidence in the belief that Ellen G. White was divinely inspired. That she had the prophetic gift is believable because her teachings are Biblical. 21


Even the intellectuals in the church tried to save Graybill with praise and special pleadings.


1. Ron constantly reminded us that the messenger and the message could not be separated from her time and circumstances and still be correctly understood. His careful research into the "life and times" of a particular statement brought confidence to the Adventist historical fraternity and to scores of thoughtful laypeople.


2. Ron Graybill gave the Ellen G. White Estate a credibility that it never had before because he was able to approach her writings in a very open way. He made it possible for us to gain a greater appreciation of Ellen White as a person, a mother, a writer, as well as a messenger. With Ron Graybill gone, the White Estate has lost most of its credibility.


3. I am very sorry to see Ron Graybill go. He has been consistently trusted by the academic community to give the straight story.


4. Ron Graybill was one person we could turn to who was faithful to the evidence and at the same time redemptive. At workers' meetings in my conference, he was candid, non-defensive, open with the facts, and at the same time enhanced Ellen White's role.  22


What is easy to over-look is that Graybill first took the material without permission, an act he had criticized in others. Then he put a five-year hold on the manuscript, showing that he either did not want the church to know what he knew or was determined that they shouldn't know. Finally, when he was cornered by circumstances he created himself, he ran for cover to keep his position. Surely these are not the actions of an honorable hero. It would seem that Graybill became less than honest in order to save a dishonest position.


My phone started ringing at 6 A.M. Thursday, October 23, 1980, and, although to a lesser extent, it has not stopped ringing since. The cause of all this activity was an article by John Dart, religion editor of the Los Angeles Times. John had interviewed me several days before concerning the work of Ellen White. After taking pictures and looking over the research, Dart went back to his office. Before publication he called and asked if I considered White a plagiarist, to which I replied that the research would indicate that she was. And that was the way the article came out that Thursday, with banner headlines saying "Plagiarism Found in Prophet Books." 23


The article was supposed to have been carried on page 17 of the religion section, but instead was on pages 1, 3, and 21. It was later syndicated in more than one thousand newspapers and reported on radio and television around the world. It was not the first time the charge had been made, but the first time the charge and the evidence had been popularized or sensationalized. Dart had been informed that I was the authority at the time on the "copy work" in Ellen White's writings, but it seemed that even he was surprised at the coverage his story was given.


The church had been made aware of the charges in a special meeting in Glendale, California, in that same year. There, after seeing some of the evidence, the committee of eighteen scholars from across the United States had decided by vote that the evidence was alarming - that is, that it was new and significant and should receive additional study - and that the people of the church should be told.24   It was also agreed that scholars should work with me to find out the extent of the copying and that the committee should meet from time to time to compare facts.


The committee acted, however, without the consent or blessing of the high administration and its council, called "PREXAD." Less than two months later it gave its report to the study committee in a letter, which said in part:


That the administration, under the guidance of the White Estate, organize an in depth study of the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy to attempt to discover not only the similarities between the writings of Ellen G. White and other authors, but to also discover the dissimilarities between these writers. . . . We recommend that this program be initiated first by a comprehensive study of the book, Desire of Ages. It may be that this study will be sufficient to establish patterns and methods, which are applicable to others of her works and that a further intensive search of other books may be unnecessary. 7. That intensive study over a period of years has largely served its purpose, and that now the General Conference will ask other individuals to carry on this work to the degree deemed necessary by the leadership of the church. . . . It will at the same time enable the church to more fully educate the membership to understand. . . . 25


In essence, the PREXAD committee nullified the reasons the committee of scholars had been called in the first place and took away the right of the people paying the bills to know. This was a common practice and had been done  in past cases of this nature and was used later to keep the membership in ignorance concerning the financial scandal of the Davenport Post Office deals and the kickbacks and payoffs to some of the leading clergy. 26  It really did not surprise those of us who knew some of the members of that group especially its leading adviser and the president of the General Conference, Neal Wilson, for he had written to me, a letter already referred to, saying:


It is also a part of the policy of the church that those of us who are ministers of the gospel and employed by this church will not appeal to any court of law for redress. This is especially true in areas of church polity, doctrine, and spiritual activity. We have by accepting ordination and appointment as a minister in this church limited our personal freedom. . . .

Our concern over your activities does not arise because you have done studies or research, or that you feel that something should be done and our people should be better informed, or that you may hold' some difference personal ideas and convictions. Our concern arises when you launch a relentless crusade and feel impelled to take it to the church, publicly and privately, through meetings, and circulating materials. . . . If you have heard that you would be fired it is unfounded rumor. . '  27



But the rumor was true. One of the members of the president's committee, Elder Bradford, had visited me in Los Angeles months before and had stated that every time he walked down the hall of the General Conference someone came out of a door muttering my name, both in relation to the Davenport affair and the Ellen G. White cover-up. So, I was fired in November 1980, and the church hired as many lawyers as it could afford to protect the names and positions of those who supported the church's pronouncements, whether they were right or wrong. For me it was over, after thirty-six years of ducking and weaving whenever I told a truth that the church did not want revealed. Once again, truth was on the scaffold and wrong was on the throne in Adventism. A few months later my book The White Lie was published and received additional attention from the public press. Said the New York Times:


"Walter' Rea has inflamed the issues confronting the cult with incontrovertible evidence he provides in The White Lie.  28


 Also Time Magazine stated:


"The White Lie is a bombshell which has shocked the church.”  The book was also a hot item in the church, but not in the same manner. 29


All over the world, members were discouraged from reading it, and the Adventist Book Stores refused to order it. In Australia, where we lectured in behalf of the local lay groups, the people were told:


The leadership of the church at all levels wishes the membership to know that they do not believe loyal church members would be helped in any way by (Rea's) visit to this Division. They deplore and disassociate themselves from the activities of any group which promotes Walter Rea and his attacks on the church. 30


At the same time, and often on the same page, the church would advertise a book entitled Omega, written by Lewis Walton:


Coming Soon to Your Friendly Adventist Book Centre . . . . The author of this new book suggests that we look at some of the things happening currently within the church in light of those early events. This is the type of book that will be read and re-read many times as we examine ourselves and our current stance compared with history. 31



The main thrust of the Walton book seemed to be that anyone with any "outside" educational learning or an IQ over 85 seemed to be a threat to the church, which leaves one wondering where that puts "Walton and church leadership. My studies and The White Lie laid open for all to see several new problems concerning the Adventist Church. With the Adventists always using the argument that a prophet and its people should be tested and judged by their fruits, why had the Adventists and Mrs. White failed the tests so badly? The Davenport affair should have clearly showed that a portion of the leadership and clergy were dishonest, if not corrupted by bribes and kickbacks. Ellen White had often lied about her visions and the source of her materials or, even worse, could not tell the difference between truth and fiction in her value structure. She had even written to the flock at the very time of her enormous plagiarizing that:


Many who are seeking a preparation for the Lord's work think it essential to accumulate large volumes of historical and theological writings. Many suppose that the study of these works will be a great advantage to them in learning how to reach the people. This is an error. As I see shelves piled with these books, some of them rarely looked into, I think, Why spend money for that which is not bread? 32


And, to a great degree, theology, as studied and taught, is but a record of human speculation, serving only to "darken counsel by words without knowledge." 33


Yet, over 1,200 volumes were found in her library, and the works of those "speculations" were copied by her in the name of God and vision. If respect for human dignity, human rights, difference of opinion, and open discussion of issues is a mark of a viable healthy society, then Adventism has failed the test. Finally, credibility both for Ellen White and her people has been tarnished, perhaps for all time. Even the admission in 1984 that perhaps 50 percent or more of what was written in Great Controversy, the keystone in the Adventist arch of theology, was copied from others 34 was only a half-truth. They referred to only the historical sections copied. If the material that was not historical but theological and devotional was added to her copy program, the rate would be more like 80 to 90 percent. In the fall issue of Free Inquiry, Vern Bullough, Dean of Natural Science at the State University College of New York at Buffalo, gives his ideas about some of the principles of humanist tradition:



A. Traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience are not for us.


B. Moral values derive from human experience.


C. Reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that humans possess.


D. . . . we reject all religious, ideological, or moral codes that denigrate the individual, suppress freedom, dull the intellect, and dehumanize the personality.


E. We emphasize that sexuality is part of being human. . . .


F. Individuals must experience a full range of liberties if we are to enhance freedom and human dignity.


G. We are opposed to barriers erected on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, age, or other types of minority status.  35


In no way could Adventists or Adventism qualify as being concerned with the individual soul or spirit. Any idea, principle, creed, or faith that cannot stand the test of inquiry or discussion should not be said to represent any truth, small or large. How could it? Authoritarian control is not faith or reason; it is simply tyranny over the human mind and spirit.


So who profits from the Adventist prophet? Surely not the world at large, which after more than 140 years of evangelism, propaganda, and promotion has accepted nothing that she wrote or said. Not the other religions of the world, which still have their own profits to care for, their own programs to push. Who profits? The administrators, the fanatics, and the system. The administrators who, without regard for love or human values, drive the people before them like flocks to a sheep dip. The fanatics, who refuse to allow any truth or interpretation of truth to prevail over their own conscience, full of fears and foibles. The system, whose pronouncements remain moral, while its thinking remains amoral and its actions immoral.



No matter what is written or recorded about Ellen White as the Adventist prophet, no matter how many rhetorical games are played with her "inspiration," very few members follow her instruction in much of anything. Her counsel is used as a whipping post for fanatics to tie their fellow members to, the easier to torture them with their judgments. Such a practice also allows administrators to piously posture while they largely ignore her instruction in regard to their own lives. The Davenport debacle, 36 with other examples of mismanagement, shows clearly that Ellen White no longer controls the Adventist membership. The administrators do. But those same administrators, by abuse of their trust and in order to obtain liberty for themselves and license for their friends, have lynched the very woman they profess to adore. Adventism must now either rescue itself from the fanatical course its leadership has steered it toward or forever lose its viability in the community of human beings. Time will tell if resuscitation will come too late.







1. Walter Rea, The White Lie, (Turlock, CA., M & R Publications, 1982).


2. Walter Rea to Elder W. J. Blacker, June 20, 1969.


 3. Walter R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, (Bethany Fellowship, Revised Edition, August, 1977) p. 11.


4. Ibid., p. 360.


 5. Ibid., p. 18.


 6. "Currents Interview: Walter Martin," Adventist Currents, (Mars Hill Publications, Inc., Loma Linda, California) Vol.        1, No. 1. July, 1983, pp. 15-18.


7. Ibid., p. 19.


 8. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Four Major Cults, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, November, 1981) pp. 378-385.


 9. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1888).


10. James W. Walters, "The need for Structural Change," Spectrum 14, no. 4, (March, 1984) pp. 14-17. SEE ALSO, Raymond F. Cottrell, "The Varieties of Church Structure," Spectrum 14, no. 4, (March, 1984) pp. 40-53.


11. Donald H. McAdams, "Shifting Views of Inspiration: Ellen G. White Studies in the 1970s," Spectrum 10, no. 4, (March 1980) p. 27.


12. Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health: A study Of Ellen G. White, (Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1976).


13. Ibid., preface, pp. XI, XII.


14. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 9, (Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington D. C., 1885-1909), vol. 9, pp. 159-160.


 15. Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health: A study of Ellen G. White, (Harper & Row Publishers, New York, 1976) p. 172.


 16. Raymond F. Cottrell, "The Sanctuary Review Committee and its New Consensus," Spectrum 11, no. 2  (November, 1980) pp. 2-26.


 17. Ibid., p. 23.


 18. Robert W. Olson, "White Estate staffer explains dissertation," Adventist Review, (Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C., November 24, 1983) p. 31


 19. Randy Frame, "Another Adventist Scholar Is in Jeopardy over Ellen White," Christianity Today, (December 16, 1983).


 20. Ibid.


 21. Neal C. Wilson, "White Estate Staffer Reassigned," Adventist Review (February 2, 1984) p. 31.


 22. "Responses to Graybill's Departure from the White Estate," Spectrum 14, no. 4, (March 1984) pp. 4,5.


 23. John Dart, "Plagiarism Found in Prophet Books," Los Angeles Times (October 23, 1980), p. 1.


 24. Glendale Committee, "Ellen G. White and Her Sources," tapes, (January 28-29, 1980).


 25. Letter from Office of Vice President, General Conference of SDA's, to Walter Blehm, Pacific Union Conference President, and Harold Calkins, Southern California Conference President, March 20, 1980.


 26. Art Wong and James Nickles, "After the Fall: An Adventist's bankrupt empire," The Sunday Sun, San    Bernardino, California, (4 articles, May 30, 31, June 1, 2, 1982). -


 27. Neal C. Wilson, President of General Conference of SDA's to Walter Rea, July 2, 1980.


 28. Kenneth A. Briggs, "7th-Day Adventists Face Change and Dissent," New York Times, (November 6, 1982) p. 1.


 29. Richard N. Ostling, "The Church of Liberal Borrowings," Time Magazine, (August 2, 1982) p. 49.


 30. R. W. Taylor, "Statement on Walter Rea," Australasian Record, (October 12, 1981) p. 13. (Note: An SDA publication for Australian membership).


31. Ibid.


32. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, 9 vol. (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1885-1909, Washington, D.C.) vol. 8, p. 307:


33. Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, (Pacific Press Publishing Association, Mountain View, California, 1905), p. 442.


 34. Robert W. Olson, "Ellen G. White's use of historical sources in The Great Controversy," Adventist Review, (Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C., February 23, 1984), p. 5.


 35. Vern Bullough, "A Personal Humanist Manifesto," Free Inquiry, Vol 3, no. 4, pp. 26, 27.


36. Art Wong and James Nickels, "After the Fall: An Adventist's Bankrupt Empire," The Sunday Sun, San Bernardino, California, (4 articles, May 30, 31, June 1, 2, 1982). (Note: Additiona1 information can be found in Spectrum, Vol. 12, no. 1 and no. 3; Vol 3, no. 3 and no. 4).



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