The White Lie!
By Walter T. Rea

Introduction by the Author Walter T. Rea

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 Seventh­day 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 Testment Bible biographies, incorporating with each entry the pertinent quotations found in Ellen White's works. Some prominent persons in the church encouraged me in this project and thought that the Ellen G. White Estate might publish these collections to use through the book club the church was operating in those days. After a good deal of time and correspondence, I finally realized that I had been naive and that the White Estate had no thought of collaborating in such a way with anyone who appeared to be encroaching on their turf. They let me know in no uncertain terms that they held that "heavenly franchise" and that they would look with disfavor on anyone's getting into their territory.]

Independently, however, I did publish two volumes of Bible biographies and a third volume on Daniel and 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.

The White Estate people were not very happy about all of this, and they brought up the subject with my regional union and local conference presidents. After some backing and hauling, pushing and shoving, they all agreed that the books could be sold if I would keep a low profile inasmuch as they didn't think my volumes would be accepted on a broad scale anyway. In subsequent years, however, tens of thousands were sold.

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 H. and Lauretta E. 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.2

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 E. Magan, I was given a book from the Magan library-Elisha the Prophet by Alfred Edersheim.3 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 I was studying at the University of Southern California toward a Ph.D. degree, I was shocked to come across a seven­volume work on Old Testament history by the same Edersheim.4 This time I found, in volumes one to four, that Edersheim's chapter titles, substitles, 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 The Desire of Ages.5

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 in­house 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 double­talk as possible.

Olson took to the stump in an all­out 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 the 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 for her key book, The 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 very 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 had been recorded in the in­house 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 that they were telling.

The files of the White Estate had referred to a book by William Hanna called The Life of Christ.6 Within twenty­four hours after the Loma Linda meeting, therefore, I had obtained Hanna's book. From that time on, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know.

Spectrum, a journal published independently by the Association of Adventist Forums, gave a background account of a January 1980 committee meeting at 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.7

Likewise, Spectrum later reported my dismissal by the church8 (after thirty­six years of service) primarily because of the disclosure article initiated and written by religious editorJohn Dart and published in the Los Angeles Times.9 Not one of the officials doing the firing had ever talked with Dart. Not one had seen the research on which the article was based. The heart of the issue itself was not important to church officials. It was necessary only that someone be punished so that others would stay in line and so that both Ellen White and the Seventh­day Adventist Church would appear to be innocent of any wrongdoing.

In view of what I have observed, experienced, and learned, I have thought it proper and necessary to record for future generations the findings of my ongoing study. These coming generations will want to know the truth about what has been unearthed from the past. It will be a part of what they will take into consideration in their religious experience and judgments.

Despite much good counsel to the contrary, I have chosen the title THE WHITE LIE for my book. I do not apply that term separately and only to Ellen G. White. When we (any of us) give our consent or support to perpetuating a myth (in whole or in part) about any person or any thing, we ourselves are thereby party to a white lie. The message of this book is to help reveal to all of us that often we do indeed carry on a legend.

The worst lies that are told are often the ones told in religion- because they are told in a way that the assumption is that God endorses them and that therefore they are for our good. That that good can, and does, become harmful, wrongful, and even evil does not usually occur to those zealous persons who promote legends in the name of God.

In this study I have intended to deal not only with the facts as I have found them but also with their outworking in the church and in us personally as I have come to view that outworking. I hope also to leave a lesson or two for those who may be looking for such lessons.

Much study remains to be done on the question of why some of us accept as much as we do from whomever we do. What thing is it deep within us that is tapped to make us react as unquestioningly as we do to unreliable information-so that we make it "truth" and let it govern our thinking and our lives?

At this stage in my thinking, if there is blame left to be assessed or portioned out, I must accept much of it for having been so gullible, without adequate study or research on my own part, as to consent to much of that which was originally portrayed to me as "the truth" but which, in fact, contains much untruth that diverts us from that about which we ought to be concerned primarily. The major regret I have is that time will not allow me to correct some of the misinformation that I myself unwarily "bought" and passed on to others as the white lie.

Every institution, every corporate entity, every established system- whether political, economic, social, or religous-must have its patron saint. That saint may be a founder, a benefactor, a charismatic leader, or a long­dead mystic figure. Regardless of the category or the time period of existence, the patron is venerated even if he was a vampire; he is canonized even if he was a con artist; he is given sainthood even if he was a known sinner.

There is something in the human mind that seeks to create the unreal-to imagine or pretend that something is so even if all logic says it is not so. What is unseeable we claim is a vision; what is fallible we label perfection; what is illusory we give authority. Much study has been given to why we want to believe, and indeed have to believe, the "permissible lie." For my purpose here, it is enough to say that we do so -and we seem to have to do so. For if we reject the fantasy we now hold, probably we will find or invent another in our effort to keep from facing reality.

The sellers of nostrums for fantasizers (who tend to hold psychic manifestations in awe) are the supersalesmen of the psychic. They are the ones who manipulate, maneuver, and massage the conscience of those they wish to convince. In all times and in all places, they have been the magicians that led the populace to believe that the emperor really was dressed with the unseeable, and that those who will listen and come to them for counsel and guidance (for which, of course, proper payment must be given) will be among the few who really do see what isn't there to see.

The element that is essential, without exception, to any con game is the lie. To be sure, it is a white lie, a small thing that deviates from the truth a little, over and over until, with the passing of time and under the right circumstances, it expands into an enormous hoax.

The techniques of the supersalesmen are few, but absolutely essential. They consist of playing down the humanity of the one to be venerated; exalting the venerated one's virtues to the level of the miraculous; denying access to reliable source records and facts of the significant past; appealing to the inclination to be superstitious (or at least gullible); and buying time.

One Webster dictionary edition says that a white lie is a minor lie uttered from polite, amiable, or pardonable motives; a polite or harmless fib.

The fact of Ellen White's borrowing or plagiarizing has been documented and acknowledged by recognized representatives of the Seventh­day Adventist Church over the years. But the information revealing the extent of her literary dependence has been deliberately kept from lay members until independent researchers began to make the facts public. Thus new problems arise because of these discoveries that have not yet been faced by the Adventist people or their present leaders. For example:

1. Why did Ellen change most, if not all, of the copied author's speculations and suppositions into absolutes, so that the copywork made it appear that she was always on the scene of action in some "visionary" form, when obviously she wasn't?

2. How do the footnotes and Bible texts she copied as fillers from others meet the criteria established for inspiration?

3. How do the abuse and misuse of others' material on an extensive scale fit into the ethics of either her time or ours?

4. Inasmuch as the extent of the copywork makes it certain that for Ellen to have done it all herself was humanly impossible, who among her helpers gets the credit for her "inspiration"?

5. Whose authority are we now dealing with?

We much acknowledge that since the beginning of the 1844 movement a great many people have regarded Ellen White as Adventism's principal authority. They must now find room for adjustment in their thinking (and, for many, in their living) on a level different from that of the past. This could be very distressing. Whether or not the situation in which the church now finds itself fits our definition of a white lie, and whether or not the fib has been harmless to one's own personal values, way of thinking, and life experience, each person will have to judge for himself.

To understand, in a small way, how people arrive at where they are is possible only if one looks at where they have been, what manner of salesmen sold them the trip, and what motivated them to go. It is not possible to view all these aspects in one lump. But we will touch on what circumstances make a "true believer," what kind of supersalesmen have sold the wares, and what happens to those who buy.

Books such as The Status Seekers, The Permissible Lie, and The True Believer10 hint at the connection between all disciplines-economic, social, and religious. In all these disciplines salesmen sell their product by using the white lie. Though the salesmen of social and economic ideas claim to be interested in your present, they are really more interested in theirfuture. Salesmen of the psychic claim to be interested in your future, but what they are really interested in is their present. All hucksters sell the white lie in whatever size or shape they think their public will buy. Adventists know and accept these facts of life about the systems of others; but they believe that their own system is "different" and therefore better. Very little study has been offered to prove or to disprove their belief.

Most people accept the fact that there are few, if any, holy men left selling merchandise in social or economic or political reform. What is harder for them to acknowledge or accept is that there are likewise few, if any, saints in religion. There are no holy men or women except as we ourselves make them so by our own wishful thinking. Because we have always with us this pretense factor, it is easy for the supersalesmen of religion to gain control through our own quirks and consciences and to exercise authority over our minds and actions. There have been many on this planet who have sold themselves to the world as saints offering salvation for the future-when in reality they were just supersalesmen who, by instilling guilt and fear and by bending their followers to their own will, have robbed us of our freedom to think.

As you read, keep in mind that someone has sold you the idea that what you believe deep within yourself is "unique" and has authority from God, the highest court of appeal; that you are "different" because of this authority; and that you will be "saved" if you follow the rules. The problem with this line of thinking is that your truth may be only your saint's interpretation of truth, and the pronouncements you have accepted as authority may be ideas your saint borrowed from others.

This, I think, is what the study will show concerning Ellen G. White. And if the same amount of information were available on the saints of other groups, the same would be true of them as well. Why we still want to believe what we have come to believe is what the white lie is all about.

In this odyssey that we take together, the supersalesmen will be the clergymen, the preachers, the reverends, the divines-who more than any professionals have been granted license (both by the people themselves and by the state) to peddle their wares to the unwary, to project their fears on the fearful, and to sell their guilt to the remorseful.

The patron saint will be Ellen Gould White, the canonized leader of the Seventh­day Adventist Church-who symbolizes all saints of whatever faith, and through whom the adherents approach their concept of God and seek to obtain the unobtainable salvation by appeasement of or through that saint.

The true believers will be the unwary, the fearful, the guilt-ridden, the overzealous, the well­intentioned, the unquestioning. Lacking personal confidence in God, they seek him through their chosen saint, who they think has an unfailing pipeline to the heavenly places.

Inasmuch as the body of the material presented has to do with the "literary appropriation of works of others," I too have copied from everybody. With no sense of shame I have used material that has been lifted, borrowed, or otherwise taken outright from whatever source available or thought necessary to use for evidence and clarity.

I would gladly glve credit to all those who, by whatever method and from whatever source, brought forth material for my use so that readers may see the evidence for themselves and know the nature and extent of the Adventist white lie. But because of the nature of the subject and the administrative and peer pressures brought to bear on both position and person, those many to whom I am indebted cannot be named.

This book seeks to trace the birth, growth, and full bloom of the white lie in Adventism. It cannot explain all the strings that bind us, Gulliver­like, on our travel-because access is thus far denied to many sources of the facts. It can only point the reader to certain sources so that he can see for himself what is there to be seen.

I do not seek to show those who, having eyes, do not wish to see, or to shout at those who, having ears, do not wish to hear. But because someone has an obligation to the generations that will follow, this material is put forth to light a little candle in a world of superstition and fear and guilt. It may be that the flame, though even a small one, can help light the path to the real Saint of all saints-Jesus Christ.

Walter Rea: the Author

Reference and Notes

1. The Ellen G. White Estate is the agency having custodianship of the writings, correspondence, records, sermons, clippings, personal book collection, memorabilia, and miscellaneous materials-left in trust by Mrs. White at her death in 1915. The Estate is administered by the General Conference of Seventh­day Adventists at the world headquarters office in Washington, D.C.

2. The book similar to Ellen White's Sketches from the Life of Paul is The Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul. I t was written by William J. Conybeare and John S. Howson and had been published first in London (1851­52) and later in New York. Mrs. White's Sketches was never reprinted after its issuance in 1883 until a facsimile reproduction was made in 1974 by the Review and Herald Publishing Association.

3. Alfred Edersheim, Elisha the Prophet (London: The Religious Tract Society,1882). It was Edersheim's "new edition-revised" that was in Ellen White's library.

4. Edersheim's The Bible History: Old Testament was published first as a seven volume set (1876­87). Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company reprinted the 1890 edition in two volumes ("complete and unabridged") m 1949.

5. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 5 bks. (Landon: Longmans, Green and Co., 1883. New York: E. R. Herrick, 1883).

6. William Hanna, The Life of Christ (New York: The American Tract Society, n.d. (pref.1863). This book was published first in six separate volumes as The Life of Our Lord, which is the title listed by the EGW Estate, Document File 884, in Ellen White's library.

7. Douglas Hackleman, "GC Committee Studies Ellen White's Sources," Spectrum 10, no. 4 (March 1980): 9­15.

8. Eric Anderson, et al., "Must the Crisis Continue?" Spectrum 11, no. 3 (February 1981): 44­52.

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

10. Vance Packard, The Status Seekers (New York: Simon and Schuster, Pocket Books, 1961). Samm Sinclair Baker, The Permissible Lie (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968). Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Perennial Library, 1951).

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