Post 64: More from “Unpublished Ellen White”: Is the initiative ethical?

My readers will remember the last blog on this website, discussing the initiative to publish the as-yet unpublished letters and manuscripts written by Ellen White (1827-1915), a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I would like to thank these anonymous folk for their friendly e-mail received this morning; I will quote it quite fully so that my readers can evaluate it on its own merits. Do bear in mind that I have had to reconstruct some of it remove the problems that corrupted some of the text; I hope this version is faithful to the intention of the writer(s). Here, in italics, is the body of the e-mail:

We don’t claim there are “startling statements” or anything like that. We have, however, found beautiful testimonies that have been dear to our heart that we wish had been available much sooner. They really are blessings to us.

You say, what we are doing “is also unethical”. What we are doing is neither illegal nor unethical. The copyright for the unpublished works of an author only extends 70 years after the author’s death. Therefore these passed into public domain in 1986. As for unethical, the very trustees have admitted since at least 1998 that the writings should be widely accessible. In the book commissioned by the White Estate with their own comments in the Preface, you can read:

“With the passage of time, and increased research needs, the release policy of the White Estate was changed from asking, ‘Why should it be published?’ to ‘Why not publish it?’ This eventually led to the decision to make all of Ellen White’s letters and manuscripts available on CD-ROM.” Douglass, Herbert E. Messenger of the Lord (Pacific Press, 1998), 529.

What we are doing is in line with the spirit of the White Estate decisions of the past. Like any supportive ministry of the White Estate, we are filling a gap that the Church is not working in. We find it strange though, since they made that decision all those years back, and had the unpublished writings digitized since at least 1990, from our research, as well as having the unpublished database hidden except to White Estate directors on the website, that they don’t just release everything.

Out of curiosity, are the “z files” among the normally indexed letters and manuscripts indexed here (if you just leave the fields empty and press “search”:

We’ve got practically everything on those indexes. Just wondering if there is something else we don’t have.

God bless you

Unpublished Ellen White

Now for a word or two of comment. First, I appreciate the irenic tone of this group’s communications; this is in rather striking contrast to the often strident style of independent groups.

Second, I agree that what this group is doing may not be illegal, but I continue to claim there is a sense in which it is unethical. Ellen White took pains to appoint Trustees to care for her writings according to the provisions of her will. For another group of people to assume this responsibility in whole or in part seems to me to contravene the injunction that we should do to others what we would want them to do to us.

Third, I prefer to use the abundant research data that is readily available through such sources as the chain of branch offices and research centres that serve the various geographical regions of the Adventist world.  Anyone who wants more detail (for example, about the “Z File”) than that already available on the official websites will, I am sure, receive the same courteous help that I receive from the official entities. Hence the “Unpublished Ellen White” group’s diligence and skill is not relevant to my ongoing research.

I am not aware that the thousands of pages of theses, articles, chapters, papers and books that I have written, available on the Internet and elsewhere, will be changed in any way by the release of the materials advertised by the “Unpublished Ellen White” group.

Arthur Patrick, 3 June 2012