A highly skilled pastoral friend of mine has received an e-mail, addressed to her personally, offering “Unpublished Writings” by Ellen Gould White (1827-1915), one of the three people recognised as co-founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The e-mail starts out this way: “Dear (then her first name). Blessings to you!
“We’re a relatively new ministry that was launched, consisting of Students and Laypeople of the SDA Church who are passionate about the writings of Ellen White. We’re reaching out to connect to others who have this same passion.
“We came together from a mutual interest in the unpublished writings of the Lord’s Messenger, which are now out of copyright. Between 30%-50% of what Ellen White wrote has never been published. We have been collecting these writings for some time and were recently blessed with help from within the White Estate to complete the collection. When we finished our collection we believed it was our duty to provide these to the world, and so we are releasing the letters and manuscripts, first as searchable ebook volumes (we need to compile them digitally first) and eventually on a searchable CD-Rom which will be compatible with the Complete Published CD-Rom. We are also working on translations into other major languages.”
Now for a bit of comment. This project is, of course, a huge one. It may be well-intentioned but it is also unethical. There is an enormous amount of data (including, for instance, one of Gilbert Valentine’s interesting books, the one about the 1930s “Struggle for the Prophetic Writings”) that detail how Ellen White established a group of Trustees to supervise her literary corpus, and how the church has dealt with this issue since 1915.
The e-mail continues:
“We have now released all the letters and manuscripts from the first 20 years after 1844 – right up to the time when the SDA Church became officially organized. We are only interested in covering the costs of web hosting, software and translation, for we believe there is a real need in these last days to know all that the Lord has revealed to His remnant Church. We have released over 800 pages of material at present, over 350 pages of which is published for the first time ever.
“The period covered by this bundle includes the following critical events in the life of Ellen White and the SDA Church:
-The Scattering and Gathering Time
-The Sabbath Bible Conferences
-The Age-to-Come Error
-The Early Apostasies
-The Laodicea Message
-The introduction of the Investigative Judgment Teaching
-The Great Controversy Vision
-The Civil War Period
-The Organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
-The Health Vision
-The Death of Henry White.
“Please check out our website for more information about our ministry and our writings – unpublishedellenwhite.com.
“And if you are interested in supporting our ministry, please check out our bundle of the 4 Volumes we have released so far. Our next 500 supporters will receive all future volumes at only $1.20 each. Here is our supporters pack on our Ministry Store – http://bit.ly/JC7RhJ
“God bless and we thank you for taking time to read this. If this is your interest area, we hope you can partner with us to bring this project closer to completion!
Ministry Store egwletters.webs.com.”
Now, I have quoted this email in full because, according to indications that I have received, this same message is going world-wide at present, and so my readers need to evaluate it as a whole in the language of its presenters. The claim that the group “were recently blessed with help from within the White Estate” is misleading: White Estate would never surrender its responsibilities to an anonymous group of this kind. I believe it may be true that a White Estate employee (remember there are several branch offices in addition to the headquarters office, plus many research centres serving the various geographical areas of the globe) may have acted in the something of the same way as the people who supported Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks initiative.
How about a little bit of history? The policies of White Estate on the care and sharing of Ellen White’s unpublished writings need to be clearly understood, especially how they have developed since the 1950s. I first began to work with these materials as a graduate student and a lecturer at Andrews University in the early 1970s. By 1976, I was appointed as the founding director of the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre serving the then-Australasian Division. By 1978, with permission, I scanned the most protected source in the headquarters office, the so-called Z File. I now live only three kilometres from a flourishing Ellen G. White/Seventh-day Adventist Centre where I am always given courteous assess to sources relating to my research.
I can say with confidence that there are no startling statements relating to the “last days” among Ellen White’s unpublished writings. Ellen White and her writings simply need to be understood in the light of all the available data; she needs no high-handed protection or indiscriminate exposure. So I will keep on with my research as I have been doing for many years, grateful for “the way the Lord has led us, and his teaching in our past history.”
Arthur Patrick, 30 May 2012