I Was an Adventist Chaplain—and a Labor Union Representative

Robert[1] was in trouble. For some 20 years, he had provided clinical services to hospitalized patients. Now he was facing discipline for inattention to detail that was compromising patient care. I was a chaplain in the hospital where Robert was employed. He had been told that if he wanted help, he should come to me. He was confused by this advice, as he had never before asked a clergyperson for help.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12271

i think this article outlines an intelligent, principled interpretation of egw…context, intent and cultural equivalence need to be carefully balanced in order to form a meaningful application…walking an extra mile when your friend needs you to drive it with him doesn’t fulfill Matt 5:41…

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IOW, EGW’s writings are virtually irrelevant some 100 years on, and what ever inspiration she may have experienced back in the 1800’s can be, and is seen as utterly uninspiring to most of those who are encouraged to live in the only reality available; i.e., now.


I would not take the position that you have stated. I consider EGWs works to be of value to us today. However, there are valid questions that one may ask. What would she say about the following:

  1. In England a SDA got into trouble over Sabbath employment. It was a labor union that took his case and defended it.
  2. In a country in South America the majority of employed SDAs belong to a labor union as such is required for their employment.

EGW gave us principles to guide us as we consider how to apply those principles. An example: Most of us would not suggest that we should not purchase a bicycle.


Were you replying to me or the article?

If me, I’d agree with your assessment of EGW’s writings if you’d agree to say “some” of her work is valuable.

I think this is the author’s point, and is one which I have reason to believe you-and most reasonable people-would find acceptable.

I mean, no one is buying the “don’t buy bicycles” thing these days, right?

Further, it seem to me that the question of how much of what she said is important, inspired or meaningful to Gen’s X, Y, Z, LGBTQ, modern SDA’s, atheists, etc., is a personal matter and depends entirely on the individual.

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I replied to the following comment: [quote]IOW, EGW’s writings are virtually irrelevant . . .[.quote]

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Dannis, could you sum up in three sentences what you intended to say?


Ahhhh, Like Gregory said! Could not follow that line prose!!

Mrs. White warns us that a day was coming when labor unions would join with the very evil that they were designed to fight. So Adventist tradition has been to simply side with the evils that unions were to fight.

In the long run the unions have joined with business agreeing for years with local issues of working out things here and there. There is also the role that Mrs. White predicts the unions will play in the repelling of liberty of conscience.

we can have caution with these, but still support the unions in their local works and as far as they are still fighting (even if it is a little here and there for show) of the evil they were designed to fight. I’ve belonged to unions at work, but I’m not just a blind follower knowing Mrs. White’s two warnings. But again, just because we have two warnings, we should not simply join in the evils that the unions were to fight and be anti-union.


There are 32 paragraphs in Ellen Whites writings that directly pertain to unions. The reality is that there are only two paragraphs. The White foundation has copied these same two paragraphs 30 times in their efforts to release more compilations of her writings, I would presume, in order to sell more books. These two paragraphs talk of the violence that was prevalent in these early union formation days. Many were hurt or killed on both sides. Just like our independence cost lives for our freedom to worship as we choose, people in White’s day paid dearly so that today, we were not slaves to companies who demanded 7 day work weeks and children working and no health benefits, sick days, safe working environments, vacations or almost everything todays workers take for granted. The one per cent really did own the workers in Ellen’s day and they weren’t going to let that slip away without a bloodbath. The author of this piece points out some of the violence by the union organizers but there was every bit as much violence perpetrated by the union busting thugs hired by the company bosses. Sr. White was right to warn against such violence.

But, why wouldn’t it be reasonable today, to give workers the collective power to
bargain for fair wages and safe working conditions, and yes, religious accommodations? Isn’t this the same as treating others the same as you would want to be treated? Without
collective bargaining, the worker has virtually no power other than walking out the door,
with the likelihood that the owner/boss, who was well connected with other owner/bosses, would see to it that worker would never find other employment.

Most of us, whether a union employee or not, can thank unions for a reasonable,
comfortable life and retirement. They paved the way and pretty much created the middle-class in America, as well as most of the industrial world. To me, this is similar to caring for the poor or the sick or the elderly or those in prison. It seems like this fits right in with
Matthew 25. It’s simply looking out for the wellbeing of our fellow man. Unions and Employers have what could biblically be referred to as a covenant relationship. Think
we had a SS quarter lesson on that kind of relationship recently.


Gregory has delivered a much needed perspective on labor unions. Unfortunately employers, through ignorance or angst, take advantage of employees. My husband was hired on handshake basis by an Adventist business man, friend and head elder. After a number of years he was summarily fired and forced to hire an attorney to claim his IRA funds. The employer claimed that with no contract my husband was an employee at will and had no rights.

His premise was not correct as I learned a number of years later when I was hired by an attorney who handled labor union disputes. Through honesty and fair dealings he was well recognized in the world of labor arbitration, rising to not only handle arbitrations, but contract negotiations in both the Federal and private sectors.

The face of labor has changed since it’s early days. Today it is often the only protection or recourse an employee has against abusive employers. Would that this were not the case with Christian employers.


In addition, Labor Unions provide a fair way in which the employee and management can resolve an issue without spending tens of thousands of dollars in civil litigation.

The majority of the time, I was able to reach a settlement with management without taking the case to an administrative law judge. Sometimes this agreement cost a couple of thousand dollars, which the employee did not pay. At other times there was no cost to either side other than the cost of employee time.

On times when the Union had to take the case to an administrative law judge the legal fees for the employee would have amount to some $70 thousand to $100 thousand dollars if the employee had hired a local attorney. By going through the Union, it cost the employee nothing.


Looking at the actual history, it was the bosses who were responsible for initiating violence in virtually every instance. Ellen was doing the usual reactionary thing of blaming the victim.

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