Sinful Sentiments and Republican Purity — Ellen White and the Politics of Racial Justice (Part II)

Though the 13th Amendment in 1865 made slavery illegal in the United States, Ellen White recognized that the guiding principles of the slave system — principles that “proceed from the dominion of Satan” remained and would take new and pernicious forms. On December 25, 1865, in Rochester, New York, she not only received another major vision on health reform but was also shown that, despite her forceful testimony in 1863, pockets of anti-black politics remained active in post-Civil War Adventism.

“Many Sabbath-keepers are not right before God in their political views,” she wrote in Testimony No. 12, published in 1867. So long as they persisted in “erroneous political principles… not in accordance with the spirit of truth” they would be “living in violation of the principles of Heaven.” Living in sin because of their political views! How so? “These brethren cannot receive the approval of Heaven while they lack sympathy for the oppressed colored race, and are at variance with the pure, republican principles of our government.”[1]

The Reconstruction era after the Civil War initiated remarkable advances for “republican principles.” Constitutional amendments established equal citizenship for the freedpeople (14th) and the right to vote for freedmen (15th). Civil Rights Acts in 1866 and 1875 spelled out equality before the law. Reconstituted state governments in the South solidified civil rights and set up free public school systems, among other progressive reforms. By 1876, fourteen African Americans had been elected to the United States Congress, two more served in the Senate, and hundreds of others were elected to office at every level of state and local government. It was “a stunning and unprecedented experiment in interracial democracy,” writes historian Eric Foner.[2]

Discussion of racial justice receded but did not disappear from Adventist publications during the Reconstruction era. Joseph H. Waggoner, with only an oblique reference to the issue in an 1880 Signs of the Times editorial, stirred a minor dust-up — long forgotten but worth recalling mainly for a letter it prompted from Ellen White. This letter was never included or excerpted in a printed publication.

By 1880, the experiment in interracial democracy, beleaguered all along, was slowly reeling from what proved to be a knockout blow — the infamous Compromise of 1877. The Republican presidential candidate in 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes, was awarded disputed electoral votes from three Southern states that gave him the presidency. In exchange, the Republicans agreed to step back from federal enforcement of Black rights in the South, opening the way for white supremacist Democrats to regain control of the Southern states.

The Compromise did not immediately crush Southern Black political prospects. The southern Democrats had pledged that if left alone from Northern interference they would respect Black rights. And, when Waggoner’s editorial “Politics” appeared in the July 8, 1880 issue of Signs, the Republicans had just nominated, on the 36th ballot, James A. Garfield, known as an advocate for Black rights.[3]

“We are not politicians,” Waggoner declared in opening his piece, and then proceeded to discuss why Adventists tended to take sides on some disputed political issues. Scripture (Hebrews 13:3) “compelled us to sympathize with the action of our government in breaking every yoke and letting the oppressed go free,” he explained. Those who criticized that stance, he contended, viewed the matter “only as a political question,” failing to see that Adventists cared about racial oppression because of “its great importance as a moral question.” In fact, Waggoner proclaimed, Adventists “have high regard for all moral issues.” He also let it be known that “we shall never violate our moral convictions… to appease the feelings of those who often appear to be moved more by prejudice than by revelation or the calls of our common humanity.”

Moral conviction, informed by Scripture, motivated Adventists to speak out and stand firm on certain issues contested in the political arena, Waggoner seemed to be saying. But: “We cannot consent to enter the arena of politics, and strive as the world strives for supremacy and power.”[4]

A member of the Woodland, California church who took umbrage with Waggoner for taking political sides in a denominational publication, complained to Ellen White about it. After reading Waggoner’s piece twice, she came to the editor’s defense.[5] It turned out that “many who profess the faith at Woodland” cherished “peculiar, political sentiments” similar to those that her testimonies had spoken “decidedly and positively” against thirteen years before. In response she reiterated that “if men and women have embraced the solemn truth for these last days that sanctifies the soul, the old political sentiments that sustain the old system of slavery will be, before they are translated, purged from them.”

A somewhat cryptic statement to the effect that “every species of slavery” conflicts with the word of God suggests that this was more than a rehash of Civil War debates over chattel slavery. Ellen White seems to have in view new forms of enslavement developing in the post-Reconstruction South.[6] No specifics are given and the letter from the Woodland church has not been preserved. But the timing — a presidential election season in which Black rights were a prominent issue — adds to the probability that current political interests were at stake.

Like Waggoner, Ellen White made a distinction between what Adventists should and should not do in connection with politics: “While we do not and will not dabble in politics, we will be colaborers with Jesus Christ.” Though Ellen White in this brief letter does not develop her points in a systematic, linear way, the letter as a whole makes clear that her affirmation of being a “colaborer with Jesus Christ” parallels and illumines Waggoner’s affirmation of speaking out on “moral issues.” The positive counterpart to “dabbling in politics” is not a retreat into an individualistic “spiritual” bubble, insulated from controversial public issues. Rather, it is to use “our pens and voices” on behalf of “principles of justice and righteousness” and not being dissuaded by the “spirit of bigotry” that inevitably will arise in opposition.

This reading of the Woodland church letter alongside of Waggoner’s editorial also sheds light on a passage published decades later that (along with a similar passage in Desire of Ages, p. 509) is frequently used to slam the door against political engagement on the part of Adventists:

Again and again Christ had been asked to decide legal and political questions. But He refused to interfere in temporal matters. He knew that in the political world there were iniquitous proceedings and great tyranny. But His only exposure of these was the proclamation of Bible truth. To the great multitudes that thronged His steps He presented the pure, holy principles of the law of God and spoke of the blessing found in obeying these principles. With authority from on high He enforced the importance of justice and mercy. But He refused to become entangled in personal disputes.[7]

Politics as instrument of power and control — No. Politics as exposing tyranny and political iniquity, speaking out with forceful clarity on issues of justice and mercy — Yes.

Two guideposts from Ellen White’s counsel thus come into sharper focus. First, those who speak under the banner of the Adventist Church cannot “dabble in politics.” The Church’s message and mission require a free agency under God that must not be compromised or corrupted by entanglements with political parties or other partisan interests. Second, Adventist faith should not be silent about injustice, exploitation, and inhumanity, even if advocacy for legislative or public policy changes stirs political opposition.

Ellen White abruptly concluded her letter to the concerned “Brethren and Sisters at Woodland” with a rhetorical question: “Why not cut out of your Bibles, when Christ refers to His work, ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound’ (Isaiah 61:1)?”

But did Ellen White herself continue to give this passage prominence in her canon twenty years later, when white supremacy gained full dominance over the South and a tide of racism swept the nation? Or did she compromise with quietism and sellout to segregation? A look at those questions in Part III.


Note: Video presentations corresponding to this series of articles may be found on the YouTube channel.


Additional Articles in this Series:

Jubilee Hope — Part 1

Sellout to Segregation — Part 3 (to be published on November 2, 2020)


Notes & References:

[4] “Politics,” Signs of the Times, July 8, 1880, 298. The concerned believers might also have been irritated by Waggoner’s positive, albeit very general praise for Garfield’s personal qualities in an editorial commentary on the same page under the title “The Presidency and the Church.”

[6] On her later observations in this regard, see Delbert W. Baker, “The Race War Question: Its Relevance Today,” and “Race War Predictions Reach Fulfillment,” Adventist Review, Jan. 16 and 23, 1986.


Douglas Morgan is a graduate of Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the University of Chicago (PhD, History of Christianity with an emphasis in American religious and social movements). His current projects include serving as an assistant editor of the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists and a book forthcoming from Oak & Acorn Publishing, Change Agents: The Lay Movement that Challenged the System and Turned Adventism Toward Racial Justice

Photo courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate.


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But who is the “right” or “proper” person in the Church to determine whether others have the right or correct political views -what if that so-called “right” person excuses other moral compromise? Can that person truly know what is right? Proverbs 28:5, states, that “Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.” Also, what if that person is using American history to explicitly or surreptitiously advocate for a wicked political candidate? Trump noted Biden’s criminal justice record at the debate. Who is a person within the SDA Church to tell others or suggest that this should not be an issue and that Biden is an admirable person in comparison to Trump? Who is a person within the SDA Church to tell others to overlook a candidate who has sold out to the credit card industry, enabling the increase of financial indebtedness among the populace? Validating wickedness and perpetuating the status quo are justified and celebrated under the guise of fighting oppression. Who is a person within the SDA Church to tell others to vote for a candidate who does not seem to be a godly person as defined in the Bible? What if one does not believe in abortion, and does not want to support a candidate who supports abortion, does one lack the correct political view?

Nobody has the right to tell others how to vote. That would be absurd!

Now, regarding abortion, the brush used against it is always so wide and way too inclusive!!! I wonder what parent would oppose abortion if their daughter (or wife!) got pregnant by a rapist in a parking lot at night. I also wonder who would oppose to an abortion in a case that would put either mother or fetus in medical danger; or if the fetus were completely deformed! Anyone who would oppose such MEDICAL emergencies cannot be right in their minds.

I haven’t seen my candidate defending/supporting abortion for futile reasons.

OTOH…, what about moral behavior? So many people commenting on “abortion” with a wide brush, but does that mean that they support the “other side’s” behavior? That would be unbelievable! How many parents really would like to have their sons ending up behaving as a certain candidate that is more supportive of dictators than of our troops? I mean, the immorality is so blatant that O wonder Which Christian can support it!

Voting is a choice. Everyone has to choose what they want for their country and for their families. So simple!

Now, I remain stunned that people can’t think without mixing EGW into it. Is Adventism all about EGW?


It is interesting that the Democratic Party supported slavery and was the party of segregation until the 70s or so. Party of the KKK, cross burning and all. Passed the Black codes and Jim Crow laws. I wonder why that is never mentioned?

So, this hewing back in history to revisit issues in the South in the 1880s and all seems a bit anachronistic to me. Today, with the denunciation of the past here in the US, the history of the Dems is seldom mentioned except in general terms as if the whole country was full of racists, when actually it was Democrats who were the ones instituting such policies. Wilson re-segregated the government after Teddy R. had made some strides to do the opposite.

So, give credit and condemnation where it is due.

No politician has a sterling character. None. Actually Noble Obama seems to have been part of the worst political scandal in US history with 2 years of Russian Collusion and the FBI and the DOJ involved. You all should be really worried about such a thing happening again. It was the government try to delegitimize a duly elected president. That is a real issue.

As far the present two candidate. I think one should consider the polices they stand for and vote the polices. Character is important. But if one is going to take away freedoms, pack the court, destroy the economy, (Biden) and the other is just going to act like a duffis, then I would vote duffis.

Less dangerous.

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If he did nothing but separate those poor kids from their families, he is evil. Watch his temper tantrum after the election. (And that’s from somebody who’s been a registered Republican for over seven decades.)


Joe Biden had credible sexual assault charges alleged against him - yet they were essentially trivialized and ignored by the New York Times and other corporate media because Joe is their guy and they function essentially as mouthpieces for the Democratic Party. It’s amazing that some Adventists would imply that Joe represents integrity or decency. The media ignores evidence and charges right in front of their faces for those whom they like and in some cases, manufactures charges against other parts of the electorate that the DNC does not really like. What’s decent and virtuous about someone, if it is in fact true that that someone is guilty of sexual assault charges, but got away with it in terms of lack of electoral accountability, in large part because of the DNC and the New York Times, CNN, et. al? How can one criticize Trump, yet imply that others should be enamored with Biden on this score?

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Don’t forget yesterday the Trump Administration released the Science and Technology list of accomplishments for his first term. Featured at the top of this list was the declaration that through his leadership was the ‘Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic’ it also lauded his leadership in the environment amongst other things.

The crowning leading feature which allowed the defeat of COVID was best expressed by Kushner who said that the Trump took back control of this from the Doctors. In contrast from the Doctors, Kusher pointed out that this strategy included three phases Panic, Pain, and Comeback. This combined with efforts to downplay the disease and mock both the preventative measures as well as those who practiced them. Which of course any of the readers would know is a far more sound approach to any major public pandemic unlike the proven recommendations of the medical community to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The proof of his brilliant strategy can be summed by yesterdays COVID numbers of only 73,240 new cases and 945 dead just yesterday with a total death count since this started that exceeds the US combat deaths of the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gulf War, Vietnam and Korean. Who could possibly not see the brilliance of this successful three phase strategy.



I am so glad that the Covid-19 pandemic has been declared as terminated. By decree, Trump just eliminated it all at once. I can only guess the happiness in his followers’ faces*. I can even hear their jubilant voices chanting, “Heil Trump!!!” After all, their hero made it, didn’t he?

For the rest of us, the intelligent people, the challenges are getting more serious in every single State in the US.

I hope that in 5 days this nightmare will end and the American Dream will be possible again. How long (if ever) will it take for this country to recover from this Russian “orange agent’s” furious and devastating attack against our Democracy, against decency, and against hope?
*A CULT has followers, not supporters.

Harry, I have brought up several points re Obama and his administration, including putting immigration kids in cages. And the terrible acts to frustrate the electorate who voted Trmup in. But you highlight this.

the economy leapt forward at an annualized 33% for the third quarter. And Trump has encouraged it, while Biden says he will lockdown at the slightest thing. Do you think the poor might just be benefiting from this jump in the economy, and would be crushed with a Bibden lockdown?

Trumps character is flawed. But he knows what to do. “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and don’t mess with Mr. In-between…”

And besides, it looks like Biden is corrupt too.


Allen, your posts are becoming harder and harder to read. They are so nonsensical now.
Since you like comparisons, here is one for you:


How do YOU know whether Biden is Godly? Have you met him? Have you spent time with him? Have you interview his pastor?

My post was not referring specifically to Biden when I referenced godliness. I asked, generally, " Who is a person within the SDA Church to tell others to vote for a candidate who does not seem to be a godly person as defined in the Bible? " You can ask your question of any leader. Yet there are some who are asserting that Biden represents a certain kind of decency and integrity that Trump does not. I’ve looked at some of the policies that Biden championed as VP, and is championing now - which are immoral, and how he neglected parts of the electorate and favored monied interests. Biden has done many ungodly things such that persons are justified in not wanting to vote for him, even if others would try to shame you into doing so.

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I don’t know if Biden is “Godly.” I wouldn’t call ANYONE human being that. For me it would sound spiritual arrogance. Who needs that?

But, based on his behavior as a public servant and a family man, I qusi totally sure that he will be a “goodly” President.

I don’t believe that there is any doubt about who can make our Country decent again. Well, at least in my opinion, awhich is good only for myself anyway.


Is the correct political view supporting a candidate that is against abortion? And what about the rights of the gay individual whose mother could not get an abortion because it was against the law?

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Isso mesmo, pega o bicho pelo rabo! … :laughing:

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What about the rights of the unborn, period? The rights of the unborn to live are not qualified. As you may know, there is a whole debate around gender/sexual orientation - some believe that one is born with a certain orientation, while others believe that it is acquired. Some have stated that orientation exists on a spectrum.

Now, this statement just grossly negates facts that are now public knowledge. We need to behave with intellectual honesty. The sciences of the brain already offered enough evidence to understand that nobody is “made” a gay. The gays are either born that way, or they are not actually gays. Yes, there may certainly be a few homosexuals by choice, but their number is completely insignificant.

I would rather see posts here that acknowledge basic facts as understood/known by the neyro-psycho sciences. Otherwise there is no merit in discussing the issue by quoting “beliefs.”


People use the issue of Gender orientation/sexual orientation as a billy club to shut down discussion and label people as bigots. I stated the various points of view. You state, "We need to behave with intellectual honesty. The sciences of the brain already offered enough evidence to understand that nobody is “made” a gay. The gays are either born that way, or they are not actually gays. Yes, there may certainly be a few homosexuals by choice, but their number is completely insignificant.

I would rather see posts here that acknowledge basic facts as understood/known." You go on about “basic facts” and “science” and “enough evidence” to shut down discussion. What is your definition of “enough evidence”?. Let me state a scientific fact - scientific “knowledge” does not know everything and is not omniscient. You mention science, but not the Bible, to label others as being intellectual dishonest. Is the Bible anti-intellectual? Some pastors have argued that one can be born with certain tendencies, that can be overcome. Others have argued that one is born with an orientation, that is unchangeable. It’s a fact, that there are various points of view on this subject.

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Well here in lies the problem. Society is made up of many people with differing beliefs. Government is not to take sides but to find a middle that both sides can live with. I would argue that using religious freedom as an excuse to force ones beliefs onto people who do not believe is a violation of religious freedom also. Generally that means that your rights end where mine begin. This has to mean that those who believe in science have rights too that must be respected. Government is people who must compromise to find the middle. When good people try to impose their beliefs on all it is going to yield a bad end.


“Religious freedom as an excuse to force ones beliefs onto people”?, you say. Some of the decisions advocated for under the guise of fostering religious liberty, and allowing people choices to live out their religious views, essentially force a politician’s point of view onto the populace - hence violating others’ religious freedom. Certain unbiblical mores undergird the advocacy for these decisions. It’s also a slippery slope. For example, some people may believe that it’s a religious freedom to murder adults, even if others, may consider it to be a sin, and the reality is that murder is unlawful and illegal, and it constitutes lawlessness in the Bible. Simply because it may be someone’s religious freedom to believe that murder is a right that they should have the power to enact, would not mean that it should be allowed for as a “choice” that one can carry out and that should be protected under the law. Where does the slippery slope end?