The Embarrassment of Having a Prophet: On Steve Daily's Ellen White Psychobiography

It's not easy to have a prophet today. Actually it never has been. But today it is doubly complicated. On the one hand, in our time all instances of authority undergo a legitimate process of relativization, which is not always negative, and this unavoidably touches our perception of Ellen G. White and her prophetic ministry. The still widespread resistance to extend this relativization to her is neither justified nor far-sighted, since even those who uncritically defend her already apply this process to authoritative figures in other churches (the papacy for example), or even in the political, ethical or family spheres. On the other hand, individuals who in the past were passively subjected to instances of authority, including prophets, today have acquired, through a widespread process of individualization and rationalization, a marked sense of autonomy, reflection and critical capacity. And this process of personal empowerment, both legitimate and necessary, we believers already diffusely apply in our daily life and our faith experience.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11280

From my upcoming book review of Daily to be published in Europe:

*"Daily’s hermeneutic of pathology informed his choices as a historian, as seen in the high selectivity with which he culled negative events in White’s life on which to build his iconoclastic case. For a psychological sketch which is not empirically based –– psychobiographies are rarely so, since authors do not always have access to their subjects and their Lebenswelt –– Daily should have erred on the side of caution. Instead, his exuberant diagnosing of White coupled with lack of sensitivity toward her blinded him to humanizing events in her life and their important psychological implications

Overall, Daily’s book is well-written, and supported by over three hundred endnotes. At bottom, however, it offers little original insight into Ellen G. White’s psychological profile, and, in my opinion, fails in its proposed task to be “honest and fair” and to let readers make up their own minds. Daily draws all the conclusions, taking his “con artist” mantra to its last implications, both to the detriment of Ellen G. White’s legacy, as well as his own as historian. Let the reader beware of taking Daily’s conclusions at face value. Daily’s weak case against White will likely result in stronger institutional defenses of her.

For a responsible, impartial look at Ellen G. White’s life and works as an important figure in the history of American religions, Ellen Harmon White: American Prophet (Oxford University, 2014), will remain the standard. White’s composite story will continue to attract biographers, and the most conscientious among them will demonstrate an open mind to her humanity, contributions and possibilities, rather than forcing her into a straitjacket."*

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She urged the church to continue from where she left but the church has idolised her writings. Her writings have been manipulated to twist her teachings and put fear in believers. Some shall be saved and others lost through her writings, let’s follow her advise, these days calls for people to go back into the Bible and get understanding of the present and the future. On resurrection am sure she shall be surprised at the monument we made from her books.

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After starting to read the Testimonies over 10 years ago, doubts arose in my mind concerning EGW’s prophetic gift. Reading Steve Gaily’s psychobiography (and immediately afterwards, Herb Douglass’s “Messenger of the Lord”, to see the other side, too) only strengthened my conviction concerning this matter.

First, through her many “I saw…” statements, I see a picture of God which is not compatible with the Father Jesus showed us. A God who on the one hand creates dozens of different butterflies und lavishly dresses the lilies on the field, but on the other hand condems variety in dress ("In a vision given me at Battle Creek, January 3, 1875, I was shown the state of things which I have here represented, and that the wide diversity in dress was an injury to the cause of truth. (4T 637) ), and for whom hoops are an abomination (Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 4, p. 66), a God who gives testimonies against joking and laughing (…these public testimonies focused on „the sin of hasty speaking, jesting, joking and laughing.“ Letter 6 1868, Bio , vol 2, p 228, 229), a God who strongly condems playing cricket and tennis ( Counsels to Parents, Teachers and Students, p. 350) - that does not really make any sense to me in the light of the powerful but compassionate God pictured in the Bible. Given the fact that EGW grew in her knowledge of God, still for me “I saw…” means there was some divine contribution to the things she wrote (and that’s precisely the way she described her work “My work… bears the stamp of God or the stamp of the enemy. There is no halfway work in that matter. The Testimonies are of the Spirit of God, or of the devil”. Testimonies Vol. 5, p. 671

Second, some of EGW’s predictions failed, not only the well-known food for worms vision in Michigan 1856, but also many others ("I saw that the time for Jesus to be in the most holy place was nearly finished and that time can last but a very little longer. … The sealing time is very short, and will soon be over (Early writings 55-56, ca. 1850)), messages against bringing children into the world ("The time has come when, in one sense, they that have wives be as though they had none. God wants us to be consistent people, our works corresponding with our faith. *Letters and Manuscripts Volume 4, Ms 34a, 1885).

Third, even if you may argue that prophtets are surely not perfect, they are mere human beings, there are such striking inconsistencies between EGW’s message and her way of life, that I cannot reconcile the two of them. On the one hand, she states that “A faithful shepherd will not study his own ease and convenience, but will labor for the interest of the sheep. In this great work he will forget self; in his search for the lost sheep he will not realize that he himself is weary, cold, and hungry. He has but one object in view; to save the lost and wandering sheep, at whatever expense it may be to himself. His wages will not influence him in his labor, nor turn him from his duty. He has received his commission from the Majesty of heaven, and he expects his reward when the work entrusted to him is done.—Testimonies for the Church 2:341”, on the other hand she bitterly complains about the income the book “Spirit of Prophecy Vol 4” has brought to her and threatens to hire a manager: “I will not trust my book interests with my good brethren who plan in such a way that a certain portion of the profit is taken off by this one and by that one, and only a very small portion is left for me. *Manuscript Releases 20: 48-50”.
When returning from Australia, she travels first class in the most comfortable room the ship has to offer, while the rest of the party travels second class.

It is true that I have also felt Gaily’s tone was somewhat harsh at times, but I can fully understand the disappointed someone feels who has believed most of his life that he was a member of God’s church, co-founded by His prophet, followed rules which restricted his well-being without really making sense, and later finds out things are not quite like that. I have gone through this disappointed myself, but I am much comforted by the thought that now, not consisting of only Adventists anymore, my circle of world-wide brothers and sisters has greatly enlarged, and I have found a great, loving Father, not just a petty rule-maker.

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Chucks, she was simply a human with uncanny abilities to galvanize people. It’s amazing that her work and memory are still doing so.

Thanks for a fine analysis and essay–an attempt, to help us move forward. Let her be the great aunt of the movement, but not a a demi-god as some seem to make prophets.

“Aunt Ellen” was a child of the 19th century and in her way a “romantic idealist” and a 17th Century Puritan. That’s not all bad, nor all good. She took a deep breath, was inspired to write, teach, and reprove, and get others to help her. That’s not all negative.

She blessed many and made others mad. That’s what prophets and sometimes good managers do.

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What prophet!?!?:rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl:

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When the reader of EGW’s vast output cannot precisely know which phrase / paragraph / page / portion is plagiarized / purloined or actually written for her by one of her multiple “ literary assistants “ her
“ prophetic gifts “ are suspect.

God used an extremely circuitous routing to pass his messages to her via contemporary writers of her day, whom she copied.

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i don’t think we can say god’s working methods are reflected in egw’s choices…her choice to use the words of others was hers, and in keeping with her time…

keep in mind that her sources copied from one another so freely, it’s difficult to always assess who’s words egw actually used…

While EGW borrowed freely from others, it’s funny—in a sad, sort of way—that she wasn’t willing to do the same when it came to selling her books and demanded a higher percentage for her work than the SDA publishing houses were paying other Adventist writers.:rofl:

Then again, EGW, her husband and later her son, Willie, were always stingy with her “gift” and wouldn’t admit that anyone other perhaps the 40 Bible writers were as inspired as her.

How lucky for her—but sad for kids like me who had to watch his mom literally throw “The Great Controversy” at my dad and then have her judge-mentality used against us kid for the first 18 years of our lives—that her god plays favorites like that…:crossed_fingers:t3:

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I’m sure we all agree (!) that stealing the intellectual property of others was not God’s idea, nor her lying about it, for that matter.

Hey, if she didn’t know plagiarism was a crime, why did she slap Fannie Bolton’s face for telling her pastor what her job was?

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The Lord brought EGW at a very critical moment in the history of Adventism. The Millerites had some how lost momentum with the disappointment. Other churches that had prophets were concerned why God had not visited this group through a prophet or messenger. Infact one such person, JS, who had been visited and belonged to a certain church, the LDS. He claimed that God had told him not to join other churches or groups. On the question of the second coming, JS claimed that God had told him to not believe that Jesus was coming in 1844. Additionally, he was also told that the message about the reurn of Christ would be given way later. JS died in 1844, and six months after his passing, EGW received her first vision and from there EGW received more. This was like JS being Daniel, receiving partial information, but after his passing at the time of the end John received the full vision, as happen to EGW.

What is my point here? EGW’s appointment was the long expected answer to the church at large as the messenger appointed to the remnant church and the world at large as the person given the messege to understand the vision and proclaim it to the world. She is the pillar through which the gospel was magnified and exalted. It is critical that we understand this important point. Additionally, we need to understand that sometimes she spoke or wrote her own opinions which were not inspired. These should not stand in the way of those things that were inspired. Additionally, we should never be deceived to question her heavenly appointment as God’s messenger. That is why we should not be deceived as to begin to question issues of non imprtance as some of her critics have done or are doing. Additionally, the enemy of souls who made claims, about Jesus being a liar, etc will do so to us as Jesus warned us about this. I pray that we do more research and seek some understanding. As I discuss with people from other churches concerning their prophets etc, we find that EGW’s role and appointment was the critical point in the history of both the reformation and difference she makes from all other prophets. Those who are spending time in the criticism arena must be reminded that right now God is purifying his church and bringing in people that were far off like Moslems, Buddhists and many others while they themselves grope in darkness. The people in the LDS church are surprised to know about EGW. Infact they want to know more as their prophet JS received limited information. What about us who have such volumes of light? What are we doing with it. The Spirit of Prophecy is the lesser light that magnifies the greater light, in the Scriptures. Let that light shine brightly upon us.

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We’re told that Jesus said “Judge not, that ye be judge.”

In addition to the content of her other books, much of which she “borrowed” without asking and with absolutely no intention of ever acknowledging, much less honestly recompensing, the original author, EGW wrote over 4,000 pages on her own devoted to little other than passing judgment on her fellow man.

We’re also told we can tell a false prophet “by their fruits”.

Nine volumes of backstabbing, gossip and recriminations against others obviously seems like a boon to people who want to follow her lead and use her unrepentant remonstrances in their own efforts to self-righteously look down on, criticize and condemn people they believe to be inferior to themselves.

For me, however “Testimonies to The Church” is all the evidence I need to know, beyond any reasonable doubt in my mind, that EGW was the ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing Jesus supposedly warned people about and that the church she helped found is part of the Babbling On that we are encouraged to come out of.

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Magdalena, his name is “Daily”

Well, the 9 vols of “Testimonies” are kind of fun 19th century reading, if you can keep your psychological boundaries intact. Most of those pages were supposed to be personal letters of reproof or counsel, but were quickly made public; some read out in church even before the recipient got his/her copy! Then they were all published for everyone else to apply to themselves (“fundraiser” for the church too!). It’s all so messed up…

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In my view what is more embarrassing is the fact that our church continues to perpetuate the lie that EGW was inspired, that she was the messenger of God while knowing that much of what she wrote was plagiarised and not her own words. It is one thing to believe a lie sincerely and in a state of ignorance, but far worse to know that what was proven was a lie, and then to deliberately perpetuate the belief that this lie is indeed truth is shocking and damnable.
Just a few minutes ago, before coming here I was impressed to read the Prologue of the White Lie by Walter Rea to see for myself what were the factors that caused him to write this book .It was an emotional yet wonderful experience to see how God this man to expose some of the corruption that was so widespread among the leadership of the church. Now to read the Embarrassment of Having a Prophet… is particularly ironic in that much of what Dr Rea has said in his book the White Lie as well as in Pirates of Privilege is so devastatingly accurate: As a young man within the SDA Church, I am not embarrassed at all, but I’m truly grateful to God for the work of Dr Rea in opening my eyes to much of what went in and undoubtedly occurs still in Seventh Day Adventism. If the leadership of the church persists in lies, God will deal with them and all who support them .In times of ignorance God can certainly excuse such actions, but when people choose to follow error willingly in the face of evidence, they condemn themselves. Jesus has said that men( people) love darkness rather than light and how true is this statement.

I ll conclude my post with this statement:

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…( The White Lie: Prologue).

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The NT is full of letters to churches or groups, and we’re benefiting from that today. Messages are and have been addressed to people over time. Even from the OT God told Moses to tell the people. The scriptures do not have messages that are blindly written to no-one. They were meant to benefit those generations. The intent is that later generations should benefit from them. Hence today when we read the Scriptures, we’re reading messages that were addressed to other people. EGW wrote messages to people in the church, not just to groups, which is even better. Those messages are meant to benefit us at the individual level. I have personally benefited from those messages. I find it a problem that at the spiritual level, a reasonable person seeking to grow in Jesus would have a problem benefiting from those messages that were inspired by the Holy Spirit in EGW. Reading through her personal testimony with Jesus one would be touched by the experience where Jesus touched her and filled her mind with volumes of information. That is psychology at a very high level. It is only the spirit of the enemy of souls that would be against such an experince. Had EGW written blindly written to no-one we would be questioning why these messages were never written to anyone. The book of Revelation is specifically written to churches filled with people. On the question of references, researchers today, don’t have to consult the authors for permission to use their information. All they do now is to just reference their idea or quote. EGW did mention that she would use others information where necessary. She may not have used the advanced methods of referencing, but disclosed her intention to use others when necessary for clarity. This problem was addressed long ago at high levels with the church. What we find is that people in later generations want to use their standards over standards of past generations which any reasonable person should find to be absurd and unfair. I find the enemy getting more and more unhapphy as his time is getting shorter and shorter to accuse God’s people. He’s only kicking against the pricks. WHM_PhD, MBA

We must be careful to accuse the servants of God. Even Moses was accused by his own sister, Miriam. Thank God that there was direct intervention on the issue. Those who take pleasure in accusing EGW need to be careful. If you don’t understand her role, silence and prayer are the best option. We’re not dealing with political issues here. This is highly spiritual and we need to be very careful, otherwise we may be inviting the wrath of God over ourselves. Remember the church is the apple of His eye. I stand here on this platform to defend EGW as the messenger of God with no regrets. I’ve had a taste of what it means to be visited by the power of God and I’m warning you my brethren to please be careful on this issue. It is high time that someone like David stands up against Goliath over this issue to man-up for God and His church and His servant EGW, and that’s what I’ve done with all those that have done so. WHM_ PhD. MBA

You are right, sorry, I know. It was past 12 p.m. here in Europe when I typed my comments…

Until such time as I have unmistakable direct evidence from my creator that I should take anyone else’s messages to others—Paul’s, EGW’s, yours, et. als.—as applicable to me personally, I’m going to continue to use the mind providence has afforded me to determine who is and who is not a messenger of god.

Yes, I know the argument will most likely be that following one’s own council is a pathway to perdition but anyone making such a charge is doing so based on nothing other than what seems right to him, personally, as well.:rofl:

yes, and her sources were individually paid, even though they freely inter-borrowed…this was egw’s world, whatever we think of it now…

but they had to be honest…if they’d said egw was no more inspired than any tom, dick, or harry, they’d be lying…

it’s too bad you grew up with this skewed experience…fortunately for me, my mother was very different…:slight_smile:

but it’s never too late…you can acknowledge that your mom made mistakes, but then resolve not to repeat them…

i think she meant she wasn’t relying on others for their ideas…and that fannie incident was a bit different than you’re characterizing it…