The Stories We Choose to Tell

The Stories We Choose to Tell: A Disturbing Correlation Between the Stories We Choose to Tell and Our Identity

Stories are genuinely one of the most potent weapons available to humankind. More often than not, the one who controls the narrative of a tale controls society. This fact explains the verbal warfare amongst our politicians and, unfortunately, why people, not too far back in history, supported many unnecessary wars. The stories we are told have a way of shaping our perspective of reality by becoming the lens through which we view the world around us. Jeannette Armstrong, speaking about Native American stories, rightfully observed that through the language of stories, "I understand that I am the one being spoken to, and I am not the one speaking." 

Emancipation from the powerful grip of a story is only possible when a different story is told. Only in the presence of a different narrative can we question and investigate the information we have held and possibly break free from its powerful grip.

Seventh-day Adventism is also rooted in stories without which we would lose our unique identity. Biblical stories like that of creation (Genesis 1-2), and the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, are fundamental to who we are as Seventh-day Adventist Christians. And so are the stories of Hiram Edson's vision by the cornfield and the numerous stories about the life, ministry, and death of Ellen and James White.

Just like the carefully curated stories that our politicians use to sway the multitudes, could it be that there are some stories that we have purposefully not told, mis-told, or just not told entirely?

William Ellis Foy's Story

William Foy was a Black preacher whose ministry played out in racist America in the mid- to late-1800s. During Foy's ministry, God gave him four prophetic messages, which Foy delivered faithfully. In her later years, Ellen White could recall seeing Foy in vision and listening to his lectures in Beethoven Hall. One doctor Henry Cummings testified of William Foy's physical condition when receiving a prophetic vision. Cummings stated that he "could not find any appearance of life, except around his heart." These conditions, described by Henry Cummings, were similar to those observed later when Ellen White was in vision.

It is evident from the historical record and works such as that of Delbert W. Baker's The Unknown Prophet that William Foy was a faithful messenger of the Lord in an extremely hostile society. After the Great Disappointment of 1844, Foy, a Millerite preacher at that time, continued to preach and teach until he died in 1893. In the life and ministry of William Foy in racist America, we find a man living out the words of Jesus, "Behold; I am sending you out like sheep among wolves."

Unfortunately, Foy's story remains largely unknown and, in some cases, grossly mis-told. Foy is still known by many as one of the people who rejected the message that was subsequently given to young Ellen White. And in the many miss-tellings of his story, he is often used as a moral lesson on what happens when one rejects God's call in their life. J. N. Loughborough echoed the miss-telling of Foy's story in his time when he wrote saying Foy "became exalted over the revelation, and thus lost his simplicity; hence the manifestation of this gift to him ceased, and soon after (the disappointment of 1844) he sickened and died."

Here are two versions of a story, both circulating within the storytelling circles of Adventism. One version has and still enjoys considerable mainstream coverage over the other. And yet, fewer people stop to ask why this is so, and how promoting one or the other of these versions helps shape our Adventist identity. Could it be that allowing both tales to flourish in the public square might disturb the status quo?

Pro-Western Prophetic interpretation

Bible prophecy is one of the pillars of Adventism. We consider ourselves a prophetic church with a prophetic message, and indeed we are. In many of our evangelistic seminars, we make certain to highlight the prophecies of Daniel 2 and Revelation 12. What often makes these prophecies easier to understand and engaging to the intellect is that they are always conveyed through the medium of a story. 

Our Prophetic tapestry begins to unravel as we start evangelistically using our subjective experiences as an interpretive grand narrative. An example of this one story narrative approach to interpretation is visible in how many still suggest that the beast that came out of the earth in Revelation 13:11 is to be understood as America rising out of an "unpopulated area" (North America). Well, there is another story that's worth our attention. A story that's struggling to get prime time in our evangelistic campaigns. It is a story that admits a population of "about 54 million" Indigenous people in North America, suggesting that the land was not unpopulated as the first story claims. Anthropologists and geographers may argue on the exact numbers and the methodology used to calculate, but the fact remains. There were millions of people already calling North America home. 

So, once more, we are faced with a choice: which version of the story will we embrace and why? Does embracing one or the other aid our Christian mission? Can both these versions co-exist? And ultimately, are there any spiritual casualties when we embrace one or the other of these versions?


I believe it to be our collective and individual calling to pay close attention to the stories we tell. Because, more often than not, the stories we choose to tell have a way of working against what we stand for and the God we represent. 

Continuing to insist on the native community that this land was unpopulated and given to Christians by God opens wounds and makes it hard for them to understand and accept the good news about a God who is not at war with people, but desires to save as many as possible.

It is no stretch of the imagination to say that there is a strong correlation between the social challenges we are facing as a church and the stories we choose to tell. While many of the stories we tell appear small and irrelevant, I guarantee you they are not!

Let us pay attention to the stories we tell in our children's Sabbath School classes because the pictures and felts we use to tell those stories will make a world of difference to the child of a minority as they work through the challenges of belonging.

It is amazing how much brokenness can be addressed through a story. If this is hard to believe, look no further than the story of Jesus the Messiah.


Notes & References:

1. Armstrong, Jeannette. Whispering in the Shadows. Penticton: Theytus books, 2000

2. Adventist Pioneer Library, "The Christian Experience of William E. Foy." Accessed September 20, 2020.

3. John Loughborough, Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists (Battle Creek, MI: General Conference Association), 71

4. Denevan M William. "The Population history of American indigenous peoples." Accessed September 20, 2020.


Thandazani Mhlanga is a pastor, educator, and author currently serving in the Osoyoos Church in the B.C. Conference. Pastor Thandazani and his wife Matilda have been blessed with three beautiful girls who are the joy of their lives and their highest calling. (

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash


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Thank you, Pastor Mhlanga–your two examples are interesting and instructive, and the issue you raise is important. How much do Adventists change the facts of our stories to serve our purposes? I feel sure that it happens a lot, as you suggest, in early Sabbath School classes. I remember being taught that since Adam all men have had one less rib than women! I also recall some hair-raising anti-Catholic tales that were told in evangelistic meetings during my childhood. What are the various purposes served? Those you told were changed to serve denominational needs–I wonder if those who first told them did so consciously, or whether they were wrongly informed, perhaps grasping the new factoids because their usefulness confirmed their veracity? We insist on the certainty of some stories because they become significant to the fabric of our doctrine, while others, less threatening, may not matter. I think of the different ways in which the Creation stories and the Tower of Babel account, both found near the beginning of Genesis, have been treated. Most Adventists do not realize there are two quite different Creation stories: we have melded them, and our leaders have declared them “truth”, along with some other extra-biblical “facts” such as the age of the earth and of life on it, to the point that scientists in Adventist colleges teach the findings of geologists, biologists, and physicists that together help to create very different accounts of our origins very cautiously and answer questions nervously. On the other hand, no academic that teaches courses about the development of languages over time is going to cite the story of the Tower of Babel as an authority, or risk discipline for neglecting to use it in that manner. A comparison of Middle English documents with recent prose reveals how drastically languages can change over time.


The cornfield story (a conspiracy theory conceived by Edson) served as the missing-link that took them to another level of delusion, which gave birth to the most controversial doctrine, the investigative judgment.

I once believed this to be true, but after some investigation, I found it to be baseless and false, created to elevate Ellen White. Foy deserves to be honoured for his contribution. Jim Nix is good in telling interesting stories about Ellen.W. I watched one of his video presentations on EGW GC vision in which he adds his own details about Satan, the unseen passenger!

Delbert Baker’s book needed a wider publicity than it got. One could attribute this to recent racism in the church and I suspect this was part of it. Also historians didn’t know enough to dispute what I believe to be the real story I think Baker told. And they didn’t want to overturn a myth that began with men or a man who had racist feelings in our church history. I am not saying everyone who accepted the “rejection” story is racist, but it had its beginning there. There was also a white male who is said to be the first to claim the vision and rejected it. Edson didn’t have a vision to my knowledge; he was just struck with an idea (like many are) and presented it as a way out of the disappointment and thus began the sanctuary study and story.

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One can see some biblical stories as metaphor or prophetic symbolism, and I have no problem with that. The problem is trying so diligently to prove they actually happened as described that we ignore the meaning behind them and lose their spiritual blessing. Some base their whole faith on such material (physical) happenings and forget God works in ways not understood by contemporary science or religion. Thus they may give up their faith when faced with unexplained theories or evidence. Can the human brain limited by time and space understand beyond its capacity (as evolved or created)? It’s barely a particle in the cosmos. That’s my take.

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