The Life of Ellen White by D.M. Canright

Chapter 11 - Used Her Gift to Get Money

There is no example in the Bible where a prophet took advantage of his inspiration to enrich himself. The prophets of the Bible generally worked hard, had little and died poor. Mrs. White and her husband began poor. She says: "We entered upon our work penniless" (Testimonies, Vol. I., p. 75). But as soon as they became leaders, they commercialized their work, and managed to supply themselves well. They soon had abundance, and used means for themselves lavishly. They would always have the best of everything, and plenty of it. Everywhere they went they required to be waited upon in the most slavish manner. At an early campmeeting in Michigan they sent their son Edson out in camp crying: "Who has a chicken for mother? Mother wants a chicken." Mrs. White dressed richly, and generally had a number of attendants to wait on her.

When Elder White died, it is said he left some $15,000 or $20,000. He took advantage of his position to benefit himself and family financially, and she aided him by her revelations. She received a larger salary than was paid most of the ministers of the denomination; received pay for all her articles furnished to the leading papers of the denomination (while others generally contributed theirs gratuitously); besides receiving a large and increasing income from the royalties on all her books. For several years before she dies, because of the "peculiar position" she occupied in the church, she was paid a higher royalty than was paid other authors in the denomination.

Take an example of how she used her revelations to make money: In 1868, Elder White had on hand several thousand dollars' worth of old books which were dead property, as they were not selling, and were going out of date. He hit on a plan to raise a "book fund" for the free distribution of books and tracts. This fund he used to buy out his and his wife's old books. When the money did not come fast enough, she had a revelation about it thus:

"Why do not our brethren send in their pledges on the book and tract fund more liberally? And why do not our ministers take hold of this work in earnest? . . . We shall not hold our peace upon this subject. Our people will come up to the work. The means will come. And we would say to those who are poor and want books, send in your orders. . . We will send you a package containing four volumes of 'Spiritual Gifts,' 'How to Live,' 'Appeal to Youth,' 'Appeal to Mothers,' 'Sabbath Readings,' and two large charts, with key of explanation, . . . and charge the fund four dollars"
(Testimonies, Vol. I., p. 689).

Every one of these books was their own. The money came, and they pocketed it all. I was there, and know.

Mrs. White had about twenty inspired books. To sell these, every possible effort has been made through every channel. She was constantly urging their sale by all her inspired authority. Hear her:

"The volume of 'Spirit of Prophecy' and also the 'Testimonies' should be introduced into every Sabbath-keeping family. . . Let them be worn out in being read by all the neighbors. . . Prevail upon them to buy copies. . . Light so precious, coming from the throne of God, is hid under a bushel. God will make his people responsible for this neglect"
(Testimonies, Vol. IV., pp. 390, 391).

See how she lauds her own books! So, of course, her books were pushed and sold in large numbers, and as a result she received large financial returns. Her royalties from only one of their publishing houses (the one located in Washington, D.C.), in 1911, amounted to over $8,000, or more than the net profits of the house itself that year. From one book alone she received over $4,000 royalty, and from all of her books over $100,000. [Editor's Note: In 1998 dollars, that amounts to many millions of dollars.]

In his book "Past, Present and Future," page 367, edition 1909, her son, Edson White, accuses Mrs. Eddy of "simony" because she took advantage of her system to make money. The charge lays equally against Mrs. White. If one practiced simony, so did the other.

Mrs. White herself, however, was not a good business manager. She advised the brethren to undertake several business projects which proved great financial failures. June 8, 1905, she wrote Elder W.J. Fitzgerald, president of the East Pennsylvania Conference, to "go right forward" in the purchase of a certain building in Philadelphia for a sanitarium; "raise every penny possible." He did so. The institution proved a failure, was finally closed, and the building sold at a loss of over $60,000 to the denomination.

About the same time she gave similar instruction regarding the purchase of another building for a sanitarium at Nashville, Tenn. This was likewise a failure, and entailed a loss of $30,000.

A little later, through her advice, the denomination was plunged into over $400,000 debt at Loma Linda, Cal., although in 1901 she had told her followers to "shun the incurring of debt as you would shun disease," and that "we should shun debt as we would shun leprosy" ("Testimonies," Vol. VI., pp. 211, 217). Her conflicting instruction threw the leaders into great perplexity.

Not long after her husband's death she became financially embarrassed, notwithstanding her large income. For many years she kept such a retinue of servants that her family expenses were heavy. When she died she is said to have been heavily in debt, although owning a large home and a ranch in California, worth probably $20,000 [Editor: That ranch would probably be worth half a million today], besides the plates and copyrights to her numerous books, worth many thousands more. To save her credit, the General Conference assumed her obligations.

Mrs. White gave very explicit instruction about the duty of publishing houses paying royalty to authors (see Testimonies, Vol. V., pp. 563-566). Contrary to her plain instructions, however, the denominational leaders are planning to discontinue, as far as possible, the paying of royalty altogether. The example she set in this matter seems to have turned them against it, and led them to disregard both her plain instructions and the rights of authors.

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