The Case of D.M. Canright by Norman Douty


Mr. Canright was in Seventh-day Adventism for 28 years, rose to prominence therein, and then left it (in 1887). He subsequently wrote several books and pamphlets that have proved very damaging to the cause he had formerly espoused. Elder D. A. Delafield, Associate Secretary of the Ellen G. White Publications, told me on July 15, 1962, that Canright has been the most potent adversary Adventism has had during the past eight decades.

Ever since Canright left them, the Adventists have been doing all in their power to undermine his testimony against their movement. It is true, he was carried to his grave over forty years ago, but since some of his writings continue to be published, his critics keep active. I have recently been told by some Adventists that their church plans to prepare a ‘Life of Canright." The object, naturally enough, will be to discredit him so thoroughly, that none will ever again venture to quote him as a witness against Adventism.

During Canright’s lifetime, this discreditation was perpetrated by a small percentage of Adventists. He declared in 1915: "The great majority of my former brethren have been very friendly to me and treated me kindly. A few, a very few, have done otherwise." (SDAR, p. 9.) However, some of these few were very influential. They included Mrs. White who sent him two reproving "testimonies"; G. I. Butler, then President of the General Conference, who wrote against him in the Grand Rapids papers and in the Review and Herald Extra of 1887; and Uriah Smith, editor of that periodical, who contributed to the same Extra.

After Canright’s death, when there arose a generation of Adventists who were not personally acquainted with him, the attack on him became more general. Other Presidents of the General Conference — W. A. Spicer, J. L. McElhany and R.R. Figuhr—followed Butler in attacking him. (W. H. Branson wrote his In Defense of the Faith, a Reply to Canright some years before becoming President.) In the same way, other editors of the Review and Herald—F. M. Wilcox (1911-44) and F. D. Nichol (1944)—followed Smith in writing against him.

Nichol’s volume on Ellen G. White and her Critics was authorized by the General Conference itself. Another periodical, The Ministry, in a series of articles criticizing Martin’s book on Adventism, contained an article partly on Canright, prepared by the Field Secretary of the General Conference, H. W. Lowe. In 1933, Mrs. White’s son, W. C. White, put out his disparaging Documents relating to the Experiences and Utterances of D. M. Canright. (I received my copy through her grandson, Arthur L. White.) When it is added that every book published against Canright was approved by the Church’s Book Committee before being printed by its publishing concerns, was advertised in its catalogs, and sold in its Book and Bible Houses, there can be no doubt that the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as such, has been responsible for the false witness against Canright.

No casuistry [fallacious reasoning], seeking to distinguish between the Adventist Church and certain individuals in it, can possibly avail. While it is true that many have not actively participated in this evil, yet some, possessing knowledge of it, have tacitly acquiesced it, and so, in measure, partake of its guilt. Indeed, any member who should protest against the Church’s falsehoods about Canright, would be deemed disloyal to it. The entire movement-- represented, as we have just seen, by Mrs. White, her son and grandson; the General Conference, with its Presidents and other officers; its Editors, and their Periodicals; the Book Committee, Publishing Houses and Book Stores--is involved. It is the Seventh-day Adventist Church that has borne false witness against D. M. Canright.

Since Canright’s death a number of articles have been published in his defense, but they have been rather limited in scope. In view of all the relevant facts, it seems that the time is long overdue for a thoroughgoing account of him to be written, so that everyone may see for himself that his testimony deserves serious consideration.

I know it is said by some that Canright’s productions are antiquated. His quotations concerning some areas of Adventist theology are considered outdated because current SDA publications do not propagate certain views common in his day. But this is true only of official publications: there is an increasing volume of other SDA literature that affirms the so-called obsolete doctrines. Moreover, these doctrines were taught by Mrs. White, whom all Adventist parties still confess to have been inspired. Since Canright’s quotations of Adventist theology were, in every instance, representative of the views of Mrs. White, they are no more antiquated now than they were when he made them.

The reader may wish to know how I came to write this book. The facts are these: on June 18, 1960, in correspondence with a prominent Seventh-day Adventist (one of the authors of Seventh-day Adventists answer Questions on Doctrine), I mentioned that I had prepared a manuscript on Adventism, but I made no allusion to Canright. On June 22nd, I received a reply which contained this paragraph:

"I am wondering whether you have a real acquaintance with the teachings of Adventists. It would make it possible for you to evaluate them. Walter Martin based quite a few of his strictures upon the statements of D. M. Canright, an apostate Adventist minister who three times left us, was ordained by the Baptists, cast out by them...each time he came back to us he repudiated his former attacks, but finally went out for good, I think, to all concerned. The man considered himself a lost soul who had turned from God and right. I have affidavits from his secretary and from others that he often said, ‘I’m a lost man, I’m a lost man!’ He was like the desperado that wanted to bring down all he could before his own life was taken. That is pretty poor caliber of testimony on which to base an antagonism."

On July 16, 1960, I answered the letter and referred to the above charges in these paragraphs:

"Your several items derogatory of D. M. Canright naturally lead me to ask for substantiation. I would also like to know if the affidavits mentioned--on the part of his secretary and others--relate to Mr. C. before or after he left Seventh-day Adventism. Do they issue from persons inside or outside Seventh-day Adventism, or perhaps from both? I have begun my own inquiry concerning him, seeing he lived and preached only 65 miles from East Lansing.
"Before I commit myself regarding Mr. Canright, I desire to procure all possible information. Meantime, I will say this: that whereas no sensible man would be inclined to accept the testimony of a duly discredited witness, yet it would not be the part of wisdom to pay absolutely no attention to it. Indeed, such a course could be really dangerous. It was so in the old story of ‘Wolf! Wolf !’ The crier had proved himself to be unreliable, and yet he spoke the truth--when the wolf actually came. So, I submit that the question is not that of Mr. Canright’s caliber, but of his testimony (which needs to be carefully examined by itself)."

Sometime later, I received the following answer: "I think I do not care to discuss further D. M. Canright. If you wish to lean upon that kind of evidence, I have nothing further to say." (The reader will observe that I had said nothing about leaning on Canright’s testimony without first investigating it.)

It was this unprovoked assault on Canright that prompted me to begin the inquiry mentioned above. In pursuing it, I have traveled thousands of miles, written hundreds of letters, visited scores of people, and searched dozens of institutions for information--newspaper establishments, libraries, and various city, township, county and state offices. I have also made it my business to procure, and to survey carefully, everything I could find that has been written against Canright.

Having now accumulated a mass of information concerning Canright--such as no other, to my knowledge, possesses--I consider it a sacred duty to share it with the public, especially because it serves to demonstrate the character of the Adventist movement. Before I begin, however, I wish to make a few things plain:

  1. I make no use whatever of rumor or hearsay; when I refer to false assertions, I refer either to statements which Adventists have made in conversation with me (or in letters to me), or to materials emanating from them which are in my possession (including photostats).
  2. I do not necessarily subscribe to all of Canright’s views, but any minor dissent from them involves no reflection on either his sincerity or his ability as a teacher of God’s Word.
  3. I bear no ill will toward the person of any Adventist. However, this will not prevent me from speaking plainly of those who are manifestly guilty of evading, suppressing or distorting facts. In such cases, I shall only consider my duty to God and to His people.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter BACK HOME