The Case of D.M. Canright

Chapter 8 - The Peaceful Separation

Although Canright three times ceased preaching because of his doubts concerning Adventist doctrines, yet on none of these occasions did he leave the church, neither did he engage in any attack upon it. If he had done either, he would not have been so shortly put into responsible positions after his restorations.

Canright’s first withdrawal from ministry occurred, as we have seen, in the latter part of 1873, when he left Colorado for California, and worked on a farm for three months. But it was only a few months later, in 1874, that he was chosen to conduct about a week’s debate with Elder Miles Grant of Boston, Mass., one of the editors of The World’s Crisis, a First-day Adventist periodical. Though James and Ellen White were present, and also Elders Cornell and Loughborough, it was Canright who was entrusted with the Seventh-day cause.

Canright’s second withdrawal from preaching took place in the fall of 1880, when he resigned as president of the Ohio State Conference, and traveled around in Wisconsin and Michigan, lecturing to classes on elocution for a period of three months. But by the next July, James White wrote him, as we quoted in the previous chapter, that he felt more interest in him than in any other man, and in the fall following he was elected a member of the State Executive Committee for Michigan.

The third withdrawal occurred in the fall of 1882, when Canright went to farming in Otsego and continued in that work for two whole years. But it was not long after his return to the ministry that he was commissioned to attend large denominational services in Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, Iowa and New England, and was chosen to assist in revival meetings in Battle Creek itself, the headquarters of the movement. Furthermore, he was appointed to lecture in two places with Butler before Adventist ministers on how to labor with success, and was also sent to the state meetings convening in New York, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.

It will be observed, therefore, that an Adventist preacher could drop out of the ranks of the ministry, because of doubts, but, if he did no disturb the church’s peace, he could, upon returning, soon hold a prominent position again. Canright informs us that it was nothing unusual for Adventist ministers to quit preaching for a time: "About 1856, Elders J.N. Andrews and J.N. Loughborough, who were then the most prominent ministers among them, and several other persons, left the work and went into business at Waukon, Iowa." (SDAR, p. 43) Mrs. White gives an extended account of this in chapter 30 of Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2:

The same thing happened in the case of Uriah Smith. He "also had his seasons of doubt, when he ceased to work, and engaged in secular employment." (Ibid.) Of G.I. Butler, too, Canright related: "Said when he could not be an Adventist, and be a man, then he would be a man, as others had decided. Disappointed and soured, under pretext of ill health, he went off to Florida on a little farm." (Ibid., p. 45) Yet none of these men had left the movement.

But Canright eventually took this decisive step. When, after intensive study, he became fully convinced that Adventism was a delusion, he separated from it. He says: "Then I laid the matter before the leading men at Battle Creek, resigned all the positions I held, and asked to be dismissed from the church." (Ibid., p. 51) This, it appears, occurred in January of 1887. (R&H E, p. 1, col. 1)

Canright tells us what strong bonds of mutual love bound him to the Adventists, and adds: "It was a terrible trial to break away from all these tender ties." (SDAR, p. 7) More than a quarter of a century afterward, he said: "Even now the tears fall fast as I write." (Ibid.) Again, we read: "I found it a terrible struggle to break away from what had held me so long." (Ibid., p. 14) His wife felt the same way. After her death, Canright wrote in the obituary he prepared for the Review and Herald for June 12, 1913: "She cried when circumstances separated her from these old ties" (p. 575).

The actual demission took place on Feb. 17, 1887. (Ibid., p. 51) Of this G.I. Butler speaks as follows:

"Feb. 17, he gave his reasons in public before the Otsego church, of which he was a member. The writer was present. In his remarks concerning our people and the treatment he had received among us, he was very kind and conciliatory. He stated that he thought there was a larger percentage of true Christians among our people than among any other denomination with which he was acquainted. He expressed a high appreciation of, and confidence in, some of our leading men, believing them to be honest, devoted servants of Christ. He said he was perfectly satisfied with the treatment he had received among Seventh-day Adventists. He had no fault to find with them on that score, and felt that they had used him in all respects as well as Christians should.
"He expected to unite with the Methodists, Baptists or some other evangelical denomination, and continue to labor in the ministry as long as he lived. He professed the most pacific intentions concerning us, saying that he should never pursue the course some others had who have left us, becoming bitter assailants of our people, but should give himself to revival and Christian work, which was the work of his choice. He was utterly sick of the debating and fighting spirit. He had formerly had some love for such things, but now his only desire was to labor for the salvation of souls. He expressed himself very strongly on this point, and said that he never could become a Campbellite, a First-day Adventist, or a Seventh-day Baptist. He was opposed to their fighting spirit, and expressed strong dislike for them.
"At the close of the meeting, at his earnest request his name was dropped quietly from the church roll, that we might separate as peaceably as possible. He came to the writer in a very friendly way, and expressed the wish that he might present a brief statement of his change of views through the columns of the Review and Herald, our church paper. We answered that he could send in such a statement, and if it was consistent we would publish the same. He did so, and it was published verbatim in the issue of March 1. In it he expresses great sorrow that he felt compelled to part company with us, and gives a few of his reasons for so doing. He also says: ‘Personally I have not one word of fault to find either with the church where I live, or with those with whom I have labored. I have been treated justly, liberally and tenderly. There is not one hard feeling between us as far as I know. It will always give me pleasure to regard our people and speak of them as an honest and devout people.’
"In view of his pacific intentions, so strongly expressed, -- though we had little idea he would in the end carry them out, knowing full well the spirit which usually takes possession of those who leave the work of God, -- we determined to do nothing that would give him the slightest cause for complaint on our part.
"Accordingly, in publishing his statement in the Review and Herald, we took occasion to speak of him as kindly as possible, consistent with a true representation of his course. In private letters after this, he expressed himself as well pleased at our treatment of him; and we continued to correspond pleasantly as before.
"After the lapse of some weeks, we received letters from him complaining of the conduct of private persons among us who wrote to him in a bad spirit, imputing unworthy motive to him; but he gave no names. He also spoke of an article in the Review and Herald which he supposed referred to him, though his name was not once mentioned in it. To still follow a pacific course, and make everything as pleasant as possible, and take away all just grounds of complaint concerning our treatment of him, the writer penned another article for the Review of March 22, headed, ‘A Few more words concerning Eld. Canright.’ It begins as follows:
" ‘We had not intended to say anything further concerning the subject of Eld. Canright’s withdrawal from our people, believing the better way to treat all such cases is to say as little as possible of that which will be likely to stir up personal feeling and bitterness. The separation of old friends and associates is painful enough at best. For our part, we much prefer to entertain no feelings worse than pity for those who have given up that which to us is the most glorious and precious of all things upon earth – the present truth.
" ‘The only exceptions we would make in these instances is where they attack and misrepresent that truth which we fell called upon ever to defend as the truth of God. Then we should feel it duty to speak out plainly, and show the difference between truth and error’.
"This has ever been our position. Then follow words of caution to our people, to avoid everything in this case calculated to stir up bitterness, imputing evil motives, etc., urging all to leave Eld. Canright to the righteous judgment of God, and not take the judgment seat ourselves. Next follows a statement concerning his leaving us, presenting it in a light as favorable to him as the truth would possibly warrant. The reason why this was written, was to prevent our people as much as possible from doing anything to provoke him and give him any reasonable ground of complaint, and make them view him as favorably as they reasonably could. ... In private letters Eld. Canright warmly thanked us for writing as we did." (R&H E, p. 1, col. 1 f.)

The statement just referred to consists of these sentences:

"In leaving us, he has taken a much more manly and commendable course than most of those who have withdrawn from us, coming voluntarily to our leading brethren and frankly stating the condition of mind he was in. He did this before his own church in our presence, and so far as we know has taken no unfair, underhanded means to injure us in any way. He goes from our midst with no immoral stain upon his character, and chooses associations more pleasant to himself. This is every man’s personal privilege if he chooses to take it." (Ibid., p. 15, col. 1)

An Adventist elder, T.S. Parmelee, declared in the Colon Lake Breeze of Sep. 2, 1887:

"It would be foolish for us to refuse to acknowledge his [Canright’s] intellectual ability, his self-made scholarship, his tact or his energy. ...while he was with us, I never knew him to misrepresent an opponent...and he left us with a fair reputation." (SDAR, 4th ed., p. 10)

On Friday, Feb. 25, 1887, the Weekly Union of Otsego, after announcing the withdrawal of Canright and his family from the Adventist church, published the following letter from him under the caption, "Change of faith":

"Editor, Union: -- As many of your readers know, or soon will know that I and my wife have withdrawn from the Seventh-day Adventists church, it may be of interest to all and justice to myself and the church to state a few reasons for this. It was not on account of any trouble in the church, or any trial between us and them. The church was never in a better condition, though it has a few trials as all churches have. I have been treated in the most fair and liberal manner, both by the church in Otsego and by the denomination in general. All was done for me that possibly could be done in justice and truth to keep me with them. Our separation was a source of the deepest regret to myself and to them. We parted with the kindest feelings. On my part, I have no one word of fault to find. I pray God to bless them still, for I know them to be an honest, sincere, devout people. But I lost confidence in the doctrine of the church. I have had my doubt on some points for years, but tried to make myself believe with the church, till my convictions became so strong that I could do so no longer. I became fully satisfied that keeping the seventh day is an error productive of evil rather than of good. The visions of Mrs. White are held by them to be inspired. I satisfied myself beyond all doubt that they are only the imaginings of her own mind. I could not believe the position of our people on several points of prophecy vital to the faith. I also felt that our people were too narrow and exclusive in their feelings toward other churches. I have not lost any of my faith in the Bible, in the Gospel, in the dear Savior, or in the necessity of a holy life. I expect to soon unite with some orthodox church and labor as a minister there. I feel that I can labor there with more faith, freedom and usefulness than where I have been."

Writing sometime later about his withdrawal, Canright says:

"At the time I left I was getting higher pay than ever before, and was on friendly terms with all. All the leading men, as Butler, Haskell, Smith, etc., were my warm personal friends, ready to do all in their power to assist me. Had I desired office, or better position, all I had to do was to go right along without wavering, and positions would come to me faster than I could fill them. But if I left them, where could I go? What could I do? How even make a living? I took this all in, and it required all the courage and faith in God I could master to take the risk.
"It cost me a terrible struggle and a great sacrifice, for in doing it I had to leave all my life-long friends, the cherished hopes of my youth, the whole work of my life, all the means of my support, every honorable position I held, and bring upon myself reproach, hatred and persecution. I had to begin life anew, among strangers, with untried methods, uncertain where to go or what to do. No one who has not tried it can ever begin to realize the fearful struggle it requires. It is the dread of all this which holds many with them who are yet dissatisfied where they are. I know that this is so, for many have confessed it to me, and yet remained where they were. Anyone of candor and fairness can see readily that self-interest and personal ambition would have held me with them." (Ibid., p. 55)

Thus both sides appear to have lamented the separation, and both sides appear to have aimed at showing kindness to the other. But this state of truce was to be short-lived, as the next chapter will show.

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