Cutting the White Ties
The black woman hushed the tiny group of runaways behind her. Her brow furrowed, she peered into the darkness from the clump of bushes where they hid. As the clop-clop of horses' hooves and the jingle of accoutrements grew louder, she quietly lowered herself into the leafy branches. One horse stumbled slightly over a stone in the path, and the irritated imprecation of the rider could be heard clearly through the calm.
The riders pulled up to a halt beside the foliage, their shotguns and revolvers faintly discernible through the dim light as the leader paused to light his pipe. After what seemed an eternity to the trembling group lying in silence, the slave patrol rode off into the dark. Harriet Tubman squared her shoulders and led the little flock of frightened slaves in a quick dash into a field across the road.
Harriet Tubman is as widely honored today as she was denounced in the past for her valiant battle against slavery in the 1850s and '60s. She made dozens of forays deep into the slave states and brought literally hundreds out of bondage despite a standing bounty on her head. During the Civil War she served as a spy and leader for the Union Army on many occasions, earning high praise from Northern officers for her bravery and devotion to duty.
Why did this humble, uneducated woman repeatedly take her life into her hands and enter the very actions of slavery to rescue people she usually did not know? Why did she stump fearlessly around the nation speaking against the great evil of slavery? Why was this poor woman such a powerful enemy of slave interests? One need only look at her life to understand her reasons.
Born into slavery in Maryland, she grew up a Christian who revolted against the unthinking acceptance of such evil. Upon learning that she would soon be sold down South, she resolved to escape. Taking her pitifully few belongings, she eluded dogs, slave patrols, and bounty hunters as she walked to freedom in Pennsylvania. Before long she returned South to rescue other family members.
But she did not stop with family. An indomitable foe of slavery, she entered the slave kingdom again and again in search of other captives to rescue. Having known all too well the bitter fruits of bondage, she was so overwhelmed by the precious gift of freedom that she had to share it with others. God had given her a mission, and she had no choice but to return for more hostages -- even in the face of bullets, dogs, and cruel hardships.
We may look on those days with equanimity. Today we have no black slavery in America. The quest for freedom must encounter more subtle forms of bondage, such as poverty, crime, and addiction. One of the most insidious forms of slavery today is mind control, in which one man or a group dictates the beliefs and actions of others. It is especially enslaving because the victim usually does not even know his mind is held captive. Mental control techniques are especially successful in the hands of unscrupulous and paranoid religious leaders who manipulate their followers to their own advantage, often accruing vast fortunes and power in the process.
This book obviously cannot discuss all forms of mind control. It focuses instead on one form of mental bondage I have experienced first-hand. In these pages I hope to help others escape the clutches of Seventh-day Adventism -- or avoid falling into its grasp in the first place. Like Harriet Tubman, both my wife, Carole, and I were "slaves" from birth, until we too were set free. And we too have received a God-given mission to help free other captives.
We do not have the slightest malice toward Adventist members. Having "been there," we know the agony that many (perhaps most) of its clergy experience as one revelation after another about Adventism's founders and the shenanigans of its hierarchy have shattered lifelong illusions. A recent informal study in the Pennsylvania Conference of Seventh-day Adventists showed that in that conference alone upwards of 70 percent of its ministers would leave the ministry if they saw their way clear!
And how could Carole and I not love Adventist believers when to forsake them would mean casting off our own family members? To the Adventist reader I say: We have been where you are. We know the guilt and fear foisted on the laity by the General Conference and the White Estate, as well as by the SDA press. We have seen and experienced the pain, fear, and misery of members trying to understand the true meaning of the gospel through the fog of Adventism. Our message is the loving message of freedom given this world by Jesus Christ and the apostles almost two millennia ago. Praise God, dear Adventist believer; the hour of your deliverance can begin now, in the message in this book!
One warning: Do not expect this freedom to come immediately. Adventism is like layers of hardened pain; it may take quite a while to scrape away what has accumulated over time. Carole and I spent four years in study after we were first awakened before we left Adventism. But what an experience it was! Here is how it happened.
I was born and reared in the small city of Chadron in the very northwest corner of Nebraska. Both my folks were of sturdy pioneer stock, their parents having homesteaded in the area immediately after the Indian wars had culminated in the defeat of the Sioux tribe. That area was and still is truly "cowboy and Indian country," with cattlemen and Sioux Indians making up a considerable proportion of the local population. I spend many happy hours as a boy out on my maternal grandparents' farm nine miles from the Pine Ridge Indian reservation.
My paternal grandfather was a locally prominent frontier judge, and the Slattery family was much involved in the early Wild West" days of the area. Alva Slattery, my great-uncle, was even a frontier scout and Pinkerton detective, with dealings with Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch -- from both sides of the law!
My maternal grandfather joined Adventism before 1920, and before that my grandmother's father, C. C. Davis, had been the leader of the Adventist schismatic "Holy flesh" movement in southern Indiana during the 1890s. And so my mother was an Adventist from her earliest years. My father was at first a Congregationalist, then an agnostic, before studying his way into Adventism in 1935.
My parents married in April of 1940, and a year later I came into the world, followed over the next 13 years by two brothers and two sisters. Our first years were poverty-stricken. My father was (and still is) a wildcatter; that is, he looked for oil wells where oil had not yet been discovered. Although he found large amounts of oil, the money usually seemed to benefit others.
Through my religious upbringing during those early years, I learned that the entire Christian world was wrong in worshipping on Sunday and that Catholics and Protestants would soon unite and persecute us for keeping the Sabbath. Can you imagine the effect on a young boy to look around the schoolroom and believe that his classmates would someday persecute him? I also learned that we cannot know we are saved. Once, when I attended a First Christian Church vacation Bible school with a classmate, I came home and asked my mother what it meant to be saved. She replied emphatically that we are never to say that we are saved -- Sister White forbade it.
In 1953, my father, having attained a measure of prosperity from an oil gusher near Harrisburg Nebraska, elected to move us to Loveland, Colorado, where an Adventist church grade school and Campion Academy are located. That was something of a culture shock: while my public school friends had been sports-minded and open, the dominant elements in the church school seemed to be psychological "basket cases," preoccupied with curbing teenage sex and rebellion against authority. However, together with the better elements in the school, our parents set out to improve the grade school, and my eighth-grade year was much happier. My best friend DeForest Nesmith's mother was a dynamic, saintly teacher, who could at once inspire and terrorize us students; and she along with many other fine teachers and friends made my four years at Campion Academy quite happy. I made many friendships there, some of which I still cultivate today.
My two years at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, however, were much less enjoyable. Many students rebelled against the stifling atmosphere, as they view it, and some of the teachers seemed unenthusiastic and uncaring. These years also provided my first inkling of the beginning rumblings of strife within Adventism.
I remember my roommate, Larry Boshell, a ministerial student, was the first to remark to me that there was trouble in the Church: M. L. Andreason, an SDA theologian, disputed the Adventist position regarding Christ's atonement on the cross.
I also remember Arthur White, the grandson of Ellen G. White and secretary of the White Estate, coming to lecture about her ministry. In a religion class I was taking, he was challenged by a huge, retired Army sergeant who remarked that the SDA Church in Europe did not generally accept her work as the object of divine revelation. The old sergeant went on to mention that much of Mrs. White's writings wee hidden in the White Estate vaults and could not be viewed by the public. Still vivid to me is how Elder White bristled and snapped angrily that everything relevant had already been released. (In fact, until recently, nearly a third of Mrs. White's writings had not been released; much of what was released previously was "sneaked" out of the vault and has proved most embarrassing to Adventism.) This encounter left me with certain negative feelings regarding the White Estate.
My other recollection of Elder White's visit was the Friday night vespers where he displayed the huge 18-pound family Bible that he claimed Sister White, while in vision, had held up at arm's length for approximately 45 minutes. He challenged us students to select one of our peers strong enough to duplicate the feat. We chose a powerful young fellow sitting directly behind me. He held the Bible up for less than a minute, and we were all duly impressed with Sister White's "supernatural" feat.
Today the White Estate admits that any evidence that she ever held up any large Bible for a great length of time is tenuous and cannot be validated. My aide in my last SDA teaching position in Pennsylvania was a great-granddaughter of Sister White. I discussed this supposed event with her, and she agreed that undoubtedly it never happened. She telephoned her mother, who worked at the White Estate in Washington, D.C., and asked her, "Why do you still show that big Bible to people who come in, when you know that the event never took place?" Her mother answered, "But you should see their faces when they see it!"
I attended my junior year at Loma Linda University, but was forced to stay out to work the next year as my family's finances were more precarious than ever, even though my family continued to pour 25 percent of my father's gross income into the Church treasury. For this the local pastor offered prayers on our behalf and sent over a food basket.
As the family finances picked up in 1963, I finished my bachelor's degree at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley in 1964 and elected to pursue a master's degree at the University of Nebraska. Just possibly, my decision to attend there was influenced by meeting a blue-eyes blonde of Swedish extraction, Carole Sue Spangle, through a blind date arranged by my sister Carolyn. Our relationship flourished, and we saw each other often during the fall of 1964 and the winter of 1965.
Carole's family had an Adventist background similar to mine. Coming from Illinois and Indiana as second- and third-generation Adventists, Carole's parents had been lifelong participants in "The Work," as SDA employees call their vocations in the Church. Carole had been taught never to question Adventism: Adventism was right, and one should never doubt it; for if you did, you were on the beginning rung of the ladder to hell. So like me, Carole had simply suppressed all questions regarding Adventism and lived carefully according to its teachings.
After our marriage in 1965 Carole and I settle down to pleasant, prosperous years of teaching and graduate school, where we both earned master's degrees. Our only tragedy occurred in 1968, when Bobby, our first child, died of cancer. Fortunately, Carole was pregnant with William at the time, and he, along with Julie (born in 1970) and David (born in 1973) enriched our home.
The next big break in our lives occurred in 1973, I began looking for other employment as it became apparent that the private school system I worked for was going bankrupt. Learning that the Omaha Adventist Junior Academy needed a teaching principal, I applied for the position and was accepted. After two years in Omaha the Southeastern California Conference called me to California to work as a principal, first at Orangewood Elementary School and then at Ontario SDA School.
In 1975 my Union College roommate, Larry Boshell, along with a mutual friend, Wayne Anderson, left the ministry -- and Adventism. Two years later, when Larry and his family visited us in Brea, California, where we were living, I became disturbingly aware that something was terribly wrong with Adventism. Larry showed me one internal inconsistency in SDA teacher after another that I could not answer: Why were Sister White's prophecies about last-day events not coming true? Why was the White Estate so secretive about her writings? Why were the SDA responses to Ron Numbers's new book Prophetess of Health so ineffective and evasive?
Having been confronted with these seemingly insoluble problems, I began to research the Ellen White question in my spare time from graduate studies at Loma Linda University during the next summer. Could it be that Sister White had made mistakes of real consequence in her writings? We had been taught that there were none. Could it be that those proclaimed "magnificent writings" were not actually all her work? I had read F. D. Nichol's book, Ellen White and Her Critics, and had been convinced that her critics were wrong on every count -- but unanswerable questions continued to plague me.
In the fall of 1978 I made a new acquaintance, an Adventist woman knowledgeable in the advanced research going on in scholarly Adventist circles. She introduced me to Walter Rae's work, regarding Ellen White's copying. She also loaned me an issue of Spectrum, an official scholarly journal of Adventism, in which appeared an article containing the minutes of the "long-lost" 1919 Bible Conference. In those minutes A. G. Daniels, the General Conference president, discussed openly many problems relating to Mrs. White, including questions of whether the various physical phenomena associated with her visions ever actually occurred and the problems of her copying and her senility in her old age. Much of the discussion at the conference centered on how the "brethren" of the Church could be gently informed of these new findings. Finally, Daniels said he thought it best that the minutes of the meeting simply be stored on a shelf for the next fifty years! He succeeded beyond his expectations -- the minutes of the 1919 Bible Conference were "lost" until 1978.
After reading those Bile Conference minutes, I was convinced that something was rotten in the White Estate. But how could I tell Carole? She had been hostile when those "apostates," Larry his family, had shown up at our place, and she had steadfastly condemned the slightest movement away from traditional Adventism. And so I "casually" dropped the Spectrum article on the bed and told Carole, "Here's an interesting article I thought you might want to read."
Carole read the article, but her only comment was, "What do you want to do, leave the Church?" That was certainly beyond my wildest imaginings, and I emphatically denied any such "wicked" ideas. In fact, I became more alarmed than ever over my continuing doubts and decided to take them to Alex, the only local Seventh-day Adventist minister I held much respect for because of his learning and high intellect. I also felt I could trust him with such confidential matters as my concerns -- I had heard of Adventist workers who had taken their doubts to other workers only to be tattled on. Alex agreed to hear my concerns over what I had learned, but I was shocked that by the end of our second meeting this genuinely brilliant minister was reduced to repeating over and over, "Nevertheless, I believe in the Spirit of Prophecy." Needless to say, such groundless belief did not reassure me.
Evidences of fanaticism in the Ontario SDA school also contributed to my doubts. While I was moving toward an increasingly more evangelical stand, the pastor continued to teach an extremely right-wing form of perfectionism. I am convinced that he kept his church in line through fear: Anyone who disagreed with his teachings was simply "frozen out" of the local church. Several of the best members were driven out this way.
In one memorable church board meeting a visiting Adventist who was teaching "A Better Way," a highly perfectionistic course of study, remarked that he had not sinned for two years! This led Daryl, our school board chairman, to call me afterwards and exclaim: "Did you hear that? He twice said he had stopped sinning for two years!" Daryl and his family soon began attending another SDA church in the area.
Fanaticism infected the Ontario church, as well. The pastor's fine son, Jimmy, was lost on Mt. Whitney, and many members volunteered to travel to the area to search for him. At least one member had a widely credited "vision" in which he "saw" Jimmy lying injured in a mountain cave awaiting rescue. Jimmy's broken body was found a few days later at the foot of a high cliff from which he had fallen. His tragic death had been instantaneous.
I also remember the youth speech choir, which performed in churches throughout California. Several members gave stirring accounts of their visit to Elmshaven, the last home of Ellen White. They described their prayer circle in Mrs. White's bedroom, where they could "feel" the room tipping this way and that as angels landed on the floor around them! There was scarcely a dry eye in the church. Mine were dry -- I had heard too many such stories to accept this as genuine.
Finally in April of 1980 I agonizingly told Carole of my problems with believing the traditional SDA concept of Sister White. When broaching the subject it took me so long (half an hour) to get over the preliminaries that, before I could come to the point, Carole was convinced I was womanizing! When at last I explained my misgivings, she was shocked. She went to her parents, apprized them of my thoughts, and asked them if she should divorce me. My mother-in-law, bless her heart, told Carole to stay with me.
Carole then called Norman Jarnes, an old friend of hers and editor of Verdict magazine, and asked him if my facts were straight. Norman confirmed that they were but said we shouldn't "throw the baby out with the bath"; despite startling admissions by the White Estate, we should simply modify our approach to Sister White. He also promised to send some recent research by Robert Brinsmead about the SDA Sanctuary doctrine. This satisfied me, but not Carole, and several tense days passed with me sleeping on the couch before things returned to normal. The materials from Norman -- they went under the couch on arrival!
That summer of 1980 I continued my research at the Loma Linda University library. A pattern became increasingly clearer -- all paths seemed to lead to Walter Rea, pastor of the Long Beach SDA church. He was the scholar who had first reported the extent of Ellen White's copying. In early August 1980 I telephoned Elder Rea and arranged to meet him at his house.
What I saw there was astonishing. He showed me major sections in nearly all of Mrs. White's writings, then documented their origins from other writers. I estimated then that 70 percent of her writings had come from other sources, and this estimate has held up under examination. He also furnished me with extensive documentation that directly contradicted many of Adventism's assertions about her teachings and claims.
This all took place on a Friday afternoon. I took the materials home and studied them the rest of that day. Sabbath afternoon, after lunch, I showed Carole the materials, particularly the copying samples. She was as shattered as I. We could see that the portrait of Ellen White presented by Adventism -- as an almost sinless being who never made mistakes of substance in her writings, who received virtually all her messages directly from God's angel -- was an utter and deliberate lie.
Although Adventism now claims that people who are disillusioned with Sister White are largely those who believed in word-by-word dictation to her from heaven, Carole and I never had been taught that Ellen White received her messages dictated verbatim from an angel. We were prepared to accept such minor mistakes as might be made by any witness to any happening; that accorded with what we had been taught. But we were also taught that relevant factual and theological errors simply did not occur in Sister White's writings -- after all, her messages came directly from heaven. We were also unprepared to believe that a true prophetess and her successors would deliberately suppress damaging facts and deceive the brethren about the source of her writings -- a deception freely admitted by the White Estate today, after many years of denial.
But, said Carole, perhaps Walter Rea's information was fraudulent; perhaps his documentation had no basis. She called Norman Jarnes again. This time he told her not only that the information was correct but also that he and his colleagues were now forced to conclude that Mrs. White was indeed a false prophet.
Carole was still unsatisfied. Whom else did she respect that she could contact? She called John Toewes, formerly the assistant pastor of the Anaheim SDA church where we had been members before our transfer to the Ontario church. John was a brilliant, dynamic pastor of the Imperial Beach church in San Diego. His answer jolted her: Yes, Mrs. White was clearly a fraud; Adventism was wrong in its dependence upon her; as well as in its understanding of the gospel; and John's entire church was withdrawing from Adventism!
About this time my sister and brother-in-law, Virginia and Thom, visited us. We shared our alarming news with them; they were stunned. Thom called my other sister and brother-in-law, Carolyn and Ron, and disclosed our "heresy" to them. In turn, Ron called my conference education director twice to ensure that I would be fired.
Fortunately, the education director had a cool head on his shoulders. He merely called me in to the office and found that I was somewhat disillusioned and searching for the truth. After a pleasant discussion, he told me to continue to search out my beliefs and send him a letter delineating my stand.
A week later, friends of John Toewes, the Jim Larsons, showed up at our front door with a copy of Robert Brinsmead's outstanding new book, Judged by the Gospel. This book actually inspired me to stay within Adventism. It showed the basic fallacies and legends of "Whiteolatry" -- the unthinking adulation of Sister White's teachings -- well as the fallacies of the Old Adventist perfectionism. It still accepted Mrs. White's basic message as divinely inspired but pointed toward the real gospel of salvation by faith alone.
Based on this belief I wrote a letter to the conference education director reaffirming my basic faith in the inspiration of Sister White. Having settled this matter for the present, I turned my attention to the problems brought upon the Ontario church school by the pastor's right-wing philosophy.
He had imported a speaker from the Weimar Institute (an extreme, perfectionistic SDA organization) to expound the virtues of a work-study program for the elementary school, in which students in grades 1-8 would spend half of each school day, as well as part of each Sunday, working in janitorial and farm duties on the school grounds -- for free! I too had propounded some work-study all along, but nothing so drastic as this. Since such a program would lessen the time spent in the basic studies -- the three R's -- I opposed it. Aided by his loyal followers on the school board, however, the pastor got his way. His thinking was such that he told me he would carry out the program even if it forced enrollment from the present 75-80 students down to 30-35. In this he succeeded; the year after I left, enrollment dropped to approximately 30 students, resulting in much bitterness on the part of students, parents, teachers, and board members. But he got his way, and his wife, the new principal, followed the policy rigidly.
In 1981 I accepted a position as principal of a church school in eastern Pennsylvania, in what was supposedly a "gospel-oriented" church. It was there that we began to realize how far the gospel had already taken us in our thinking and how rigid and fearful Adventism really makes people; for we found that our questions and statements aroused consternation and suspicion among church members. I vividly remember the Sabbath the Mike Clute, an extreme right-wing Adventist writer, showed up in church. A good church member marched up to Carole and denounced us for bringing this "agent of Satan" into the church; we were splitting the church into factions that hated each other. The truth was that we had had nothing whatever to do with Clute's coming to church and were in total disagreement with his philosophy. As it turned out, word quickly spread throughout the congregation that "the church school teacher doesn't believe in Sister White." Well, I did in my own way at that time, but in Adventism any suspicion of deviation from the "party line" automatically destroys one's credibility with the membership.
I left the church school -- and Adventist employment -- in the spring of 1983 and continued intensive work on my MBA at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. Meanwhile Carole and I studied Adventism's doctrines in the light of the Bible for the first time in our lives. We found that all of Adventism's unique doctrines are emphatically contradicted by Scripture. This too came as an enormous blow; because we had been taught from the cradle that SDA doctrines are biblically invincible.
In March of 1984 Carole and I resigned from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and began attending a local Presbyterian church.
The local Adventist pastor could not accept our resignation a a product of our disbelief in Adventism's doctrines. I have been in enough Adventist church board meetings to realize that preachers try to label all defections from church membership as being caused either by bitterness over unkind treatment (all too common in many SDA churches) or by backsliding. But we were not backsliders; nor would we let him, try as he may, label us as bitter. Our decision to leave Adventism was based on the realization of just how unscriptural and historically false the claims of Adventism are.
Since then our family has prospered. In the spring of 1984 I accepted the position of Dean at Dickinson Business School. Here young men and women prepare for vocations in secretarial, computer, and accounting fields. I thank God for a loving staff and student body; I see miracles of transformation in this "mission field" every day. Carole is occupied full time as a wife and mother. Bill, our oldest, graduated from Yale in 1988, and both he and Julie now attend Juilliard Music School in New York City, preparing to become professional violinists. Our youngest, David, is accumulating a very impressive resume with plays, acting,and so forth. Best of all we understand the freedom and great gift of the gospel of Christ! Only a former Adventist or other cult member can comprehend the peace and security of knowing that he or she is saved by accepting the gift of Christ's death and resurrection.
Our happiness is shared with Carolyn and Ron too! A year after Ron tried to have me fired, Carolyn called us to apologize and ask what the facts regarding Adventism really were. She and Ron literally studied their way out of Adventism into Christianity. We continue to pray for the rest of our families.
With our peace and freedom, however, has come a new God-given mission -- a mission of truth and grace to those who have been or are being drawn into the grasp of Adventist deception. Adventism controls its adherents through fear and guilt. Its leaders covet the enormous revenues and power they receive from the laity. They will not hesitate to employ all the brainwashing techniques available to them to hold members under their spell. But the gospel tears the blinders away.
The remaining chapters offer a former insider's view of Seventh-day Adventism. We seek no profit or power from freeing church members from Adventism -- just the utter joy of leading honest seekers out of their mental slavery. "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
Please SHARE this using the social media icons below