This week we had a special virtual guest lecture for my class “Life and Ministry of Ellen G. White” by Dr. Jud Lake, professor of religion at Southern Adventist University. The topic was “Ellen G. White and the Civil War.” Most people I believe are well aware that the American Civil War was a defining event in American history (historians refer to events before as the “antebellum period” or the time before the war, and the time afterward is known as the “reconstruction period), but what some people may not be as aware of is just how pivotal this conflict was for the shaping of early Seventh-day Adventism. The conflict, which started in 1861 and lasted for four blood years, was the backdrop for key formative events in early Sabbatarian Adventist identity: the organization of the first state conference (1861), the publishing house, and even the General Conference (1863).
At the same time American was also going through an identity crisis all its own. At the time not everyone recognized that the American South would secede. The 1860 election with Abraham Lincoln appears to have been the trigger that set off the early stages of the conflict. By April 1861 shots were fired at Ft. Sumter, South Carolina, as a series of southern states withdrew from the union.
So what was Ellen White’s role during this whole conflict? Dr. Lake highlight her four major visions:
- Jan. 12, 1861 in Parkville, Michigan
- August 1861 in Roosevelt, New York
- January 1862 in Battle Creek, Michigan
- January 1863
These early visions were published in the series of Testimony pamphlets, particularly 7 and 9. While I think you should wait until Dr. Lake’s book comes out in the spring of 2016, here are some things that stood out to me:
- Ellen White showed “no mercy” to either the North or South. “She condemned everyone,” for their role in slavery, observes Dr. Lake. “God is punishing this nation for the high crime of slavery,” Mrs. White admonished.
- Ellen White operated within the motif of the great controversy conflict. The rebellion mirrored Satan’s rebellion in heaven. All early Adventists of the time were Yankees (from the North), and within this framework she helped others to see this immediate conflict.
- Finally, “Instead of reading history backwards,” observed Dr. Lake, “we need to look at history as they did looking forward. You put yourself in the shoes of the people back then, and you try to see the future as they saw, which like our future today, is unknown and they did not know what was going to happen. As northerners the early Adventist pioneers were wondering what would happen, and they knew that the church would not survive if the South won the war. So they were fearful of the future.” At the beginning of the war Mrs. White saw that the Lord was punishing this nation for the high crime of slavery, but that the destiny of this nation was in His hands. This prophetic vision was good news for early Adventist believers. It was the beginning of a long and bloody conflict with incredible loss of life (an estimated 750,000 human beings died). “It was a true blood-letting,” observed Dr. Lake, but at the same time he reminded us that the message rings true for us today that God holds the future of the world in His hands.
Stay tuned for more details about Dr. Lake’s book as the project nears completion.