Previously, we discussed a new project of the Ellen G. White Estate aimed at re-defining the life and work of Ellen White for the youngest generation of Adventists. In the January-March 2008 issue of Ellen White: Visionary for Kids, an article by Kessia Reyne Bennett was published entitled ”My Friend Ellen”. Bennett is an Assistant Evangelism Coordinator for the Oregon Conference and writes of her upbringing in Adventism, particularly regarding the impact Ellen White played in her spiritual life. Writing about the relationship to the Adventist prophetess, Bennett writes: “My friendship with her began about 11 years ago. I was a teenager at the time and had just moved 500 miles to learn more about faith and the Bible and the Adventist message. I was starting at a new school in a new place—and I felt plenty of awkwardness trying to navigate the unfamiliar hallways and social networks. I was always glad when I could spend the weekend with my new friends at Hockinson Heights Church. It was there that I first heard about Ellen, though it was several weeks before I met her personally. And when I did, I thought that she and I would be friends for a long time.”
The reverence shown here for “Ellen” is very similar to the way Christians speak of finding Jesus Christ for the first time, which makes reading the rest of this article particularly troubling. Instead of speaking about Jesus as the revealed Son of God who is able to save and keep his sheep, Bennett places the prophetess in a mediatorial role between herself and Jesus. “Most of the reason that I liked Ellen was that she was a devout Christian. It seemed she had nothing to say that wasn’t about God, and when she talked about Him it was like she really knew Him—and I could sense it. It was inspiring, really. ... The other reason I liked Ellen was that she talked straight. Flattery is annoying, and she never flattered anybody. She was always real and always concerned about what mattered. If you were too caught up in yourself, Ellen would let you know. If you were neglecting what Jesus had asked of you, Ellen would remind you of your responsibility.”
The message for the young children reading this article is clear: make friends with Ellen White so you can be reminded of what Jesus has asked you to do. But wait! Hasn’t Jesus already spoken clearly enough? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that “long ago” God spoke by the prophets, but in “these last days” he speaks to us directly through his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2)? Apparently not in the mind of Ms. Bennett and all who would saddle the next generation of Adventists with another voice competing for their attention, ultimately drowning out the voice of the Son who has already spoken with forceful clarity.
Bennett gives us a peek into what results from listening to the competing voices—as she says it, reading Ellen White gave her a “guilt complex”. “It started to drive me crazy! And besides, she was so old-fashioned and a lot of good Christians had never read anything Ellen had written . . . I was friendly on the outside but angry on the inside, hoping I’d never run into her again.” For Bennett, these feelings of guilt did not last long. Now we reach the real heart of Bennett’s message. “But when I heard people talking bad about her, calling her a liar and fake and a cheat, it kind of woke me up. Because I knew that what had bothered me about Ellen White was her truth-telling.”
The problem with this line of thinking, of course, is that it can be easily transposed to any number of “prophets” who carry similar messages aimed at inducing guilt, modifying behavior and speaking for God. Consider the dietary and behavioral restrictions placed on Mormons. Should a young Mormon “wake up” to the truth of Joseph Smith’s ministry simply because others are critical of his message?
But there is more to the story here. Bennett seems intent on keeping the kids who are reading her article from thinking critically about Ellen White, long before they reach the age where they may gain the necessary skills to do so. She writes, “...I read up on the criticisms of her ministry and the responses too. Eventually I became convinced that the critics were wrong: Ellen G. White was a faithful messenger of Jesus. Her love for and commitment to Him was so evident on every page, and she never said anything to me that contradicted the Word. I couldn’t hold against her my hardheartedness, I couldn’t hold against her the way other people quoted her, I couldn’t hold against her her faithfulness.”
The message couldn’t be more clear. Ellen White is infallible, never contradicts Scripture, and is absolutely essential to understanding what Jesus wants you to do. Nevermind that the poor children are potentially dead in their sins and enemies of God, needing to be reconciled to the Father through the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s beside the point. Instead, the children need to discover their “friend” Ellen, who will tell them exactly how to be “good” boys and girls if they listen well, unless they harden their hearts against her.
For further reading, see Re-inventing Ellen White for Kids, part 1.