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Article: 2

Divine Guidance in a Sensitive Area

The two Ellen G. White presentations, (I) "Our Duty to the Colored People," read as an appeal to the leaders of' the church in March, 1891, and (2) an article in the Review and Herald, April 2, 1893, entitled "Work Among the Colored People," established with clarity and for all time the Seventhday Adventist recognition of the brotherhood of mankind. Both statements were also aimed at calling Seventhday Adventists to accept the responsibility for a strong missionary "work among the colored people. ' These two points the church must not forget, nor can we at any time hedge on them.

At the same time, Ellen White in both presentations recognized that there was a certain risk involved, which might affect the possibility of the church's fulfilling its mission. She urged discretion and caution lest the cause of God be hindered. Her one concern was that no steps should be taken which would deter or block the heralding of the third angel's message. She closed her urgent appeal with these words:

"We shall need to move with carefulness, being endowed with wisdom from above. "--Review and Herald, April 2, 1895. p. 210.

Ellen White understood the significance of these words better than did her readers. In vision she had received information and instruction concerning the caution which as the work developed we must exercise, but which for a time she was not at liberty to disclose.

Premature delineation of this advance instruction might blur in the minds of some the great principles that must be forever made clear that, regardless of color or background, all men are brothers.

In 1895, as we were launching a concerted, well organized missionary work for the colored people in the deep South, Seventhday Adventists in the Southern States in their resistance to Sunday laws came to public attention. A number were imprisoned for the violation of local or State Sunday ordinances. Some were condemned to hard labor in chain gangs.

Many of our church members understood and applied literally the words of the fourth commandment, "Six days shalt thou labor" as requiring physical labor on Sunday that would be apparent to their neighbors. The public press carried the story. We too made the most of the persecution in our journals, confident that in this we were doing God service.

Now the third angel's message was beginning to reach the colored communities of the deep South. What should we teach these people about Sunday work? The situation was freighted with danger to the cause.

At a council meeting in Australia, November 20, 1895, the matter was brought before Sister White, and she firmly drove in certain stakes that saved the church from moves that could lead to disaster, and in the enunciation of three basic principles provided safe guidance. These were:

1. No one set of rules could be established to govern in all places the work in such delicate matters. This was especially so in the South.

2. It was not essential for us to perform physical work publicly on Sunday as a sign of allegiance to God.

3. The hours of Sunday might well be spent in missionary work, thus literally foiling the enemy.

She wrote that day a statement that was hurried to the United States and soon appeared in a tract. In it she said, in part:

"The light that the Lord has given me at different times has been that the Southern field, where the greatest share of the population of the colored race is, cannot be worked after the same methods as other fields. "--Special Testimonies to Ministers and Workers, No. 6, pp. 47, 48; also in The Southern Work, p. 98.

Coming then to the question of working on Sunday, she counseled:

"Should the colored people in the Southern States be educated, as the" receive the truth, that they should work on Sunday, there would be excited a most unreasonable and unjust prejudice. Judges and jurors, lawyers and citizens, would. if they had a chance, bring decisions which would bind about them rites which would cause much suffering, not only to the ones whom they term guilt)' of breaking the laws of their State, but all the colored people everywhere would be placed in a position of surveillance, and under cruel treatment by the white people, that would be no less than slavery. " --Special Testimonies to Ministers and Workers, No 6, p. 48; also in The Southern Work, p. 98.

And then she warned:

"Everything of a character to set them in a position of opposition to authorities, as working on Sunday, would cause the colored people great suffering, and cut off the possibility of the white laborers' going among them; for the workers that intended to do them good, would be charged with raising insurrections.

"I do not want anything of this character to appear, for I know the result. Tell them they need not provoke their neighbors by doing work on Sunday; that this will not prevent them from observing the Sabbath.

"Punishment for any offense would be visited unsparingly and unmercifully upon the colored people. "--Special Testimonies to Ministers and Workers, No. 6, pp. 48, 49; also in The Southern Work, p. 99.

In the cautions she sounded, we find these:

"There is not to be one word uttered which would stir up the slumbering enmity and hatred of the [former] slaves against discipline and order, or to present before them the injustice that has been done them.

"Nothing can be done at first in making the Sabbath question prominent, and if the colored people are in any way educated to work on Sunday, there will be unsparing, merciless oppression brought upon them. "

--Special Testimonies to Ministers and Workers, No. 6, p. 50; also in The Southern Work, p. 101.

Ellen White saw clearly that such ill advised moves on the part of Seventhday Adventists as counseling the colored people to engage publicly in physical work on Sunday would precipitate a time of crisis prematurely and close the way for the proclamation of the third angel's message to all classes of people. And she declared:

"The final issue of the Sabbath question has not yet come, and by prudent actions we may bring on a crisis before the time. "--The Southern Work, p. 136.

Ellen White's counsels were accepted. The precious work was thus guarded and the way kept open to herald the message among both races in the South. Families moved into the South to respond to Ellen White's advice, given in 1895:

"The most successful methods are to encourage families who have a missionary spirit, to settle in the Southern States, and work with the people without making any noise.

Schools should be started by families coming into the South. "--Special Testimonies to Ministers and Workers, No. 6, p. 52; also in The Southern Work, pp. 103, 104.

"Not a word should be spoken to create prejudiced, for if by any careless or impulse speech to the colored people in regarded to the whites any prejudice is created in their minds against the whites, or in the minds of the whites against them, the spirit of the enemy will work in the children of disobedience."--The Southern Work, p. 131.

Again and again Ellen White sounded cautions aimed at guarding against any moves that might lead prejudiced people to hinder the work of God in a field where the doors could be so easily closed. On June 5, 1899, she wrote:

The Southern Work

A question has been raised concerning the source and circulation of The Southern Work, a booklet of early years. All the materials appearing in its 147 pages were from the pen of Ellen G. White. The several articles comprising its content were assembled by her son J. E. White as he pioneered the work along the Mississippi River in the South, and were printed in 1898 on his missionary boat The Morning Star.

He issued this booklet as a means of appealing to Seventh-day Adventists to work among the large population of Negroes who were barely a generation out of Americas shameful system of slavery. It sets forth certain counsels and cautions relating to that work. The heart of the booklet is constituted of the nine articles Mrs. White published as a series in the Review and Herald in 1895 and 1896. About the year 1901 supplementary pages were added consisting of messages of counsel and caution to workers laboring in the Southern States.

As Ellen G. White set forth her appeals, within twenty-five or thirty years of the proclamation of the emancipation of the slaves, she made frequent reference to the conditions among the colored population at the time she wrote. The depiction of the state of affairs then existing does not describe conditions as they are today. Great changes have taken place in the status of the Negro American.

Her statements as they appear in this booklet also present the neglect by the church up to that time of the work it should be doing for this our largest ethnic minority. These messages brought about a change and a well-organized, strong work has been done and continues to be done, as is attested to by the more than 50.000 members of Negro ancestry who are currently in numerous churches across the nation.

The booklet. The Southern Work. has its primary value today as a part of the historical record, and it should be read in its historical context with an understanding of the times in which it was published. This booklet has just been reprinted and is obtainable through your Book and Bible House.

"It is the prejudice of the white against the black race that makes this field hard, very hard. The field is one that needs to be worked with the greatest discretion. The relation of the two races has been a matter hard to deal with, and I fear that it will ever remain a most perplexing problem"--Ibid. , pp. 117, 118.

And she reminded the church again in an article published in the Review and Herald of October 24, 1899. page b77, that:

"In Christ Jesus we are one. By the utterance of one name, 'Our Father,' we are lifted to the same rank. We become members of the royal family, children of the heavenly King His principles of truth bind heart to heart, be they rich or poor, high or low.

"When the Holy Spirit moves upon human minds, all petty complaints and accusations between man and his fellow man will be put away. The bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness 'will shine into the chambers of the mind and heart. In our worship of God there will be no distinction between rich and poor, white and black. All prejudice will be melted away. When we approach God, it will be as one brotherhood. We are pilgrims and strangers, bound for a better country, even a heavenly. There all pride, all accusation, all self deception, will forever have an end Every mask will be laid aside, and we shall see him as lie is ' There our songs will catch the inspiring theme, and praise and thanksgiving will go up to God. "

Testimonies for the Church, volume 7, was published in the year 1902. It contained counsels regarding the need of the Southern field, and again the church was reminded of the common brotherhood of one segment of the human family to another segment. Note these words: "

The Lord has looked with sadness upon that most pitiful of all sights, the colored race in slavery. He desires us in our work for them, to remember their providential deliverance from slavery, their common relationship to u5 by creation and by redemption, and their right to the blessings of freedom"--Page 223.

Of that potentiality of these people, she observed:

"The colored people deserve more from the hands of the white people than they have received. There are thousands who have minds capable of cultivation and uplifting. With proper labor, many who have been looked upon as hopeless 'will become educators of their race. Through the grace of God the race that the enemy has for generations oppressed may rise to the dignity' of God given manhood and womanhood"--Ibid. p. 229