Late in 1900 Ellen G. White returned from her sojourn of
nine years in Australia, and took up residence at Elmshaven,
in northern California. She lived there until her death
in 1915. On arrival in the United States she was eager to
visit the Deep South where the work was now well under way.
When invited to attend the General Conference session to
be held in April, 1901, she planned her journey to Battle
Creek by the Southern route so she might see for herself
the fruitage of six years of earnest labor among the areas
colored population. Further trips through the South in the
ensuing eight years kept her in touch with endeavors close
to her heart.
Personal contact with the Southern field revealed substantial
numbers of Negroes joining the ranks of the Adventist Movement.
There were schools in operation and churches established.
This personal contact led her to reiterate the principles
of the brotherhood of mankind and at the same time it substantiated
all that she had written concerning the cautions which Seventh-day
Adventists must exercise if they were to succeed in proclaiming
the third angels message in areas made sensitive by race
One of the most widely read statements on race relationships
presented in the setting of the ministry of Christ she published
in 1905. It reads: Christ recognized no distinction of nationality
or rank or creed. . . . Christ came to break down every
wall of partition. He came to show that His gift of mercy
and love is as unconfined as the air, the light, or the
showers of rain that refresh the earth.
The life of Christ established a religion in which there
is no caste, a religion by which Jew and Gentile, free and
bond, are linked in a common brotherhood, equal before God.
No question of policy influenced His movements. He made
no difference between neighbors and strangers, friends and
enemies. That which appealed to His heart was a soul thirsting
for the waters of life.
He sought to inspire with hope the roughest and most unpromising,
setting before them the assurance that they might become
blameless and harmless, attaining such a character as would
make them manifest as the children of God--The Ministry
of Healing. pp. 25, 26.
The Course of Expediency
But Ellen White recognized that the prospect of a fruitful
work among both the colored and white peoples of the South
as she had personally seen it could easily be changed by
ill-advised moves, and she was led to declare: The time
has not come for us to work as if there were no prejudice.
Christ said: "Be ye therefore wise as serpents~ and
harmless as doves." Matthew 10:16. If you see that
by doing certain things which you have a perfect right to
do, you hinder the advancement of Gods work, refrain from
doing those things. Do nothing that will close the minds
of others against the truth. There is a world to save, and
we shall gain nothing by cutting loose from those we are
trying to help. All things may be lawful, but all things
are not expedient --Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 215. (Italics
With no denial of the often enumerated principles of the
brotherhood of mankind and ever calling upon the church
for the most earnest endeavors for the neglected colored
people, Ellen White, under the direction of the Spirit of
God and in the phraseology of Holy Writ (I Cor. 6:12), led
the church into a course of expediency. Anything short
of this would at the time have led to disaster and the loss
of many souls.
This guidance, calling for an expedient course, that the
cause of God be not hindered, she set forth in several articles,
and embodied them in Testimonies, volume nine,
published in the year 1909 in the section entitled "Among
the Colored People." As these counsels are readily
available to all they need not be quoted here at length.
Some reference to their historical setting is in place,
and a few key statements will be given: Ellen White repeatedly
referred to the racial prejudice which existed in the South
and she reminded the church that "circumstances warn
us that discretion is the better part of valor" (page
205). And she warned: The powers of hell are working with
all their ingenuity to prevent the proclamation of the last
message of mercy among the colored people. Satan is working
to make it most difficult for the gospel minister and teacher
to ignore the prejudice that exists between the white and
the colored people.--Page 208.
Then in words which surprised some who had not seen the
instruction to workers laboring in the South but remembered
her early counsel that or colored believers should hold
membership in the church with the white brethren, she set
before the church the only course which could be followed
and keep doors open for the spread of the third angel's
Let us follow the course of wisdom. Let us do nothing that
will unnecessarily arouse opposition - nothing that will
hinder the proclamation of the gospel message. Where demanded
by custom or where greater efficiency is to be gained, let
the white believers and the colored believers assemble in
separate places of worship.-Ibid.
At the same time Ellen White made it clear that in that
critical period no universal or timeless rules could be
laid down. As we should forge ahead with the work of proclaiming
the third angel's message and were confronted with the color
line question, two points must be kept in mind: In different
places and under varying circumstances, the subject will
need to be handled differently.-Page 213. We are not
to be in haste to define the exact course to be pursued
in the future.-Page209.
With tenderness and concern Ellen White recognized the
difficult position in which the colored believer would at
times be placed in accepting the prudent course into which
God was guiding us and she urged that the matter is to be
presented in such a way that the truly converted colored
people will cling to the truth for Christ's sake, refusing
to renounce one principle of sound Bible doctrine because
they may think that the very best course is not being pursued
toward the Negro race.-Page 215.
The church was counseled to provide the colored people
who accept the truth, with places of worship of their own,
in which they can carry on their services by themselves.
This is particularly necessary in the South in order that
the work for the white people may be carried on without
Let the colored believers be provided with neat, tasteful
houses of worship. Let them be shown that this is done not
to exclude them from worshiping with white people, because
they are black, but in order that the progress of truth
may be advanced. Let them understand that this plan is to
be followed until the Lord shows us a better way.-Pages
The messenger of the Lord envisioned arising rom the ranks
of the colored people men and women of ability who would
serve the church as capable evangelists, pastors, teachers,
colporteurs, Bible instructors, etcetera, and she declared
that "their voices are to be heard in the representative
assemblies" of the church (page 207).
And she wrote: Our colored ministers are to be treated
with consideration. ... These men are to be encouraged to
obtain a thorough knowledge of the truth. They are to learn
how to be efficient in teaching the truth to others.-Page
223. Near the close of the series of articles on the
colored work in volume 9 Ellen White restated the paramount
truth which all must ever keep in mind: The religion of
the Bible recognizes no caste or color. It ignores rank,
wealth, worldly honor. God estimates men as men. With Him,
character decides their worth. And we are to recognize the
Spirit of Christ in whomsoever it is revealed.-Ibid.
And she counseled: No one need be ashamed to speak with
an honest black man in any place or to shake him by the
hand. He who is living in the atmosphere in which Christ
lives will be taught of God and will learn to put His estimate
One point gave Ellen White deep concern. That was the matter
of controversy among brethren. She foresaw the possibility
of difficulties arising that would consume much precious
time to adjust (page 213). Agitation would not solve, but
would intensify, these problems. And she urged: Let every
believer do his best to prepare the way for gospel missionary
work that is to be done. But let no one enter into controversy.
It is Satan's object to keep Christians occupied in controversies
among themselves. He knows that if they do not watch, the
day of the Lord will come on them as a thief in the night.
We have not time now to give place to the spirit of the
enemy and to cherish prejudices that confuse the judgment
and lead us away from Christ.
It will take money and earnest, persevering effort to do
that which needs to be done among the colored people. Every
man needs now to stand in his lot and place, confessing
and forsaking his sins, and working in harmony with his
brethren. Gods workers are to be of one mind and one heart,
praying for the impartation of the Spirit and believing
that God will fulfill His word.--Page 216.
Thus Ellen White set before the church certain great principles
and lines of counsel. She made clear the brotherhood of
man. She made clear the responsibility of carrying the third
angels message to the growing population of colored Americans.
From time to time, she set before us in words of caution
the dangers which we faced and the course of action which,
in expediency, we should pursue so as to accomplish the
work which must be done. She recognized that Seventh-day
Adventists were in a very sensitive position. To sum up
her counsel: As we go forth proclaiming the Sabbath truth,
we are being closely watched by white and colored. This
should ever lead us to exceptional caution, for ill-advised
moves would lead to persecution and the Sunday issue.
The genuinely high regard she had for colored people she
ever made clear in her statements, and constantly reminded
the church of its responsibility.
Counsel Results in Strong Work
Following these counsels, a strong work in the South was
developed. Inspired expediency--great prudence-- was the
watchword. There were large accessions to the church. Institutions
of learning and for the care of the sick were developed,
and are in good running order. Regional conferences were
formed, providing maximum opportunities for numerous men
and women from the rank and file of our colored congregations
to fill responsible positions. Under this leadership growth
has been very rapid so that at present the ratio of Seventh-day
Adventist believers to population in the United Sates is
greater among the colored constituency than among the whites.
God indeed has blessed as men and women with confidence
and with restraint, ever putting the interest of Gods cause
first, have walked in the light God has given to guide safely
in this very sensitive area of race relations.
The heart of the counsels of volume 9 is the phrase, "until
the Lord shows us a better way" (page 207). Coupled
with this is the oft-repeated thought that though all things
may be lawful, all things are not expedient. We are to go
forward in a way to accomplish the greatest good with the
least controversy, tumult, or opposition. It is evident
that Sister White did not give rigid, timeless specifications
for carrying on the work for the nations largest ethnic
minority. As she so wisely counseled, in another connection,
time and circumstances must be taken into account in interpreting
certain specific counsels. This we must ever keep in mind.
As always, the Spirit of Prophecy counsels give sound and
constructive guidance. There is to be a readiness on the
part of Seventh-day Adventists to move into new opportunities,
to face new challenges, to move forward with new and better
plans as the way opens, and indeed we as a church are so