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Guiding Principles in Race Relations

By: Arthur L. White
Secretary, Ellen G. White Estate

A Review of Inspired Counsels

That Tuesday, January 25, a storm threatened. For three weeks, in company with Elder and Mrs. J. N. Loughborough and their three-year-old daughter, Teresa, Ellen White had been itinerating among the churches in western Michigan. As they journeyed by carriage southward, her mind was of home, her three boys, and her husband who had expected to join her on this trip, but was prevented from doing so by urgent duties at Battle Creek. The snow was falling fast as they drove up at midday to the Hardy home some ten miles southwest of Grand Rapids. The travelers were invited in by this Adventist family. Of the reception given, Ellen White wrote in her diary that evening:

"We were heartily welcomed by the family. A good dinner was soon in readiness for us of which we thankfully partook. This is a colored family, but although the house is poor and al1, everything is arranged with neatness and exact order. The children are well behaved, intelligent, and interesting."

And then spontaneously she expressed her heart feelings in words she never thought would be read by others:

"May I yet have a better acquaintance with this dear family."--Ellen G. White Diary, Jan. 25, 1859.

The people of the Negro community were ever close to the heart of Ellen G. White. These were days of ferment over the question of slavery in the United States. A few months before. as she depicted for publication what had been shown her in the Great Controversy vision, she had written of the slave and the slave master and how they stood in the sight of heaven. See Early Writings, pp. 275, 276.

Obey God Rather Than Man

In the first volume of the Testimonies is found a dramatic early presentation of the high level on which Sister White believed we should ever view the question of slavery. As the Sabbathkeeping Adventists in those critical days just preceding the Civil war were confronted with the discussion of the courts that citizens of the North were duty bound to return a runaway slave to his master, a requirement thus making all United States citizens parties to the system of slavery, the Lord of heaven counseled His perplexed people- "The slave is not the property of any man," wrote Ellen White. "God is his rightful master," and "when the laws of men conflict with the word and law of God, we are to obey the latter, whatever the consequences may be."--See Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 20l, 202.

No one writing the history of the Advent Movement could ever be in doubt as to the fearless position of the movement in its earliest years in relation to a most grave and explosive moral issue.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861. all Seventh-day Adventists resided in the Northern States, and they were united in their attitude against the inhuman traffic in slaves. While not a few other religious bodies endeavored to justify slavery. Seventh-clay Adventists, from the outset, were opposed to it. And the light given to Ellen G. White unified and solidified the thinking and attitude of the emerging church.

When the war was over, there was great rejoicing in our ranks that the slaves were free. But Seventh-day Adventists, like other- religious bodies. promptly forgot that a large work was yet to be (lone for the so recently freed slaves. Perhaps one reason for this was that the work of the church was very slow in its develo1,inent in the South. Seventh-day Adventists, not being in direct contact with situations and conditions existing there in the first two decades following the Civil War, became quite unmindful of their responsibilities. As the evangelism of the church began in a limited way in Virginia. Tennessee. and Texas in the 1870s. some colored families were among the hearers and some took their stand for the message. But it is reported that in 1890 there were fewer than 20 colored Seventh-day Adventists south of the Mason-Dixon line.

As church leaders assembled in Battle Creek for the General Conference session of 1891, Ellen White, near the close of the session, met with them in the committee room of the Battle Creek tabernacle and read to them a lengthy manuscript concerning our duty to the colored people. In this she clearly delineated the close ties of all mankind and called upon Seventh-day Adventists to take an active part in uplifting and educating these people so recently out of slavery. (See article, pages 10-12, for the major portion of this presentation, which was later issued in pamphlet form.)

This initial statement from the pen of Ellen G. White, touching on this important subject clearly laid down certain guidelines. She vividly portrayed the brotherhood of mankind, indicating that Christ died for the colored people as well as. for the white people, and in Christs sight it is not birth, station. nationality, or color that counts, but rather character. The manuscript from which she read made it clear that she was well aware that such statements would bring her into conflict. This she did not covet, but she would perform her duty regardless of the consequences. As she neared the close of her address, speaking of the conditions of those clays, she declared, "Sin rests upon us as a church because we have not made greater effort for the salvation of souls among the colored people."

The Heart of Her Message

In the heart of this presentation to the leaders of the church, Ellen White pointed out that when the love of Jesus fills the heart. and the Christian becomes one with Christ, he will have the same spirit that Christ had. She stated that if a colored brother sits by his side, he will not be offended or despise him. Both are journeying to the same heaven and will be seated at the same table to eat bread in the kingdom of God.

The reading of the message made a deep impression on the hearts of the leaders of the church. Copies of the document in manuscript form were sent to certain workers, and copies were circulated somewhat in Battle Creek; but little was actually done. Then it was that Ellen Whites own son, Edson, who had been engaged in business in Chicago, found a copy of this appeal. He read it and it gripped his heart. He determined to do something. The task was challenging. It seemed to James Edson White to call for new and unique methods. With some river boat experience, his mind turned to a floating home and chapel. He moved ahead in constructing at Allegan, Michigan, a missionary boat, which he christened The Morning Star. With this mobile home, office, chapel, printing office, schoolroom, and living quarters for associate workers, he pioneered well-organized missionary endeavors for the Negro community along the Mississippi River in the Deep South.

He, with his company of workers, reached Vicksburg, Mississippi, January 10, 1893, ready to open up work. Now, in the practical setting of a response to her appeals for concerted work among Americans of Negro ancestry, Ellen White wrote again, this time a message for the whole church, which was published in the Review and Herald of April 2. 1895. The appeal was dual in nature, calling first for recognition that peoples of all races and nations were brothers in the sight of God. and second. that Seventh-day Adventists had a large responsibility to the colored population of the South.

The article entitled "Work Among the Colored People," Opens with the words:

"I have a most earnest interest in the work to be clone among the colored people. This is a branch of work that has been strangely neglected. The reason that this class of human beings who have souls to save or to lose, have been so long neglected, is the prejudice that the white people have felt and manifested against mingling with them in religious worship. They have been despised, shunned, and treated with abhorrence, as though crime were upon them, when they were helpless and in need, when men should have labored most earnestly for their salvation. They have been treated without pity. The Priests and the Levites have looked upon their wretchedness, and have passed by on the other side."

The article, in its clear-cut presentation, left no room in the hearts of a true Seventh-clay Adventist for animosity or apathy toward the colored population. Ellen White declared that the religious bodies generally were agreed that the colored people should be converted.

"They [the religious bodies] have no objection to this. They were willing that they should be ~rafted into the same parent stock. Christ. and become branches with themselves of the living Vine: vet they were not willing to sit by the side of their colored brethren, and sing and pray and bear witness to the truth which they had in common. Not for a moment could they tolerate the idea that they should together bear the fruit that should be found on the Christian tree. The image of Christ might be stamped upon the soul: but it still would be necessary to have a separate church and a separate service. But the question is. Is this in harmony with the moving of the Spirit of God? Is it not after the manner in which the Jewish people acted in the clays of Christ? Is not this prejudice against the colored people on the part of the white people similar to that which was cherished by the Jews against the Gentiles?"

Two Distinct Classes

Then Ellen White turns to a true distinction in the two classes in our world, as those represented in the parable of the invitation to the marriage feast. "There are two distinct classes,--" she declares, "those who are saved through faith in Christ and through obedience to His law, and those who refuse the truth as it is in Jesus." She urged, "Let national and denominational distinctions be laid aside. Caste and rank are not recognized by God and should not be by His workers."

Knowing well that there were large problems in the matter of a recognition of the principles of the brotherhood of mankind, and that procedures must be different in different places, Ellen White further counseled:

"No human mind should seek to draw the line between the colored and the white people. Let circumstances indicate what shall be done; for the Lord has his hand on the lever of circumstances. As the truth is brought to bear upon the minds of both colored and white people, as souls are thoroughly converted, they will be-come new men and women in Christ Jesus. Christ says, 'A new heart also will I give you, and that new heart bears the divine image. Those who are converted among the white people will experience a change in their sentiments. The prejudice which they have inherited and cultivated toward the colored race will die away. They still realize that there is no respect of persons with God. Those who are converted among the colored race will be cleansed from sin, will wear the white robe of Christs righteousness, which has been woven in the loom of heaven. Both white and colored people must enter into the path of obedience through the same way.

Then she points out in this basic article, appealing to the church, that-- "the test will come not as regards the outward complexion, but as regards the condition of the condition of the heart. Both the white and the colored people have the same Redeemer, who has paid the ransom money with his own life for every member of the human family." Her closing words recognize that-- "as a people we should do more for race in America than we have yet done. In the work we shall need to move with carefulness, being endowed with wisdom from above.

The Notable Series of Nine Articles

This article of appeal was followed shortly by nine articles in the Review and Herald from November 26, 1895, to February 4, 1896. These bore such titles as "An Appeal for the Southern Field," "The Bible the Colored Peoples Hope," "Spirit and Life for the Colored People," "Am I My Brothers Keeper?"

In this series of articles Ellen White depicted the situation among the colored people in the middle 1890s as it was revealed to her in vision. This picture, drawn of conditions existing within 30 years of slavery, is not a nice one, for the Negro had been neglected, and efforts towards his education had been very largely ineffective. The appeals made by Ellen White to Seventh-day Adventist lay families who could do so, to go into the South, not to colonize, but to let their light shine in various communities, brought a response that led to a strengthening of a work that was beginning for Americans of African descent.

One phase of the battle had been won. Seventh-day Adventists had come to recognize their responsibility to the colored citizens and the work among them in the Southern States was now begun. Ellen Whites presentations of race relationships in the light of Bible principles made it clear to all Seventh-day Adventists that there was no place for prejudice or distinction that would bar the Negro from close association in worship and labor.

These guidelines were forever laid down in the clearest of terms. Work among these people had now become a clearly defined part of the work of the church.

It was one thing for Seventh-day Adventists to come to recognize these principles and to be motivated by them in their evangelism beamed toward the colored population in the South. It was another thing to know how to proceed with the work in the South in such a manner as to avoid creating prejudice that could lock the doors of the homes and the hearts of many against the third angels message.

EDITORIAL

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