by Tuwan Ussery White | 18 January 2024 |
Speaking to supporters on December 12, 2023, in Manchester, New Hampshire, Nikki Haley was asked about the cause of the Civil War. She said
I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.
Leaving her audience confused and speechless for making no mention of slavery, she added:
I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are, and I will always stand by the fact that I think government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people. Government doesn’t need to tell you how to live your life. They don’t need to tell you what you can and can’t do. They don’t need to be a part of your life.
The voter who asked her the question responded:
In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word slavery.
Well, it’s not astonishing to me that Haley, like many others, is confused about the Civil War. This isn’t the first time we have heard variations of the Civil War’s history, because the truth is that many people didn’t learn the truth about it in school.
When American history is not told accurately, students are left confused.
I think this is a part of a larger problem, which is what happens when we don’t tell our story. We can’t simply leave it up to schools to tell the true story about history, because when they do they ban books.
This is what we are seeing in nearly twenty-three states. Some tell a confusing variation, such as the effort we see in Florida, led by Ron DeSantis. The Florida State Board of Education, in a 216-page document about the state’s 2023 educational standards in social studies, says, “Slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
It is morally wrong and racist to espouse that chattel slavery benefited enslaved Africans because they learned skills that they otherwise didn’t know. Africans already had skills before they were brought here against their will, and the only people benefiting from their enslavement were their oppressors.
So it is not surprising to me that Nikki Haley would make such an ignorant statement because she, along with Ron DeSantis, is ignorant of American history. This is why DeSantis is banning books in Florida: because the books that he is banning tell a story about American history that he doesn’t agree with. Perhaps both DeSantis and Haley could benefit from a refresher course in United States history.
Ellen White’s history of slavery
I believe there is an opportunity for Adventist schools to start telling our prophetic story about the Civil War. Ellen White wrote about the Civil War and how it started.
On November 3, 1859, Ellen White received a vision regarding John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. She said
Brown’s motives in that movement were all right. His sympathies were aroused for the cruel treatment of the slaves that led him to make the move. He did to secure for them what our Declaration of Independence says all men are entitled to – liberty. John Brown’s raid was not for plunder nor murder.
J. N. Loughborough, who was present with Ellen White, recounts
She then gave us to understand that there yet would be a move made in this country, on a much greater scale than that of John Brown’s, for liberating of the slaves.
This vision occurred in 1859, which was two years before the start of the Civil War. (This is recounted in some detail by F.C. Gilbert in Divine Predictions of Mrs. Ellen G. White Fulfilled, 2014)
Perhaps Nikki Haley should read Ellen White. If she did, she would be able to answer the Civil War question thoroughly.
Negotiating the Civil War?
Haley isn’t the only politician who is ignorant on this issue. Notice what Donald Trump said about the Civil War on January 6, 2024, in Newton, Iowa. Trump said the Civil War “could have been negotiated” rather than causing years of bloodshed.
Wait a minute! Did he just say that the Civil War could have been negotiated?
What would have happened if the Civil War was negotiated is well-documented. J. N. Loughborough tells of a speech on June 29, 1891, when the former governor of Kansas, John P. St. John, addressed a crowd. He explained that if the Civil War had been negotiated, slavery would have continued.
I was never so disappointed as I was when the confederates whipped us at Bull Run. But it was all a part of God’s plan. Had we whipped the Confederates, the politicians would have hatched up a peace, and the Union would have continued with slavery, and we would have had it today. For two years, the Confederates had the advantage, but after Lincoln issued the famous Emancipation Proclamation, we had swung around to God side, and could not lose.
It seems that Donald Trump could also use a refresher course in American history—perhaps he, too, should read Ellen White. However, he probably holds the same disparaging sentiments about the Adventist Church as he did when he was campaigning in Jacksonville, Florida, going after then-rival Ben Carson. Trump said,
I’m Presbyterian, boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness. I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about. I just don’t know.
Trump disparagingly implied to his MAGA followers that the Seventh-day Adventist church isn’t a real church and doesn’t have any real value in the evangelical community.
(This wasn’t the first time that Trump attacked another candidate’s religion: he also backed claims that President Obama was a Muslim.)
Church members and politics
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Ellen White said that church members should be cautious about partisan politics. In Gospel Workers (pp.391-392), Ellen White writes: “We cannot with safety vote for political parties; for we do not know whom we are voting for.” “It is a mistake for you to link your interests with any political party, to cast your vote with them or for them.”
The question we need to ask ourselves: why aren’t we teaching this in all our Adventist academies and institutions of higher learning? Adventists shouldn’t miss the opportunity to tell the prophetic story about how God’s hand was in the Civil War, and how God didn’t permit the North to gain the victory until slavery was front and center.
Furthermore, we could also preach this in evangelistic meetings, along with the truth that America is the two-horned beast in Revelation 13:11, instead of some watered-down version suggesting that America will become the beast in the future.
Church founders labeled America as the lamblike beast because they saw that America had said that all men are created equal, but then turned around and genocided Natives, took their land, and enslaved Africans.
The pioneers speak
I leave with you the words from the early Adventist writers, in hopes that their words can help us avoid becoming the United States of Amnesia.
Says the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet the same government that utters this sentiment, in the very face of this declaration, will hold in abject servitude over 3,200,000 of human beings, rob them of those rights with which they acknowledge that all men are endowed by their Creator, and write out a base denial of all their fair professions in characters of blood. In the institution of Slavery is more especially manifested, thus far, the dragon spirit that dwells in the heart of this hypocritical nation. (Uriah Smith, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Battle Creek, Michigan, March 19, 1857.)
We regard this two-horned beast, then, as the symbol of a civil and religious power, differing in many respects from those which have preceded it. It is in appearance the mildest form of power which ever existed, but it is after having deceived the world with its wonders, to exhibit all the tyranny of the first beast. Are the pretensions of this power well founded? Let us examine. If “all men are born free and equal,” how do we then hold three million of slaves in bondage? Why is it that the Negro race is reduced to the rank of chattels personal, and bought and sold like brute beasts? If the right of private judgment be allowed, why then are men expelled from these religious bodies for no greater crime than that of attempting to obey God in something wherein the word of God may not be in accordance with their creed.” (J.N. Andrews, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, “Thoughts on Revelation XIII and XIV”, May 19, 1851, Vol. 1, No. 11, p. 84.)
What could be more just than the proclamation of civil and religious liberty? what more mild than placing all men on an equal footing, telling them that it is a self-evident truth that they are all created equal; and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? and, in matters of religion, declaring that the Bible is the only religion of Protestants, and that every man has liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience? What could be more lamb-like than this? What could promise fairer for humanity? But, reader, this is only one side of the picture. This is but one phase of this two-faced, hypocritical beast. He first appears and acts before us in mildness and equity; but there are dark, dragonic deeds, the fierce promptings of a dragon’s heart, yet in reserve for the close of this drama. For amid all these professions of mildness and uprightness, we are startled by the voice of a dragon. (Uriah Smith, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Battle Creek, Michigan, March 19, 1857.)
Tuwan Ussery White has a BSW from Oakwood University, and an MSW and MAPM from Andrews University. He is currently a Professor of Social Work at Pacific Union College and an itinerant preacher on topics of social justice and liberation.