Steve Daily Responds to Alden Thompson and Jonathan Butler
By Steve Daily | 9 March 2021 |
Thank you, AT, for the opportunity to respond to Alden’s letter. It was curious that he was “stunned” that AT would interview me as the author of a book that clearly deserves dialogue and discussion within Adventism. If the “allegations” in the book are unjustified, he should provide convincing evidence, rather than disparaging AT for presenting different sides of issues and promoting dialogue. “Convincing,” because the two pieces of evidence Thompson cites in his letter, defending James and Ellen against repeated charges of “profiteering,” leveled against both of them, seem quite unconvincing. I would like Thompson’s explanation for James and Ellen committing a premeditated con on Joseph Bates to get his desperately needed support, having the nineteen-year-old Ellen fake a vision, when the couple was as poor as church mice.
In this vision, Ellen claimed God showed her “beings” on a planet that Bates declared to be Jupiter from her description, with many other inaccuracies, based on fallacies of the time. The con was successful; from that day forward Bates became a co-founder who gave James and Ellen much needed support; in turn Ellen had timely “visions” to support strange views Bates espoused like the “Seven-year-theory” that Christ would return on October 22, 1851. This was just the beginning. In the 1840s and 1850s, Ellen repeatedly had “visions” where God “showed” her He was coming so soon that church members were to sell their homes and possessions, and give the money to the “cause.” When the visions proved to be untrue, many were left destitute, while the Whites financially prospered. Abundant examples demonstrate James and Ellen becoming rich at the expense of church members. They became multimillionaires by our standards today, lived luxuriously, and owned a huge amount of real estate including mansions, hardly the picture Adventism has painted.
Thompson would have us believe that James was “exonerated” of all wrongdoing in the investigations that were conducted over his financial dealings, but John Harvey Kellogg and many others “proved” that this was not the case. They provided absolute evidence that James misused church funds, and the church conceded that Kellogg was correct, by making it right after the death of James. Ellen had “visions” supporting her husband’s wrongful financial dealings. Uriah Smith’s comments at a funeral hardly compare to the kind of proof Kellogg provided, to force the church to pay $5,000, $250,000 in our money today ($500,000 by Thompson’s figures), to pay back what Kellogg described as outright “theft” by James. Thompson appeals to the generosity of James, claiming he didn’t take a salary his last two years of life, that he gave the equivalent of two million dollars to church causes. Kellogg documented that much of this money was repayment for illegal borrowing James had done from the Sanitarium and the Review. “Why did James have millions of dollars in the first place?” Read the book. It is one thing to plagiarize, and defraud, but quite another to misrepresent Almighty God, to attribute to Him ridiculous and harmful ideas, while claiming to be His “messenger.” As documented, both James and Ellen pulled remarkable con jobs on the Adventist church.
Thompson’s use of Walter Martin as a character witness for Ellen White is quite laughable. I would never suggest Ellen didn’t have good things in her books. If any of us had freedom to plagiarize anything, most of us could write good books. But, Martin was deceived by Adventist leadership. When he discovered that he had been duped, he went on the John Ankerberg Show, “Christianity Versus Seventh-day Adventism,” in 2007, and re-affirmed that Adventism was a cult, and that Ellen White was a false prophet (see endnote 323 in my book). Thompson is not fairly representing Martin in his “scholarship.”
Thompson deems my book “exit literature.” This is an academic slur for emotional and unscholarly work that is motivated by a person leaving a given entity feeling that they were mistreated. I would not dispute that I was mistreated by the Adventist hierarchy, but I make it clear my life was greatly blessed during the years I spent in Adventism. I left the church in 2010 because I no longer wanted to deal with the tragic dishonesty I had encountered from Adventist leadership, and I knew the unsound basis of the denomination’s teaching. I had no intention of looking back, no ill will toward the church, no intention of ever writing another book about Adventism and certainly not about Ellen White (4 was enough). It took a hacker working with a White Estate insider to reveal damning documents that had been withheld from researchers, such as myself. I knew I had to address these documents and I needed to do it in the context of a psychobiography, because I was uniquely qualified to write such a book and no true psychobiography had been written on Ellen White.
As the title indicates, my book is a psychobiography, a whole venue of writing, not exit literature. I acknowledge in the book that it goes beyond classic psychobiography by including a sprinkling of anecdotal, theological and ethical comments, as well as some personal reflection. But, the overwhelming content of the book focuses on historical documentation and psychological interpretation. Psychobiography differs from classic historical biography in its attempt to examine, explore and interpret the psychological dynamics which seemed to be at work behind the historical evidence. It wasn’t my purpose in the book to diagnose Ellen White, for that’s not ethical for a psychologist to do. Providing the readers with both historical documentation and psychological diagnostic categories which might fit with the evidence, and encouraging them to decide for themselves was my goal. The psychiatrist/historian who wrote the classic psychobiography on Joseph Smith, Robert Anderson, served on my reading committee and gave my book high marks. Does Alden have psychological training that I am unaware of, which makes him a more qualified critic?
In his attempt to further denigrate my book, Thompson appeals to the research of a friend who found, by using a Kindle version of my book, that it uses the word “fraud” 49 times, “lie” 42 times, “plagiarism” 126 times, and “pathology” 49 times. What impressive research! Somehow Alden thinks this supports his argument that the book is exit literature. The important issue is, were these words used appropriately or in harmony with the historical evidence? Thompson makes no comment on this point, which I find quite revealing. I believe I know who his “researcher” was, and that he engaged in some highly questionable behavior trying to dig up dirt on me.
Finally, I am very concerned about Alden’s attempt to employ his own version of cancel culture on AT, Loren Seibold, and myself. I’m sure there are many issues upon which Thompson and I disagree, but it would never occur to me to try to suppress his right to express himself, try to deny him publication, or censor him. This kind of thinking is the antithesis of healthy research, writing and journalism. It is the equivalent of academic malpractice. For Alden to try to shame Seibold and suggest that posting my interview somehow degrades the reputation of AT is not only tragic but disgraceful. I would be not only embarrassed, but humiliated to make such comments in writing, much less in an open publication. Thompson suggests that he is somehow tainted now, because they have published this interview, and it might reflect on him as a past contributor to AT. Can Thompson only write for magazines that steer clear of authors who don’t agree with him or measure up to his “lofty” standards? I find this quite condescending and unfortunate. Thompson should not be concerned with how AT has “tainted” him, but with how he has tainted himself by what he has published in this letter.
Kudos to AT for showing the courage, competence, and basic decency to model true journalism – which unfortunately is becoming more and more rare in our generation. Just as academia has suffered dramatically in recent decades, by replacing a passion and pursuit for truth with PC culture and cancel culture, so journalism has suffered, being trained by these same politically compromised academics. I experienced this firsthand when I left La Sierra University at the end of the 1999 school year (you can read the story in the last chapter of my book, The Prophetic Rift II – available on Amazon and on my website: egwpsychobio.com:store). It is not my expectation that everyone will agree with my interpretation of the historical evidence I have published about Ellen White. But, I am a true teacher, my goal is to have the reader test all things and hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). You decide for yourself. But, don’t let the power-hungry controllers parading as academics, who are actually arrogant elitists wanting to suppress diversity of thought, stand in your way. The Kingdom of God has no place for “cancel culture,” or should I say, “cancer culture.”
Response to Jonathan Butler Letter
In his recent letter about my new book, Ellen G. White: A Psychobiography, my friend Jonathan Butler asks what has changed in my thinking about Ellen White, and rejects the notion that Ellen was guilty of fraud. Jonathan implies that I basically knew everything about Ellen White 40 years ago that I write about her in my latest book. This is certainly not the case. I learned a great deal more about Ellen in my research for this latest book than I ever knew before. I can say that each of my historical books have been focused on very specific themes. My MA thesis in history (1982) was focused on the 1919 Bible Conference as it related to the higher criticism debate in 19th-century America, and showed how both liberal and conservative scholars in the church colluded to hide the findings from this conference, bury the minutes in the GC archives and see them lost and forgotten for more than 50 years. Instead of dealing with the truth and sharing it with the church, both groups, for different reasons, chose their own self-benefit over truth. So, what should have been addressed more than 100 years ago remains unaddressed because of academic dishonesty.
My doctoral dissertation at Claremont (1985), “The Irony of Adventism,” explored the paradox of Ellen White’s strong female leadership role in the church, compared with her opposition to women’s ordination and fairly regressive attitudes and writings towards women in general. My Ph.D. dissertation (1991) focused on Adventist adolescents and addiction in the light of the Valuegenesis research. My two books on Ellen White and Adventist history, The Prophetic Rift I & II (2008, 2009), looked at why Adventists related to Ellen White in the context of Old Testament prophecy when they should have evaluated her as a post-New Testament professed prophet. And Ellen White: A Psychobiography (2020) embraces the challenge of exploring whether the repeated accusations of fraud and pathology against Ellen White leveled by various individuals over the years stand up under historical and psychological scrutiny.
It is only in this latter book that I have addressed the question of fraud and pathology head on, and in that process have become 100% convinced that Ellen White had very significant pathology, which resulted in her increasing tendencies towards dishonesty, plagiarism and fraud. Jonathan seems convinced that “fraud is a bridge too far.” So I would ask him, is extensive plagiarism, stealing the works of others, and then claiming that those materials were given you by God, while you insist on the highest royalties for such books and become a millionaire, FRAUD? Is claiming that your writings (which were not hers) were not of human origin, but only “what God has opened before me in vision” (5T 67), and that anyone who did not heed them would have the “Holy Spirit” “shut away” from their “soul” (1 SM 46) FRAUD? How about attributing all kinds of false and unhealthy views, that clearly came from 19th-century authors, to God, that involved racism, God hating various children, masturbation causing a number of serious diseases and premature death, etc., etc, FRAUD?
Is repeatedly, over many years, insisting that God gave you visions showing his coming was so soon that Adventists were to sell their homes and give the money to the church (while you keep your home), and then when the prophecy fails, and people who believed are destitute, ignoring them, while you get rich, FRAUD? Is a lifetime pattern of claiming to have visions, which demonize those who question your authority and literally see many of them lost for eternity, while you have the testimonies about them read publicly in church, and fail to follow Matthew 18 by going to the person individually, and many of these “visions” are proven to be false, FRAUD? (I lost track of how many lives she destroyed in this manner.) How about claiming to have a vision that exonerates your husband, who was guilty of embezzling at least $250,000 in our money today, from church institutions (p. 245), only to have the “vision” proven wrong after your husband’s death, and the money returned to its rightful source; is this FRAUD? I find it hard to believe that Jonathan is familiar with all this material (and much more) and still insists that none of it constitutes FRAUD! But, if that is true, I will not be doing any business dealings with my friend Jonathan in the near future!
He is anxious to see me interviewed in a setting where I am not given what he terms “sycophantic” questions (softball questions for the rest of us). I am more than happy to dialogue, describe, debate and defend my book, in an equitable setting, with any interviewer, including Jonathan, at any time which can be arranged.
Steve Daily is the author of Ellen White: A Psychobiography, was an SDA pastor for 35 years, a university chaplain, campus pastor, and faculty member teaching in the fields of religion, history and psychology for 20 years, and has been a licensed psychologist in the state of California for the last 28 years. He has written twenty-seven books, including many academic works. According to Writer’s Life magazine website, “His experience both in the church and as a psychologist, made him the perfect candidate, if not the only person qualified, to write such a definitive book.”