Ellen White on Politics and Voting
Theocracy -- "God's people have been called out of the world, that they may be separated from the world. It is not safe for them to take sides in politics, whatever preference they may have. They are ever to remember that they are one in Christ. God calls upon them to enter their names as under His THEOCRACY. He cannot approve of those who link up with worldlings [and churches which cannot be distinguished from the world, Early Writings, 273]. We are entirely out of our place when we identify ourselves with party interests....
God has chosen a people who are to proclaim the third angel's message to the world. They are to be a separate and peculiar people in this world of churches who are transgressing His commandments." E.G. White Manuscript Releases Volume 3, 40, 41.
The “suggestions” preceding each Ellen White statement are NOT by Ellen White. Notice how some of the “suggestions” preceding her statements actually contradict what she says!
[A compilation and analysis of Ellen G. White's statements concerning Adventist attitudes to public, political, and civic affairs—Ed.]
The purpose of this compilation is not to settle anybody's problem for him. Each Adventist must make up his own mind after individual consideration of the problem in the light of his own study of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy instruction. The purpose of this compilation is merely to point out certain references and make a few suggestions that might be helpful in applying the statements to present-day situations. The statements referred to in this compilation should all be studied carefully in their full context. There are many other pertinent statements in the various Ellen G. White documents; this compilation will aid mainly the beginner.
Becoming an Adventist may mean revision of opinions: "We are not to compromise principle by yielding to the opinions and prejudices which we may have encouraged before we united with God's commandment-keeping people."—Gospel Workers, p. 392.
The Adventist point of view should be founded on the teachings of the Bible and the instruction from the Spirit of Prophecy; the Adventist point of view in regard to public affairs must be molded by our understanding of prophecy and by our philosophy of history.
The guiding principle for the Adventist in public affairs: "The question may be asked, Are we to have no union whatever with the world? The word of the Lord is to be our guide. Any connection with infidels and unbelievers that would identify us with them, is forbidden by the Word."—Ibid., p. 394.
In his attitude to and possible participation in public affairs, the Adventist must ever remain fully and intelligently independent, always fully an Adventist. He needs also to be well educated in the Adventist way of life.
One purpose of Adventist education: "God's purpose for the children growing up beside our hearths is wider, deeper, higher, than our restricted vision has comprehended. From the humblest lot those whom He has seen faithful have in time past been called to witness for Him in the world's highest places. And many a lad of today, growing up as did Daniel in his Judean home, studying God's word and His works, and learning the lessons of faithful service, will yet stand in legislative assemblies, in halls of justice, or in royal courts, as a witness for the King of kings. Multitudes will be called to a wider ministry."—Education, p. 262.
One legitimate purpose in life may be participation in certain public affairs: "Dear youth, what is the aim and purpose of your life? Are you ambitious for education that you may have a name and position in the world? Have you thoughts that you dare not express, that you may one day stand upon the summit of intellectual greatness; that you may sit in deliberative and legislative councils, and help to enact laws for the nation? There is nothing wrong in these aspirations."—Fundamentals of Education, p.82.
Holding public office not always necessarily corrupting: "The case of Daniel has a lesson for us. It reveals the fact that a businessman is not necessarily a sharp, policy man. He can be instructed by God at every step. Daniel, while prime minister of the kingdom of Babylon, was a prophet of God, receiving the light of heavenly inspiration. . . . There is need of businessmen who will weave the grand principles of truth into all their transactions. And their talents should be perfected by most thorough study and training."—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 350. (See page 286, and Education, page 51, which speak about Joseph.)
The Ellen G. White term "businessman" does not mean merely merchant, but administrator, executive, man of affairs, organizer, et cetera. Another characteristic term of hers is "policy man"—someone guided by opportunism, seeking the immediate advantage, passing the buck, avoiding sticking his neck out. The two terms occur often in her writings.
Political organization was a part of the divinely appointed system of education in Israel: "What an industrial school was that in the wilderness, having for its instructors Christ and His angels! . . . From the outset of the journey from Egypt, lessons had been given for their training and discipline. Even before they left Egypt a temporary organization had been effected, and the people were arranged in companies, under appointed leaders. At Sinai the arrangements for organization were completed. The order so strikingly displayed in all the works of God was manifest in the Hebrew economy. God was the center of authority and government. Moses, as His representative, was to administer the laws in His name. Then came the council of seventy, then the priests and the princes, under these 'captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens' (Num. 11:16, 17; Deut. 1:15), and, lastly, officers appointed for special duties. The camp was arranged in exact order, the tabernacle, the abiding place of God, in the midst, and around it the tents of the priests and the Levites. Outside of these each tribe encamped beside its own standard. Thoroughgoing sanitary regulations were enforced.... The education of the Israelites included all their habits of life."—Education, pp. 37, 38.
Law, economics among the subjects taught: "In apportioning the inheritance of His people, it was God's purpose to teach them, and through them the people of after generations, correct principles concerning the ownership of the land. . . . A further provision for education was the suspension of agricultural labor every seventh year. . . . Thus was given opportunity for . . . study."—/bid., p. 43.
Schools of the prophets designed to educate political leaders: "These schools were intended . . . to promote the prosperity of the nation by furnishing it with men qualified to act in the fear of God as leaders and counselors. To this end, Samuel gathered companies of young men who were pious, intelligent, and studious."—/bid., p. 46. "These schools proved to be one of the means most effective in promoting that righteousness which 'exalteth a nation.' In no small degree they aided in laying the foundation of that marvelous prosperity which distinguished the reigns of David and Solomon."—/bid., pp. 47, 48.
The conclusion would not be warranted that it is God's design to promote His kingdom today by His servants seeking public office; the statements indicate, however, that God's people cannot fully ignore the public aspects of life. Adventist education must pay some attention to public affairs.
Adventist education must be in realistic contact with present-day life: "Upon their graduation, thousands find themselves out of touch with life. They have so long dealt with the abstract and the theoretical that when the whole being must be roused to meet the sharp contests of real life, they are unprepared. . . . The world is robbed of the service it might have received; and God is robbed."—Ibid., p. 265.
Adventists should study contemporary affairs rather than only past history: "Instead of burdening their memories with an array of names and theories that have no bearing upon their lives, and to which, once outside the schoolroom, they rarely give a thought, let them study all lands in the light of missionary effort, and become acquainted with the peoples and their needs."—/bid., p. 269.
Study of world sociology: "To awaken in the children and youth sympathy and the spirit of sacrifice for the suffering millions in the 'regions beyond,' let them become acquainted with these lands and their peoples. In this line much might be accomplished in our schools."—/bid.
The truly Christian outlook is international, rather than provincial: "Christ recognized no distinction of nationality or rank or creed. The scribes and Pharisees desired to make a local and a national benefit of all the gifts of heaven and to exclude the rest of God's family in the world. But 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."—Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 190, 191.
Dignified national symbols not obnoxious to Ellen G. White: "An American flag was placed as a canopy above the pulpit; this was an attention which I highly appreciated."--Historical Sketches, p. 207. (About a public meeting in the capital of Norway, 1886.)
While Ellen G. White's statements stress the need for an international outlook on the part of the individual Adventist, she also stresses the Christian's duty to render respect and reasonable service to his own nation. The Adventist will always be an alert, loyal, willing, and intelligent citizen of the country to which he belongs. The Adventist will recognize the claims even of Caesar so long as they do not limit freedom of religious activity or impede the free exercise of the dictates of the individual conscience.
Personal study of government and its relation to religion essential: "The people of God will recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment and will teach obedience to it as a sacred duty within its legitimate sphere. . . . The banner of truth and religious liberty . . . has in this last conflict been committed to us. . . . And we can appreciate these truths only as we search them out by personal study."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 402.
Study of international relations by Adventists essential: "There is a study . . . that is not to be condemned. . . . Today we are to consider the dealings of God with the nations of the earth. We are to . . . understand the progress of events in the marshaling of the nations for the final conflict of the great controversy. Such study will give broad, comprehensive views of life. It will help us to understand something of its relations and dependencies, how wonderfully we are bound together in the great brotherhood of society and nations, and to how great an extent the oppression and degradation of one member means loss to all. . . . Few study the working out of His purpose in the rise and fall of nations."—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, pp. 379, 380.
International affairs should be comprehended by Adventists: "The present is a time of overwhelming interest to all living. Rulers and statesmen, men who occupy positions of trust and authority, thinking men and women of all classes, have their attention fixed upon the events taking place about us. They are watching the strained, restless relations that exist among the nations."—Education, p. 179.
"To us who are standing on the very verge of their fulfillment, of what deep moment, what living interest, are these delineations of the things to come. . .. It is these great truths that old and young need to learn. We need to study the working out of God's purpose in the history of nations."—Ibid., pp. 183, 184.
Christ's forerunner a student of current affairs: "But the life of John was not spent in idleness. . . . He was ever an interested observer of what was passing in the world. From his quiet retreat he watched the unfolding of events."—Testimonies, vol. 8, pp. 221, 222.
Adventist women also should take an intelligent interest in public affairs: "There are speculations as to woman's rights and duties in regard to voting. Many are in no way disciplined to understand the bearing of important questions.... Such women are not prepared to intelligently take a prominent position in political matters. They are mere creatures of fashion and circumstance. Let this order of things be changed."—/bid., vol. 3, p. 565.
The conclusions might be drawn (1) that it is inappropriate for women (and men) to exercise the "duties in regard to voting" unless they have been "disciplined to understand the bearing of important questions"; (2) that such understanding and intelligence should be acquired.
(To be continued)
[Note: A compilation and analysis of Ellen G. White's statements concerning Adventist attitudes to public, political, and civic affairs.—Ed.]
Adventists should not be guided by prejudice in public affairs: "Those who teach the Bible in our churches and our schools are not at liberty to unite in making apparent their prejudices for or against political men or measures."—Gospel Workers, p. 391.
Adventists, if voting, must vote intelligently: "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." —Ibid., pp. 391, 393.
The Adventist, if voting, must remain free and independent. He should not vote the "party ticket" without analyzing the individual candidates and issues. The attitude "right or wrong, my party" is foreign to the intelligent Adventist.
Adventists, if voting, cannot participate in underhanded political practices: "We cannot with safety take part in any political scheme."—Ibid., p. 391.
Adventists, if voting, must not link their church with any political party: "God employs the strongest figures to show that there should be no union between worldly parties and those who are seeking the righteousness of Christ."—Ibid., p. 392.
Adventists, if voting, must not be emotionally or violently engaged in partisan strife: "Those who stand as educators, as ministers, as laborers together with God in any line, have no battles to fight in the political world."—Ibid., p. 393.
Strong warnings against becoming involved in "political issues" or activities: "Let political questions alone. . . . Every teacher, minister, or leader in our ranks who is stirred with a desire to ventilate his opinions on political questions, should be converted by a belief in the truth, or give up his work." —Ibid., pp. 392, 393. "God calls upon the teachers in our schools not to become interested in the study of political questions."—Fundamentals of Education, p. 484. (Written 1899.)
The correct application of these and similar statements hinges on the accurate meaning of the terms political and politics. Webster's New International Dictionary (Second ed.) defines politics and political in the following two ways: Politics: "The science and art of government." Political: "Of or pertaining to polity, or politics, or the conduct of government. . . . Of or pertaining to those who make a business . . . of politics, or politicians in their partisan activities; as, he is actuated by merely political motives." The Encyclopedia of Social Sciences (vol. 6, p. 225) states concerning the import of "politics" and political goals, "Politics frequently has unpleasant connotations. . . . The use of the term in the bad sense . . . implies a milieu hospitable to scheming and manipulations."
In which of the two senses did Ellen G. White use the terms politics and political? Did she intend to condemn only partisan strife and scheming, dishonest manipulations? Did she intend to discourage orderly exercise of the vote and serious study of political science?
Historical Background: Since the expressions politics and political were penned by Ellen G. White during the latter half of the nineteenth century, an understanding of the character of political affairs in the United States at that time may aid the reader in ascertaining the accurate meaning of these terms as Ellen G. White intended them to be understood, and as they, no doubt, were understood by the readers at the time of publication. A leading authority in the field of American religious history observed:
"Lowering of the standards of conduct in both public and private life was one of the unfortunate consequences of the Civil War. The country's wealth was increasing with an alarming rapidity in the midst of political and social confusion while the war brought to prominence a class of rough, unscrupulous men, with low standards of personal conduct, who too frequently were permitted to gain leadership in both business and politics. Out of such a general background came an era of wholesale corruption in politics which affected every section of the nation and every department of government. The use of money in buying elections was but one of the many forms of political corruption. Votes were bought and sold in more than one state capital as commonly as meat in the market; governors' signatures to bills intended to create private fortunes were purchased with sums which reached into the tens of thousands. . . . Corruption in business was even more common, if possible, than in government."'
"There is no drearier chapter in American political history than that which records the period from the end of reconstruction to the Populist revolt of the early nineties. . . . During the whole of this period the electorate played a game of blind man's buff. Never before had American politics been so intellectually bankrupt. . . . The result was to make national politics unreal, and, except for electoral clowning and Congressional buncombe, very dull. . . . Candidates . . . fought political campaigns on the basis of personality or inherited prejudice.. . . Politics was largely a Punch and Judy show, but though the puppets and even the voices changed, the hands that held the strings were the same. Business ran politics, and politics was a branch of business. The country, said John Sherman after the election of 1888, had 'reached the last stages in the history of the Roman Empire when offices were sold at public auction to the highest bidder.' "2
"In the first half of the nineteenth century, politics had been an honored calling, and those in public life had been the objects of admiration. This changed after the 1850's, and many persons came to feel that politics was a field to be avoided at all cost. . . . Politics seemed to be increasingly corrupt; and run by sordid professionals."
"It began to look as though the national government had only one reason for existence, to promote the interests of the dominant party through proper distribution of the spoils." 4
A practicing politican said about the most popular political figure of the 1870's: " 'What I liked about him was his frank and persistent contention that the citizen who best loved his party and was loyal to it, was loyal to and best loved his country.'
Comments by early Adventists: During the formative years of the Advent Movement the United States was involved in turbulent political currents. The issues that resulted in the outbreak of the War Between the States were much agitated before the 1860 national election. James White wrote in the Review, August 21, 1860:
"The political excitement of 1860 will probably run as high as it has for many years, and we would warn our brethren not to be drawn into it. We are not prepared to prove from the Bible that it would be wrong for a believer in the third message to go in a manner becoming his profession, and cast his vote. We do not recommend this, neither do we oppose. If a brother chooses to vote, we cannot condemn him, and we want the same liberty if we do not."
Two years later (Review, August 12, 1862), James White indicated that some Adventists had voted:
"Those of our people who voted at all at the last Presidential election, to a man voted for Abraham Lincoln."
At the General Conference in 1865 the following resolution was adopted under the heading "Voting":
"Resolved, That in our judgment, the act of voting when exercised in behalf of justice, humanity, and right, is in itself blameless, and may be at some times highly proper; but that the casting of any vote that shall strengthen the cause of such crimes as intemperance, insurrection, and slavery, we regard as highly criminal in the sight of Heaven. But we would depreciate any participation in the spirit of party strife." (Reported in the Review, May 23, 1865.)
Comments by leading Adventists: While neither our pioneers nor our recent or current leading preachers or writers profess to be infallible or even pontifical, their statements may be taken as sound expressions of current Adventist thinking. In 1936 Pastor Francis McLellan Wilcox, for 33 years editor of our major denominational journal, wrote in the Review, March 26, 1936, an article on "Seventh-day Adventists and Politics" and another article "The Preacher and Politics," in the April 2, 1936 issue. We recommend these articles:
"What relation should Seventh-day Adventists sustain to the question of politics? Is it proper for them to exercise the right of franchise, to go to the polls and cast their votes . . . ? We believe that this is their God-given and undeniable right. And this right they have chosen to exercise through all the years. . . . Is it right for a Seventh-day Adventist to hold political office? . . Based upon the history of the children of God through the centuries, . . . I must believe that this is consistent with Christian faith and practice. . . It is not for the church to advise any man to accept political position, nor . . has the church the right to deny any of its members this privilege and right."—March 26, 1936.
"It is natural that every man, whether preacher or lay member, should have an interest in national and international questions. . . . There can be no question as to the wisdom and propriety of workers' considering these great world problems in the light of divine prediction. Indeed, this is necessary to prophetic exposition. . . . Is it proper for the minister of the gospel to exercise the right of franchise? I believe that he may properly do this. The apostle Paul, in seeking protection from his enemies, appealed to the fact that he was a Roman citizen and was entitled to the protection which this citizenship guaranteed. . . . This is quite different . . . from acting as a partisan in a political field, electioneering, arguing, and contending for political measures, and decrying the policies and the candidates of opposing political parties. . .. Very definite instruction has been given that our ministers and the teachers and managers in our schools should keep entirely out of the general field of politics, so far as carrying forward any agitation is concerned."—April 2, 1936.
Dealing specifically with the warning statements by Ellen G. White concerning Adventist attitudes to "political" affairs, Wilcox expressed this opinion (in the Review, October 10, 1940):
"Is it possible to heed this counsel and at the same time exercise our right of franchise in national and State elections? We believe it is. One can vote for certain men and measures, he can give his support by ballot to ways and means which make for the good of the state and society, and at the same time keep free from the control or domination or spirit of some political party which advocates the measures which he approves. We know of many brethren who have done this for years. They engage in no political agitation or discussion, privately or in public. They do not pose as the abettors or supporters of any particular political party. They seek always to recognize principles apart from and above men. If they vote, they do not link their interests with such parties. They cast their votes for the candidates who in their judgment are best qualified for particular offices, without reference to party affiliation. We cannot believe that in so doing they violate the spirit of the instruction which we have received. . . . When one becomes partisan, when he dabbles in politics, seeks to unduly influence votes, links himself with some political party, to work for its measures and its candidates regardless of the principles involved, it is this spirit against which we are warned."
Pastor J. Lamar McElhany, for 16 years president of the General Conference, expressed himself (in the Review, October 23, 1952) in this way:
"The church has never attempted to instruct its members as to how they should vote, or for whom they should vote. These are matters that must be left to the members' individual conscience. Nor has the church placed any ban or censure on its members if they as qualified citizens choose to exercise their right to vote, or on any who may choose not to vote."
In a previous article (Review, August 14, 1952), McElhany made this comment:
"We believe every member ... is entitled to exercise his or her right of franchise. The stability and foundation of good government rests upon the people. If those who are stable and law abiding and have a high regard for the principles of good government hold themselves aloof from the task of choosing good and fit men for governmental leadership, they thereby make themselves responsible for failures in government. This is a responsibility good citizens should seek to avoid insofar as their votes make this possible. ... It is important that all issues that are to be placed on the ballot should be carefully studied by every conscientious voter."
The Adventist attitude toward civic and public affairs seems to be that the genuine Adventist is primarily a citizen of the heavenly kingdom, established upon principles outlined in the Bible. The true Christian is a converted man, an ambassador from God to men.
The Christian's chief program for national and international betterment is the spiritual gospel, which links man to Christ and liberates man from his dependence upon social and civic measures. The true Adventist is not of this world; he is swiftly on his way out. Yet, while passing through he seeks to attract other men to the heavenly kingdom by translating its divine principles into human action. As a part of this, the true Christian will aid in the proper promotion of sensible plans for the extension of health, for the realization of religious and other proper freedoms, for the relief of want and fear, and for the pacific stability of the social and political order. Peace among men and peace among nations are among his personal concerns. Justice is one of his aims.
Under appropriate conditions the Adventist may cast his vote, or refrain from voting, as his deliberate judgment suggests. He will condemn no one who, under full consciousness of the spirit and doctrines of Christ, may decide to devote parts of his talents and time to the giving of sensible leadership to his local or national or world community. On the other hand, the true Christian will weigh matters calmly, conduct himself with the strictest rectitude and dignity, ever seeking to be fully and impartially informed, and in all aspects of his functions always seek to discharge first, and at all costs, his ambassadorial obligations as a personal representative of Christ among his fellow men.
End of article