Report from the conference on Ellen G. White in Portland October 23-5.
by Amanda Porterfield
Without pretending to do justice to the ambitious book that will result from this conference, here are just two of the interesting questions that arose in discussion.
Randall Stephens posed the question, how did Ellen White build a movement out of the discredited wreck of the Millerite movement, and in the face of public scorn? Part of the answer is that her husband and other handlers enabled her success. Her own interpersonal and organizational skills obviously contributed to her authority, and to the authority of her visions. Her emphasis on the Saturday Sabbath enabled believers to separate themselves from others, and also to raid mainline protestant groups for recruits. Both recruits and longtime members relished the perfectionist discipline that promised to bring them into close relationship to heaven. This dynamic allowed for reversing scorn visited on Adventists back onto others.
Spencer Fluhman asked the question, why was Ellen White reproached and vilified by people outside of her movement? Clues to the answer might be found in protestant narratives that instantiated the fiction of mainstream Christianity and used Adventism, like Mormonism, as a foil against which “American” Christianity could be defined. White participated in this dynamic with some enthusiasm, even as her self-proclaimed alterity exerted its own pressure on American society, and on protestant denominations, especially with respect to temperance, diet, and health.