Ellen G. White: The Australian Years: 1891-1900 (vol. 4)


Government Favors and Grants

She longed to get on with her book work, but first came the correspondence. On January 30, 1895, W. C. White read to her a letter he had received from S. N. Haskell, who was spending some months in South Africa. It dealt largely with a matter Haskell wished brought to Ellen White's attention, which was giving him and workers and believers in South Africa considerable concern. 4BIO 183.4

The background was found in actions taken by the General Conference at its session of 1893 aimed at dealing with the separation of church and state and their response to the proposition of a gift of land for a mission station. The British South Africa Company was offering grants of several thousand acres each in Mashonaland (known later as Rhodesia and now as Zimbabwe) to mission bodies who would go in, take up the land and cultivate it, and educate the nationals. The brethren in Africa saw in this the providence of God for the advancement of the cause. Peter Wessels, from Africa, attended the General Conference session of 1893 and early in the meeting reported that such land was available to the church. 4BIO 183.5

At the same session, propositions thought to be in the interests of separation of church and state were introduced. These would repudiate tax exemption for church property, insist on paying to the government sums equal to past exemptions, and in addition, endeavor to persuade State legislatures to require the payment of taxes on all church properties regardless by whom held. The session had two issues before it simultaneously. Two days were given to animated discussion, only a part of which was recorded in the General Conference Bulletin. The president of the General Conference and a number of his associates were perplexed; they felt some things were being carried to extremes by the religious-liberty men. Nonetheless, the actions taken March 3, 1893, revealed the general trend of the moment: 4BIO 184.1

Whereas, In view of the separation which we believe should exist between the church and the state, it is inconsistent for the church to receive from the state pecuniary gifts, favors, or exemptions on religious grounds, therefore, 4BIO 184.2

Resolved, That we repudiate the doctrine that church or other ecclesiastical property should be exempt from taxation, and further, 4BIO 184.3

Resolved, That we use our influence in securing the repeal of such legislation as grants this exemption.—The General Conference Bulletin, 1893, 475. 4BIO 184.4

These actions were moderated a day or two later by the following amendment: 4BIO 184.5

Whereas, This conference has clearly stated its position on the taxation of church and other ecclesiastical property, and 4BIO 184.6

Whereas, There are certain institutions incorporated under the laws of the state which occupy confessedly disputed grounds, therefore 4BIO 184.7

Resolved, That matters in which the taxation of such institutions as do occupy this disputed territory is involved—orphanages, houses for aged persons, hospitals, et cetera—we leave to the action of the legislature, without any protest against their taxation, or any request for exemption.—Ibid., 486 4BIO 184.8

The debate over accepting the South African land grant grew tense. Peter Wessels told the session “that though six thousand acres of land were offered to any denomination who would inaugurate a mission, and that we expected to accept [the] land for our mission, it was not from the government that we looked for the gratuity, but from a company.”—Ibid. Developments, however, indicated that the disclaimer was not justified. This matter seemingly was left in the hands of the Foreign Mission Board and took several months to develop fully. 4BIO 185.1

The outcome was that the denomination should not accept the twelve thousand acres offered as a gift, but should pay for whatever was felt would be needed for a mission. 4BIO 185.2

This seemed most unreasonable to the workers and laity in South Africa. On January 1, Haskell wrote to both F. M. Wilcox, secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, and W. C. White for Ellen White's attention, protesting the decision taken in Battle Creek and pointing out the position taken in South Africa in accepting the land. When W. C. White received the letter, he took it immediately to read to his mother, along with the enclosed documents. She took her pen and addressed a letter to Haskell: 4BIO 185.3

You inquire with respect to the propriety of receiving gifts from Gentiles and heathen. The question is not strange; but I would ask you, Who is it that owns our world? Who are the real owners of houses and lands? Is it not God? He has an abundance in our world which He has placed in the hands of men, by which the hungry might be supplied with food, the naked with clothing, the homeless with homes. 4BIO 185.4

The Lord would move upon worldly men, even idolaters, to give of their abundance for the support of the work, if we would approach them wisely, and give them an opportunity of doing those things which it is their privilege to do. What they would give we should be privileged to receive. 4BIO 185.5

Ellen White pointed out that church workers should become acquainted with men in high places and “obtain advantages from them, for God would move upon their minds to do many things in behalf of His people.” She declared that she had letters to write to the workers in Battle Creek, and continued: 4BIO 185.6

Our brethren there are not looking at everything in the right light. The movements they have made to pay taxes on the property of the Sanitarium and Tabernacle have manifested a zeal and conscientiousness that in all respects is not wise or correct. Their ideas of religious liberty are being woven with suggestions that do not come from the Holy Spirit, and the religious liberty cause is sickening, and its sickness can only be healed by the grace and gentleness of Christ. 4BIO 186.1

She cited Bible illustrations in which God moved on the hearts of kings to come to the help of His people in ancient times. She added: 4BIO 186.2

I am often greatly distressed when I see our leading men taking extreme positions, and burdening themselves over matters that should not be taken up or worried over, but left in the hands of God for Him to adjust. We are yet in the world, and God keeps for us a place in connection with the world, and works by His own right hand to prepare the way before us, in order that His work may progress along its various lines.—Letter 11, 1895. (For the full message, see Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 197-203.) 4BIO 186.3

Copies of this letter to Haskell were sent to F. M. Wilcox, of the Foreign Mission Board, and O. A. Olsen, president of the General Conference. With the exception of one or two men in Battle Creek, it was received with deep gratitude and a sigh of relief. The land grant was accepted in South Africa, and any steps being taken in Battle Creek to adjust the tax-exempt status of churches and institutions were promptly dropped. In an article published in The Southern Watchman, March 15, 1904 (quoted largely in Christian Service, 167-172, 202, 239), Ellen White elaborated further on the principles involved. 4BIO 186.4