Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years: 1900-1905 (vol. 5)


Chapter 15—The Crisis Over Financial Policies

(A Prelude to the General Conference Session of 1903)

During the decade that Ellen White was in Australia, the expansion of Seventh-day Adventist denominational institutions was phenomenal but financially irresponsible. Little restraint was exercised on the interlocking boards at the Battle Creek headquarters. As college debts increased, money was borrowed from the Review and Herald. The Review itself was heavily in debt but much trusted, and many Adventists chose to use it as their investment institution. [Savings passbooks, very similar to those used by banks, were printed by the review and herald and were furnished to Seventh-day Adventist investors. See DF 193c.] Dr. Kellogg pushed ahead in opening new sanitariums across the land, mostly on borrowed money. This created debts that he and his associates persuaded the General Conference Association, also a trusted investment institution among Seventh-day Adventists, to assume. The presidents of the General Conference (Elder O. A. Olsen from 1888 to 1897, and Elder G. A. Irwin from 1897 to 1901) seemed powerless to stem the tide. Each was surrounded by shrewd and much-trusted businessmen who were in sympathy with liberal financial policies that allowed seemingly unrestrained plunging into debt. 5BIO 198.1

Elder Olsen was a deeply spiritual, highly respected man. Even though Ellen White recognized his weaknesses, she favored his reelection to the office of president of the General Conference in 1895 for a two-year term. She was later to write that in financial matters “he had not the courage to say, ‘I cannot betray sacred trusts.’ Instead, he linked himself with wrongdoers and thus made himself equally guilty with them.”—Manuscript 144, 1902. 5BIO 198.2

When Elder Daniells assumed the leadership of the denomination as chairman of the General Conference Committee in 1901, he soon discovered the church's very critical financial situation. There were no budgets. Indebtedness was being increased to put up new institutions and for the day-to-day operation of the work of the church. 5BIO 199.1

The load of debt was staggering. As stated previously, the wage of ordained ministers and of skilled workmen in the publishing house was only $12 to $15 per week. Yet debts on educational institutions amounted to $350,000. The General Conference Association owed $288,000. By the end of 1902 the debts of the association exceeded the assets by $7,400. The General Conference itself was overdrawn in its account by $41,500 (The General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 19). The Battle Creek Sanitarium was carrying a debt of $250,000. 5BIO 199.2

Elder Daniells was well acquainted with Ellen White's statements concerning the loading of church institutions with indebtedness. He determined as he came into office that the work should be operated on a pay-as-you-go basis. To do otherwise was suicidal. He had been in Australia as she wrestled with the debt problem there. While helping to establish the Avondale school, she counseled in 1896: “There must be a strict regard to economy, or a heavy debt will be incurred. Keep within bounds. Shun the incurring of debt as you would shun leprosy.”—Letter 60, 1896. 5BIO 199.3

Two years later she wrote: “The practice of borrowing money to relieve some pressing necessity, and making no calculation for canceling the indebtedness, however common, is demoralizing. “—Manuscript 168, 1898 (see also Colporteur Ministry, 96). 5BIO 199.4

Writing of the Battle Creek College debt in 1899, she declared: “Methods must be devised to stop this continual accumulation of debt. The whole cause must not be made to suffer because of these debts, which will never be lifted unless there is an entire change and the work is carried forward on some different basis.”—Manuscript 86, 1899. 5BIO 199.5

Proposing a remedy for faulty school finance in which she advocated a proper tuition rate, she advised: 5BIO 199.6

The teachers must cooperate in requiring from the students sufficient funds to cover running expenses, or they must themselves agree to do their work for lower wages. The estimate of the school expenses must be considered, and if there is no other way to keep free from debt, all are at liberty to arrange among themselves to donate a certain amount of their wages. It may be best to raise the tuition; then the teachers will have the privilege of using their means to help where they see that help is most needed.—Manuscript 58, 1898. 5BIO 199.7

Still heavily burdened over the debts that the church's schools were carrying in 1899, and with little prospect of liquidating them, she “laid the matter before the Lord.” She reports on the outcome: 5BIO 200.1

There came to me the thought that I could give the book Christ's Object Lessons to the schools.... I could see no other way for the schools to be relieved than for me to give Object Lessons for this purpose, and I said, “It must be done.”—Manuscript 48, 1902. 5BIO 200.2

Of course, such a project called for well-organized effort, but by 1902 $200,000 had been raised for debt reduction (The General Conference Bulletin, 1903, 19), and by 1903 the amount was more than $300,000. 5BIO 200.3