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Material Faith| Ellen White, Icon and Identity

Here is another Material Faith blog post from my directed group study on the role of art in the Christian tradition. As you can see, Adventist identity got some attention as well. -Alexander Carpenter

Tim Widmer is a Film and Television Major. He was part of the 2006 Redbooks cast.

At the Bible Conference of 1919, Adventism as a church decided the authority and inspiration of Ellen White. Four years after her death in 1915 they met to discuss the fallibility of her work. While they were talking about her work, more importantly were the themes being really tackled beneath the surface. The true argument was about the validity of Ellen White herself. This quarter I have spent quite a deal of time reflecting on Material Christianity and Christian Art itself. I have made some very interesting observations about my own church. Like Catholicism, Adventism has an icon. The Catholic Church has Mary, and we as Adventists have Ellen White. I do not argue that this is a bad thing, but rather that it is something that we must deal with. Ellen White makes us unique, and the controversy surrounding her has divided much of our church.

There are two main threats that face modern Christian denomination, the first of which is consumerism. Even in the United States of America, with our declining economy, we are a capitalist society. Buy Buy Buy. In the same way that the average American will buy into a movement, they will buy into Christianity. Because of this fact we have to promote and market ourselves for the consumer. Consumers are afraid of something they do not know so many times the Adventist church finds itself hiding the things that make us unique, in order to attract more consumers. Our Adventist Academies are loosing our identity in their name. Modesto Adventist Academy becomes Central Valley Christian Academy. In Material Christianity by Colleen McDannell, she writes about how many denominational bookstores are loosing their denominational tag and becoming Christian Bookstores, with an expanded selection of merchandise to meet the needs of everyone. If you visit the White Estate’s website,, it would appear that they are ready to meet the needs of everybody. Or are at least trying very hard to.

Adventism is on the fence and this division is yet another threat to our denomination. The split over Ellen White has all but destroyed our founder and icon. The icon of Ellen White has been lost. I am not a staunch believer in Ellen White. Perhaps I am the opposite, but after my involvement in the PUC Dramatic Arts Society’s production of RedBooks: Our Search for Ellen White, I do recognize her value. Ellen White, while we do not scrape paint of the paintings of her hoping to be healed, functions at a base level the same way as the Virgin Mary functions for Catholicism. She gives us identity. However, We because of our consumerism mindset, we are stuck between wishing to please and wishing to stay unique. We find ourselves compromising our identity as Adventists for the greater label of Christianity.

Recently I was involved in a discussion that involved the dispute at Boston College over Christian Art that was placed on their campus over their Winter break. An outrage has struck the Internet and the campus. Many devout Jesuits are elated because it is a return to their identity as a Jesuit Institution, while there are others, professors included, who are outraged. The crucifixes placed in the classrooms while they do create a sense of identity, they also may create a hostile learning environment. What if some student (I’m not going to incriminate myself if I actually do it.) puts up pictures of Ellen White in every classroom on campus. After all, she did found our institution. Without her, we would not even have PUC. What would be the response of the student, teacher, and faculty population?

In a society where we must act politically correct, we have lost our Identity because we are afraid of being different. When it comes to Religion, it is not ok to be postmodern. There is a fear of loss of our churches, our schools, and our hospitals. We have become afraid of our identity and the only way past this fear is a redefinition of our icons, and perhaps even a redefinition of our religion altogether.

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