Ordinarily Seventh-day Adventists take no notice of the periodic attacks of traducers of the faith. We have a great work to do—a high task to perform, from which we are unwilling to be diverted. Occasionally, however, an attack is made upon the character of some honored leader of the past, no longer present to defend himself. Under such circumstances another must make answer with a well-aimed rejoinder that will silence the ungodly charge. A recent attack in "The Gathering Call,' on the character of our pioneers, and centering particularly on one of our early editors, IJ N. Andrews, moved us to ask one of our present,day editors, who has recently made a most thorough and systematic study of the life and character of the founders of this message, to frame a suitable reply, which follows.—Editor.
Some months ago The Gathering Call, a paper published by E. S. Ballenger, contained an article telling of his listening to an address by one of our Seventh-day Adventist ministers. The address was chiefly a refutation of various charges made against the Millerites; for example, that they filled the asylums with people made mad by their preaching, that they engaged in various fanatical activities, wore ascension robes, etc. In comment Mr. Ballenger says : "We are free to state that Bro. _________ blasted very successfully the idea that the pioneers of his church ever wore ascension robes."
The article goes on to say immediately that really such disproof amounts to nothing, because there are other charges so much more serious that can be leveled against "the pioneers." He mentions, for example, the "shut door" doctrine. His very mention of this reveals that he intends us to understand by "pioneers" that group who founded the Seventh-day Adventist Church; for the crime of believing in the "shut door"—which was almost as bad as Christ's disciples' first believing that salvation was only for the Jews—has always been charged against S. D. A. founders in contrast to other advent groups that grew out of the Millerite movement. We need not tarry on this, as the matter was candidly discussed at length in the Review and Herald years ago. Nor shall we enter into a discussion of other accusations in the realm of doctrine, for the simple reason that such discussion with Mr. Ballenger would obviously be profitless. These accusations are in the realm of belief and interpretation of Scripture and inspiration. We are willing that men should judge of such matters from the extended published presentations of Seventh-day Adventist viewpoint and belief.
There is, however, one charge he brings that is in a different realm, a realm where witnesses and testimony and the rules of evidence apply, even as in the case of the ascension robes charge. He goes into detail on this, which seems to constitute his chief indictment of "the S. D. A. pioneers" as a group of silly fanatics. We quote his words:
"We affirm without fear of successful contradiction that the S. D. A. pioneers crossed bridges on their hands and knees, to show their humility, and that they also 'crawled under tables, and under old-fashioned stoves to exhibit their humility. It is also a fact that the pioneers used to kiss each other's feet. In their general gatherings, they used to crowd all the men into one room, and each man would put his foot out from under his covers while the man at the head of the line would go down the line and kiss the foot of each one of his brethren; then the next one would follow until everybody had kissed all the others' feet. These things were practiced, not by ignorant laymen, but by such men as J. N. Andrews. (Emphasis his.)
We were skeptical of this charge at the outset, because we had never heard it made against Seventh-day Adventists, except by Mr. Ballenger. True, we have read of fanaticism arising in some quarters in the 1840's. Mrs. E. G. White tells of rebuking various forms of it. But that is quite the opposite of hearing the charge turned around against us. It seemed incredible that if the story had any foundation it would not long ago have been circulated and printed by that heterogeneous group of critics who have regaled the world since the beginnings of Adventism with any and every charge they have heard or invented. Have all the critics missed this choice morsel all these years? The source, we are expected to believe, is unimpeachable, for the story is related "without fear of successful contradiction."
And what is the source? Mr. Ballenger does not state in the article. But the following exchange of letters provides the answer. The charge came under the eye of Dr. J. N. Andrews, grandson of Elder J. N. Andrew's, now living in Takoma Park, who wrote a brief note to Mr. Ballenger asking if he would give the source of his information. This elicited the following reply:
"Dr. John N. Andrews 9601 Colesville Road Silver Spring, Md.
"Your letter of 21st inst. at hand, and I will answer your question to the best of my ability.
"If you are at all familiar with S. D. A. literature, you know that the denomination would never print the truth about the pioneers in their fanaticism. Some allusions have been made to this conduct in S. D. A. literature; but details have not been given. Oswald Stowell was one of the '44 pioneers; was intimately acquainted with the Harmon family, and Mrs. White in particular. He was a worker in the first printing plant that they established. Bro. Stowell, occasionally, would open up and relate his experiences in great detail. On one of these occasions, he told me in the presence of others that your grandfather crawled across every bridge that he came to, on his hands and knees; that he crawled under a stove—one of the stoves that was raised on legs sufficiently to allow one to crawl under it. Furthermore, he stated that your grandfather was walking through the country, and saw a man plowing in his field; thereupon he took pains to walk across the plowed ground to labor with the man, telling him that he was sinning against God in doubting that the Lord was soon coming, by his plowing and getting ready for another crop. Bro. Stowell did not say that your grandfather was one who went from person to person kissing their feet; but he did say that at their gatherings, each one kissed the foot of every brother sleeping in the room.
"I repeat you ought to know that S. D. A.'s would never publish these things about the pioneers, because they laud them to the skies.
"I am glad to testify that I think your grandfather got entirely over these fanaticisms, and he was one of the clearest writers among the early pioneers.
"There are many things in connection with the S. D. A. movement that cannot be found in their books.
"Trusting this will answer your question, I remain "Yours very truly,
"[Signed] E. S. BALLENGER."
In return, Doctor Andrews wrote as follows:
"August 18, 1943
"Mr. E. S. Ballenger 4/38 Mulberry Street Riverside, California
"Dear Mr. Ballenger:
"I am in receipt of your letter of July 27th regarding alleged fanatical acts upon the part of my grandfather J. N. Andrews. Your reply prompts me to ask a few questions:
"I. Approximately how old was Oswald Stowell when he told you about the alleged fanatical acts? Approximately what was the date when he told you this?
"2. About what year was this alleged fanatical act of my grandfather supposed to have happened?
"3. Can you give me the names of any others who were present on the occasion when Oswald Stowell told you the alleged story? You state that he spoke to you 'in the presence of others.'
"4. In your Gathering Call article you describe the kissing of feet and follow immediately with the sentence: 'These things were practiced, not by ignorant laymen, but by such men as J. N. Andrews.' The construction leaves no doubt on two points : First, that you charge J. N. Andrews with foot kissing; secondly, that there were other pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism besides j. N. Andrews who did all these fanatical things. In view of your admission that Oswald Stowell did not say that J. N. Andrews kissed feet, on what do you base your charge against him on this point? Secondly, would you please tell me who are the other 'pioneers' of Seventh-day Adventism who engaged in this fanaticism at that time?
"I am enclosing stamped, addressed envelope for your convenience in replying.
"Very truly yours,
"[Signed] John N. Andrews, M. D."
To this, Mr. Ballenger replied as follows:
"Dr. J. N. Andrews Silver Spring, Md.
"Your letter of the r8th ult. was awaiting me on my return from an absence of 27 days. I will answer your questions to the best of my knowledge.
"Oswald Stowell was not far from 8o years of age when he told me the experiences which I related. The date when he told these experiences, was somewhere between 1905 and 1912 as near as my memory serves me. These acts of your grandfather took place sometime between 1844 and 1851. Most of them occurred, I think, in the year 1845. The crawling over bridges and reproving a man for working occurred about the year 1845; but their kissing each other's feet was at a later date. Oswald Stowell told me these experiences while living with my brother in West Riverside. There is no one living who was present at the time he told me these things; it was in my brother's home.
"In answer to your 4th question, I will say : you must recognize that I was not present at any of these old gatherings. I related in the Gathering Call exactly what Oswald Stowell told me; but I do not remember whether he mentioned any other names in relating these experiences. He did mention J. N. Andrews as crawling under stoves and over bridges on his hands and knees; also reproving a man for plowing his field. Fanaticism ran riot for a short time after the disappointment. However, most of the leaders, including your grandfather, recovered quite completely from these early fanatical notions.
"If you go into this subject critically, you may find many other things which these pioneers did, and which would shock S. D. A.'s of today.
"Very respectfully yours,
"[Signed] E.S. Ballenger."
Doctor Andrews then wrote briefly, stating: "I appreciate your giving me in detail all the information you have on the questions I have raised," and asking permission to publish the exchange of letters. Mr. Ballenger replied, giving permission. In the interest of brevity we do not quote these later letters. They provide no further light on the question raised by Doctor Andrews, who was interested in discovering Mr. Ballenger's source of information on the actions of the pioneers, and not on their theological views. These letters quoted hardly call for comment. But we cannot forbear a few observations :
1. Mr. Ballenger fails to provide proof that any of "the S. D. A. pioneers"—whom he sets off from "ignorant laymen"—kissed each other's feet, and pleads in defense of his failure that he "was not present at any of these old gatherings." Of course none of the rest of us living today were present at those old gatherings either, but we do not take it upon ourselves to say very much about what happened at those gatherings, niuch less to "affirm without fear of successful contradiction."
2. His charge of fanaticism against "the S. D. A. pioneers" (note the plural number) narrows down to a charge against one man, J. N. Andrews, as touching an alleged crawling on hands and knees, reproving a farmer, etc.
3. His only authority for the charge against this one man is his memory of what was told him once, thirty or more years ago, by a man then about eighty years of age who was speaking from his memory of something that had happened sixty or more years before. In other words, almost exactly one hundred years span between the alleged incident of fanaticism in 1845, and the present telling of it in 1943, with the connections as here stated. (We have an impression that Mr. Ballenger went into print with this charge several years ago. But if so, that affects in no material way our comment on the great span of time involved. Brother Stowell would still remain eighty at the time of the convefsation.)
4. Now, Mr. Ballenger admits that at the meeting he attended "Bro. — blasted very successfully the idea that the pioneers of his church ever wore ascension robes." Yet the ascension robe story rests on exactly the same foundation as this charge against J. N. Andrews—the memory of old people. In fact, a far more plausible case could be made out for the ascension robe story. It is not simply one lone man reporting the incident. There is a flood of reminiscences by old people who are sure the Millerites wore robes. The story is even found in history books and encyclopedias, including the Britannica. But the ascension robe story is demonstrably false, despite all this plausible evidence. And Mr. Ballenger willingly admits it.
The chief attack on that story was first on the reliability of old people's memories. Was the memory of Brother Stowell any better than that of other old people? Is Mr. Ballenger possessed of a better memory than the rest of us mortals? And, speaking restrainedly, do his writings through the years indicate that he could rightly lay claim to being considered a neutral, impartial reporter of what his memory might be cudgeled to recall of a conversation of many years ago regarding an incident of one hundred years ago ? In legal language, he has chosen for himself the role of prosecuting attorney, and must not complain if his charges are critically reviewed. And when we examine critically we discover the incredible fact that this man who admits that one great charge of fanaticism (robes) which rests on old people's memories, is groundless, proceeds at once to make another charge on the same worthless foundation of memories. And as if that were not sufficiently incredible, he prefaces his phantom charge with that impressive declaration : "We affirm without fear of successful contradiction."
5. Mr. Ballenger says he thinks most of Elder Andrews' fanatical acts took place "in the year 1845." Elder Andrews was born July 22, 1829. Therefore in the first half of 1845 he was only fifteen years of age ! One of the venerable "pioneers," indeed ! Will a future generation of S. D. A. traducers seek to make out a case against us in terms of the alleged acts of our adolescents ? We have always said that Elder Andrews developed very early into an aggressive spokesman for the cause. But in our most unguarded moments of eulogy we have never pictured him as a "pioneer," whose words and deeds should determine our standing, ere he had passed adolescence. Nor would anybody else, except he had a case to make out against Elder Andrews and the Seventh-day Adventists.
6. We admit that there is one sense in which Mr. Ballenger is absolutely right in saying that he can affirm without fear of successful contradiction. Everyone connected with the story of the alleged incident is dead, except himself, and dead men tell no tales. It is because Elder Andrews is not alive to speak for himself, that we have this once turned aside to take notice of a charge in The Gathering Call.
7. We need not spend much time on Mr. Ballenger's insinuations in conclusion : "If you go into this subject critically, you may find many other things which these pioneers did, and which would shock S. D. A.'s of today." Why should we be put to the effort of going into this? What are critics and enemies for ? Mr. Ballenger is the latest of a long line of men who have compassed land and sea to find any story they could that might possibly be thought to embarrass us. We are sure he will admit that he has done his best through long years. And how weighty is the charge he presents when he seeks to show specifically how fanatical, how silly, Seventh-day Adventist pioneers have been—a charge so light that it can be raised by one lone, fragile strand of a hundred years' memory!
Why suggest to Doctor Andrews that he start out on a wild goose chase trying to find what Mr. Balleng-er's critical eye and those of a long line of critics have been unable to find after a hundred years of intensive search ? He knows as well as we that the record has been quite fully examined. And he knows that the S. D. A. movement has been about as free from eccentric, fanatical acts as any organization made of flesh and blood could ever hope to be. This is really what he could have affirmed "without fear of successful contradiction." We affirm it, and on the strength of his failure, and that of all other enemies of the cause, to make out a real case. Surely critics should serve some useful purpose! And they do!
Since writing the foregoing, we learned that a daughter of Oswald Stowell is still living. We thought that surely here we could finally obtain a corroboration of the story about Elder Andrews and the "S. D. A. pioneers." It would seem almost incredible that a child growing up in a home for twenty or more years would never hear, either directly or indirectly, some word from her father about these alleged incidents. We wrote to the daughter, Mrs. Parker Smith, of California, asking her whether she had ever heard any such story or stories from her father. For brevity's sake we give only the key sentence of her reply, under date of February 7, 1944:
"No, I never heard my father relate any incident where J. N. Andrews was involved in fanaticism. He and my father were schoolmates and dear friends, and I feel sure Elder Andrews was too per cent true to the truths of this message always. I do not remember of any particular incidents of fanaticism of the advent believers, though I know he has spoken of much fanaticism in those early days. But it is recorded in our books."
Mrs. Smith's statement that fanaticism existed, is no revelation, as she correctly remarks: "It is recorded in our books." There were those who heeded no general counsel—that has always been true in every religious awakening. But what is recorded in our books is a scathing rebuke of fanaticism. In the light of this it is doubly hard to believe that fanatically inclined persons would ally themselves with that distinctive group developing under the counsel of Mrs. White and those associated with her. And it is definitely this group that Mr. Ballenger in tends us to understand by "S. D. A. pioneers," because of the "shut door" charge,-to which we referred in the opening paragraph.
To sum up:
None of the ancient men at the gate have heard the story except through Mr. Ballenger. Dr. J. N. Andrews never even heard the story about his own grandfather, except from this one source. And now Oswald Stowell's own daughter states that she never heard her father say anything that would support the charge. In fact, our letter to her gave her news about the S. D. A. pioneers that she had never heard before.
We are reminded of a classic story of reporting in the first World War. A war correspondent cabled back to his New York editor an exclusive story of a rather breath-taking nature. The editor cabled back congratulations on the "scoop," but added that the story was so altogether exclusive he was waiting for confirmation from some wire service before releasing it. A week later the now disillusioned editor sent this classic cable to his sleuthing correspondent: "Your story still exclusive!"
The next time we read a charge in The Gathering Call, even one affirmed "without fear of successful contradiction," we shall remember the J. N. Andrews incident.