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When a Man's Wife is the Prophet

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By Mary Ann Hadley
Published: March 28, 2011

As has been alluded to earlier in this series, Ellen White's role in widowhood was much more prominent than her role during her married years. James, with his larger than life personality and management abilities, was accustomed to a strongly dominant role. On the other hand, it was Ellen who filled the role as the Lord's messenger.

In her role as prophetess for the church, Ellen received numerous visions which included counsel for a large number of individual church members, particularly for those who were in positions of leadership. In the interest of keeping the fledgling church on track, the Lord most often seems to have sent messages to the most prominent leaders. And, of course, the most prominent leader was James White. It would follow, then, that Ellen would have received much counsel for her husband, and that a portion of that counsel would be in the form of instruction and encouragement, while another portion would include rebuke and reproof.

It is important to know that James White full believed in his wife's visions, and that he considered himself to be subject to the counsel from the Lord as was revealed through the visions. With that in mind, we can understand James' willingness to endure hardships and privation in order to begin to print a little magazine, as was indicated in one of Ellen's earliest visions wherein she saw publications as streams of light encircling the globe.

By 1878, when the Whites were in Texas, James seemed to function as his wife's editor and agent. In the production of a portion of what is now the Testimonies, volume 4, James wrote the following note on Dec. 23 to his son, Willie, in Battle Creek:

"I will here give you the order of articles: 1. The long narrative. We wish you to read it all over with Mary, and correct and put in headings in proper places in the narration only... We have not had time to do this.

"2. The cause in Texas. 3. General Testimony. 4. Address to Ministers. 5. Sanctification. Tract and Missionary. See that this is put in good shape. Tonight I will send more."

Two days later, on Dec. 25, James writes to Willie, "With this I send you mother's testimony to Brother Kilgore. This should go before the Testimony to the Rusts which you have... It should not be left out."

By mid-January, James is complaining to Willie that he has not received the proofs of the testimonies he sent to Battle Creek just three weeks earlier. Obviously, James keeps the editorial process moving.

By April 9, however, we see another side to James. He writes to Brother Waggoner, "... I think I see clearly my mistakes. First, I should not have taken to Texas so deep and strong a feeling of responsibility and interest in all the branches of the work. This led me to take the same position and feeling as to my strength and ability I used to occupy when fellow helpers were few and I was younger and stronger... Third... These things in connection with other labors depressed me, and under the pressure my health failed..."

The following day he writes again to Willie, "I was never more discouraged and crushed than now... The reasons why may be summed up as follows: (1) Mother's last view (vision) of me which she read to me for the first less than a week since, represents me as having been racked by cares, labors, and paralytic shocks, or that I am disqualified to judge in matters as I was. Had I known this at Battle Creek, one week after the vision was given, I should not have undertaken what I have. Probably your mother told you all, which explains your course. This seems hard, but may be for the best."

James White's health had been fragile for quite some time, as he had suffered a series of strokes. Apparently, before the trip to Texas, Ellen had a vision regarding James' health problems, which included a degree of emotional instability brought on by overwork. It seems that she had not shared the vision with James, however, she had shared the information with Willie.

So we see in the excerpts of James' letters that he struggles to accept the testimony in April, but has his feelings hurt and he is embarrassed that other members of the family have known the situation for quite some time.

Certainly it was not always easy for James White to be the husband of the prophetess. Read on to learn about preparations for the White's trip out of the Southwest.

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About this Article Series

The complete story of the Whites' Texas sojourn had never before been published before this series of articles appeared in the Keene Star newspaper (Dec 2003-Apr 2004). The series touches on the highlights, and presents little known facts about the Whites' stay in Texas.