I liked the story on The Seventh-Day Adventists leasing and planting ten acres with seed potatoes for the community, in case grocery supply chains are disrupted. [See Moab Sun News, “Feeding the People,” April 28, 2020 edition]. This unexampled act of kindness and foresight, with no thought given to its proselytizing potential, led me to consider Seventh-Day Adventism’s founder and prolific author, Ellen White, from an ecofeminist perspective.
I thought of the female authors and mystics of the Middle Ages. This relatively unrecognized flowering of female authorship, musical composition and poetic thought is something even Virginia Woolf failed to recognize in writing “A Room of One’s Own.“
Communities of accomplished female mystics in the Middle Ages were nominally under the tutelage of the church, but their lack of concern over the minutia of creed in favor of the supremacy of love and charity, so clear in all their writings, sometimes made them careless of resentful nit-picky male idiocy; a few were burned at the stake for lack of proper attention to such matters.
Which brings me to Ellen White: She became a spiritual authority during a period of frontier Protestant anxiety. The question of injustice to Native Americans had not been entirely settled. Love thy neighbor? How to reconcile that with what was happening was becoming an ever more crucial question. Incredible feats of rationalizing gymnastics had to be performed. And she managed to pull it off, with more heart than might be expected. In return, she gained the admiration and cooperation of influential, sometimes very wealthy males, and was able to concretely realize her utopian ideas for reform. Take away her work of rationalization for the males and we are left with core teachings that are essentially her own, essentially feminist and forward-thinking.
She advocated for vegetarianism 150 years before it became obvious to science that we as a species need to do this to avoid disaster. She was a staunch advocate for self-sufficiency, for keeping agricultural skills honed and non-industrial, establishing educational communities in rural situations where self-sufficiency and agricultural skills are taught to the youth. And she somehow snuck in a pacifist clause or two. If there is anything I can say that I was and still am proud of in the religion of my childhood, it is the steadfast refusal of its congregation to go to war.
The female mystics of the Middle Ages placed great emphasis on alternative care, healing methods and herbal treatments; they even dared at times to question the efficacy of blood-letting, leeches and mercury pills. Ellen White in her writings went against the grain of Victorian medical practice, advocating innovation in hospital care and treatment. And there is a strong emphasis throughout her writing on charity: charity in action.
And this is what we see with the local Project Manna. This is a well thought out action in anticipation of what might very likely happen; this is taking the idea of local agricultural self-sufficiency seriously.
In thinking back on the innumerable pages of Ellen White’s writings I was obliged to copy out in second and third grade for what they called “that Satanic look your eye,” I am happy to say there were a few meaningful grains of feminist wisdom there: an emphasis especially on love, charity and concern for the well being of others.