Crucial Question 1:  Are Ellen White's reports of her early experiences with fanaticism correct and honest?

 

Background:

 

After the Millerite disappointment of October 22, 1844, seventeen-year-old Ellen Harmon (later White) began having visions.  Her second vision took place in the home of Israel Dammon (alternately spelled Damman and Damon), a fanatical former Millerite who was teaching that Christ hadn’t returned in 1844 because there were too many waiting saints, and that the number had to be reduced to 144,000 before Christ’s appearing.  Thus, the delay in Christ’s coming constituted a testing or shaking time for the believers.  Dammon declared that he had personally been sanctified, and that anything he did in the future was therefore holy by definition.  He promptly took a “spiritual wife” in addition to his lawful spouse (see George R. Knight, Millennial Fever 252-253).  He forbade his followers from working, as this would signify lack of trust in God’s soon return.  He also promoted “holy” kissing and mixed-gender footwashing—shocking practices in conservative ninteenth-century New England.  In February of 1845, Elder Dammon was arrested during one of his meetings at which James White and Ellen Harmon were present.  In 1860, Ellen White published an account of Dammon’s arrest in Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2.

 

From the Pen of Ellen White:

 

“From Exeter we went to Atkinson. One night I was shown something that I did not understand. It was to this effect, that we were to have a trial of our faith. The next day, which was the first day of the week, while I was speaking, two men looked into the window. We were satisfied of their object. They entered and rushed past me to Eld. Damman.  The Spirit of the Lord rested upon him, and his strength was taken away, and he fell to the floor helpless. The officer cried out, "In the name of the State of Maine, lay hold of this man." Two seized his arms, and two his feet, and attempted to drag him from the room. They would move him a few inches only, and then rush out of the house. The power of God was in that room, and the servants of God with their countenances lighted up with his glory, made no resistance. The efforts to take Eld. D. were often repeated with the same effect. The men could not endure the power of God, and it was a relief to them to rush out of the house. Their number increased to twelve, still Eld. D. was held by the power of God about forty minutes, and not all the strength of those men could move him from the floor where he lay helpless. At the same moment we all felt that Eld. D. must go; that God had manifested his power for his glory, and that the name of the Lord would be further glorified in suffering him to be taken from our midst. And those men took him up as easily as they would take up a child, and carried him out” (2SG 40-41).

 

Additional Evidence:

 

The following testimony was recorded in a transcript of Israel Dammon’s trial:

“JOSEPH MOULTON, sworn. When I went to arrest prisoner, they shut the door against me. Finding I could not gain access to him without, I burst open the door. I went to the prisoner and took him by the hand and told him my business. A number of women jumped on to him--he clung to them, and they to him. So great was the resistance, that I with three assistants, could not get him out. I remained in the house and sent for more help; after they arrived we made a second attempt with the same result--I again sent for more help--after they arrived we overpowered them and got him out door in custody. We were resisted by both men and women. Can't describe the place—it was one continued shout.”

 

Evaluation:

 

Mrs. White wrote that this was a divinely predicted test of faith.  She claimed that there was no resistance to the efforts of the sheriff and his eleven deputies, but Joseph Moulton told a very different story on the witness stand.  There were many witnesses to the arrest, but Moulton’s story went unchallenged by the defense, according to the account in the local newspaper.  God could have worked a miracle such as Mrs. White later described, but would it fit His character to honor a fanatic like Dammon?

In 1900, Mrs. White admitted how bad the fanaticism had become after 1844, which again causes us to wonder why God would have encouraged them with a miracle:

 

Men and women, supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, held meetings in a state of nudity [probably the bare feet and legs associated with their co-ed foot-washings]. They talked about holy flesh. They said they were beyond the power of temptation, and they sang, and shouted, and made all manner of noisy demonstrations. These men and women were not bad, but they were deceived and deluded. . . .


Satan was molding the work, and sensuality was the result. The cause of God was dishonored. Truth, sacred truth, was leveled in the dust by human agencies.


“The authorities of the land interfered, and several of the ring leaders were incarcerated within prison walls. . . .


“I bore my testimony, declaring that these fanatical movements, this din and noise, were inspired by the spirit of Satan, who was working miracles to deceive if possible the very elect” (5MR 108-109).

 

If one reads the transcript of Israel Dammon’s trial, one fails to find evidence for Mrs. White’s claim that she did her best to warn this particular group against these errors.

 

Thought Questions:

 

  1. Is it likely that God would work a miracle to temporarily prevent the arrest of a fanatic such as Israel Dammon?
  2. Which account of Dammon’s arrest is more believable?
  3. Did Ellen White lie when she published her account in 1860, or had she just forgotten the details?  If she had forgotten, why didn’t James White remind her?
  4. If a true prophet tells an untruth (e.g. Abraham), should we expect God to publicly reprove the erring prophet or just let it go?

Bible Texts:

 

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:22).

“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1).

“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!  O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD.  They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.  Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken?  Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord GOD.  And mine hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies . . . .” (Ezekiel 13:1-9).


“Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.  For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.  Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit” (Jer. 7:4-8).


“The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Prov. 12:19).

“Let the lying lips be put to silence
; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous” (Ps. 31:18).

Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue” (Ps. 120:2).

“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

 

For Further Study:

 

  • Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 40-42
  • Manuscript Releases, vol. 8, pp. 228-243
  • Newspaper transcript of Dammon’s trial
  • Hoyt, Frederick, ed. “The Trial of I. Dammon Reported for the Piscataquis Farmer.” Spectrum, August 1987, pp. 29-36.
  • Knight, George R.  Millennial Fever, pp. 252-253.

 

Continue on to Crucial Question #2:  Use of Sources