Was Ellen White Green?

Was Ellen White an environmentalist? Was she concerned with Planet Earth, with ecology, recycling, contaminants, the effects of materialism? Although Ellen White lived most of her life in the nineteenth century before plastics were invented, before nuclear power, before nitrates and anthropogenic chemicals contaminated our rivers and streams, and before greed for oil drove much of the world’s ethos, she nonetheless was a strong advocate for care of the earth.

Ellen White’s environmental consciousness came from two sources: The Scriptures, and direct inspiration from God. She believed nature itself not only fosters God’s glory, but nature also brings rest and joy to persons of all ages. Growing food for the family was not the sole reason Ellen White spoke of the advantages of country living. In her view, children who have the opportunity to garden, care for animals, and watch the wonders of nature in a beautiful setting experience both educational and spiritual advantages.

Ellen White believed that humanity’s physical health is improved in nature’s beautiful and unspoiled environment. She once stated, “There are life-giving properties in the balsam of the pine, in the fragrance of the cedar, and the fir, and other trees also have properties that are health restoring.” The Ministry of Healing, p264. Sadly, though, in 25 countries of our world, forests have effectively disappeared. Additionally, 80% of our world’s remaining terrestrial biodiversity live in vanishing forests, and 70% of our world’s plants are in jeopardy from disappearing rainforests.

How did Ellen White practice what she preached about ecology?  She enjoyed organic gardening, hikes and camping in the mountains, picnics with her family outdoors, and gave (as well as received) chemical-free treatment for the sick, including hydrotherapy, massage, and other holistic health interventions.

Ellen White loved flowers and often drew parallels between the botanical world and the Creator of diversity. She planted her flower beds carefully and in the growing season, every Sabbath fresh bouquets graced her dining table. Ellen White believed nature is God’s gift to us! He intended that we care for it and keep it beautiful, as a response to His grace and in gratitude to our Creator.

Probably none of Ellen White’s counsel is as ‘green’ as her advocacy for a vegetarian diet.1 Not only does practicing vegetarianism result in better health, it could also help to save animals and the earth. It was not just the health of humanity that drove Ellen White’s activism for the vegetarian diet, it was also concern for the suffering of animals: “Animals are often transported long distances and subjected to great suffering in reaching a market. Taken from the green pastures, and traveling for weary miles over the hot, dusty roads, or crowded into filthy trains or trucks, feverish and exhausted, often for many hours deprived of food and water, the poor creatures are driven to their death, that human beings may feast on the carcasses.” The Ministry of Healing, p314.

Ellen White spoke to these ecological abuses when she wrote, “Animals see and hear and love and fear and suffer.”  The Ministry of Healing, p315.

Though Ellen White wrote before greed for oil dominated world politics, and before water became an endangered resource, her vegetarian advocacy could also affect these dwindling commodities. Did you know that growing plant foods requires far less energy, less fertilizer, less pesticides, less water, and less land, than producing food from animal? Eating a plant-based diet protects our planet, resulting in less air and water pollution, less greenhouse gases, and less soil erosion.

Ellen White also recognized the need of pure water and clean air. She even recognized the ill effects of noise pollution. Often she pointed to the benefits of a home or a hike in the country that provides the peace, quiet, and rest that are essential for healthy nerves, mental health and even heart health, according to recent research.

Ellen White was a recycler! She enjoyed making rag carpets from much worn clothing and neatly and carefully patched her family’s clothes to extend their wear. Her granddaughter Ella recalls Ellen urging husband James to not throw out a glass bottle. When he did anyway, Ellen White chided, “Oh James! You could have at least kept the cork!”

Like Scriptures, Ellen White continually urged Christians to reject materialism and simplify their lives in order to have funds for missions and for the poor. She advocated living within one’s income, and accumulating less ‘stuff’ that pollutes the environment.

Ellen White links ecology to the gospel commission, including what we eat, how we travel, spend our money, even how we restore misused land. It was God’s plan for His people, anciently and currently, to teach all nations how to care for the earth properly and how to be free from disease, thus pointing to the Creator as the source of health, beauty, and joy. Anything the Christian does toward the improvement of humanity’s ecological environment provides greater opportunity for also improving humanity physically and spiritually. Indeed, Ellen White felt the organic farmer is as important as the minister of the gospel.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of research showing the moral development potential of the natural world. Yet, Ellen White talked about the moral development potential in nature over a hundred years ago. She believed nature provided opportunities to learn and deepen spiritual values if we are intentional in pointing to God as nature’s Creator. Thus, ecology is not an end in itself. An unspoiled environment points to a God who delights in the beautiful.

Respect for creation, in Ellen White’s view, included respect for the Creator. Ellen White recognized that human rights are grounded in the doctrine of Creation. Sin has caused a fracture in humanity’s relationship with God, with each other, and with nature. Motivated by God’s grace, we seek to restore all three relationships to wholeness. Thus, Ellen White could speak of God’s approbation of “… government that protects, restores, relieves, but never savors of oppression. The poor especially are to be kindly treated…aid is to be given to the oppressed, and not one soul that bears the image of God is to be placed at the footstool of a human being. The greatest possible kindness and freedom are to be granted to the purchase of the blood of Christ.” Manuscript Releases vol. 3, p37.

Ellen White believed in the link between ecology and the restoration of the image of God in humanity. How then do we apply her ecological principles to the 21st century? I believe it now becomes our responsibility to encourage a truly green society that considers every human being as deserving of dignity, that cares for those who have the least, that rejects torture, that grants due process during arrest to all humanity within its jurisdiction, as well as a society that shows its environmental consciousness by thoughtful development.

Adam and Eve lost their perfect Eden environment because of sin.  We are again losing our environment because of the sins of materialism, greed, pollution, and utter disregard of the earth’s resources and beauty. But through Christ, we can be restored to God, to each other, and to nature.

Ellen White encourages Christians to not only look forward to the final restoration of earth to its original Eden state, but also honor God today by taking responsible care of our environment.



Was Ellen White Green? — 18 Comments

  1. Interesting to see how Sister White related to the environment and nature in general. While I believe the Bible give us enough evidence on how to treat the Earth that our Gd created I believe that we have some invaluable extra light on this matter based on her life and writings.

    Will definitely use some of those quotes to our Sabbath School study this coming Sabbath.

  2. Excellent article. When the "green" trend arose on the scene and became popular, I felt that it was not a new movement within Adventism because being good stewards as counseled by God is also similar to being "green." As adventist the message of conservation is rooted in our culture, it is ideology that we are admonished to live with. Our love for God and others is seen through our actions as we relate to others, the environment, and our possessions. When I think about the Proverbs 31 woman, I think about a wife and mother who is a green steward. She is a gardener, a seamstress, a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, etc.; furthermore, she is an example for how we should be living our lives.

  3. Thank you Cindy for the wonderful reminder that as children of the Creator and stewards of His creation, we all share responsibility in the preservation of our the earth and its resources.
    I firmly believe that by showing concern, compassion, and respect for animals (domestic and otherwise), we are doing much to honor Jesus' words "...unto the least of these, you have done it unto me".
    How He must daily be saddened by the suffering of aniimals for the "sport", "entertainment", and gluttony of mankind.
    His love for us is evident even in the flowering weeds!
    How much compassion we might learn if we stopped to consider the creatures of the earth as gifts from our Creator rather than simply means to satisfy humanity's growing greed.

  4. Thank You cindy for this well thought out and prepared post. I have never considered myself an environmentalist, but as I read, I remembered how wasteful I feel when I use a paper cup one time and throw it away or even a napkin. It just seems like such a waste. Recycling makes us much better stewards.

  5. This is a very interesting topic. It's a subject, a well intended one, that confirms Gods omipotence. As it's said about God that He is the Alpha and Omega, certainly He knows the end from the beginning. Ellen White could not out of any human prediction, magic, lucky or any reason whatsoever have talked about green without the spirit. Hebrews 1:1-2 talks about God speaking to mankind at various times through certain means and agencies - the green message spoken comes from the throne of God himself. This message is very timely as it borders on man's biggest challenge today, man suffers climatic related problems which goes on even to the issue of diet. God forewarned about this as evidenced through sister White's writing but the question however is what shall we do? What if we did things in the intended ideal way both to protect our health and environment as God designed. We have a duty and this is of a high calling to ensure that we manage the first task given to man as properly done with delight and joy which will lead us to appreciate Gods creation.

  6. I think the comment, "Respect for Creation, includes respect for the Creator" pretty much sums it up. In this day and age, there is great lack of respect for each other, let alone for our God. How sad.

  7. Those who still doubt whether sister Ellen's messages are not inspirational, this artical is a proof being written many years back before today's science would bring the same findings. How wonderful the world would have been if it embraced her teachings.

  8. Interesting comments, but I would like to remind everyone who has an "environmental agenda" of a few things.
    1. The term "biodiversity" which the author uses to describe the plant and animal life which she says is under stress from Humans, is a term which is near and dear to the "evolutionist", because that is where they believe the evolution of "new" forms of life arise. The author may be a creationist, but she is using terminology coined by the evolutionist.
    2. Ellen White was a recycler: virtually everyone was during her tenure on this earth, because of the economic reality of the times. Most working class families did the same thing, and many still do.
    3. Organic farming: I believe the author is taking a personal liberty with Ellen White's writings when she suggests that organic farming is to be the model for us as Christians. If all farming was "organic", there would be significantly more starving people in the world today, because there would be significantly less food for them to eat. And, of course, the term "organic" as applied to farming was not extant during E G Whites life, and is an interpretation by the author of what Mrs. White wrote, which may be accepted or rejected, depending upon the view of the reader.
    It appears to me that the author is a committed environmentalist. Fine, that is her choice. The implication she makes that Ellen White was one too, is not well supported, by her quotations of E G White, however we can allow her to interpret these statements in what ever way she wishes, as long as it applies only to her own life. Her statements regarding the "miserable" current state of the environment are taken directly from the "Sierra Club", the "Wilderness Society", and the "Center for Biological Diversity", all well known environmental groups which have a distinct and specific agenda of Pantheism, Socialism, and the elevation of plant and animals to the same level as human life. We all need to be aware that the agenda of these groups is not the truth, and they misuse and misstate reality on a regular basis, in order to bolster their collective agenda.
    It is my opinion that employees of the White Estate have undertaken to demonstrate that E G Whites writings are still as meaningful today as they were when they were written, however this article does very little to accomplish that, in my opinion.

    • We need not shoot people and articles down just becasue it doesn't suit us. Be careful not to fall into satan's trap of negative critism. If you have the wrong spirit you will find fault with everything.

    • Dr. Moore,
      As someone who has worked in land-use politics for the last 22 years, I too share what appears to be a common concern about the SDA church “going green.”

      In 1992 radical environmental groups met at Orcas Island near Seattle to craft a strategy to bring mainstream Christian groups into their movement. They decided to cast aside the traditional trapping of paganism/environmentalism such as running new-age crystal shops in major cities and convert them to Christian Book stores.

      They also created the Evangelical Environmental Network with new terms that appears to be biblical in origin. It was about that time when Clinton’s Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, claimed to be a modern “Noah” and that the true 20th Century version/meaning of the promise of the rainbow really was a call from God for man (e.g. Congress, the Forest Service, BLM, and National Park Service) to go out create new federally designated Wilderness areas.

      Although Babbitt was roundly laughed at by many political pendants at the time, such as Tony Snow (and your truly), he and many in the environmental movement were very serious.

      Today, it appears that initial outreach has paid off for those groups when you have the SDA General Conference endorse “green” concepts and, in fact, foster new environmental majors at a number of SDA colleges where graduates can gain employment with far-left green groups such as the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

      In my reading and understanding of the Bible, it is clear God instructs us to avoid adopting the religious dogma of green groups such as setting aside of stands of trees to worship in. I support good stewardship and conservation of our natural resources. However, I think we should be careful in adopting the green movement as being a religious philosophy inspired of God. Sadly, it appears the agenda crafted at Orcas Island has surpassed even the wildest dreams of its authors.

  9. I was delighted to read the words that EW wrote. She said animals see, hear, love, fear etc.
    Yet people do not think anything of consuming chickens, pigs, cows, etc. We are fortunate to live where plant food is abundant. No need to kill poor animals.

  10. Dr. Moore--

    Thank you for pointing out some very serious concerns. It is always hazardous to use 21st century labels--especially when they are connected with political movements--and assign them to different eras in history.

    I very much doubt that Sister White would have accepted these titles as they are applied to her in this article. You are correct in pointing out that she was not unusual in her practice of making rag rugs--my grandmother did the same thing when she was not even a Christian, as did many others of her generations, and those who preceded them. It wasn't about "being green" or trendy--it was about survival and necessity. "Waste not, want not."

    Some of us were environmentalists before it was "cool" to be "green". We just thought (and still do) think of it as stewardship. I support recycling, gardening, and conservation for a variety of reasons--but not because the government or an environmental group tells me to do so. Certainly God expects His children to be responsible in their use of what He has provided in nature—because of their obedience to and love for Him.

    As Adventist Christians, we must be very, very careful not to mix political movements with the gospel, in whatever form. Most official environmental groups do have a specific agenda and are anti-Christian and anti-Bible in their outlook.

    Consider one of Sister White’s many warnings against following earthly principles:

    “Worldly policy and the undeviating principles of righteousness do not blend into each other imperceptibly, like the colors of the rainbow. Between the two a broad, clear line is drawn by the eternal God.” Desire of Ages p. 312

    As important as the earth is, we must remember—always—that it is not our home and God will destroy it in the end. We need to focus on sharing the Three Angels’ Messages.

    “In the last days, difficult times will come. For men will be . . . holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” 2 Tim 3.1, 5

    • Jennifer, I agree with your observations that this world is not our home," we are just passing through", and certainly the practice of good stewardship can be a welcome corollary of christian philosophy. And, most assuredly, environmental activism and christianity are not mutually exclusive lifestyles, although how it is practiced by some of the most political environmental organizations may require some disingenuous activity, and therefore if one belongs to this organization, or uses their incorrect data, that might make these philosophies exclusive. But most importantly, you point out that our church should be focused on our eternal home, not on this earth, which now is just a shadow of God's creative ability, having been distressed into its current state by sin.

    • "it is not our home and God will destroy it in the end", is often used as an impetus of a political agenda, Jennifer.

      • “ . . . My kingdom is not of this world. . . “
        Jn 18:36

        “ . . . the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
        Rom 8:19-22

        “ . . . all the earth will be devoured by the fire of My zeal.”
        Zeph 3:8

        “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
        1 Jn 2:17

        “. . . our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ . . .”
        Phil 3:20

        “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great . . . “
        Matt 5:11

        “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away . . .”
        Rev 21:1

        Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

  11. I’ve enjoyed reading all of your responses! If you were at my house, we could take a walk in God’s spectacular creation and continue the conversation, enjoying the fellowship, learning from each other, and rejoicing in “every good thing our God has made for our delight.” (Dt. 26:11)

    Dr. Moore and Jennifer, I totally agree with your caution to not impose 21st century political baggage on Ellen White. In the United States, environmental activism is often associated with one particular party, though that is becoming less true as more evangelicals recognize the biblical mandate to care for the earth. Certainly, Christians must shun extremist environmental movements and issues, such as earth goddess worship, deep ecology (all nature is equal, including human and animal life), the Gaia theory that centers on natural selection, and various forms of animism.

    However, I believe we as Adventist Christians have in some ways missed a wonderful opportunity to be in the forefront of Bible-based environmentalism! To be a careful steward of the earth is not first and foremost a political notion; it is the sacred responsibility of every follower of Christ! Who is in a better position to praise the God of Creation than a movement who celebrate His creation activity every seventh-day Sabbath? Few Christian religious movements other than Adventists have a biblical structure for vegetarianism—which is probably the single most effective environmental activity anyone could engage. (Consider that 8 times the fossil fuel energy is used in the production of animal protein as is used in plant protein production and 15 times more fresh water is required to produce 100 grams of beef than 100 grams of cereal.)

    Those of us who believe the messages God gave Ellen White transcend time and culture must look for principles—those general moral rules of conduct that never change—rather than for policies or practices that could change with circumstances. Based on the principles she wrote in the 19th century, it seems to me that if Ellen White were alive today, she would have a testimony about the dismal fact that every year Americans spend more money on chewing gum than they give to missions. I believe she would carry reusable bags to the grocery store. I believe she would purchase organic produce or grow organic gardens without the use of chemical fertilizers and growth enhancers. Maybe she would buy a 100% cotton carpet at the Goodwill!

    But let’s not quibble over what Ellen White would do were she alive today. The more essential question is, What do we learn from the Word of God about how to live, how to spend our money and time, how to prioritize? My take-away from that Sacred Book is: 1. Live simply 2. Consume less 3. Give more. 4. Enjoy nature. 5. Worship nature’s Creator with all my heart and mind and soul.

    Shalom, indeed!

    • Interesting reply, and I partially agree with your statements. Certainly a part of being a Christian is good stewardship, both of our finances, and the natural resources God has entrusted us with. However, your statement that the SDA church has missed an opportunity to be at the forefront of "Bible-based environmentalism" frankly is puzzling to me. For example, my personal studies right now are in the books of Samuel 1 and 2, and Kings 1 and 2. The people of that time were not exactly environmentalists, and their use of animals as food items and the sheer number used just for sacrifices are mind boggling, is this a part of the Bible-based environmentalism you are referring to?
      Of course, I must comment on your use of the statistics you used for the amount of water and petroleum products in order to produce animal protein, and specifically beef production. While these are very dramatic, they are in fact incorrect. These were I believe, first published by the radical environmental group "Earth First!", in an attempt to support their radical agenda. If you wish to find the correct amount, I suggest you go to the USDA website, they have the correct statistics regarding food production vs water use and energy requirements.
      While I do believe that Ellen White was a Prophet of God, I do not believe that everything she wrote was prophetic. On the other hand, I believe everything written in the Bible is of worth to me personally. If you want to believe that she would have done the things you suggest, especially the use of organic foods, that is fine with me, but in fact I would have a hard time confirming that from what I have read that she wrote. And yes, she might have bought a cotton rug from Goodwill, and that would have made the ...cotton farmers here in the US very pleased. By the way, if would you like to know about how much fresh water and petroleum products go into the production of that cotton rug, let me know, I used to pick that product by hand and with a machine when I was a kid...of course you may not want to know, and no, it is NOT organic.


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