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    Chapter 2—The Case Of Franklin E. Belden

    As we come, now, to examine more closely and in greater degree the experience of Franklin E. Belden and Rufus A. Underwood, we do well at the outset to remind ourselves that Ellen White has clearly warned all Christians from the ground of “judging” a fellow Christian’s character or motivation. 1Christ’s Object Lessons, 71. She does, however, highly recommend reasoning from cause to effect, 2The Ministry of Healing, p. 44 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1942). and of tracing of effect back to cause. 3Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1950), p. 285.1888FI 18.1

    And in that which follows, we will not be so much interested in assigning motivation as in exploring possible reasons as to why these two leaders in the church opposed the servant of the Lord when she stood against certain measures, declaring that her opposition had its genesis in the messages she had received from the Lord.1888FI 18.2

    Why did Franklin Belden oppose one whom he, at least earlier, apparently had accepted as a divinely inspired prophet of the Lord? There are at least six possible answers to this probing question:1888FI 18.3

    1. Family Connection?—Upon several occasions Jesus said that prophets are not without honor except in their own country, house, and kin. 4Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4; John 4:44. Was it not the fabler Aesop, five centuries before Christ, who first reminded us that “familiarity breeds contempt”? 5John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 15th edition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1980), p. 66.1888FI 18.4

    There seems to be some evidence that Frank Belden resented the familial relationship he sustained toward Ellen White. Writing to him from Australia in 1895 she referred to an earlier interview:1888FI 18.5

    When I talked with you in my own room at Battle Creek, you stated to me things you may have imagined were true, but they were false. You said you did as much to recommend my books as you did for other publications, but that you dared not make a specialty of my books, lest others should say it was because I

    was your “Auntie.” I was disgusted at this talk.... This was the flimsy excuse. 6Letter 15, June 8, 1895, p. 5.1888FI 19.1

    Two years earlier, in a letter of stern reproof not calculated to endear her nephew to herself, Ellen White had tenderly poured out her heart in these words: “Your Aunt Ellen loves your soul too well to gloss over your present condition. God has a work for you to do, and you can do it if you are truly and genuinely converted.” 7Letter 9, December 7, 1893, p. 6.1888FI 19.2

    Was Franklin Belden so “turned off” by his lineal proximity to Mrs. White, in the aunt/nephew relationship, that it served to goad him to reject her office in the church, even as he appears to have rejected the family link? Perhaps only Belden himself, and God, know for sure.1888FI 19.3

    2. Simple Retaliation?—Or, perhaps, was his negative attitude simply a cause-effect result of his smoldering anger at her stinging rebukes he certainly deserved (but which, nonetheless, do not make it any easier for a normal human being to accept)? If one surveys the correspondence between Mrs. White and Franklin Belden, one is struck by the strong terms in which she called “sin by its right name,” and yet, always, of course, tempered with entreating words of love.1888FI 19.4

    Did Belden reject her simply out of reaction, and in a subconscious spirit of retaliation of which perhaps even he himself was unaware? Again, only God knows.1888FI 19.5

    3. Disapproval of Father’s Remarriage?—Did Belden resent the fact that his father, Stephen, had contracted a third marriage after 1868, and his aunt—the prophetess—refused to join with those Adventists who sought both to discipline Stephen Belden (for what they viewed as an unbiblical divorce which terminated his second marriage), and to cause him to separate from this third wife?1888FI 19.6

    I have seen no evidence, one way or the other, as far as Franklin Belden is concerned; but there is much evidence that this marital situation was of continuing concern to a number within Adventism during the final quarter of the 19th century. These are the facts:1888FI 20.1

    Stephen Belden married Sarah B. Harmon in August, 1851, when he was 22 and she was 28 (her sister Ellen was then 23). A total of five children were born to this union, Franklin coming along in 1858. Sarah died at age 45 of consumption [tuberculosis] on November 25, 1868. 8Obituary, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 22, 1868, p. 286.1888FI 20.2

    Shortly thereafter, Stephen remarried, the lady having been the one who nursed his first wife through her terminal illness and who had been a faithful household servant for many years. Obviously Belden felt he needed help in raising five lively children; and he may, indeed, have truly been in love with his new bride.1888FI 20.3

    Tragically, the second Mrs. Belden contracted measles shortly after their marriage. She became insane, and in the end was admitted to an asylum. In this situation Stephen Belden secured a divorce and married a third time.1888FI 20.4

    In 1927 Willie White wrote a letter in which he reflected upon the tragedy in his Uncle Stephen’s life:1888FI 20.5

    At various times, individuals where he [Stephen Belden] lived, undertook to secure his exclusion from the [Seventh-day Adventist] church because he had married without separation from his [second] wife on the charge of adultery. When appealed to [for support] regarding this matter, Sister White said, “Let them alone.” 9W. C. White Letter to W. D. Frazee, February 21, 1927; cited in White Estate Manuscript Release #448.

    Stephen Belden and his third wife went to Australia shortly after Ellen White herself had arrived “down under,” to give nearly a decade of service to the church in the South Pacific. Arriving in 1892, he assisted his sister-in-law in various lines of church work on that continent. Then, before the prophet returned to the United States in 1900, Stephen and his wife were sent to Norfolk Island (about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia) to do missionary work. He subsequently died there, and the widow remained for some time to continue her own ministry. 10Obituary, Australasian Union Conference Record, December 3, 1906, p. 8.1888FI 20.6

    How did Franklin Belden react to all of this? Did he object to his father’s third marriage? Was he one of the group who, periodically, tried to have the man disfellowshipped, and to withdraw from a marriage widely viewed in the church as unscriptural? I have seen no evidence, one way or the other; but he may well have had negative feelings toward his stepmother—and toward his father, as well. And he also may have had harsh feelings toward Ellen White for not “standing for principle”—others certainly did.1888FI 21.1

    (It should probably be noted in passing, at this point, that Mrs. White’s reported firm declaration, “Let them alone,” should not necessarily be taken as evidence of her approval of this apparently unscriptural marriage. It does show that she strenuously objected to attempts made to break up a marriage which, now, was a fait accompli. And it also reveals her conviction that there was still a place, not only in the church but in the work of that church, for one who had earlier experienced a tragic chain of circumstances.)1888FI 21.2

    4. Misguided Loyalty?—Was Franklin E. Belden possibly possessed of a misplaced sense of loyalty to the publishing house of which he was a prominent leader—did he reason within himself that his motion to require all prospective ministers to first spend a season as colporteurs would “be good,” not only for them by way of training, but be good for the publishing house as well, in that it unquestionably would bring more literature evangelists (if conscripts) into the field, and thus more books would be sold?1888FI 21.3

    Again, I have seen no evidence on this, pro or con, but the possibility is not unreasonable.1888FI 22.1

    5. Disappointment and Anger?—Or was Belden’s attitude toward Ellen White the product of disappointment, anger, and even disillusionment stemming from her lack of solicited support on his behalf in a copyright dispute within the Review and Herald Publishing House?1888FI 22.2

    There is a brief, curious, oblique reference to this dispute in the short biographical sketch in the revised Adventist Encyclopedia:1888FI 22.3

    At the turn of the century he entered into certain business transactions relating to songbook publishing, which, although faithfully carried out by the publishers, led him to feel that he had been unfairly treated. This supposed grievance laid the foundation for a course of action that led to his separation from the church about 1907. 11“Franklin E. Belden,” p. 142.

    The author of that biographical sketch may not have had prior access to the letter Mrs. White wrote her nephew on June 9, 1895, in which she flatly declares that, in fact, he had not “been treated fairly, and in an unselfish manner, Christlike manner, I know.” But she then went on to tell him he was just as guilty before God for his own attitudes and actions which were as bad as those of his publishing employers!1888FI 22.4

    The letter, which also refers to another charge by Belden of the prophetess having been unduly influenced by others, is illuminating:1888FI 22.5

    Dear Nephew,

    I am very glad that the Lord is meeting you where you are, but I was sorry to read your words denying any selfishness connected with your leaving the [publishing] Office, and charging me with saying that the Lord had shown me things when some one had reported them to me.... My words had no influence upon you when we were at Minneapolis, and they may have no more effect now....

    The spirit that leavened you at Minneapolis was with you during your service in the [Review and Herald] Office at Battle Creek; it was the confederacy formed with the very men you now condemn which led you to do many things contrary to the principles of the commandments of God. Selfishness was inwrought in your course of action, and this is why you are not connected with the Office today. The Lord’s hand was in the whole matter.

    That you have not been treated fairly, and in an unselfish manner, Christlike manner, I know. The same spirit that your confederacy exercised toward others, has been exercised toward you, and it will continue to be manifest until the cleansing, refining influence of the Holy Spirit shall make a decided change in the characters of men now connected with the work of God. 12Letter 10, June 9, 1895, p. 1.

    6. Finally, did Franklin Belden come to a position of disbelief, in his own heart, that his aunt was not, indeed, a genuine, authentic, legitimate, divinely inspired prophet of the Lord? There seems to be evidence to support such a hypothesis.1888FI 23.1

    It is, unhappily, an established fact that after Mrs. White had returned from Australia, Belden wrote her an anonymous letter (in 1907), the transparent purpose of which appears to have been to trick her in an attempt to demonstrate and prove she was influenced by her advisers. The effort proved abortive, thwarted as it was by Battle Creek church leader George Amadon who discovered—and diverted—the letter. Amadon then personally exposed Belden in a public meeting in Battle Creek, much to the latter’s personal embarrassment. 13Statement of Mrs. Cleora Webster (daughter of Lucinda Hall, probably Ellen White’s closest female friend), at Livingston, New York, in May, 1963, in Mite Estate Document File, #421.1888FI 23.2

    On one occasion Ellen White challenged her nephew by declaring that he and Captain Clement Eldridge, general manager of the publishing house in Battle Creek, 14See “Clement Eldridge,” SW: 421, 422, (1976). 68. had secretly conspired to suppress her two books, Great Controversy and Patriarchs and Prophets. When Belden denied all, she responded by quoting to him a private conversation between himself and Eldridge in which they (1) contrived a publishing house policy that only one major, large book at a time could be promoted in the field by colporteurs. (2) They then decided that the book to be thus promoted should be Bible Readings, because, said Belden, “I have not known of one soul being converted through the reading of Great Controversy, and I have known many souls converted through Bible Readings.” 15Letter 15, June 8, 1895, pp. 2-6. She had observed all of these private conversations and machinations in vision!1888FI 23.3

    In the same letter in which she revealed these “secrets” of God (Arms 3:7), she made one more appeal to reach her nephew’s heart. And in so doing she had recourse to a gripping, graphic, memorable metaphor which, in the end, may have turned out to be prophetic. She wrote Belden:1888FI 24.1

    A man cannot continue in sin, and be a Christian. Christ always separates the contrite soul from sin. Men may labor in connection with the work of God, as did Noah’s carpenters, and yet resist the divine influences [and be lost at last]. 16Ibid., p. 9.

    Ellen White had used this cryptic reference to “Noah’s carpenters” only once before, in 1887; 17Letter 36, February 10, 1887, p. 8. and she would use it but once again, in 1896, 18Letter 108, October 14, 1896, pp. 1-4. in her correspondence and writings.1888FI 24.2

    Did Franklin Belden become one of “Noah’s Carpenters”? Of course, only God knows for sure. But the question (“Did he ... or did he not?”) continues to generate contrary opinions to this day. Divergent positions concerning his relationship to his church and its prophet have been published in two books which have come out earlier this year.1888FI 24.3

    James R. Nix, director of the Ellen G. White Research Center at Loma Linda University, in his Advent Singing, in a biographical sketch, comments: “Unfortunately, he eventually left the church and actually spent the last years of his life very antagonistic toward the church of his youth.” 19(Washington, DC: North American Division Office of Education, 1988), p. 145.1888FI 25.1

    Wayne Hooper disagrees. In a parallel sketch he observes:1888FI 25.2

    Unfortunately, a misunderstanding arose between him and Adventist leaders concerning royalties for his books. The matter was not really satisfactorily settled, but Franklin, in spite of stories to the contrary, did not forsake his allegiance to the church or to the Lord. After his death on December 2, 1945, all his papers and manuscripts were donated to the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. 20Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1988) p. 628.

    Belden’s 83-year-old niece, Ellen F. Kennedy, strongly agrees with Hooper. Citing family tradition and personal experience, she stoutly affirms that “he did not depart from the faith. It was that he felt he could not fellowship with the brethren, and he had good reason.” As to his being disfellowshipped from the Battle Creek Tabernacle membership, this, she claims, was the action of a relatively small clique in the church which also ousted other loyal Seventh-day Adventists in a “railroading”-type operation.1888FI 25.3

    She adds that her uncle, despite his being denied membership, continued to attend the Seventh-day Adventist church; and on a certain Sabbath in 1916 (when he was 56, and she was 12), she and her uncle attended services at the Summit Avenue Seventh-day Adventist church in Pasadena, California. During this extended visit to her home, Mrs. Kennedy reports, he did not utter one word of unkindness or criticism of his brethren. That is more than I can say of those who continually drag his skeleton out of the closet ... to shake around happenings of over a hundred years ago. 21Ellen F. Kennedy to Miriam Wood, Days Creek, Oregon, August 31, 1988, pp. 1, 2; Ellen F. Kennedy to Roger W. Coon, September 18, 1988, pp. 1-4.1888FI 25.4

    Belden’s niece also offers his public “confession,” published in the Review and Herald in 1895, 22“Believe His Prophets, So Shall Ye Prosper,” September 17, 1895, pp. 594, 595. as evidence of a rebirth of belief in Mrs. White’s prophetic ministry following 1888; but a number of his problems with Mrs. White and his fellow denominational workers and members came months, even years, after this 1895 recantation of disbelief.1888FI 26.1

    On the other hand, Willie White was so offended and affronted by the treatment accorded him when, in November, 1932, he came to visit his cousin Franklin (Belden refused to shake White’s outstretched hand and summarily ordered him from the premises), that four months later Willie wrote “Dear Cousin Frank:” “When I think about my last visit at your home [in Battle Creek], and the way you received me, I have no desire to accomodate you with documents from our files” (which Belden had earlier requested). 23W. C. White to F. E. Belden, March 3, 1933, p. 1. Same 17 months later Belden belatedly replied in a handwritten missive to WW to “tell you plainly same of the reasons” for his ungentlemanly behavior “when you called on me and my family uninvited and unwelcome.” FEB to WOW, August 29, 1934, p. 1.1888FI 26.2

    And in 1945, according to the personal testimony of Kenneth H. Wood, today chairman of the White Estate Trustees, Belden made a very disparaging remark concerning his aunt, the prophetess, within weeks of his demise.1888FI 26.3

    Wood was a young pastor in Cleveland, Ohio, at the time. On one particular occasion he was joined by another minister, Carlyle B. Haynes, then 63 and a General Conference departmental director in Washington, in making a Christian call upon Franklin Belden at the latter’s retirement home nearby.1888FI 26.4

    As Belden recognized them at the door he was about to shut it in their faces, but relented and allowed then to enter his parlor when they asked to visit with him. Making little apparent headway in spiritual efforts to restore the man to the church of his childhood, they finally, as a last recourse, asked Belden if they could offer a short prayer before departing.1888FI 26.5

    Belden immediately shot back with, “Do you still believe in that woman?” They acknowledged the truthfulness of his suspicion. He then refused to allow them to pray in his home, and forthwith showed them the door. Tragically, Franklin Belden died scant weeks later, at the age of 87, following this last known effort to effect his spiritual restoration. 24Roger W. Coon, “The Ultimate Question,” Adventist Review, March 10, 1988, p. 10.1888FI 27.1

    Was he one of “Noah’s Carpenters”? Of course, only the Lord knows. But the evidence, especially from the correspondence of “that woman,” is overwhelmingly conclusive that one wrong step prepared the way for the next in the man’s progressive downfall.1888FI 27.2

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