Children as equal members of the Lord’s family: Revealing the historical influences on the Adventist Church’s understanding of the spiritual nature of children and Ellen White’s ideal of a Grace-filled home, church and school

Author: Elizabeth Hill

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 27 Sep 2021.

Hill, Elizabeth, 2018 Children as equal members of the Lord’s family: Revealing the historical influences on the Adventist Church’s understanding of the spiritual nature of children and Ellen White’s ideal of a Grace-filled home, church and school, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Abstract

In the past 40 years or so, there has been increased awareness of child abuse, including child sexual abuse, occurring within Christian Church institutions. Taking the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Adventist Church) as a case study, this research seeks to understand some of the reasons behind this abuse.

The study begins with the premise that adults’ treatment of children is informed by beliefs about the nature of the child and, more specifically, that the treatment of children within Christian Church institutions is informed by religious beliefs about the spiritual nature of the child. The focus of the study is on beliefs regarding to children. An examination of the history of understandings of children in western society identifies two competing beliefs: that children are inherently wicked and deserving of punishment, and that children are innocent and deserving of protection.

Although the belief in children as wicked and deserving of punishment has been around for a long time, it gained prominence with the emergence of the evangelical and puritan movements, which had a strong influence on the Adventist Church. This provided a context in which children could be subjected to corporal punishment and this, in turn, appears to have led to more extreme forms of abuse.

The situation changed around the middle of the 19th century when middle and upper class people began to see children as innocent and deserving of protection. The momentum for this declined, but gained prominence again in the latter half of the 20th century when a social revolution took place across the Western world, as a variety of oppressed groups began to assert their rights. The view of children as innocent and deserving of protection then re-emerged leading to a more permissive approach.

The study presents the history of Adventism, with a particular focus on the life of one of the founders, Ellen White. It draws attention to the evolution of Ellen White’s understanding of children within the context of the Adventist Church. It includes a discussion of the outcomes of, and responses, to a number of research studies which revealed the presence of child abuse within the Church. The findings of these studies led to the establishment of several new ministries and programs, including Safe Place Services, for the protection of children.

The study revisits the writings of Ellen White and, using the metaphor of pentimento, a process by which a painting is examined by peeling away layers of paint, it examines the changes that occurred in her understandings of children over the years. It reveals that she gradually came to recognise children as equal members of the Lord’s family and therefore deserving of respect. Ellen stressed the importance of Grace, and in particular, the importance of a Grace-filled home, church and school.

This more mature understanding of the spiritual nature of children provides a positive way forward, not only for the Adventist Church but for society more broadly.

Keywords: Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ellen G White, Children, Abuse, History, Child's Voice, Valuegensis

Subject: Sociology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Dr Lorna Hallahan