It is the 16th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1915.
The world was at war. The Germans used Zeppelins to bomb England for the first time, as well as debuted poison gas for the first time in combat. Despite the horrors of this war, the Americans under Woodrow Wilson attempted neutrality. When Wilson ran for president in the following year, one of his campaign slogans was “Wilson Kept Us Out of the War.” Wilson was elected, and America joined the war.
1915 was the year that Albert Einstein first started lecturing on his new theory of general relativity. This was ten years after Einstein first presented his theories on the theory of special relativity. The general theory is essentially an observation and theory about gravity. Fun fact: the general theory of relativity allows for the possibility of time travel into the future, it theoretically allows for travel into the past. But any concrete attempt to do this sans flux capacitor has failed.
1915 saw the birth of the Ancient Mystical Order of the Rosy Cross. These newfangled Rosicrucians claimed both Walt Disney and Gene Roddenberry (of Star Trek fame) as devotees. The group is essentially a cross between ancient Egyptian mystery religions, the Masons, mystics, and alchemists. The AMORC, as it is known, is currently the largest Rosicrucian group in the world.
In another story of men getting together to dress up and talk about silly things, the new KKK was founded by William J. Simmons this year at Stone Mountain in Georgia. In something that is not at all a coincidence with the rise of the new KKK, D.W. Griffith’s film monument to racism, “The Birth of a Nation,” was released in 1915 as well.
1915 saw Jim Thorpe play his first professional football game with the Canton Bulldogs. Babe Ruth hit his first home run in 1915, and his Red Sox would go on to win the World Series. However, the young Ruth was neither asked to pitch or start in the field. He had one appearance in the series. He grounded out as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning of the 3rd game.
1915 is considered by many as the official birth year for jazz. Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton’s “Jelly Roll Blues,” considered the first jazz composition, was published.
While the 20th century would become the Evangelical century in America, the growth of new religious movements and sects in the church was the story of the 19th century that bled into the 20th. And in the vein of this kind of sectarian Christianity today, we remember Ellen G. White, who died on this day, the 16th of July, in 1915.
Ellen was born in 1827 in Maine. She recalled being maliciously hit in the face by a rock as a schoolgirl. Young Ellen went into a coma and came out permanently disfigured. She claimed this affected her entire life and ministry. Her father was a hat maker and an exhorter in the Methodist church. An “exhorter” was a term used for non-ordained lay-preachers. Ellen’s family was kicked out of the Methodist church when they began to follow the teachings of William Miller. It was Miller who believed that Christ would return in 1844. When Christ did not return, many Millerites left to rejoin their old denominations. Ellen, however, decided to encourage those Millerites who stayed, known as Adventists. Ellen married another Adventist preacher, James White, and the two would soon begin the denomination that today has almost 20 million members worldwide.
We might suggest that Ellen G. White was theologically eccentric, possibly problematic. Her claim to have had over 2000 visions might be questioned as she claims God told her that Christians should neither eat meat nor drink alcohol. White’s dubious health advice and center in Battle Creek, Michigan, attracted many faddish “health” advocates. Amongst her most troubling theological teachings was the idea that worshipping on Sunday was the mark of the beast.
As is typical with most religious sects, the church today has a fraught relationship with its founder. There are fundamentalist and progressive Adventists. They hold to varying positions on the authority of White’s teachings. Adventists would come to affirm the theological fundamentals accepted by many evangelicals in the 20th century. Historian Randall Ballmer has called Ellen G White “one of the most important and colorful figures in the history of American religion,” and here on the Almanac, we consider her a first-round pick in the Dr. Gene Scott All-Stars. Ellen G. White, born in 1827, died on this day, the 16th of July, in 1915. She was 87 years old.
The reading for today comes from Martin Luther, a quote on the necessity of absolution, especially in the church:
“May a merciful God preserve me from a Christian Church in which everyone is a saint! I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the fainthearted, the feeble and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who sigh and cry to God incessantly for comfort and help, who believe in the forgiveness of sins.”
That was from Luther’s Sermons on the Gospel of St. John. This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 16th of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who also met his future wife at an “Enchantment Under The Sea” Dance, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.