Kamy Lynn Neumann grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist family who joined the Church in the 1980s. Her story tells of devotion to the Church, the experience of life as a school of hard knocks, and questions about the Church that eventually led her on a journey away from the Church.
Her story is told in a recently published book The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism, written by her husband Brian Neumann. The book explores critical questions about the Church’s belief in Ellen G. White as a prophet.
The editors of the Adventist Soapbox have been handed a copy of The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism. We republish Kamy’s thought provoking story with permission. In future blog posts we will review Kamy and Brian’s story, and selected chapters of Brian’s book.
A Personal Testimony
I was eight years old when my father, David Smith, excitedly announced that we were going to attend some evangelistic meetings being held in the evenings in an auditorium in a town in Colorado where we lived at the time. His enthusiasm was mainly sparked because of his ever increasing interest in the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation and his desire to understand as much as he could about the truths in the Bible. His earnestness to believe and follow the truth had led our family out of the Catholic church to which my mother’s entire family belonged and through several other Protestant denominations and various other types of churches, some of which were more or less intolerant of the idea that God’s people could be found in other churches than themselves.
Discovering the Seventh-day Adventist Church
The last few years had found us in the Baptist church which my parents felt held to a Biblical view of salvation and the gospel but was quite lacking in prophetic understanding so my father was very happy to find a place to get some of his questions answered. My parents were impressed with the evangelist’s knowledge of the Bible and were warmly greeted and encouraged at each meeting. They learned about the Sabbath of the fourth commandment and the gift of rest and relationship that it brought. They learned other important Biblical truths that they had not found in the other churches they had previously attended and saw no reason to not begin attending a Sabbath keeping, commandment keeping, biblically based church. Where would they find such a place? The speaker of the Revelation seminars had never mentioned a particular denomination. In fact the meetings were billed as non-denominational. Finally my parents approached the evangelist and asked what church was supporting the meetings. “This is nondenominational.” He emphatically stated. “Well, what church do you attend then?” My mother more pointedly asked. “Oh, I personally am a Seventh-day Adventist” the evangelist replied.
My parents had never heard of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and therefore no negative or preconceived ideas crossed their minds as he finally divulged this information. “Well, we might as well find one to attend then and go to church on the Bible Sabbath.” The evangelist was elated and immediately began to make arrangements for our baptisms.
My mother, while visiting a neighbour was sharing some of the new truths she was learning about when the woman became interested and asked which church was behind it. My mother told her the speaker was a Seventh-day Adventist. A few days later this woman said concernedly, “You know they are a cult, right?” My mother gazed at her with her big blue inquisitive eyes and asked what she meant. “They follow the teachings of a woman named Ellen White. I have a book you should read called “The White Lie”. They do not only use the Bible for their source of doctrine and teaching and the woman they call a prophet plagiarized much of what she claims to be divinely inspired.”
The last thing my parents wanted to do was join a cult as they were familiar with churches that started following one person and believing that they were the only true church so this put an immediate damper on my parent’s enthusiasm and willingness to be baptized and join this new found church. The next evening they approached the speaker and asked him who Ellen White was and why she had not even been mentioned during the meetings and especially when they were getting ready to join the church? He and one of the pastors began to assure my parents that although Ellen White was one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and they have the writings of what they personally consider to be a modern day prophet and believe God spoke through her about various things to help the church that the church in no way based their doctrine or teachings on her writings and that you did not have to believe in Ellen White to be a Seventh-day Adventist because all the doctrine was based on the Bible.
At that time the internet did not exist and they (my parents) were not able to research Ellen White and did not know enough about the plagiarism issue to understand any of that, so with the assurance of the evangelist and pastor of the church in the town my parents would soon be moving to, they were persuaded that there was no reason not to join. Both my parents along with my sister and I were baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church in 1983. I was eight and my sister was six, only my youngest sister who was four was not baptized.
The “ghost” of Ellen White
We soon discovered the “ghost” of Ellen White was more influential than we were first led to believe as we were made aware of some unacceptable things we were doing. For example, my Sabbath school teacher kindly, and I’m sure with the best of intentions (I do not say this sarcastically), informed my sisters and I that our mother should not be wearing jewelry, including her wedding ring. Until then we had not been aware of these extra-biblical teachings—instructions of Ellen White.
My Father was more open minded and willing to study the writings of Ellen White than my mother, but my mother did enjoy “Steps to Christ” and read some of the more widely spread books like the “Desire of Ages” and “The Great Controversy”. On the whole, my mother took Ellen White with a proverbial grain of salt, although not disclaiming her as God’s messenger she did not take the time to really study her writings or make the teachings of Ellen White an integral part of her beliefs; whereas, over time my father did and came to accept her as a true prophet and authority on all things spiritual. Of course, as most people do, he found some things easier to swallow and follow than others but he did tend towards more of a legalistic mindset and struggled both personally and with his family on how conservative one should live.
We tried giving up meat, even dairy (for a short and unpleasant time) and with the responsibility of raising three daughters my father was more than happy to make sure we were extremely modestly attired. I say this all with fond humour in remembrance of my father and nothing but the utmost respect. However, I know my father struggled hopelessly against feelings of insufficiency and guilt. He seemed never really secure in his belief that he was saved and that Jesus had forgiven him of all his past sins and present failures, always demanding perfection in himself and others motivated by a true and honest desire to be acceptable in God’s sight. He was always struggling with what he knew, that Jesus died and paid it all for him on the cross, but yet the idea that one must one day become perfect and even stand before God without a mediator (as stated in Ellen White’s book “The Great Controversy”) was daunting and understandably left him on shaky ground.
My mother never accepted this and other questionable notions about salvation. More and more of the statements and teachings of Ellen White became a source of many bitter arguments between my parents that my sisters and I unfortunately had to witness. As I grew older and entered Adventist schools and colleges I became keenly aware of the fact that in all honesty one could not really be a Seventh-day Adventist and not believe in Ellen White as some of the very foundations of the church and its beliefs were rooted in her “inspired pen” and even the Bible was being interpreted through the magnifying glass of the “spirit of prophecy” which was, as I had been taught by some pastors, teachers and evangelists, Ellen White’s writings.
Kamy assumes the role of spiritual leader in the home
After my father tragically died at a young and unexpected age, I took up the anvil of the family altar and became an avid student of Ellen White and firmly took my stand with the belief that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was God’s remnant church, that Ellen White was indeed a true prophet and must be heeded as much as any Biblical prophet. I became more conservative even than my father and for a few years believed that participating in certain activities like playing chess, checkers and cards was something to be shunned as Ellen White had clearly written “heaven forbids” it. I took off my own wedding ring that I had worn in my more youthful and less conservative years and did my best to be as proper and unworldly as I possibly could.
In my earnestness I even tried to (with the best of intentions) steer my mom and sisters and their families back on to the “right and proper” path of salvation to their utter disdain and annoyance. They were actually a lot more patient with me than I probably deserved. They knew that I was sincere and truly cared about them or they would have had me tarred and feathered for sure! Again, I say this humorously.
But even in the midst of my soldiering on in the battle of defending my faith I would often stumble upon things that I simply could not understand or see how it fit in with what the Bible seemed to be saying and at those critical junctures I would often throw my hands up resignedly, saying, “well, I don’t understand it, but she is the prophet so who am I to question.”
Wow, it is a painful realization for me now to think that I could have ever turned over my own God given reason to another person when I had the Bible right there in front of me telling me, “this is the way, walk in it.”
Kamy’s faith is shaken
It was not until I went through a painful economic collapse, bankruptcy, bitter disappointment and a failed marriage that my faith was shaken to the degree that it caused me to question everything I ever believed and what it was that I was really holding on to. My crutches were completely knocked out from under me and I was truly at the lowest point in my existence, face down and brought to my knees. When the dust finally settled and I looked up Jesus was still standing there. I could hear him saying to my heart, “though others have rejected, denounced, condemned and judged you, I love you. I do not condemn you. I will never leave you or forsake you. I am all you have and I am all you need, go and sin no more, but if you do, confess your sins and I will always be faithful and just to forgive you and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness for I ever live to intercede for you.”
I started realizing that although I had been sincere and zealous I had actually been faithful to a cause instead of to Christ. I had made an idol of my way of looking at God and religion and would have made an excellent Pharisee but a very lousy Christian. I determined that I was going to open up my heart and mind in a way that I had never opened it before to Jesus Christ.
I do not think that now I have all the answers or understand all the truth there is to understand about God. But now it is a lot easier, just using the Bible and letting the Holy Spirit speak to me through it which has led me on a different path than following in the footprints of Ellen White and all the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
There is one thing I know for sure and that is that the love of Christ constrains me and there is nothing that can separate me from His love and mercy and forgiveness. I know that I cannot afford to stand for even one second without Jesus as my intercessor and that I have absolutely no righteousness of my own but that I am covered fully and completely by the grace and righteousness of Christ and always will be, that my salvation is found in Him and Him alone; not in a church, a denomination, a doctrine or a cause, just Jesus Christ. And I am so thankful to finally know that.
Brian Neumann’s book, The White Elephant in Seventh-day Adventism is available for purchase in a two-part format on Amazon and and on the publisher’s website.
Future blog posts on The Adventist Soapbox will review several chapters of this book.