Tax-Exemption, Favors, and Incorporation
At this point I must add that in conjunction with the issue of whether the church should repudiate any and all tax exemptions, it was also brought to the attention of the General Conference that free land was available for mission stations in Mashonaland, South Africa. This land was being offered by the British South African Land Company which, in reality, was actually an arm of the British Colonial government. Needless to say, the Foreign Mission Board accepted the free land (12,000 acres) offered by the Company, although they, at first, tried to purchase land. There were, however, conditions attached. The most prominent being the request of Dr. Jemison, Secretary of the Company.
In August of 1894, as the Foreign Mission Board struggled to find personnel for the new mission field, a letter was written by F. M. Wilcox to W. C. White concerning the slow progress of the mission work and the report of Dr. Jemison’s request:
“Dr. Jemison, the Governor, was called upon at that place, and talked very favorably of giving to our work twelve thousand acres of land, six thousand at Bulawayo, and six thousand near Fort Salisbury. However, he would want to give this land on conditions that we make the work self-supporting, employing native labor, and teaching then useful arts. He understands very fully the object of our work there, and that we propose to evangelize the natives to what we believe to be the truth for this time; but he does not seem to have any religious prejudices against our work.” –F. M. Wilcox to W. C. White, Aug. 17, 1894.
In response to the acceptance of the land by the Foreign Mission Board, leading brethren in the U.S. relentlessly published articles in the American Sentinel condemning the act.
“The Sentinel has protested, and, will continue to protest, against all such donations, whether of land or of money, and whether made by the Government of the United States or by the Governor of Mashonaland; for if the principle is worth anything, it is just as good in the wilds of Africa as on the plains of our own fair West or in the alleys of our Capital City. At the time we had in mind certain grants of land made in Africa for mission purposes by the British South African Company. It was thought and urged by some that these grants were legitimate because made by a company. But we now have in our possession the annual reports of said company from 1890 to 1893, inclusive, and are in a position to prove conclusively, that the British South African Company is nothing less than a British Colonial government, and that grants of land from it differ in no sense from similar grants from any other civil government.” –American Sentinel, Nov. l, 1894.
Such a strong response led to long disputes and correspondence between the president of the General Conference, O. A. Olsen, and several other leading brethren. As time progressed, contentions sharpened. Eventually, the question was raised by S. N. Haskell if Ellen White had any light concerning the much debated subject. But before a response could be given by Sister White, the General Conference of 1895 met and passed several resolutions concerning government grants and donations:
“Your Committee on Resolutions would respectfully submit the following:
Whereas, Opportunities have arisen and doubtless will arise in the future to secure from various civil governments grants and donations, and,—
Whereas, To seek or even to accept any such thing from any civil government in any country would be a violation of the fundamental principles of separation of Church and State, therefore,—
- Resolved, That we ought not as a denomination either to seek or accept from any civil government, chief, ruler, or royal chartered company, supreme, local, or otherwise, any gift or donation, concession or grant, either of land, money, credit, special privilege, or other thing of value, to which we are not in common with all others justly entitled as men without any reference to our religious profession or religious work. This does not preclude the receiving of aid from rulers, royal personages, or private individuals when such assistance is rendered by these parties in their individual capacities.
- Resolved, That in harmony with this resolution, the General Conference Association be instructed to pay an equivalent for all government land that may be secured in Africa or elsewhere.” –General Conference Bulletin, 1895, p. 283.