Collar Color Conundrums

The Bible makes blue-collar workers look good.

The term ‘blue collar’ is a relatively new one, completely unknown to our Adventist pioneers since it wasn’t popularized until the early 1900s. In 1911 Fredrick Taylor published his most notable book, The Principles of Scientific Management, in which he described the ideal workplace dynamic. According to Taylor, the more important group, “the Planners”, maximizes output from the second group, “the Doers”. This eventually led to office workers sporting white collars, and the manual laborers typically wore blue collars, often blue coveralls.

Jesus Himself was a carpenter, Peter was a fisherman, Paul a tentmaker, Elisha a farmer, and Moses a shepherd. Noting Christ’s blue-collar employment as a woodworker, Ellen White writes, “He was doing God’s service just as much when laboring at the carpenter’s bench as when working miracles for the multitude.”[1] In contrast, recall Christ’s white collar woes against the scribes and Pharisees of His day. Warning His followers against propensities to prestige, our Teacher cautioned, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, and the best places at feasts… these will receive greater condemnation.”[2] Character cannot accurately be judged during times of peace, only in times of crisis. Christ warns His disciples that long robes, worldly honor, and man’s recognition are more hindrance than help when trouble comes. However, to those who value the education God values, times of natural disaster, and political or economical crisis prove God’s education to be of the highest value.

In the 1930s, America suffered one of the worst economic crises in the nation’s history. Millions of men and women were without employment, many workers being practically deemed ‘unessential.’ At that time, Dr. Claxton, the former U.S. Commissioner of Education, wrote to the president of Adventism’s perhaps most successful educational institution, Madison College. He asked: “How many of the graduates of Madison College [are] not employed?”[3] Despite unemployment rates soaring at nearly 25%,[4] Sutherland responded: none. Dr. Claxton saw substantial value in Madison’s program for its ability to produce entrepreneurs, because, in his words, Madison graduates “found employment or made it for themselves.”[5] 

Even today, missionaries with blue-collar skills like Paul, whose tentmaking ability kept him preaching despite persecution, are those best equipped when times get tough. Following the pandemic, some friends and I had the chance to do some construction work at a training school in Bolivia that just months before nearly ran out of food due to government travel restrictions and sheer lack of resources. The school was totally unable to get food for a time, but thankfully, neighbors with large orchards were able to share and no one went hungry. The president’s wife told me that it was then she saw the tremendous value of God’s counsel to ensure agriculture remains the “A, B, and C of the education given in our schools.”[6] At my college, an interest in agriculture surged during the pandemic and little gardens started popping up everywhere as we Adventists woke up to the importance of growing our own provisions. I remember hearing a preacher talk about how his plumber friend was inundated with work and was prospering financially whereas numerous other professionals were deemed ‘unessential.’ Not surprising, since blue-collar utility workers were the least affected during the lockdowns.[7] 

Arguably the most revered Adventist book on schooling,[8] Education, teaches that “every youth, on leaving school, should have acquired a knowledge of some trade or occupation by which, if need be, he may earn a livelihood.”[9] The case studies above provide evidence for Ellen White’s prophetic inspiration, as she foresaw times of trouble where such skills would prove invaluable. When the Lord through His messenger counseled our institutions of learning to emulate the schools of the prophets, He meant it for our benefit. In these schools, the pupils, even those being trained for the priesthood, “sustained themselves by their own labor in tilling the soil or in some mechanical employment.”[10] Unlike so many of us students today who are striving to win our white-collars upon graduation, such manual labor was “not thought strange or degrading; indeed, it was regarded a crime to allow children to grow up in ignorance of useful labor.”[11] Far from being a hindrance to success, parents were considered neglectful if they failed to provide their children with some type of blue-collar skillset.

The truth is that in our white-collar aspirations, aping after academia, we have allowed our ideas of education to take too narrow and too low a range. Education has become far too one-sided. We’ve all but completely taken the ‘blue’ out of the Blueprint, if you will.

So, in this fifth issue of Prisoners of Hope, we stand with the blue collars. Those in close touch with reality, who understand the dignity of calloused hands and a job well done. Those who are willing to sweat for a living; who understand “the gift of work” (Smith). We stand with the reformed Battle Creek College that brought industries back into education (Tenny). We stand with the missional tradesmen, who, through their skilled labor reach the unreached in a way preaching alone never could (Graybill). Ultimately, we stand with Christ, who from our books and business calls us back in touch with Himself (Stafford). Who beyond mere calluses, bore the cross; who beyond mere perspiration, sweated blood for our salvation; who intercedes always for our sanctification. He longs that we shall be ready on that last fateful morn, when He’ll say of His workers, of you and of me, “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your Lord.”[12] 

[1] Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898), 74.
[2] Luke 20:46, 47
[3] Walter E. Straw, Personal Observation and Experience in our Educational Work, (c. 1960), 30.
[4]Joseph A. Swanson and Samuel H. Williamson, “Estimates of national product and income for the United States economy, 1919–1941,” Explorations in Economic History 10, no.1 (September 1, 1972), 53–73
[5] Straw, Educational Work, 30.
[6] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1900), 179.
[7] Elise Gould and Melat Kassa, “Low-Wage, Low-Hours Workers Were Hit Hardest in the COVID-19 Recession: The State of Working America 2020 Employment Report,” Economic Policy Institute, May 20, 2020,
[8] See William A. Spicer, “Helpful Writings on Christian Education”, Review and Herald, January 10, 1946.
[9] Ellen G. White, Education, (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1900), 218.
[10] Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1890), 593.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Matt. 25:21, 23

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