LaSierra and the Church

In an earlier post, I expressed concern about the action of the Michigan Conference relating to LaSierra University. The denominational school (which I attended as a graduate student when it was part of Loma Linda University) has been accused of promoting evolution; the Michigan Conference Executive Committee voted that they would not offer the usual tuition subsidy to employees who sent their children there. This action came just a couple of days after Ricardo Graham, the president of the Pacific Union Conference and chairman of the LaSierra board of trustees, laid out actions the board was taking to address the issue. I raised questions about ecclesiology; it seemed that the Michigan Conference was doing an end run around the Pacific Union Conference.

Since then, I have learned that other conferences are considering  similar action.

Also, the Michigan Conference asked the General Conference Session to approve the Affirmation of Creation that the GC Executive Committee had passed in 2004, and to revise the statement of Fundamental Beliefs to be very specific that Seventh-day Adventists accept a literal six-day creation and a young earth. The GC did this today; two motions were approved, the first endorsing the aforementioned Affirmation of Creation, the second beginning a process that could lead to a revision of Fundamental Belief #6.

Meanwhile, the LaSierra University board has reportedly set up a committee to discipline three board members who dared to pass on information to the North American Division and the General Conference. Now, sadly, I have to say that it is LaSierra that is acting in inappropriate ways in terms of ecclesiology. LaSierra operates under the auspices of the Pacific Union Conference, the North American Division, and the General Conference. Board members, as members of the church, have individual and corporate accountability to the church. They were acting in faithfulness to that responsibility by keeping the higher levels of the church informed of the actions of the board.

Nicholas Miller had responded to my blog post, in which I noted that Michigan’s actions seemed unprecedented, by citing a historical example: Battle Creek College.

Established in 1874, Battle Creek College had undergone some challenges in its leadership.  In 1881, a new president was installed who was new to the Adventist church.  A greater emphasis was placed on the study of both the classics and the sciences—to the detriment of Biblical instruction.

During the summer of 1881, Ellen White wrote a testimony regarding the College to be publicly read at the Michigan Conference camp-meeting.  Instead, the testimony was read at the even more public venue of the General Conference session in December of that year.  Relevant portions of that testimony can be read at my earlier posted quote.  (The full message can be found at Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 21-36.)

A main concern of Ellen White was the emphasis on the sciences at the expense of the Bible.  She showed a special interest in maintaining a clear teaching on creation.  “In God’s word alone,” she asserted, “we find an authentic account of creation” (5 Test., 25).   She displayed a willingness to both publicly rebuke the leadership of the college and to warn church members of the problems at the College.  “We can give,” she memorably warned, “no encouragement to parents to send their children to Battle Creek College” (5 Test., 21).  She proposed that if the College was not returned to the Biblical-centered model, that the church should “sell it out to worldlings” and “establish another school” upon the “plan which God has specified” (5 Test., 25-26).

Please read the rest of Nick’s post–to which I say, “Touché.”

As for LaSierra, and its students, faculty, parents, and constituencies, I urge, listen to what the church has said at this General Conference. Creation is not a matter of interpretation–it is a fundamental component of our belief as Seventh-day Adventists. Our belief in the Sabbath and in marriage are rooted in Creation. Our Advent hope includes the proclamation to “Worship the Creator.” Affirmation of the truth of the Creation story is critical for our belief in redemption. If any teacher or institution undermines belief in it–yes, by all means, stay away.

8 thoughts on “LaSierra and the Church

  1. Thanks for the follow up post, Bill. Your earlier question really helped trigger a good history study for me. I think you are right to note that it is La Sierra now ignoring important ecclesiological principles. I think it also worth noting that before Michigan released its statement, it had released a statement several months earlier warning that it might need to take further action unless things changed. I also know that there was personal contact between Michigan conf leadership and Pacific Union leadership to discuss the concerns that Michigan conference had regarding the issue. Finally, as I stated in my blog, I think that such actions like Michigan’s should not be taken lightly. But extra-ordinary problems, like LSUs, require extra-ordinary responses. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments and blog.

  2. I did not know that the Adventist fundamental belief on creation so directly quoted Ellen White (“authentic account”). I’m in agreement with SAU president Bietz here, that belief #6 remain as is. As is, it reflects scripture without supposition. The biblical accounts of creation give us plenty to chew on, and when we define things more narrowly than scripture, we are being less, not more, faithful to it.

    Genesis 1 tells us what we need to know–God created Earth; God created man, in His image; the weekly cycle, including the Sabbath, is a reflection of God’s creative activity. If I want to get more specific than Scripture, I’ll read the Clear Word. I remember a Pathfinder leader commenting on how the stars’ light couldn’t be more than 6,000 years old. Today most people would think (and Ellen White’s comments about other planets would lend support) that the interpretation of Genesis 1:16 that God made all the stars on the fourth day of creation is not the most likely one. I note that the affirmation text speaks only of life on Earth being recent, which still allows for the interpretation that planet Earth (though “formless and void”) is itself very old, and that verses 14-19 is a record not of the very beginning of the sun and moon, but of God specifying their roles.

    Those are the kinds of issues that today’s ardent advocates always gloss over, even as many of them take for granted such ideas as stars being billions of years old, forgetting that the pioneers thought otherwise (so far as they considered it at all). As for the Battle Creek issue and how it might relate to today, I am glad to see George Knight’s 25-year-old “Myths in Adventism” republished this year. It’s been about two decades since I read it, so its points are not fresh in my mind, but I think it will clarify just where the parallels may begin and end. The issue then was one of balance in the entire curriculum. I do not see that as the case today, not by a long shot.

    • Genesis is very explicit. It says God created the earth in six days that were composed of an evening and a morning. That these six days and the Sabbath established the weekly cycle. That there was no death before Adam’s sin. That Adam lived so long before he had a son; that Seth lived so long before he had a son, and so on. It was not Ellen White (nor was it Usher) who first put 2 and 2 together. The problem was the Fundamental Belief statement was written by folks who wanted purposely to be vague. The folks who want to change Adventism are not those who want to affirm creation–it is those who imagine that evolution is theologically viable; who suppose that death existed on earth for millions of years before there were humans to sin.

      The issue of Battle Creek wasn’t balance–it was the idea that Battle Creek should be about a classical curriculum. Ellen White’s counsels are pretty clear.

  3. Battle Creek College’s issue was indeed one of balance, as the “pagan classics” were emphasized to the detriment of a biblical emphasis. Today you won’t find an Adventist college (at least in North America) that doesn’t offer courses in secular literature, but the Bible has regained its primacy of place.

    The question is not of evolution per se (for rampant speciation, well acknowledged by Adventist creationists, is certainly evolution), but evolution as an explanation for origins. The fundamental belief statement already says that God made “all living things” on Earth in the six days of Genesis 1. Vague as it is, it already addresses the issues you’re citing.

  4. Geraty addresses the charge that FB#6 was written purposely vague, “to leave room for theistic evolution,” in a short new piece at Spectrum’s website. He states that it was written to echo biblical language, which should hardly be controversial. He writes, “The aim at the time that the belief on Creation was written was to employ biblical phraseology and thus unify believers in the biblical view of creation.” So, if it is vague, so is the Genesis narrative.

    As a sidenote on the flipside, given so many Adventists’ penchant for detailed end-time charts, it’s interesting to note that there’s no timeline of end-time events in the fundamental beliefs.

    White never endorsed “pagan classics” as the basis of an Adventist curriculum. The problem then was that BCC’s central focus was teaching students how to read ancient Greek and Latin texts in the original languages, with but little biblical focus. That rather went against BCC’s raison d’être, as they could study that at any college of the day. The worldview of that literature, with its emphasis on glorious death, had greatly contributed to America’s willingness to sacrifice more than 600,000 men in the then-recent civil war. Given Adventism’s strong non-combatant stance, you can imagine why EGW was so appalled. Today students in Adventist colleges are given a background in ancient literature (I certainly was as a history major, assigned papers on the likes of Cicero), just as science and pre-med majors are given a background in evolution, but it is not taught as a basis for living. Instead, the Bible is central, as Ellen White insisted.

    • So Geraty acknowledges he wrote the statement in a way that he felt comfortable with. And his position seems pretty clear as he’s articulated it in defending LaSierra.

      Where does Ellen White say she would have been comfortable with the Classical curriculum if they added Bible classes? Where does she say war attitudes were an issue? (And Ellen White never made military service a test of fellowship–she in fact defended a Battle Creek member who chose not to get out of service). (For that matter, where does she approve of Adventist colleges having competitive sports?)

  5. Geraty wrote that the committee wrote it to closely follow the biblical text. I would hope that´s something all Adventists are comfortable with.

    Again, White never endorsed the classical curriculum. It simply wasn´t what Adventist education should be about. I´m not aware of her addressing the specifics of what made a classical education objectionable, but the aspects I´ve mentioned were certainly a strong part of it, as any study of civil war era documents and attitudes will reveal.

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