La Sierra University Won’t Neglect Creation Teaching, President, Chairman Vow
Open letter signals shift in two-year controversy
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor
In an open letter welcomed by church leaders and members across North America, La Sierra University March 9 acknowledged serious problems in its teaching of origins over the last several years, and apologized for not having adequately communicated Seventh-day Adventist beliefs about creationism to its students.
‘We found that only 50 percent of the students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that our Adventist view of creation was presented, and only 40 percent agreed or strongly agreed that our Adventist view was supported,’ LSU President Randall Wisbey and LSU Board Chairman Ricardo Graham wrote in the open letter accompanying the release of a Board-approved report on the controversy that has focused on the Riverside, California, campus for nearly two years. “‘This is not acceptable, and we apologize,’” the two leaders added.
Dr. Lisa M. Beardsley, education director for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, said the statement from the school “is a step in the right direction. My prayer is that Adventist education at La Sierra University will grow and acknowledge its redemptive purposes.”
Larry Blackmer, NAD vice president for education, also saw promise in the university’s letter: “I am so pleased with the board and administration’s openness in addressing the issues that have concerned the church for the past few years. I found their statements to be sincere, looking to do what is right. This issue has been a controversy regarding the university for the past two years, and I hope with strong administrative follow-through, with monitoring by the board of directors and a continued commitment to the core values of the church, that this chapter can be closed and we can focus on the many wonderful things that are happening on the LSU campus.”
The school, which on February 8 had announced a site visit team’s finding by “Adventist Accrediting Association (AAA) [which] concludes that ‘in their opinion, and subject to AAA approval, La Sierra University should receive the maximum accreditation possible under AAA guidelines,’” has since withdrawn that online announcement. The full board of AAA will vote in April on a final accrediting recommendation for the school.
In its place, La Sierra has posted “An Open Letter Regarding the Teaching of Creation,” in which the school states its apology, adding, “Instruction at the university, while being strong in many areas, has not adequately presented the denomination’s position on the subject of creation,” according to the document.
“There is some evidence that students have not always been respected for their belief in the Biblical creation position,” the LaSierra statement said. In 2009, one LaSierra student said he’d felt that lack of respect: Louie Bishop told Adventist Review he was placed on “citizenship probation” by the school for circulating letters opposing the teaching of evolutionary concepts and for posting notes of a professor’s classroom lecture online.
Following consultation with its Board of Trustees at a Feburary 10 meeting, the university announced, “The Board adopted, and directed campus administration to implement, the following measures:
- Accept and implement the recommendations from the Adventist Accrediting Association.
- Develop faculty workshops regarding the challenges of teaching controversial topics such as those in biology.
- Continue the work in progress, (as identified [elsewhere in the statement]).
- Conduct regular follow-up surveys of biology students.
- Provide the Board with ongoing candid and prompt reports of both progress and challenges in dealing with this issue.”
Moreover, the school said, “The university president and provost identified steps to address this issue that have already been taken or are currently in progress. These include:
- Ensuring that all biology students discuss key documents relating to our Adventist belief regarding origins, including Fundamental Belief #6, [and] the 2004 Annual Council Reaffirmation of Creation, and Genesis 1 and 2.
- Increased participation by the Church’s Geoscience Research Institute in planning the General Biology Seminar.
- Ongoing refinement of the General Biology Seminar, based on student exit surveys and other input.
- Attendance of biology faculty members at the Geoscience Research Institute summer workshop.
- Continue the lecture series that presents a range of Adventist views on the integration of faith and science.
- Establish dialogue with biology professors from sister Adventist colleges and universities.”
According to the statement, La Sierra’s “biology department specifically commits to:
- Faithfully present the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s position on creation.
- Respect every student’s religious beliefs.
- Help students learn how to grapple with issues of faith and science in faith-affirming ways.
In conclusion, the statement said, “La Sierra University is committed to being an institution that does not just present the Church’s view of creation, but fully supports it. We pledge our commitment to work prayerfully and diligently to ensure that our mission to provide a rigorous and faith-affirming Seventh-day Adventist education is carried out on behalf of our students and our Church.”
Pastor Daniel Jackson, North American Division president, expressed hope at the news.
“I appreciate the expression of the La Sierra University administration and the Board in terms of their stated determination to promote the teachings of Scripture, in particular Creation,” Jackson said in a telephone interview. “My prayer would be that God would give them the commitment and resolve to see this matter through in a way that will be a blessing to students, faculty and the constituency at large. La Sierra University has had a reputation as an excellent institution; my prayer is that in this significant area of understanding, that God will bless the institutional leadership with wisdom as it implements its stated objectives.”
“The acknowledgment on the part of the Administration and Board that its teaching and support of Adventist beliefs on creation have been lacking is a positive first step,” said Norman Reitz, president of Adventist-laymen Services and Industries. “However, I hope that in LSU's implementation of the stated goal to uphold Fundamental Belief #6 (the world was created in six literal days) that fiat creation 'by the word of the Lord' would be treated as the norm and that the concept of evolution would only be taught descriptively as a worldview, not as a viable explanation of origins. We await future reports of the effective implementation by LSU of its goal to faithfully teach and strongly support the Biblical Adventist understanding on creation,” he added. -
David Asscherick, the Adventist pastor and evangelist whose open letter to church leaders in 2009 brought attention to the concerns at La Sierra University, also expressed optimism.
“I’m happy to see the university affirm the reality and seriousness of these issues, and I look forward to observing the implementation of their plan,” he said during a March 10 visit to the General Conference headquarters.