Why I Support La Sierra University
As many of you know, biology classes at La Sierra University have been discussed widely and passionately in recent months.
It all started in early 2009 when a biology student asserted that one of his instructors was teaching evolution as fact. A leader of a donor-supported ministry circulated a letter supporting the claims of the student, and soon LSU’s biology classes were the subject of heated debate on the Internet.
As chairman of the LSU board and president of the Pacific Union Conference, I have devoted more time, energy and prayer to this matter in recent months than to anything else. I don’t think a day goes by that I, along with LSU administration and faculty, are not working to assure LSU provides not only a thorough education, but also a faith-building experience for every student.
As constituents of this union, you deserve accurate information.
First, I would like you to know that I accept the biblical account of origins. This is a statement of my faith. I believe all life on earth was created a few thousand years ago in six 24-hour days, followed by the first Sabbath. And I expect to believe that until the Lord comes. For me, the biblical story of creation contains important foundational truths for what I believe about God, about myself, about others and about the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Not everyone agrees with my understanding of the Genesis story of creation. Many people, including some Seventh-day Adventists, have concluded that the evidence that life has developed on Earth over long periods of time is conclusive, and that the Genesis story must be understood in light of scientific data. I don’t agree with that position. My views of science are informed by my faith in God’s Word, not the other way around.
I am proud of LSU, and you can be, too. I don’t believe there is a finer Adventist university anywhere. The board, administration and faculty are committed to building and developing the Christian commitment of every student. And they are committed to making whatever adjustments might be necessary to provide the best Seventh-day Adventist Christian education possible. As a true university, LSU will always be on the cutting edge of science as well as other disciplines. If the day ever comes that no one challenges what is being taught in one class or another there, it will probably be because the school has lost its commitment to genuine learning and discovery. I hope that never happens.
I believe in La Sierra University, and I believe in academic freedom, but I also believe that no one who teaches in any Seventh-day Adventist school, including a university, has the freedom to teach as fact things that contradict or undermine the beliefs of the church.
At the same time, the school must be open to the challenges of contemporary life and open to making adjustments or even serious changes, if needed.
Many have wondered why the discussions and adjustments have continued so long.
To understand this, one must look closely at our history as a church and at the organizational structure that has served us for more than a century. In response to fervent appeals from Ellen G. White and others at the dawn of the 20th century, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was reorganized to prevent what she called “kingly, ruling power.” Authority was distributed to committees and boards as close as possible to where ministry and education were facilitated.
As one who has served the church for more than 30 years, I can speak with conviction and passion about the importance of these organizational structures. I believe that they are among God’s greatest gifts to our church. Our growth as a church, the way in which we have been able to minister in such diverse circumstances and such diverse ways, our capacity to minister in so many cultures, languages and settings, and our ability to stay in sync — in unity — with one another across widely varying situations, all can be attributed in large part to the organizational structure that was developed by our pioneers.
Adventist universities are not like elementary schools or even academies, where one or several people can make changes overnight. At a university, the process is often as important as the outcome. Those processes involve discussion, planning, experimentation, review and more changes until the goals are met. Those processes are ongoing at La Sierra University and I am pleased with the directions both the discussions and the adjustments are moving. I have no fear at all about where we will end.
And where will we end? What are the goals of this process? I speak as the board chair, and for the LSU board and faculty, in making two assertions.
First, LSU will be a school where the biblical account of a recent six-day creation will be respected and supported, and where the faith of our students will be encouraged and strengthened while their knowledge of science develops.
Second, LSU will be a school where every student — regardless of their beliefs about origins — will be respected, and where they will find every possible reason to believe in a loving God, accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ, value the Sabbath, seriously consider and choose to become Seventh-day Adventists, and commit themselves to the mission of preparing the world for the second coming of Christ.
It is my prayer that as we continue to think and talk and pray — and provide leadership for LSU — our members can exercise patience, confidence in local leadership, and mutual respect. I invite your continued prayers and support.