The failure of the Adventist Accrediting Association

Seventh-day Adventist institutions of higher learning seek accreditation from two different bodies, a regional secular accrediting authority, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Secular accrediting bodies evaluate the institutions on the basis of academics, finance, governance, and other factors. The idea is to assure the student, his parents, potential employers, and the U.S. Government, if it is offering grants or guaranteeing student loans, that the institution offers a minimum acceptable level of education, that it is not accepting tuition money under false pretenses. Secular accreditors understand that religiously affiliated schools have a religious purpose that they were founded to fulfill, but for obvious reasons, they do not attempt to evaluate how well that religious mission is being fulfilled. Hence, the need for church accreditation. 

The Adventist Accrediting Association (AAA) is charged with certifying the uniquely Adventist identity of the church’s 112 institutions of higher learning. Adventist accreditation should not be a redundant certification for academics, finance, and governance. Rather, it should focus on whether the school is fulfilling its religious mission. Is the institution really Adventist? Does it promote the specifically Adventist philosophy of education, Adventist doctrines, and a biblical worldview. Is it Adventist in its teaching, spiritual life and culture? 

Last week, the board of AAA, chaired by Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, voted to certify that La Sierra University is uniquely Adventist in its identity, and is adequately fulfilling its religious mission. This certification lasts for three years, through 2016. This is an appalling failure on the part of AAA. La Sierra has exhibited behavior that is in many ways anti-Adventist. The problems at La Sierra are familiar to most who have followed the saga, but for those who aren't familiar, a review of a bill of particulars will be useful. 

First, La Sierra has been promoting Darwinism as truth for about 20 years, throughout the administrations of Fritz Guy, Larry Geraty and Randal Wisbey.

  • In 2004, a graduate of La Sierra, Janelle Shives, reported that both the religion and biology departments of La Sierra were teaching that evolution is a fact, that the Bible is not meant to be taken literally, and that Professor Lee Grismer, “enjoys making students and visiting professors look like fools, if they question the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution.” Shives also reported that the biology capstone class, team taught by Gary Bradley and Larry McCloskey, spent weeks indoctrinating students to the view that evolution was the best explanation for origins. Shives reported that biology classes at La Sierra University teach evolution to the exclusion of the Adventist view of origins.
  • In 2004, students circulated a petition requesting more on-campus lectures and events that would present the creationist side of the argument.
  • Retired LSU biology professor Gary Bradley expressed, in colorful language, his disdain for criticism of Darwinism: “I am not OK with getting up in a science course and saying most science is bulls--t.” He also described creationists as “the lunatic fringe.”
  • Humans evolving from an ape-like ancestor has been taught by several La Sierra professors, including Gary Bradley and Lee Greer .
  • LSU student Louie Bishop was disciplined three times for publicly exposing the teaching of Darwinism at La Sierra.
  • The former chairman of the biology department, Lee Grismer, is a Darwinist, and once referred to creationism as “the kind of thinking that flies planes into buildings,” according to former LSU students.

Obviously, Darwinism makes nonsense of Seventh-day Adventism. The Sabbath Commandment rests on a literal creation week (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11) and of course the seventh-day Sabbath is a main pillar of Seventh-day Adventism. Moreover, the teaching that humans evolved from apes makes nonsense of Christianity; the need for Christ as our redeemer is based upon our race having been created perfect and fallen into sin, from which we need redemption and restoration.

Second, La Sierra's religion department has deprecated the Genesis narrative, teaching that it is not to be taken literally. It has become apparent that the religion department is so liberal as to be outside the parameters of Seventh-day Adventism. 

  • Beginning in the 1970s, there was a conspiracy to secularize the La Sierra Campus. 
  • In 1999, students noted that the school's core curriculum “attacks what the school was founded on, which is the Bible,” said Monte Bridges. “It says, in essence, that all religions are paths to the same truths. The problem is that Christ said 'I'm the truth; I'm the way; I'm the life.'”
  • In a capstone seminar class in 2004, Fritz Guy stated that “nobody takes the Genesis account of creation literally.” Dr. John Webster, chair of La Sierra's religion department, stated that the Genesis narrative was one lens on origins, but that other lenses were needed, including Darwinian science.
  • In a seminar established in 2010 in response to the controversy over Darwinism at La Sierra, Dr. John Webster stated that the historical-grammatical method of approaching Scripture was “not particularly helpful,” even though this is the Adventist hermeneutic. Dr. Webster suggested that “the opening chapters of Genesis might not really be about how the world came into being, but might be about how we understand the world as God’s dwelling place, as the temple of God.”
  • Fritz Guy, past La Sierra president and long-time theology professor, has argued at book length that the author of Genesis intended the raqia, typically translated as “expanse of the heavens,” “expanse of the sky,” or “firmament,” to convey the idea of a solid metal dome over the earth, the takeaway being that Genesis was written by ignorant desert nomads who are not to be taken literally.
  • Trisha Famisaran, an assistant professor of philosophy and theological studies and director of the honors program at LSU, recently preached a sermon at the Hollywood SDA Church in which she referred to God in the female pronoun, argued for the normalization of homosexuality (and in doing so cited Lady Gaga on the etiology of homosexuality) and invited her listeners to repent of the sin of heterosexism, that is, the belief that heterosexuality is preferred and normative. This sermon was so outrageous that it appeared to be the last straw leading to the firing of Hollywood pastor Ryan Bell, yet Famisaran's views are accepted at La Sierra; there have been no repercussions for her. 

It is impossible to reform the biology department when the theologians are themselves Darwinists who do not take literally the Genesis narrative, nor respect the prophetic authority of Ellen White. Meaningful reform at La Sierra would have to begin with a new administration, then proceed to the religion department, and only then to the establishment of a creationist biology department.

Third, President Randal Wisbey has taken steps that permanently impair the school's ability to fulfill its religious mission, has conspired with secular accreditors to loosen the church's control over the school, has frustrated attempts to address the problems with origins pedagogy at the school, and has gathered unto himself dictatorial power to insure that he can foreclose future attempts at reform.

  • Wisbey has seen fit to name a center within the school of business after a mass abortionist and gambling venue owner, Edward C. Allred.
  • At Wisbey's direction, LSU has floated tax-exempt bonds that have effectively secularized much of the campus, and have created legal grounds to sue the school should it uphold Christian standards of behavior.
  • When Darwinist professor Lee Greer reached out to SDA educational official Larry Blackmer, and the two agreed to a joint statement regarding the teaching of origins, Wisbey fired Greer after taking the opportunity to expel from the board three creationist board members who had been a thorn in his side.
  • Wisbey has, either personally or through surrogates, or both, solicited the secular accrediting authority, WASC, to demand changes to La Sierra's board structure that weaken church control over the university. But the changes to the bylaws that Wisbey demanded go far beyond what he solicited WASC to request. They transfer almost all governing power away from the Board of Trustees, consolidating it in Wisbey's hands.

La Sierra appears to have not only turned its back on Adventism, but its rebellious administration has created a blueprint for wresting other Adventist colleges away from the church: solicit secular accreditors to demand changes to board structure that weaken church control and increase institutional autonomy. The AAA board is, or should be, aware of all of this publicly available information. If, after all this, AAA is still willing to certify that La Sierra is distinctly Adventist, it is difficult to imagine what La Sierra could possibly do that would render it ineligible for the official church seal of approval. 

It is rumored that AAA is encouraged by La Sierra's recent biology hires, but my information is that two of three recent hires are known to be Darwinists or theistic evolutionists. Real reform would have to begin with firing Randal Wisbey, whose marvelous tenacity in defense of La Sierra's Darwinist status quo would be admirable in the service of a better cause. Then a conservative theologian would need to be brought in to assemble a conservative religion faculty. Only then would it be appropriate to bring in a creationist biology department chair to assemble a creationist science faculty. Sadly, the problems at La Sierra are not confined to any one or two departments; much of the university has embraced a liberal world view that is, in essence and in detail, anti-Adventist.

Only the AAA board seems to think that this toxic cocktail of Darwinism and liberalism is within the accepted parameters of Adventism. The General Conference is sending out terribly mixed signals. On one hand, it seeks to revise Fundamental Belief No. 6 to make clear that Adventists believe the creation week was a literal week just like the weeks we now experience. On the other hand, it grants its seal of approval to La Sierra, a school that for many years has made no bones about its efforts to proselytize for Charles Darwin. Our church seems to be of two minds, but Jesus said that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  

UPDATE: The article has been updated to reflect that Lee Grismer is the former chair of the biology department at La Sierra University. 

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