Court documents filed in Riverside County, California, reveal that the three La Sierra University professors who are currently suing the Seventh-day Adventist Church have all admitted that they were drinking alcohol. The documents, filed November 22, contain portions of depositions (sworn testimony) in which Gary Bradley, Jeffrey Kaatz, and James Beach admit to drinking whiskey despite knowing of the faculty handbook provision forbidding the consumption of alcohol.
Our story begins when Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division, and Larry Blackmer, NAD Vice-President for Education, met with the La Sierra faculty on April 20, 2011, to explain that, because of legitimate concerns about La Sierra's Darwinism, the school's Adventist accreditation through AAA would be extended for only two years, not the typical five years. Lenny Darnell, a member of the Board of Trustees, also attended that meeting and recorded it on his smartphone.
After the meeting, Darnell drove to the home of James Beach, then the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Jeffrey M. Kaatz, then Vice-President for Advancement, and Gary L. Bradley, a semi-retired professor in the Biology Department, also came over to Beach's home. (Readers may recall Bradley as the LSU professor who stated for publication in the journal Inside Higher Ed, “I am not OK with getting up in a science course and saying most science is bulls—t,” and described creationists as “the lunatic fringe.”) The men were casually watching the telecast of the Los Angeles Lakers playoff game, discussing the faculty meeting and the LSU situation generally, and drinking an adult beverage.
Darnell forgot to stop the recording after the faculty meeting, so it includes the meeting, the noises of Darnell getting into his vehicle and driving to the Beach home, and then the discussion among the four men as they watched the Lakers game. Within a few days, Darnell had emailed the recording to Beach, Kaatz and Bradley, to Bonnie Dwyer (editor at Spectrum), and to others, possibly including Trustees Jerry McIntosh and Karen Hansberger, and development officer Jay DuNesme. Remarkably, Darnell placed a link to the recording in a comment he posted at Spectrum shortly after April 20. This link was taken down around June 10, so for about seven weeks any Spectrum reader could click on the link and listen to the recording, including the after-party at the Beach house.
This widely disseminated recording found its way to biology professor Lee Greer, who gave a copy to Kathy Proffitt (a former telecom executive and U.S. Ambassador to Malta, and a member of the Board of Trustees). Proffitt sent it to Larry Blackmer in reference to something Blackmer had said at the faculty meeting that Greer took issue with, requesting that Blackmer contact Greer about the comment. (This led to a dialog between Blackmer and Greer that eventually resulted in Greer writing the “Joint Statement” on the teaching of science at LSU; readers may recall, however, that Proffitt and two other trustees who signed the Joint Statement were expelled from the Board, and Lee Greer was effectively fired because of it.) According to court documents (Plaintiffs 3rd Amended Complaint), Blackmer listened until the very end of the recording, becoming aware that it included the basketball-watching party at the Beach house, and arranged for this portion of the recording to be transcribed.
Highlights of the discussion at the Beach house included Darnell calling Blackmer a “bully” “dangerous” and “a bad man,” and Jackson a “eunuch” “who's had his balls put in what's his name's pocket.” Beach referred to “stupid GC people,” and Bradley swore a lot. Kaatz referred to Blackmer as a “prick.” The transcript previously became public, and is posted here.
Larry Blackmer gave the recording and transcript to Dan Jackson, who was justly chagrined. In an email to Blackmer, Jackson wrote, “I am so disturbed and perhaps angry that I was so foolish and 'soppy' as to believe that 'hard-core' dissidents like the administrators at LSU could be open to diplomacy and a pastoral approach to the issue.” Deciding that the Pacific Union should handle the matter, Jackson took the transcript and a thumb drive containing the recording to a meeting at Angwin, California, and handed them to Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference and chairman of LSU's Board of Trustees, stating, “you may want to read these documents, and then you may want to send them to Kent Hansen, because I believe there are some issues, employment and otherwise, that need to be addressed.”
On June 10, 2011, after consultation with LSU's counsel, Kent Hansen, Graham scheduled a meeting at Wisbey's office with Beach, Kaatz, and Bradley, and demanded their resignations. Bradley resigned outright (he had officially retired in 2008), Beach resigned his deanship (but not his faculty status) and Kaatz resigned his Vice-presidency (but not his faculty status). Days later, the Board met and accepted the resignations, but by then the men had “lawyered up,” and, within a few weeks, sued Ricardo Graham, the Pacific Union, Dan Jackson, the NAD, and La Sierra University.
One of the Church's discovery goals was to confirm that, as the recording seemed to indicate, the men were drinking alcohol in violation of SDA Church standards and the LSU faculty handbook. None of the men denied that they were drinking.
Bradley testified that he “had a small glass of Irish whiskey.” When asked about the faculty policy on alcohol consumption, Bradley replied, “the faculty at La Sierra exercises a don't-ask-don't-tell policy.” The lawyer clarified that he was asking if Bradley understood the official policy as per the faculty handbook, and Bradley stated, “I believe that the handbook says that it's . . . that it's not to be consumed.” But I rather suspect that Bradley's initial response—“don't ask, don't tell”—is more revealing of attitudes about alcohol consumption in the LSU academic community.
Jeffrey Kaatz testified that he “had a couple of ounces of Green Spot scotch [sic]” When asked what Darnell, Bradley and Beach were drinking, he stated that he did not know for certain but “assumed it was the same that I had.”
Q: Was there a Green Spot in a bottle?
Green Spot is not a well known brand of whiskey, but James Beach offered a detailed and helpful primer on the beverage:
Q. And did you drink some of the Green Spot Irish whiskey?
Q. How much?
Beach: I don't know. An ounce, maybe an ounce and a half, or two ounces. I don't– it was to be a tasting. The bottle had to be available for my son when he got home to taste with his friends; I wanted to share it with my brothers eventually when I got to see them. We went to Ireland because our family was from Ireland, and we spent ten days driving around; a wonderful time. We brought this back because it won an award for being the quintessential Irish whiskey and it was relatively inexpensive, so . . . it's not for sale in the United States.
I expect I will be in a minority among Adventists in being more bothered by the LSU faculty's atheistic apologetics (that's what Darwinism is—atheistic apologetics) than by their private drinking. Privately drinking alcohol is failing to live up to our standard of the healthy, temperate lifestyle. Publicly teaching that Darwinism is true and that creationism is restricted to the “lunatic fringe” is a frontal assault on the foundations of our faith. It impeaches and explodes core Seventh-day Adventist doctrines, such as the literal creation week, the continuing sacredness of the Seventh-day Sabbath, and our distinctive prophetic beliefs. If what Bradley was teaching his Adventist students at La Sierra is correct, there is no reason for our Church to exist, and all rational people should reject the SDA faith. So there is no comparison between teaching Darwinism as truth and privately drinking Green Spot whiskey; on a scale of one-to-ten for destructiveness to the faith, the former is a 10 and the latter is about a 0.5.
That said, however, I note that non-believing, “cultural” Adventists often argue that the church should not worry about doctrinal deviations, because Seventh-day Adventism's status as a subculture is more important than its beliefs. What binds us together, they argue, is our shared cultural experience of healthy living, vegetarianism, non-smoking and non-drinking. But the private conversation of the LSU Four exposes that argument as nonsense. As they were sipping their whiskey, these men were ridiculing the Adventist lifestyle and subculture:
Darnell: “Well, this is the spot, the Green Spot.”
Bradley: “As long as it's Welches then”
And, in regard to Bradley's planned trip to Banff, Alberta, for an event sponsored by the Geoscience Research Institute, Beach joked about there being too many Adventists around for Bradley to really enjoy himself:
Beach: “But you've got a whole bunch of Adventists floating around—how are you going to have a good steak and a good bottle of wine?”
Darnell: “No, that's why you have to stay the weekend before and after.”
The sport these men were making of the Adventist lifestyle demonstrates that once belief in the cardinal doctrines is gone, the lifestyle is soon abandoned; it will not be practiced, promoted or upheld. Common culture or lifestyle will not hold us together once we no longer share a faith.
This episode also illustrates the strange priorities of Adventist administrators. Ricardo Graham was acutely aware of the problem of LSU professors teaching Darwinism as truth, yet he could never bestir himself to fire anyone over it. But let an inadvertent recording of a private conversation come to light in which Graham's church officer buddies higher up the organizational chart are called “bully,” “dangerous,” “eunuch,” “prick,” etc., and Graham acted so swiftly and decisively that he did not even bother to go through the proper channels (e.g., the Board of Trustees and the president). The lesson is clear: systematically attacking foundational Adventist beliefs will yield zero discipline—a gaping yawn—but personal slights to church officers or minor behavioral deviations will get you fired so quick your head will spin.
Most Adventist church officers seem to view the behavioral standards as the main pillars of Adventism. Because career success in the Adventist organization depends upon building and maintaining a network of friends and allies, church officers place great weight on political skills and superficial behavior. If you're nice to them, and do not openly violate Adventist expectations as to comportment, your religious beliefs or lack thereof are of little or no concern to them. I am forced to this conclusion because, with a Board chaired and heavily seeded with union and conference presidents and other officers, La Sierra could not have deteriorated to its present condition if these men valued the Seventh-day Adventist belief system. Whatever about Adventism these men do value—the jobs, the power, the “culture,” the healthy lifestyle, the expense accounts, the per diems, the sustentation—it cannot be the belief system.
Although they roundly abused Dan Jackson as a “eunuch,” the LSU-four were enthusiastic about something he said at the faculty meeting: David Asscherick should be “spanked” for his role in exposing La Sierra's attack on Adventist faith. No doubt a lot of people should be spanked for their failure to govern La Sierra—including Dan Jackson for his inappropriate apologies at the faculty meeting—but David Asscherick is not among them.