Dr. Eric Walsh is a Seventh-day Adventist medical doctor with additional training in public health, and until a couple of months ago served as Director of Public Health for the City of Pasadena, California. He is also an associate pastor for the Altadena SDA Church. In April, Dr. Walsh was invited to give the commencement address at Pasadena City College, a community college. He was to have replaced actor/screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who was dis-invited because compromising pictures of him with his male lover were published on the Internet.
A group of Pasadena City College students, “Students for Social Justice” were unhappy with the decision to replace Black as speaker, and began poring through Dr. Walsh's old sermons, many of which had been uploaded to YouTube.com. In these sermons, Dr. Walsh made comments critical of homosexuality, the Roman Catholic Church, and Islam. Dr. Walsh withdrew from the commencement speaking engagement because of a scheduling conflict, but the PCC students nevertheless raised such an uproar over these sermons that Dr. Walsh was not only dis-invited from giving the PCC commencement address (and Dustin Black re-invited), but, far more seriously, the City of Pasadena placed Dr. Walsh on administrative leave from his position as Director of Public Health.
The Walsh story has seen several developments since last we updated it on May 8. On May 13, the Pasadena Star-News reported that Dr. Walsh had been hired to lead a six-county public health district in northern Georgia, and was scheduled to begin work there on June 16. Believing that the job offer from Georgia was firm, on May 14 Dr. Walsh resigned from his position with the City of Pasadena. After a background check uncovered the uproar in Pasadena, the Georgia Department of Public Health, on May 16, withdrew its offer of employment to Dr. Walsh. On May 22, it was reported that Dr. Walsh had settled with the City of Pasadena for a severance package including six months' salary, unused vacation and banked holiday hours, totaling about $96,000.00.
So because of an uproar not about his job performance but about his sermons, Dr. Walsh was placed on leave and essentially forced to look for another job; he found one, but the same complaints about sermons from several years ago caused the new employer to reverse its decision to hire the superbly well qualified Walsh. Does accepting and preaching the biblical position on homosexuality make one un-hirable in any American public health agency? The answer would seem to be “yes,” and that is only one of many disturbing questions raised by this incident.
The fact that gay activists and others were able to gin up a mob against Dr. Walsh for preaching orthodox Seventh-day Adventist sermons is frightening. But Jesus warned that this would happen, that the world would hate us for preaching truth. (John 3:20; 15:18-21; Mat. 10:22; 24:9; 1 John 3:13) Jesus warned us that when our world begins to resemble Sodom and Gomorrah, when it begins to resemble the antediluvian world in its bold and unceasing sinfulness, then the Second Coming of Christ is near: “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” (Luke 17:28-30; Mat. 24:37-39) So we can be comforted by the thought that prophecies are being fulfilled, and Christ's second coming is near.
Far more troubling than worldly scorn was the failure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to support Dr. Walsh. As we noted at the time, the official Southern California Conference press release palpably distanced the conference from Dr. Walsh. And Star-News reporter Lauren Gold, apparently based upon oral conversations with Southern California Conference spokeswoman Betty Cooney, got the impression that the SDA Church was substantively repudiating Walsh. In this story, Gold wrote, “The Adventist church is not the only group to speak out against Walsh,” and at the end of the story on Dr. Walsh's job offer in Georgia, the following correction appears:
“Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story stated incorrectly that the Seventh Day Adventist Church called for Dr. Eric Walsh’s resignation. The organization has not called for his resignation. The story has been changed to fix the error.
That reporter Gold originally wrote that the SDA Church had called for Walsh's resignation indicates that she was left with the impression, at a minimum, that the Southern California Conference repudiated the substance of Walsh's preaching.
On Sabbath Afternoon, May 17, Betty Cooney and the Southern California Conference executive secretary, Velino Salazar, attended a meeting of the congregation of the Altadena Seventh-day Adventist Church. Based upon my conversations with those who attended, these officials received a dressing down from several articulate Altadena members indignant that the conference had abandoned Dr. Walsh at the very time he most needed church support. The attendees were told that Todd McFarland, an associate counsel in the Office of the General Counsel at GC headquarters in Silver Spring, had told SCC officials that this was an international story and that “lives were at stake.” Not just homosexual activist groups and the Roman Catholic Church were upset, but also Muslims, and the Muslims might riot and put Adventists and Adventist Churches in foreign countries at risk. Cooney indicated that although she issued the press release, its contents were dictated primarily by McFarland, Gerry Chudleigh (Communications Director for the Pacific Union), and others.
So the directive to leave Dr. Walsh twisting in the wind came from the Office of the General Counsel, headed by Karnik Doukmetzian. One of his lawyers was concerned that Muslims would riot and burn down Adventist Churches in the Muslim world. But Seventh-day Adventists have always believed that the Fifth and Six Trumpets of Revelation Chapter Nine prefigure the spread of Islam in its Arab (5th Trumpet) and later Turkish (6th Trumpet) phases. Dr. Walsh's reported statement that Islam was inspired by Satan is a straightforward interpretation of Revelation 9:1-2; ADvindicate.com columnist David Read said exactly the same thing here a couple of years ago. Do our denominational lawyers want the SDA Church to change its interpretations of prophecy or just keep them a secret?
Dr. Walsh preached at the Altadena SDA Church on May 24; his topic was “Joseph—the feeling of being forgotten.” Dr. Walsh was very gracious, given the cold shoulder he had just received from the conference. He stated that church members should continue to pay tithe faithfully. He also stated that he would be loyal to the Southern California Conference, but that he would try to help them respond better to future events of this nature.
On May 31, Dr. Walsh preached a very personal sermon about his ordeal: “Is Your Window Open?” The audio of the sermon is available at Audioverse. The sermon is on Daniel 6, in which Daniel's enemies tried to destroy him by passing a law that anyone who petitioned any god or man other than Darius for the next thirty days would be fed to the lions. But Daniel not only kept praying as he always had, he kept praying with his window open:
Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Dan. 6:10
This message, stated Dr. Walsh, “is not only relevant to my experience, but it is relevant to what our church is about to experience.” Walsh stated that the first two days after the furor broke, he could not move from his bed. He read the Psalms, and understood that what David experienced will be experienced by God's people at the end of time. As prayers and encouragement began to roll in from all over the church, Walsh realized that God was in control of what was happening to him. “God, what are you trying to teach me?” “God leads us into the lion's den,” Dr. Walsh noted, “because he wants to perfect our character.”
When the time comes,” said Walsh, “when the world is really against us for what we believe, I am here to submit to you that our church people are going to run for cover. I experienced it.” “How, at the end of time, is the church going to stand,” asks Dr. Walsh, “if we have no concept of how to stand together.” “I've got to ask our denomination a tough question: Is your window open? . . . I challenge you, in our lives as Seventh-day Adventists, are we going to shut the window? Or are we going to continue to stand for what God tells us to stand for even though it may mean us significant harm.” “Is your window open? Or have we shut the window, afraid of persecution, afraid of trial?”
“I will give my life,” Walsh told Pasadena city officials, “before I give up what I believe in.”
Many people came to Walsh and told him that, because of the furor, they listened to his sermons and found them compelling. One Pasadena city official said he listened to a sermon and, “it was a very good sermon.” His landlord stated that he had listened to several of Walsh's sermons and that Walsh should go into preaching and evangelism full time. Of most value to Walsh was when his daughter thanked him, and stated that, as a result of this incident she had become a Christian.
Sadly, despite Dr. Walsh's integrity and bravery in the face of the detonation of his public health career, a Job-like trial that few of us can imagine, the Seventh-day Adventist Church seems to be shutting its window. I was told that, because of the Walsh controversy, a meeting was held during the week of June 13 of all Southern California Conference pastors, with several North American Division officials present. Reportedly, pastors were told to stick to the 28 fundamental beliefs and avoid going into subject matter that could be considered controversial. Note that, as I pointed out in this article, there is little about sexuality, and nothing about homosexuality, in the 28 fundamental beliefs, so if pastors stick to them, they will not be preaching about homosexuality.
The conference has scheduled a pastoral prayer meeting for July 16 at the Altadena SDA Church. Pastors from across the conference will meet to pray for unity in the church. This is a positive outcome of the Walsh controversy. On June 18, I attended Dr. Walsh's noon Bible study. He said he was considering doing a year of mission service in Asia. He left for Australia on June 25, to attend a ten day conference there, and has since returned to California. The Altadena SDA Church frequently lifts him up in public prayers. I have been told that wherever Dr. Walsh speaks, there is higher attendance at the event.
Please listen to the sermon, “Is Your Window Open?” and continue to remember Dr. Walsh in your prayers.