Two weeks ago, former Adventist pastor turned atheist Ryan Bell published a letter addressed to Pacific Union College President Heather J. Knight, expressing his disapproval of Knight disinviting him from speaking at a colloquium for psychology and social work students. The following is a letter Knight wrote to Bell in response.
Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out to me to share your perspectives on these very complex matters. I also really appreciate the respectful tone in which you have
conveyed your thoughts to me.
Thank you also for understanding the complex roles and responsibilities of college and university Presidents today, especially, perhaps, in faith-based institutions where there are many important spiritual and moral commitments to honor and affirm as we have a sacred trust to perform in terms of our students and their families who have entrusted them to us. I know that as a Pacific Union College alum and former Seventh-day Adventist pastor, you understand these spiritual commitments well even if you no longer believe them nor subscribe to them. In fact, you may also recall that the PUC Seal contains the official school motto, "They Shall Be All Taught of God," so it would be quite inconsistent to provide a public forum on our campus for a project focused on "Life After God."
As an educational ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, PUC's core mission is to develop and build up the faith of its students by providing a context for rigorous teaching and learning, which highly prizes multiple perspectives, and which also affirms, unequivocally, a powerful Adventist faith and worldview. We are, therefore, interested in bringing guest speakers to our beautiful campus who can help our campus community to strengthen their faith in our wonderful Creator God. As you stated so accurately, there will be many challenges to face when individuals leave our campus. I myself have faced these very challenges in a successful academic career that spanned 18 years working in secular higher education, and by the grace of God, I was able to overcome them and to hold on to my powerful faith. This is the example that I would like to give our precious students here at PUC. This has nothing to do with fear itself, but rather the fear of God, which is the beginning of true wisdom.
In terms of the decision to disinvite you to campus, it was a decision that really did require moral courage and wisdom as I was well aware of how this decision would be perverted by some to create a negative firestorm on Social Media, for example. Please know that this decision was not made to hurt you in any way, but rather it was made to keep the institution true to its mission as a Seventh-day Adventist institution of higher learning owned and maintained by the Adventist Church. Furthermore, you may also know that private religious institutions like all of our 13 Adventist colleges and universities in North America enjoy First Amendment rights, which allow them to not only hire for mission but to also intentionally shape the type of learning environment, which advances their academic and spiritual missions.
In fact, Ryan, this entire situation could have been easily averted if the PUC administrative team had been consulted, even as a courtesy, before an invitation was extended for you to speak on campus. After all, even you must admit that your journey AWAY from God has been the source of much controversy both within and without the Adventist Church.
Please know that as the President of your alma mater, I wish you the very best going forward, and my prayer for you is that you will again find your way back home to our
In His Truth,
Dr. Heather J. Knight
Heather J. Knight, Ph.D.
Pacific Union College