Posted by: adventlife | February 18, 2013

The secularization of La Sierra University, by David Read

La-Sierra-University-2-150x106The story is an old one, oft repeated. Harvard was founded in 1636 to train Congregationalist and Unitarian clergy. Yale was founded in 1701 by the Colony of Connecticut, primarily to train ministers for the colony. Presbyterians founded Princeton in 1746 to train young men for the gospel ministry.

Congregationalist minister Eleazar Wheelock established Dartmouth College in 1769. Brown, Wake Forest, and The University of Chicago emerged from the Baptist denomination. Vanderbilt and USC were once Methodist universities but are no longer. Duke, Emory and SMU maintain ties to the Methodist Church but are essentially secular.

These and many other famous and prestigious universities were founded by religious people, with religious motives, for religious purposes, usually to train ministers. But as time passed, their ties to their founding denominations were cut or became nominal, their religious purposes were obscured or lost, and they became secular. In fact, they typically became quite hostile to biblical faith (see, e.g., the Emory faculty’s hostility to the biblical faith of Dr. Ben Carson, who was invited to speak at Emory’s commencement ceremony).

Why does this change always happen? Why do colleges founded by Christian denominations always lose their religious purpose and mission? There are many reasons—academia’s hostility to faith, the desire to conform to worldly academic standards, methods and philosophies, etc.–but based upon what we can observe happening in real time at La Sierra University, finances are also a factor. In 2008, in order to get a lower interest rate on its debt on the Price Science Complex, La Sierra issued tax-exempt municipal bonds.

But in order to issue those bonds, La Sierra had to pledge that, “no portion of the proceeds of the Bonds will be used to finance or refinance any facility, place or building used or to be used for sectarian instruction or study or as a place for devotional activities or religious worship or in connection with any part of the programs of any school or department of divinity for the useful life of the project.” Hence, the Price Science Complex may not be used for “sectarian instruction or study,” and every court that has ruled on the issue in the past 35 years has ruled that creationism—or creation science, or intelligent Design—is sectarian and religious in nature.

Perhaps even more jarring is the language of religious neutrality from the controlling California Supreme Court case,California Statewide Community Development Authority v.

All Persons Interested in Matter of the Validity of Purchase Agreement (2007) 40 Cal.4th 788. The court held that in sectarian schools issuing the tax-exempt bonds: the information and coursework used to teach secular subjects must be neutral with respect to religion. Of course, religion may be an object of study in classes such as history, social studies, and literature, just as in public schools, in a manner that neither promotes nor opposes any particular religion or religion in general. But a class that . . . as part of the instruction information or coursework . . . promotes or opposes a particular religion or religious beliefs may not be taught in facilities financed through tax-exempt bond financing.

So, in order to legally issue the tax-exempt bonds, La Sierra’s “secular” curriculum must be neutral with respect to religion, and must not promote any particular religion (such as Seventh-day Adventism).

But can La Sierra guarantee that its curriculum is religiously neutral, that it doesn’t promote any particular religious view? In fact, it has already done so. In the Official Statement of the LSU bonds, (available online) at page A-5, the University states: “Thus, La Sierra does the things most other universities do: all information and coursework used to teach secular subjects are neutral with respect to religion.” That’s not the Supreme Court of California talking; that’s La Sierra University describing its own curriculum: neutral with respect to religion.
Is a curriculum that is “neutral with respect to religion” consistent with the Seventh-day Adventist philosophy of education? Let’s spend a moment with some of the relevant texts.

True education means more than the perusal of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come. Education 13

Since the purpose of education is to prepare the student for this life and for the life to come, every branch of learning, every academic discipline, should show the student something of God, some aspect of the character of God:

In a knowledge of God all true knowledge and real development have their source. Wherever we turn, in the physical, the mental, or the spiritual realm; in whatever we behold, apart from the blight of sin, this knowledge is revealed. Whatever line of investigation we pursue, with a sincere purpose to arrive at truth, we are brought in touch with the unseen, mighty Intelligence that is working in and through all. The mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God, the finite with the Infinite. The effect of such communion on body and mind and soul is beyond estimate. Education 14

Whatever the line of investigation, whatever the discipline, we seek to bring the student into communion with the mind of God.

With this goal in mind, should an Adventist school teach its “secular” subjects in a religiously neutral manner? Can it do so? Most would assign history classes to the category of “secular” curriculum, but consider what Ellen White says about the teaching of history:

Let [history] be considered from the divine point of view. As too often taught, history is little more than a record of the rise and fall of kings, the intrigues of courts, the victories and defeats of armies–a story of ambition and greed, of deception, cruelty, and bloodshed. Thus taught, its results cannot but be detrimental. The heart-sickening reiteration of crimes and atrocities, the enormities, the cruelties portrayed, plant seeds that in many lives bring forth fruit in a harvest of evil. Far better is it to learn, in the light of God’s word, the causes that govern the rise and fall of kingdoms. Let the youth study these records, and see how the true prosperity of nations has been bound up with an acceptance of the divine principles. Let him study the history of the great reformatory movements, and see how often these principles, though despised and hated, their advocates brought to the dungeon and the scaffold, have through these very sacrifices triumphed. Such study will give broad, comprehensive views of life. Education 238

Clearly, history is not to be taught in a religiously neutral manner. What about science, another “secular” subject; can it be taught in a religiously neutral manner?
Since the book of nature and the book of revelation bear the impress of the same master mind, they cannot but speak in harmony. By different methods, and in different languages, they witness to the same great truths. Science is ever discovering new wonders; but she brings from her research nothing that, rightly understood, conflicts with divine revelation. . . . Inferences erroneously drawn from facts observed in nature have, however, led to supposed conflict between science and revelation; and in the effort to restore harmony, interpretations of Scripture have been adopted that undermine and destroy the force of the word of God. Geology has been thought to contradict the literal interpretation of the Mosaic record of the creation. Millions of years, it is claimed, were required for the evolution of the earth from chaos; and in order to accommodate the Bible to this supposed revelation of science, the days of creation are assumed to have been vast, indefinite periods, covering thousands or even millions of years. Such a conclusion is wholly uncalled for. The Bible record is in harmony with itself and with the teaching of nature. Education 128-129

Science is to be taught in a way that harmonizes with revealed religion, with the Genesis record, not in a religiously neutral manner. Even mathematics should be taught with a redemptive purpose:

Since the goal of math class is to connect the student’s mind with the mind of God, and to develop both the mind and the character in the twin pursuits of both education and redemption, then any aid given to the “secular” pursuit of “mere” arithmetic also aids “Religious Instruction. ” The entire premise of religious education is that it is entirely sacred, not secular. It is holistic, not dualistic. Religion is part of the warp and woof woven into the fabric of life in a religious school. There are no secular subjects. (Brief for the Interfaith Religious Liberty Foundation, et al, as Amicus Curiae, p. 17, Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793 [2000], co-authored by Alan Reinach, Director of Religious Liberty for the Pacific Union Conference).

Indeed, there are no secular subjects. Religion is woven into the fabric of Adventist education, into every academic discipline.

This philosophy is reflected in the General Conference Educational working policy:
… a balanced, integrated curriculum will address the major developmental needs in the spiritual, intellectual, physical, social, emotional, and vocational realms. All areas of study will be examined from the perspective of the biblical worldview within the context of the great controversy theme.

All disciplines are taught from a biblical perspective, in the context of the great controversy theme. There are no subjects that are examined in a religiously neutral manner.

Faulkner once wrote that the past is never dead; it’s not even past. In an Adventist school, the “secular” curriculum is never religiously neutral, it’s not even secular. The Seventh-day Adventist philosophy of education is clear: The purpose of education is to bring the student into communion with the divine mind; all subjects are to be taught from the biblical worldview. Every discipline plays its role in bringing the student into communion with the mind of God, preparing the student for Christian service in this life, and for the never-ending, glorious education of the life to come.

Any Adventist school that boasts that “all information and coursework used to teach secular subjects are neutral with respect to religion” has deviated, flagrantly, from the Adventist philosophy of education. Yet that is exactly what La Sierra has done. It has deviated from the Adventist philosophy of education, and has issued tax-exempt municipal bonds that it could not legally have issued were it faithful to its religious mission.

I wonder if all of La Sierra’s Trustees, including such high church officials as Ricardo Graham, President of the Pacific Union Conference, Larry Caviness, President of the Southern California Conference, and Gerald Penick, President of the Southeastern California Conference, know that the University publicly declares its coursework to be “neutral with respect to religion.” The church officials on La Sierra’s Board of Trustees are not there because of accomplishments in business, industry, science, literature, or the professions. They are there for one purpose and one purpose only: to ensure that La Sierra is providing its students with a truly Seventh-day Adventist education. If they won’t insist that La Sierra stay true to its religious mission, who will?




  1. What I read was a litany of quotes via E White. First creation “science” is religion. It is not science. La Sierra has the appropriate religion departments and students are educated in areas of religion and theology. The bonds were not sold to build or enhance instruction in a particular religion. They were sold to support the building of a first rate science center. So what does this author want to happen? What is the Board supposed to do? Have an inquisition? Our institutions will most likely continue to have some representation by Depts of religion and theology, much like Creighton, Duke and other higher learning institutions where the founders were beholding to a particular faith tradition.

    • High John!

      It is true that the biblical doctrine of creation is based on special revelation and visionary experience; nevertheless, when we attempt to investigate the origin of life and matter, there is an unavoidable overlap between the aims of both religion and science. The evidence provided by nature points to a designer, which for the religiously inclined individual is interpreted as supporting the biblical reference to a Creator.

      The fine tuning of the universe, and the extreme complex information found in the human DNA strongly suggests that these are the result of the intelligent activity of someone extremely wise and in possesssion of powers not available to human beings. All living forms are generated by their ancestors.

      There is no scientific evidence that life can be generated by the random movements of protons and atomic particles. Science has demonstrated that the spontaneous generations of life is based on wishful thinking and philosophical speculation. We are forced to credit someone with the existence of life in the universe and the fine tuning of the universe for the existence of life.

      All attempts to divorce scientific knowledge from religion is based on ignorance of what I have described above. This means that forcing a religiously based university to divorce itself from religion is antagonistic to the religious liberty tenets of a true democratic society.

      Nic Samojluk

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