Response of Randal Wisbey, President of La Sierra University
May 18, 2009
Board of Trustees, La Sierra University
Faculty & Staff, La Sierra University
Leadership Team, La Sierra University Church
I am writing to share with you my concern and disappointment about a recent letter regarding La Sierra University ("to Adventist church leaders about La Sierra University") that has received wide distribution on the Internet. This letter undercuts the educational work and ministry of La Sierra University, and indeed the broader system of Adventist higher education, rather than seeking better understanding and clarification of the concerns noted by the writer.
As president I take seriously any charge that La Sierra University is not fulfilling its sacred task and great responsibility to educate our students to be strong, thoughtful individuals whose worldview and hope is grounded in a close relationship with God.
In particular, this letter charges that "naturalistic evolution" is taught at La Sierra University - even while suggesting that evolution should be taught at our Adventist colleges and universities so that our students can better understand the world in which they live. "Naturalistic evolution" is a phrase that either in code or direct definition implies a perspective of "atheistic evolution."
We reject this implied atheistic charge. Every one of our science faculty share the goal of students experiencing a vibrant Adventist Christian faith while pursuing their education in the sciences.
At La Sierra University, we take seriously the challenge of how to best integrate science education and faith development. Ultimately, our goal is to help students develop a personal relationship with their Creator. We are deeply committed to helping our students find during their experience at La Sierra University a vibrant faith that will deepen throughout their lives and lead them to the life to come. Our success in achieving that goal is demonstrated every year as we watch students being baptized into Adventist Church membership and see our students and graduates engage in lives of Christian service.
We expect that students will be introduced to the prevailing scientific views within a supportive classroom environment that values the Seventh-day Adventist Church's contribution to the understanding of biblical creation. It is our commitment to our students and to their families that our professors will continue to support learning and encourage conversation in a spirit of openness. In this way we live out our university's commitment to responsibly address difficult issues and our willingness to consider a variety of views. This grows from our church's commitment to ever be open to new light.
As an institution of higher education, a Seventh-day Adventist university provides an excellent setting for examining evolutionary process - a subject that is foundational to the modern biological and behavioral sciences. This broad topic will recur throughout our students' educational experience if they continue on to graduate studies and basic research in these fields, and is of growing importance in biomedical applications. At La Sierra, students investigate this process surrounded by faculty, staff, and peers who care about their whole person, not just their academic life. They have opportunities to ask hard questions and to address these issues in a supportive Adventist Christian environment.
People of faith who look at scientific data can reach differing conclusions and still be collegial as brothers and sisters in the church. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has always benefited from debate and indeed has matured because of it. Faculty in Adventist institutions of higher learning have played an important and sometimes courageous role in extending the boundaries of knowledge in many fields.
We at La Sierra University are continuing to examine how we teach the science relevant to origins in a supportive, Adventist Christian environment. We continue to welcome input made in a spirit of constructive Christian fellowship and which is respectful of scientific integrity - recognizing that while we may not fully agree on everything, our mutual concern is always for unity in love to our Lord and in service to His children. We are also committed to be of ongoing service to our church in this important conversation of science and faith. A number of our faculty have presented papers and have been involved in recent meetings that our church has called to give study to this challenging area.
As the Valuegenesis research spearheaded at La Sierra University has discovered, the ability to ask questions in a caring, open environment is one of the main factors in the decision of Adventist young people to stay in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
These charges made against us, sadly, are not unique to La Sierra University. Some in our church continue to challenge and question our entire system of universities and colleges. They question our commitment to the important work of Adventist education. They challenge the orthodoxy of those who take on the important and God-inspired task of educating our students in transforming ways that have lifelong impact. I want it to be clearly understood that those of us who teach, those of us who have the privilege of serving at an Adventist university, take our mission and our responsibilities towards our students seriously. Our faculty and campus community give their lives, and the best of their intellect and service, to God through their academic preparation, ongoing research, teaching and mentoring. La Sierra is a vibrant academic and spiritual community that forever transforms our students for God and for a life of faithful service.
La Sierra University is a place where academic investigation, Christian faith, and service to others unite. We support the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in powerful ways, such as:
• The Valuegenesis and CognitiveGenesis studies that originated at La Sierra help us to understand the young people we effectively minister to and with.
• LSU sponsored 11 mission projects this academic year in Costa Rica, Egypt, Hawaii, Honduras, India, Malawi, Mexico, Navajo Nation, Philippines, Tanzania, and Texas. Dozens of students have been involved in Share Him evangelism, and 15 student literature evangelists reach families in our community every day. Hundreds of students have served overseas, from Afghanistan to Vietnam, as student missionaries in recent years.
• La Sierra students and faculty, this past year, provided more than 45,000 hours of caring service to our local community. We earned the coveted community engagement designation from the Carnegie Foundation-one of only 118 institutions in North America to be so recognized.
• The La Sierra University Students in Free Enterprise team recently brought major recognition to the Seventh-day Adventist Church as they progressed to the final round at the 2009 SIFE National Competition in Philadelphia. Their projects helped people in Ethiopia, Thailand, and the United States.
• We will soon have the privilege of participating in the baptism of a number of our students who have been studying this year with our Chaplain and with members of our School of Religion. A few days ago I listened as the father of one of these students who stood before the Pacific Union Executive Committee and thanked God that his daughter was at La Sierra and that she had decided to be baptized.
Finally, as the president of La Sierra University, and as a parent of one of our 1,900 students, I am grateful that La Sierra is a place that is recognized for its commitment to Adventist faith and learning. Every day we dedicate this campus to the Lord. Like the father with his arms open wide in the Alan Collins' sculpture, The Glory of God's Grace, that stands at the entrance to our campus, it is our privilege to welcome young people in an attitude of grace and love that characterizes our Father's deep love and passion for each of us. When I talk with parents who send their children to us, often at great sacrifice, they tell me they do so because they deeply believe in our commitment, as faculty and staff, to provide the very finest Adventist education.
As one parent noted, at a recent alumni event in Northern California, the monthly check she writes for her student's education is the most satisfying investment she makes.
May we, as a campus community, affirm God's powerful work that is daily revealed in our teaching, research, and service.