A Sermon, an Apology, and a Rallying Cry at Andrews University

As part of its Black History Month celebration, Andrews University invited Jaime Kowlessar, senior pastor at Dallas City Temple Adventist Church, to be guest speaker for Black History Weekend (Feb. 9-11, 2017). Kowlessar’s first sermon was during Andrews’ mandatory Thursday chapel on February 9. Shortly after chapel, complaints began to filter in to administration concerning the topic.

In response to request for comment for this article, Kowlessar said, “a few hours later I was informed that some students on the campus were offended by my sermon, and they sent complaints to the Provost, and president. They referred to the sermon as partisan speech, and I was accused of calling them bad people because they voted for Trump.”

In a meeting with Andrews University’s Chaplain Michael Polite and Dean for Student Life Deborah Weithers, Kowlessar was informed that administration wanted him to stay away from partisan speech in his upcoming sermons. He let Polite and Weithers know that the remainder of his sermons dealt with injustice, and he wouldn’t be mentioning Trump’s name again.

Later that evening, however, Kowlessar says he received an anonymous email from someone accusing him of being divisive. The email bothered Kowlessar and he decided to publicly respond to it on Friday evening during the vespers service before preaching his sermon. Kowlessar also publicly posted his sermon and response to the email on Facebook so others could read them.

One week later, unbeknownst to Kowlessar, Provost Christon Arthur apologized to the student body for Kowlessar's sermon. This apology occurred during the mandatory Thursday chapel on February 16.

Following chapel, students took to social media to express hurt and anger about the apology, which many felt was unnecessary. Students urged each other to send the provost and president their stories and statements about why Kowlessar’s sermon had been important for them, and what it means and feels like to be a black student at Andrews.

Esther Battle, President of the Andrews University Black Student Christian Forum (BSCF), wrote in a letter to President Luxton,

“Black History Month, and particularly Black History Month chapel…are rare and important occasions for black students at Andrews. It is our one and only opportunity to use university wide platforms to speak to Black students and celebrate black culture with the entire student body. We are allowed one chapel and one vespers to incorporate our culture and experience into the service. We take these programs very seriously and each year the experience is so affirming. Last week was an especially appreciated experience because Pastor Jaime Kowlessar’s words were so straightforward, so unapologetic, and rang so true."

Battle also expressed her hope for ongoing conversation with the university about its need to apologize to a few for a sermon that resonated with so many. Her letter can be read in its entirety here.

On February 17, Andrews released a statement from Provost Arthur, which read in part:

“The February 9 chapel service on the Andrews campus was part of Black History Month. Many in the Andrews community agreed with and were inspired by the message delivered at that service, while others felt offended by some of the things shared during that presentation.

I chose to respond to those comments through my talk directly to our students yesterday, February 16. At that time, I also affirmed the importance of encouraging important campus conversations about social issues and standing against social injustices that we face as a diverse campus community and in society at large.

I thought it was important to remind ourselves that as a Seventh-day Adventist educational community that seeks to encourage those sorts of conversations, we should always seek to avoid doing that through the use of large campus meetings to focus on the promotion of the specific viewpoints and agendas of any particular political party."

On Saturday afternoon, February 18, 2017, Chaplain Polite, Esther Battle, and other members of the Andrews University student body released a video titled #ItIsTimeAU, described as a “PSA expressing the concerns and experiences of black students at Andrews University." The video was posted publicly to Facebook by Garrison Hayes, Student Chaplain at Andrews University. WATCH: "It's Time, AU"

As of this writing, the video has gone viral on social media and has been viewed nearly 150,000 times with over 2,000 shares.

In the video, students called on Andrews to “apologize for the systemic racism it has perpetuated on its campus,” and gave the university one week to respond. One week, they stated, is all it takes, referring to the week that passed between Kowlessar’s sermon and Provost Arthur’s apology.

The video received over 600 comments, most of them supportive. However, some commenters expressed confusion because the incidents that elicited the video response went unmentioned. Several commenters responded with combative and racist language.

Stephen Payne, Vice President for Integrated Marketing & Communication at Andrews University, posted a comment on the video, addressing many of its concerns:

“This video expresses really great, honest and powerful points—and I’ve just had a chance to talk over the last couple of hours or so with our President (currently participating in alumni meetings in California) and Provost about the questions, issues and absolutely valid concerns raised in this video. Of course, they would also appreciate that those who want to do so would also speak to them personally rather than through a social media post, so they can address and respond to specific items directly. Ultimately, the campus seeks to listen directly to the voices of all individuals within our community and I invite you to connect directly with our administration with further concerns. The administration has an open-door policy on all issues."

President Luxton followed up with an official email to the Andrews community on Monday, February 20, in which she reiterated Payne's comments. She reminded the community of the October 1, 2016, "Journey to Healing and Understanding" event held in Berrien Springs in conjunction with the Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, where she reflected on some of the issues of systemic racism at Andrews and issued an apology for past prejudices and a challenge to do better in the future. She wrote,

“The #ItIsTimeAU video has struck a chord with many on this campus and beyond, and inspired a variety of passionate reactions from all corners, both on this campus and far beyond...I, Dr. Arthur and the entire Andrews University community seeks to take and respond seriously to concerns like these at a school and within a community where God’s kingdom and His children are present, and the injustices of the past and present must continue to be understood and addressed."

On February 21, the Oakwood University NAACP Chapter released its own video, expressing solidarity with the students of Andrews University.

WATCH: "It's Time AU, We Stand With You"

Andrews University has announced that the February 23, 2017, chapel service will continue this conversation, and invited community members to join either in person at Pioneer Memorial Church, or online at andrews.edu/livestream.

Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor at SpectrumMagazine.org

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7885
1 Like

Dr Ford and I hoed corn together at old EMC. we agreed. That we were at EMC to learn enough to get out of Berrien county. he was Black and I was Democratic. neither were welcome in Berrian County. EMC was very little shelter. TZ



They should be considering themselves among the most privileged instead of whimpering.

They all have unfathomable blessings that are beyond the wildest dreams of 98% (at least) of the rest of the world.

They should be required to take a course on perspective- Planet Earth Sucks for Most People 101.


I work at Andrews and I, as well as the faculty and staff I am acquainted with, support the message of this video. Before we indulge in criticizing and blaming these students, take a moment and remember when you were young. Did you always react judiciously? Most of us didn’t. Did that make us wrong about the issues we felt passionate about? No. Let’s look past our own natural defensiveness and try to see what is being said. Our institutions were formed when racism was unthinking and separation was the norm. While we’ve moved past the separation, how much thought have we put into our institutional structures and changes that need to be made? How much does our administration and faculty reflect the constituents they serve? These students have some valid points and I think we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Starting at 7:00 this evening until 7:00 tomorrow evening our campus will be engaged in fasting and prayer asking God to show us what’s in our hearts. By His grace we will attempt to do right.


Politics should not be part of our Adventist Colleges/Universities sermons, lectures, or general courses. It is too divisive.

I was quite astonished that Black PastorJaime Kowlessar would be anti-Trump!

In 1962 I interned at the Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Part of my rotations were through DC General Hospital and DC Children’s Hospital. I was a young fresh emigrant from South Africa, which I had left because of my staunch opposition to APARTHEID.

These DC hospitals had a largely black patient population. I was appalled by the plight of the inner city blacks, finding them not much better off than those in the shanty towns surrounding Johannesburg, my home town!

Now fifty five years later, our inner city blacks are not any better off, with appalling unemployment, schools which have enormous drop out rates, gangs and gun violence.

This is because most of our inner city neighborhoods have been mismanaged by Democratic Party machines for decades.

Trump promises to turn this abysmal situation around. Betsy DeVos, his new education secretary will offer charter schools and school vouchers allowing for the first time, competition to the appalling, abysmal public schools.

Trump has promised to bring back jobs, jail the gang members and restore order to the streets

What is NOT to like by blacks, who have been so woefully neglected by the Democratic Party over so many decades?

Sorry, Kelly, I do NOT stereotype blacks, since I have NUMEROUS, highly educated, professional wonderful black friends.
I also travel widely and I am fully aware of the WASTELANDS of the inner cities
of Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, and others, which hopefully TRUMP will address with his policies-- he has promised to do so!
I think wonderful Doctor Ben Carson would agree with me! He grew up in Detroit!


Unfortunately your response is critical and your need to asses their approach before having an honest and uncomfortable look at your own potential bias shows that you are part of the problem.

  1. It is clear your comment was written in the passion of a moment and you haven’t done your research.

  2. Your erasure of racism within Adventist history does not do justice or honor to Andrews’ history, the greater church or its members of color. Only real truth and reconciliation can bring true justice to a legacy as complicated as this. Furthermore, the legacy of a college should NEVER be more important than the well-being of students.

  3. Asking for a conversation on race and representation is not demonizing. It’s how progress is made.

  4. When minorities in America politely ask for polite conversations on racism…it usually falls on deaf ears. If Jesus was here in this situation, do you really think he would take your route and comment on the tweaks that could have been made in a video to make people feel more comfortable? No, the Jesus I know and love would fight for truth and justice of the least of these every time.

  5. You cannot point to your perceived issues of a completely separate college as an argument for why these students can’t fight for a better AU campus. Nothing is perfect. No one in this video claimed Oakwood is perfect, and if a problem like what you mention does exist, a hunch tells me they would be more open to a tough conversation around inclusion than you. I would also encourage you to research the history of HBCUs in America and why they exist.

  6. You display a mentality of denial. It’s not healthy or constructive.

  7. No one in this video claimed exclusive rights to demand equality. You must remember the context. This video was created during Black History Month specifically about a sermon within the theme of Black History Month.

A word of advice… it looks like you and God need to have some tough conversations about your views on this topic and what was meant when he said to love others.


Sounds like a rolling snowball, accumulating more and more mass in the Michigan cold. Issues of race can be so delicate and challenging; I can’t help but feel sorrow for all sides.

Discussion is always good. Politics, it seems, is always bad.


Knowing how combustible and polarized the country has become since DT was elected president of US, did you consider other venues to carry your message other than being political? Remember, cataract is the leading cause of blindness, followed by religion and politics. In that order.

Without taking sides, you might want to remember Galatians 6:7 “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” the next time you are faced with this option.


If I recall correctly, It was a Black Brother in New England who God called prior to 1844 to present a message to those preaching the Second Advent.
Called prior to Ellen.
But he was very nervous about doing so because he was Black.
Let’s not forget — HE was God’s first choice.


Let’s cut to the bottom line… There will not be one single human being in Heaven who is prodigious against another person because of their race, ethnicity, their color, their sex, their sexual orientation, their intelligence, their disabilities or any other factors which humans poses because of circumstances beyond their control. You make another persons life more difficult at your own pearl. That is an absolute!


Thanks, god.

Lord, have mercy.


I spent the 1981-82 academic year studying at Andrews University and graduated Cum Laude (M.Div.). I never once perceived, felt or was discrimated against as a BME (Brown Minority Ethnic). I never once heard a black person (student/faculty or church member) compain about any form or shape of racism, inequality and the like during that year. I am glad I spent that one exceptional year at AU and will always cherish the amazing time studying, fellowshipping, and socialising among awesome people from around the world, including Black Americans.


Yes, Steve. It is also instructive to see how the “called” were chosen: White Male, Black Male, White Female.

If Ellen wouldn’t have “accepted” the “calling” then God may have had to go to a Black Female! It is incredibly sad to think that the culture hasn’t progressed much since then but I don’t believe that it has in the Adventist church. It appears that sexism and racism is still alive and well- even in NAD.


Let’s cut to the bottom line of your post: God is dangerous and will burn us, His children, alive if we aren’t nice to each other.

I think nothing is going to change until we re-think/re-feel/re-vision our view of God.

Ellen White said many disparate, sometimes unfortunate, things about race, but I think this one should stand the tests of time and the biblical injunction to “try all things”…

Walls of separation have been built up between the whites and the blacks.

These walls of prejudice will tumble down of themselves as did the walls of Jericho, when Christians obey the Word of God, which enjoins on them supreme love to their Maker and impartial love to their neighbors.

The religion of the Bible recognizes no caste or color. It ignores rank, wealth, worldly honor. God estimates men as men.

With Him, character decides their worth. And we are to recognize the Spirit of Christ in whomsoever He is revealed.

–The Review and Herald, December 17, 1895, Testimonies for the Church Vol 9 p. 223

People who serve a dangerous God are dangerous people, to one degree or another.

Please see: history

Personally, I think better of God.

Edit:. The last EGW line that “character decides their worth” is ethically sketchy, I think. If we say Christ died for all people, then that decides the worth of human beings.

And regarding, “We are to recognize the Spirit of Christ in whomsoever it is revealed,” that is a bit of an ethical swamp also. How can we be sure we “recognize the Spirit of Christ” in another? How can we be sure our own prejudices aren’t blinding us?

And, actually, the Bible does “recognize caste.” Many eloquent biblical sermons were preached supporting slavery in the United States.

So…I guess her first two sentences hold up, and as for the rest, I want to at least assume she meant well.

1 Like

One month every year for the rest of eternity, Black History Month. Yawn. Last year it was yik yak on Southern University at a required BHM convocation. http://spectrummagazine.org/article/2016/02/28/racist-social-media-firestorm-erupts-during-southern-adventist-university-vespers. This year a required BHM convocation at Andrews. Each year these speakers from Oakwood fan out across the Division and beyond taking advantage of the bully pulpit they are afforded this one month per year. Each year white students required to attend these indulgent presentations react predictably to a message of implied guilt for which they bear no responsibility.
Beyond race there is a cultural divide that the Oakwood speakers fail to acknowledge. And yet the Administrators of Southern and Andrews rush to pacify an unwarranted request for an apology. The Black Student Union clubs carve out positions of unimaginable privilege that would be derided should a White Student Union speaker be afforded a similar pulpit. (there are no White Student Unions). It is a one sided argument. The injustice that has occurred in the past is acknowledged by all. And the degree to which the effects of this injustice continues today, most would agree that there is a need for intentional remedies… From my perspective of age, great strides in the right direction have been made over the years, but there is much more ground to cover. I am not sure that the annual piligrimage of Oakwood emissaries have the credentials and standing to effect the needed change of hearts and minds. It took Moses 40 years to change the hearts of the Israelites, which in actuality was just letting that generation die off. A new generation ready to move into the promised land is always in the wings.


The above story and some posts here have saddened me. To recap:

A visiting black minister chooses to call the President of the United States of America a racist and xenophobe among other divisive, slanderous, and demonstrably false accusations from the (bully) pulpit of Andrews University. (Dr. Benjamin Carson may have a slightly different viewpoint :blush: .) As instructed by the NT the minister could have been calling for prayers and Godly intercession instead (see 1Timothy 2:1-3).

When the inevitable push back resulted in the University apologizing for his remarks some Black students felt hurt. A group of them, abetted by the African American Chaplain, then put out a grievance video alleging “systemic racism” and demanding certain things such as “providing classes that are taught from a perspective other than the perspective of Eurocentric values;” the inference being that racism is an ongoing institutional problem at Andrews.

However, the main examples set forth refer to decades past events such as a segregated cafeteria and cross burning. The prima fascie evidence is that a true grievance was recognized and rectified some 40 to 60 years ago when cafeteria desegregation occurred. The fact that crosses were burned on campus in no way implicates Andrews University systemically as instigator or condoning such behavior. A further charge was that Black worship was being “demonized.” You can decide for yourself if calling out a person, black, brown, asian, or white, for using partisan and slanderous language from the pulpit is “demonizing worship.” If a white person said those things about President Obama what would have happened to them? AU pushed out an apology video in less than a week to meet the demands.

I believe President Luxton had at her disposal a wealth of substantive, significant documents which would have put a much needed historical narrative on the table. In medicine when perception fragments from the context of reality it’s called Schizophrenia. What happened at AU needs context. It’s a failed, chaotic, and incomplete thesis without it. I suspicion much of what the group demanded apologies for have already been addressed years ago! In short, has “systemic racism” not been addressed until now at Andrews or is it only the perception by some that it hasn’t been addressed?

There is no doubt racism in the SDA Church occurs. The events at AU are small ball compared to the real issue.

It’s a dirty little secret that there is a powerful group of North American Division SDA leaders who will not integrate their Black or White led Conferences and Unions even now, in 2017. Why?

How can the Church hold legitimate conversations about gender, women’s ordination, or racism when our leaders choose not to unite and consolidate? It is a convenient, chosen apartheid.

Please pray for the Church and our government leaders. I personally hope AU will choose to provide classes that are taught from a perspective other than the perspective of Eurocentric or Afrocentric values; namely Christcentric values.

And, by the way, we’re all “people of color.” That type of separatist attitude is what got us into this mess.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” MLK Jr., (from his “I have a Dream” speech, 1963)

As the old Apostle said “…there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” Romans 10:2.


I see my post has not been thought relevant to the discussion, and so has been removed. I was trying to give background information on why moderns should wake up accept the concept of so-called “racial equality” Socalled since most modern genome scientists reject the idea of there being separate races , pfreferring to highlight the fact that amnkind has adapted itself, via natural selection(which is NOT evolution per se) to environmental challenges, for example expressing melanini different shades, depending on protection needed from our star. White is not a shade of melanin,(such as black, yellow, brown,red,and so on) but a relative absence of melanin, but everyone still has an inherent ability to produce any shade. More attention should be given to science/history and so on This is a tiresome argument. My father used to give short shrift to the race question. He felt that there could indeed be humans superior to himself and he would publicly acknowledge this in any fora, given ONE demonstration …they must be able to prove they cannot die. ALL else boils down to circumstance, opportuinty, and so on.He felt only GOD could not die, and trhat even Jesus was crucified. Apparently he did not hear of Simeon Toko, the immortal God-man.

MLK from his Nobel speech was quite comfortable criticizing politicians. Here’s what he said about Barry Goldwater: “The American people revealed great maturity by overwhelmingly rejecting a presidential candidate who had become identified with extremism, racism, and retrogression”

1 Like

Vicious unconfirmed rumors have it that the Black-led money coffers are much healthier and viable than the White-led money coffers, including the retirement accounts. It would only make sense since it is the white conferences who are reaching out. It would be nice to have Balance Sheets of both conferences published for everyone to see.

I can only dream.


Well, good for these kids (they are kids to me); were I one of their parents or one of their professors, I’d be proud. The clip is mature and well-produced. And timely (at the same time fifty years in the making).

Separating Church from State (the issue that promoted this long-overdue video statement) is always dicey, and we’re still not good at it, but when a politician speaking for all Americans crosses a line, she or he should be called on it—what if our president had called for required Sunday-keeping or recommended laws that forced citizens to work on the Sabbath?

Someone needs to do some research on how Adventists did or did not support President Wilson an admirer of the Ku Klux Klan, or did or did not support other presidents from the pulpit. Not hard. The White Estate would know.

1 Like