Andrews University Prof Contract Ends After Conversion to Islam

On paper, Lori Maria Walton is the kind of candidate most Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities look for when filling faculty positions. She holds an MPH in Epidemiology & Biostatistics from Johns Hopkins University, a PhD from Nova Southeastern University, a doctorate in Physical Therapy from Creighton University, and degrees in Physical Therapy and Anatomy & Physiology from Andrews University.

Dr. Walton grew up in the Adventist Church, attending Mt. Vernon Academy before her time at Andrews University, where she took a year off to serve as a student missionary to the Marshall Islands.

Walton conducts research focused on international maternal and fetal health programs in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. She has published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and has made presentations at state, national, and international conferences on the topic of obstetrics and gynecology in physical therapy.

She is nearing her tenth year as a teacher and researcher, and has worked as a clinical physical therapist for nineteen years.  In addition to membership in several professional associations, Walton provides pro-bono physical therapy in her community and abroad, and has led mission trips to Bangladesh with physical therapy students.

From the point of view of her employer, Andrews University, there is only one problem: Walton converted from Seventh-day Adventist Christianity to Islam in 2013, a year into her employment at Andrews.

In a Notification of Non-Renewal from Emmanuel Rudatsikira, Dean of the School of Health Professions at Andrews University, Walton was told,

“As you anticipated might be the case, your non-Adventist, non-Christian, faith commitment poses a challenge to Andrews University. This University has a mission to uphold Christ and that mission is served best by full-time faculty who profess a Christian faith.”

Rudatsikira pointed to Andrews University’s Working Policy, which states, “The faculty must be, with few exceptions, members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in good and regular standing and must be committed to the philosophy and program of the church.”

For Walton, however, there is no conflict between her Muslim faith and either her Adventist upbringing or the mission of Andrews University.

“As A Muslim, I simply practiced what as an Adventist I believed,” she told me. “To be a good Muslim, you must first embrace Christianity (Jesus is considered one of the prophets of Islam), so I saw more differences between Catholicism and Adventism than Islam and Adventism.”

Walton noted that there are Catholic professors and those of other non-Christian faiths serving at Andrews whose religious beliefs have not been subject to scrutiny.

I asked Andrews University Provost Dr. Andrea Luxton to what extent Andrews University professors are expected to be Adventist, and whether there is any kind of formal vetting of prospective faculty members for their adherence to Adventism.

Dr. Luxton responded with several points. First, she again pointed to AU Working Policy, which includes language approved by the university’s Board of Trustees requiring that when possible, faculty should be Adventist.  “When there are open faculty positions, we will always look at Adventists first who have the qualifications and expertise in their fields,” Luxton said. When she is available to do so, Luxton interviews prospective faculty members herself, and inquires about their faith commitments, she told me. “If no qualified Adventist with specific expertise can be found, we look at other applicants.”

Luxton noted that faculty are not required to sign any statements of faith, but preference is clearly and unapologetically given to Adventist applicants. She further pointed out that at Andrews, as is the case at many Adventist colleges and universities, only Seventh-day Adventist faculty members are eligible for tenure. Non-Adventists receive short-term contracts that are generally renewed on a yearly basis.

Dr. Walton says that when she was hired at Andrews in 2012, she was still a practicing Adventist. She had previously been married to a Pakistani Muslim man (they divorced in 2008). Walton’s children shared their father’s faith (one child is now Christian and one Muslim), and so when she came to Andrews, Walton says she began looking for an Adventist church that would honor and respect their religious beliefs and practices. Instead, she says, the reception was frosty at best.

Walton began attending mosque with her children, and found a more welcoming place there. In addition, she says that for nineteen years, she had associated with Muslim family and friends and been surrounded by Muslim culture.

“A Muslim is someone who submits their life to God in all they do to help others and make themself and the world better,” Walton told me. 

“So, as an Adventist Christian for so many years, under the same premise that 'I submitted my life to God in all things,' I would say I was a 'Muslim' from birth. However, if one wants to argue about the diversity of terminology of beliefs that we use to 'brand' ourselves, my reversion to Islam has been a gradual process,” she said.

Walton’s slow shift from Adventist to Islamic identity did not become the subject of scrutiny until, according to Andrews University, Walton notified her superior of her conversion and requested certain accommodations, including being allowed to have her faculty portrait taken with a hijab, the traditional headscarf many Muslim women wear.

Walton says that it was not until after winter break, in January of this year, that she began wearing a hijab.

“I considered wearing the hijab for a many years, when I was Christian. Then, when I became Muslim, I was even more convinced to wear hijab because I believed it to be a beautiful reminder of submission of my ego and desires to God and constantly in need of God to guide me to the best for those around me, worship only God."

She decided to wear the hijab after attending an Islamic Convention in Chicago and hearing lectures from Omar Suleiman, Nouman Ali Khan, and Tariq Ramadan on Muslim women's rights. Speakers characterized the hijab as both a gift from God to women and a requirement, “the same requirement as Jews during the time of Jesus and Christians centuries after Jesus (for instance, Mary, the Mother of Jesus wore a head covering),” Walton said.

When she first came to work with the headscarf, reactions were mixed. Some faculty colleagues were affirming, but some made very insensitive islamophobic comments, even asking whether her office would be blowing up in one case.

Students were much more supportive, Walton said, and were upset when news came that her contract would not be renewed.

“Adventists are such big advocates (in rhetoric, at least) for religious liberty. . . I did not imagine this would ‘pose a problem for them,’ especially since I teach research, statistics and physical therapy coursework and have never spoken about my religion on campus and have always upheld Adventist teachings.”

Walton’s Facebook profile indicates that her faith takes a central role in her life. Her public “wall” on the site is filled with religiously eclectic inspirational quotes.

“If you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work,” says one recently-posted quote by Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-American artist and poet, whose literary works bear the influences of Catholic Christianity into which he was born and Islam.

Walton argues that Andrews University needs a religiously dextrous faculty presence, especially with the potential for a large influx of Muslim students on campus.

I asked Stephen Payne, Vice President for Integrated Marketing & Communication at Andrews, to clarify.

“We've had between one and ten Muslim students enrolled on campus each year recently (which represents approximately 0.5% of our students),” Payne said.

“Many of our international students come to us through partnerships rather than direct student recruiting, and there is a new and upcoming partnership with a university in Saudi Arabia that could bring us 20 graduate physical therapy students a year, and certainly many of those new students (if not most or all of those students) will be Muslim.”

Payne said the program at capacity in two or three years, could add as many as 60  Muslim students, meaning that in a given year, there might be 70 to 75 Muslim students on campus. “That would represent approximately 2% of our student population if we reach those levels,” he said.

Payne noted, and Luxton reiterated over the phone, that Andrews University hosts various international student groups—partnerships in East and South Asia that collectively bring students of Buddhist, Hindu or even atheist backgrounds, which add 75 students or more to the student population from each respective background.

While the university admits and enrolls students regardless of religious background, “We invite and expect students, to be prepared and willing to study and live within the standards and expectations of a Seventh-day Adventist campus,” Payne said.

Luxton added that reasonable accommodations are made to connect students with faith communities off campus, but that in the classroom and on campus, Adventist Christianity is presented to all students.

Lori Walton did not formally grieve her non-renewal, though she took exception to the university’s decision and circulated letters to President Niels-Erik Andreasen calling for reconsideration and justice on the university’s behalf, and alleging religious and gender discrimination.

President Andreasen responded in writing with a point-by-point rebuttal to Walton's claims, calling attention to the university's legal right to hire those deemed best suited to furthering the university's mission.

The university maintains that because the window for challenging the decision has now closed, the decision stands.

I asked Walton what might be next. She said she does not know.

“I’m a single mother without a job,” she said. She noted that she has begun applying for other teaching positions, but worries that prejudice over her faith commitments might keep colleagues from providing recommendations. Still, she hopes that she can continue trying to reconcile Islam and Christianity as brothers.

“It is my personal mission to be that bridge between the two faiths,” she said.


Jared Wright is Managing Editor of

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

That is her suicidal rope. Adventists don’t believe in syncretic ideologies. It is quite unfortunate that Dr. Walton is going through this. We’ll keep her in prayer. I don’t know how one-on-one personal talk with her was carried out. However, if distasteful comments made her uncomfortable to stay in the church, she wouldn’t feel comfortable either as a professor at Andrews. She was uninformed about the Laodicea schizophrenia of the Adventist Church: we speak and act otherwise sometimes. But Christ still loves the church and knocking. Dr. Walton should have opened the door for Christ to enter; meaning she could have helped her church overcome those overtones, instead of leaving the church. For the school Administrators decisions, I’m not an expert to comment on that. I’ll leave that to others in this forum. She could have stayed, so that we could have it easy to win her back.


How complicated this situation is! Maybe La Sierra needs a professor, they had a Muslim teaching in the biology dept recently and maybe still. She is correct that we pride ourselves on religious liberty at least OUR religious liberty.


a great uncle of mine, Dr. Samuel Zwemer spent over 30 years as a missionary to Islam. in that time, he could out the number of convert to Chritianity on the fingers of both hands and have a few fingers to spare. . I seriously doubt that continued employment have reconverted her to Christsinity.,However, even as a joke, negative comments certainly were unchristian. She seems to have had a troubled life. I hope she can find peace as well as employment. Any recommendations should address only her professional,abilities. Tom Z


What a brave lady. I sincerely wish her all the best.


Having received my Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and having also served on that campus as president of the student body, I have an intimate familiarity with the challenges facing an Adventist institution that hires non-Adventists as faculty. I frankly believe it is preferable for an Adventist educational institution not to offer a particular degree or program than to staff such a program with persons not adhering to or practicing the Seventh-day Adventist faith.

I am truly sorry at the direction this lady’s spiritual journey has taken her. God alone, thankfully, can judge her heart (I Kings 8:39). But no faith or spiritual leader in the history of this planet can come close to comparing to the Savior presented in Holy Scripture. I only pray she will again—or perhaps for the first time—rejoice in the faith of her upbringing.

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Dr. Walton is utilizing her freedom to follow whatever faith she wants. And AU is also making decisions on a free basis. Hopefully there won’t be any further conflict. No reason for such.


This is sad. Being welcomed is crucial to spiritual satisfaction and commitment to faith. Jesus was not welcomed in his home church and he never went back.

I have a feeling that Ms. Walton had many other issues with SDA’s, doubts and questions, that paved the way for a welcoming place that would sympathize with her. It would also appear that she lost faith in the EGW’s claims that the SDA church is directed by God.


What in the world is the university afraid of? If she can do her job and uphold the standards of the university that is what is important. Even the policy seems to suggest that. If she has shown no evidence of going against the university standards then she should have a chance.

Why a university would throw away an academic with the qualifications of Dr. Walton I have no idea.


Andreasen writes:

None of the things that Dr. Walton now reports have ever, to my knowledge, been reported to the University. The University would take seriously any derogatory comments made toward any ethnic or religious group; such comments are not acceptable to the University and do not reflect the warm and welcoming spirit which is most often associated with Andrews University

I suppose that Dr. Walton’s words don’t count since she did report to the university about this issue. She wrote it in her letter.


One subject I have always been able to brag about is being a Lebanese American, mostly because Lebanon is one of the most religiously diverse countries there is. A good example of this is that my mom is Sunni and my Dad is Shia. All of my 11 siblings identify as Shia Muslims and I am their oldest sibling. I hold all three Abrahamic religions in equal regard and I see Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as very, very similar. I could take the easy way out, lash out at these ignorant comments, however, I choose not to; it is like Christ to forgive and turn the other cheek, regardless of the severity of the insult or the vulgarity of author. Instead, I would like to suggest that those writing these bigoted, hateful words to look inwards and see if they are following the teachings they see fit to force on others. I doubt true Christians can have such disregard for a people and faith that show far more respect then they tend to receive.

Many Muslims in Lebanon consider Christ equal to The Prophet Mohammad. I am sure you are aware that the Koran’s teachings are not so different from your own. What is different is the way in which these two books are constructed, one a set of parables and allegory, the other a religious monologue. Both these texts reach the same truth.

Take the Virgin Marry, for example, there is a whole chapter in the Koran about the Virgin Mary. Yes, Muslims believe The Virgin Mary to be deserving of as much dignity, and as much respect as those central to the Muslim faith. And yes, they believe her to have been a virgin as well.

Dr. Walton is a mother, educator and an inspiration. She is trying-at a major cost to her children and herself-to educate society, which is her vocation after all. She has never said a word against Christianity or Judaism and is simply aligning herself with her children and their faith.

It is peculiar to me why Andrews University does not support Muslim Faculty. I find it shocking that you presume to truly educate Muslim Children while refusing Muslim faculty. Andrews University, to my knowledge, is not known for blind bigotry and I question if you have the best interest of your students in mind. To force the homogeneity of your staff is to reject what it is to be an academic. If your beliefs are so easily threatened, I am not sure how you can call it belief at all.

Andrews should embrace its students, its country and encourage its faculty to be honest with other and themselves; assure them that their jobs don’t depend on their religious values but rather on their commitment to teaching and serving all students.


Even Muslim Universities require employment candidates to profess a “strong passion and commitment to the mission” of the institution. Dependent upon the clarity of the institution’s mission statement, this issue should be neither contentious nor surprising.


While it’s disgraceful that Dr. Walton’s request to wear hijab triggered her termination, I find the university’s heel-digging more disturbing. Walton actually did the university a courtesy in asking before doing: this was not an accommodation that would’ve had any bearing whatsoever on her teaching or administrative duties, her availability to work, her respect for the uniquely Adventist skew of Andrews’ curriculum, or her willingness to help nurture and support Andrews students in the integration of faith and learning. Yet she asked anyway and I can only guess she did so because she made the error of assuming that she was in a community of mutual respect.

The WP notes that exceptions to the common rule can be made. And other than shortsighted insularity, there is no reason an exception couldn’t have been made in this case. She hoped to wear a modest article of clothing that is an expression of her faith. The hijab functions no differently than the head coverings that some Jamaican Adventist churches require women to wear before they may speak during church services. I know Adventist women in the United States who feel a spiritual responsibility to wear head coverings in daily life, and that is their right. The most appropriate thing to do in such a case is not interfere… y’know… just as we average Adventists would wish to be respected re. modest and non-disruptive expressions of our own faith.

I would urge Andrews to reconsider expanding programs open to non-Adventist students if it so obviously cannot accommodate non-Adventist instructors or honor undisruptive expressions of religious conscience.

Maybe someone should send Andrews HR that NAD statement about Ben Carson? There’s a line in it that says “The church has worked diligently to protect the religious rights of all people of faith, no matter what their denominational affiliation.”



What they are worried about is their annual fund. Also, this may have been a directive by the BOT, who, in turn, are responsible for funding. I doubt that President Luxton has personal or professional issues this, and possibly, neither might her faculty. But a college president has little autonomy without BOT approval, especially that of the board chair. Finding a replacement of equal academic and practical value to the university will be difficult, if not impossible (consider the trouble Walla Walla had recently with their nursing faculty).


Islam and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible.

Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me. … I and the Father are one.” (John 14:6; 10:30)

The Qur’an says, “They do blaspheme who say: ‘Allah is Christ the son of Mary.’ … They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity.” (Surah 5:72-73)

How can we countenance that a professor who has left our faith for one that considers us blasphemers should hold a position of influence over those students for whom we have responsibility?


I find this to be a terribly unfair decision and far from “Christian.” As a Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker in the state of Kansas and a as Christian, I cannot let this stand without speaking up in Dr. Lori Maria Walton’s defense.

First, if an institution of higher learning cannot appropriately respond to situation that “poses a challenge” to its “mission” without being respectful to its students and faculty, that institution should be re-evaluated by its accreditation authority. Second, Dr. Walton has upheld Christ … she also provided a positive role-model for her students, both Christian and Muslim. Andrews University admits that is accepts enrollment of Muslim students; as such, it accepts their tuition and federal aid … yet it dismisses Dr. Walton? It seems to me that this is clearly a case that should be taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Dr. Lori Maria Walton, I wish you well as you move forward in your career. What Andrews University has done is an affront to Christian education and all institutions of higher learning. As a Christian, I am embarrassed by the things that are done in Christ’s name … God will not judge them kindly.


I suspect Andrews University’s decision probably swung on Walton’s decision to wear the hijab. If she didn’t wear it, she would still be perceived as upholding the mission and values of the university. But the hijab screams “I’m a Muslim” to anybody who sees or meets the wearer. This includes students, visitors and other staff of the university, as well as anybody who sees pictures or videos from the university, in which Walton might appear.


Bravo to Dr.Lori Maria Walton her for her courage and willingness to see values and make her choices regardless of institutional and church family pressure. In my family if I chose to be a Muslim they’d still consider me part of the family and love me and probably hire me to carry out the garbage. Why can’t this lovely woman still be considered family by the Adventist church and be allowed to help nurture the family of the Gd whom she believes in. Let’s look for another example in the Adventist family of institutions, one I and many cherish. As I understand it’s history Loma Linda University for over a hundred years has had a diverse student body and faculty–including a teaching family-- of agnostic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist from if one looks closely at the humans involved. Why should not Andrews University also with her clearly highly developed capacities for scholarship and education be open to some diversity such as a teaching faculty including Adventists of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim tendencies–after religions are not “boxy” things but have fluid boundaries in many instances and many permutations. .Tthe similarities in the nature of the character of Gd of the three Abrahamic religions fundament are more aligned than not. Having a faculty and student body who can break bread together on the differences but come together in love and human service would be a great blessing. If the Adventist church truly believes in religious liberty, maybe it should allow it internally as well as to demand it externally. As one who has lived and worked and studied the Abrahamic religions as a dilettante and who comes from five generations of Seventh-day Adventists I personally think we might best take the words of Matthew 28 seriously as germane to Jew, Muslim, and Christian… Go into the world and love, simply because we are humans and believe in the message of love and grace and service shown in the Book from Genesis to the Apocalypse. Are not the concepts that Jesus preached of love fundamentally rooted in all three of the three Abrahamic religions–including in the teachings of Muhammad. In this world of approximations, do not all three of the Abrahamic religions possessmajor problems with projections of the character of Gd as well as strengths in their understanding of the Human Pact with the Divine. For Dr. Walton, it appears, can see some of the ideals and ideas within Islam that are profoundly beautiful and propel her to seek to live the words of grace in every surat…“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Just, the one who sets us on the right path” For Christians themselves conflicts over the nature of the trinity has long been a struggle–and it’s still not resolved–with differences in many communions, particularly in the East where the semitic peoples meet aryans sensibilities. Since the Western version of the Trinity is not the only way to look at the Unity of Gd, why not relax and accept that Muslims represent the semitic reaction against the helenization/romanization of Christianity. The best way forward for Adventist institutions seems to me would be to focus on creating a diverse faculty who can intellectually and gently break bread one with another on the ultimates, even with disagreement, and unite with profound commitment to help people and communities through human serve looking to the the One G*d in all the mystery as the source. May the institutions of higher education operated by Seventh-day Adventists be truly places where discussion on the ultimates can be freely engaged in without repression. If we believe in religious liberty we will make them thus. She will likely easily find a job:


Thank you James B. We need more people like you in this world.

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Knowing Dr. Walton personally before and after she wore her headscarf, I can hardly notice any changes to her passion for education, dedication to work, and energy in doing research. It is clear that the university does not want to have any association with the Muslim faith - which apparently didn’t matter much to her students. Dr Walton’s students came to her in comfort in these trying times, and showered her with words of encouragement and kindness all throughout (her Facebook Wall proves it). If anything, Dr. Walton’s mission was indeed aligned with the university’s : she was educating young minds in a subject that she is highly qualified to teach. If Virgin Mary wears a Head covering, Dr. Walton shouldn’t be discriminated against for wearing one too, especially not in a christian university. This is clearly a much deeper issue than just the concerns about the university’s mission.