Pacific Union College Student Leaders Herald a Diverse, Inclusive Future

With a powerfully-worded statement on diversity, the Pacific Union College Student Senate has cast a vision for the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that would make the denomination a much more inclusive and welcoming place. Published on May 24, the Diversity Statement provides the young leaders' stances on five topics: women's equality and empowerment; dignity, humanity and rights of the LGBT+ community; welcoming immigrants; affirming Black lives; and iter- and intrafaith diversity.

The twenty student leaders who signed the statement vowed to hold the "college accountable and ensure that Pacific Union College remains respectful, truly welcoming, and supportive of the full spectrum of human diversity."

The statement came just over a week after Pacific Union College announced on May 11 that Robert Cushman would succeed Eric Anderson as college president. Anderson served as president from December 2016 through Cushman's appointment, following the end of Heather Knight's tumultuous presidency. Knight often clashed with both students and faculty members. She announced the end of her presidency amid declining enrollment and budget shortfalls, and following protracted upheaval in the college's psychology and social work department.

Placed within the broader context of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, the student leaders' statement both agrees with and departs from statements made by denominational leaders.

On women's equality and empowerment, the Student Senate wrote,

We affirm without reservation the full equality and empowerment of women. We pledge to support women in leadership, ministry and academia. We embrace and support the rights and dignity of all women, regardless of race, class, ability, religion, and sexual orientation.

These sentiments align with statements made by North American Division President Daniel Jackson, who has affirmed the division's aim to "empower and establish our women in pastoral ministry." The student statement goes further than anything NAD leaders have said by affirming all women, particularly without regard to religion and sexual orientation. And, of course, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists still discriminates against women by insisting on granting separate, lesser credentials to its many women pastors.

Concerning orientation and gender, the student leaders wrote in their statement,

We affirm without reservation the dignity, humanity, and rights of the LGBT+ community. We acknowledge that LGBT+ individuals are human beings deserving of respect and not a mere culmination of sexual acts. We affirm their rightful place within our campus, our church, and community. We reject and pledge to combat all forms of bullying, mistreatement and ostracizing of members of the LGBT+ community. We believe that we are called to fully love and accept these individuals not as "less than but as true equals dserving full respect and freedom from judgment and condemnation."

This statement goes beyond statements made by any denominational leaders in terms of its postures of inclusivity and acceptance. In November, 2015, the North American Division adopted a statement on human sexuality that sought to balance love and compassion and the leaders' understanding of biblical principles. The statement affirmed prior statements issued by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists that declare sexual relationships to be excluded to monogamous, heterosexual marriage relationships. The statement indicated, and Dan Jackson stated more explicitly in a dialogue with collegiate Adventists, that church membership is not available to persons in same-gender relationships. Denominational employment excludes individuals in non-sanctioned sexual relationships.

Concerning immigration and refugees, the PUC student leaders wrote in part,

We arrifm without reservation that immigrants and refugees are welcome. We reject the ideological motivation behind mass deportations, and pledge to stand up for the rights of DACA students and those with family members who are undocumented. We acknowledge our moral and religious responsibilities to the immigrants and refugees who strengthen our communities and our country.

Dan Jackson has expressed similar sentiments regarding refugees. In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Jackson wrote,

To close the door to refugees cannot be an option. To 'welcome' them by marking them with shame and suspicion is unacceptable. To incite fear based on prejudice is irresponsible. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to welcome ALL who are seeking refuge."

Again, student leaders at PUC have expressed similar to North American Division leadership concerning the value of Black individuals in America, who have suffered from intractible, structural racism. The Student Senate wrote in part,

We affirm without reservation that black lives matter. We reject and pledge to combat racism in all forms, and to yeild to the voices of racial and ethnic minority students on ways to improve our campus and ourselves in regards to acting and speaking in a Christ-like manner. We acknowledge both the history of racism within the Seventh-day Adventist Church as well as the improvements which have been made throughout our history.

Adventists, including Lake Union Conference President Don Livesay, Andrews University President Andrea Luxton and Union College students led by Chris Blake, have issued official apologies for racism within the Adventist Church. Dan Jackson has spoken out on the extrajudicial killings of Michael Brown and Erig Garner in the wake of the acquittals of the white officers who killed them.

The student statement surpassed those acts in its explicit language affirming that Black lives matter (a politically divisive but crucially important phrase), intentionally combatting racism, and defering to racial and ethnic minorities for guidance on improving racial conflict.

Finally concerning inter-faith diversity, the PUC Student Senate wrote in part,

We affirm without reservation that interfaith and intrafaith diversity strengthen us as a religious community.

While General Conference President Ted Wilson has often expressed suspicion toward religious movements outside the Adventist faith, calling on Adventists to look within rather than without, the Adventist Church has participated in interfaith meetings. Ganoune Diop, director of the General Conference Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, has written about his involvement in interfaith dialogue and ecumenical organizations.

Still, the sentiment expressed by the PUC student leaders has gone further, framing religious diversity as an asset, not an obstacle to the religious community.

If the statements by the PUC Student Senate can be seen as an expression of the values of the next generation of Adventist leaders, the future of the Adventist Church will be more inclusive and more affirming than ever before. The full Diversity Statement can be read here.

Jared Wright is Southern California Correspondent for Spectrummagazine.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8040

I think it’s just wonderful that the next generation is standing for something at all, but especially proud that they are advocating for issues that even those far older than them only speak about in hushed voices. The future is in good hands.

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The western world is on a relentless path to egalitarianism.

The new young, charismatic French president promised gender equality and delivered by having equal members of his cabinet and organization both men and women.

The vast majority of the TWENTY TWO countries in the Trans European Division have had women prime ministers or presidents, several of them multiple times over.

Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright, Hilary Clinton are powerful political figures and increasingly we see women CEOs of major corporations.

By contrast the FIFTY FOUR countries in the continent of Africa have had fewer than five female heads of state, and most of those have been interum or temporary positions. This clearly implies that Africans are intolerant of female authority figures and explains their vote against women’s ordination at the last GC

When we allow third world countries that are patriarchal and tribal to pontificate social and ethical standards to our young educated talented college population, we will lose them in droves.

The under thirty, MILLENIAL generation is egalitarian and affirming not only for women’s rights, but for the rights of their gay/lesbian friends.

Even the most conservative Republican households are seeing a split between the parents and their children in the acceptance of same sex marriage.

Kudos to the SPLENDID young people at PACIFIC UNION COLLEGE.

Meanwhile the heinous heretical “headship” dogma permeates the upper ranks of our church administration, and homophobia is endemic in their ranks, with their overt dislike, disparagement and disdain of our LGBT offspring.

THIS MANIFESTO SHOULD BE A RED LIGHT WARNING TO THE CHURCH ADMINISTRATION THAT THEY WILL LOSE THESE YOUNG PEOPLE UNLESS
THEIR VISION AND ETHICS APPROXIMATE TO WESTERN STANDARDS AND NOT TO THE THIRD WORLD.

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"Pacific Union College Student Leaders Herald a Diverse, Inclusive Future “
Sure…why not? Who in the church structure of authority is listening or cares? I applaud PUC student leader’s statements and enthusiasm, but I d just wanted to add that when we are younger - teens to about late 20s, we were full of idealism. we thought we could change the world, the system, and we overlooked our Social Responsibility. Christian Social responsibility describes the way we are making a difference to the social and economic well-being of our communities through our teaching, research, and public events and activities.
Social responsibility at PUC needs to be part of the core strategic goals. Alongside the spiritual priorities there needs to be commitments to world-class research, and outstanding learning and student experience.
Unfortunately and gradually, as we become older, we realize that without one’s knowledge, the “system” in our SDA culture has changed us or that we’ve become part of the system. we’ve “mellowed down” - happens with every generation. Ever noticed how the most idealistic revolutions were led by the youth or student leaders and later, when their goals were achieved, there didn’t remain much of the initial idealism because practicality and realism took over… It just happens without one realizing it - it happens in very small steps where you keep compromising due to added financial responsibilities, family pressures, societal norms and denominational policies, etc. And yet there are still people who do not conform or compromise, no matter what? The “needle to the pole” people” have left the building!

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Where there any adults in the room when this statement was written ? Young people , you mean well , but you cannot run ahead of the official church statement. Please stand for right , but make sure that you are on Jesus’ side . Don’t allow your emotions to get caught up in these social issues. Jesus shone all social movements. They where looking for a King . And wanted to crown Him after feeding the 5,000 . But He would have nothing to do with it. Stop where you are, For the ground upon which you stand , is Holy Ground ." I would rather a , " Thus said the Lord , " then to trust my own feelings . Ever wonder why a 11 day journey from Egypt to the Promise Land took 40 years ? Because of attitudes such as yours . Please stand down , and repent.

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Immigration and the issues that arise are a centuries old problem. Look into the founding of New York City to uncover some of the problems that have been caused by mass immigration. Ask the native Americans who came over the Bering strait what problems they encountered with Europeans. It’s a personal and also a governmental thing and in my opinion needs to fall outside Church and college politics.

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These PUC students have forgotten the mission of the SDA Church. They sound like mouthpieces for left-wing activists in this country. Although I graduated form PUC, I would not recommend sending a student there now.

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I am forced to agree with you and I wish that I did not have to. It is a very sad day for our schools when they are now run by children or by people who refuse to stand for principle. I pray every day for a revival of true education. The liberal left is out of control with total moral decay. Jesus must be coming soon.

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I think the statement “Africans are intolerant of female authority figures” is not correct. Although African cultures, like all cultures, have struggled with patriarchy and sexism, many have worked harder than the United States and other western countries to eradicate this (keep in mind that Liberia and Malawi have had female heads of state, and the U.S. up to this point has not). I think the root of the sexism you see in African Christianity comes from its colonial roots combined with lack of educational development. The Christian churches in African often took a very domineering form, largely because they were founded by domineering Western missionaries controlled by domineering governments. Subsequently, without access to good theological education accessible to Westerners, African church leaders were unable to make significant advancements in combating sexism within the church. However, many African cultures can be strongly in favor of gender equality, and even matriarchal in some circumstances. So the problem is not African culture, it’s flawed Western theology.

As an egalitarian, I think this is a beautiful statement. I dreamed of such a world when I was young, It’s so international now, and I envy the opportunities for knowing so many other cultures. I did this as much as possible in my youth, and it wasn’t always understood by others.
My only question would be the reality of so-called open borders to illegal immigrants. There is a growing problem of lawlessness as was predicted. Over-population is something we used to be concerned about, but lately not PC. I would prefer helping other countries rather than moving them here, even with a higher tax. And due to ours and other nations resistance to protecting the innocent, we now have millions of refugees and half a million dead. I hope our youth won’t make these kinds of mistakes.

Really? “The future is in good hands”?? Then the Bible must be wrong, in you opinion, when it says that the future will be worse and worse.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but having itching ears, they shall heap to themselves teachers in accordance with their own lusts.
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned toward fables.” (2 Timothy 4, 3-4)

The future is in the hands of some brain washed world conformists. When you see this happening and you read the Bible, it doesn’t ring a bell? I wonder why do you insist on calling yourselves Christians…

It looks to me like the future is in great hands: “those who love justice and mercy and who walk humbly with their God.” With “those who love their neighbor as themselves” and who “do unto others as they would have done unto them.”