Roy Branson Memorial Service Saturday, August 8

Roy Branson, PhD, noted Seventh-day Adventist theologian, social activist, ethicist, mentor and educator, passed away from complications of cardiovascular disease July 7 at the age of 77. His memorial service will be held Saturday, August 8 at the Azure Hills Church in Grand Terrace. Details of the service below.

The story of Branson’s meteoric—if somewhat unorthodox—career trajectory tends to overshadow an equally interesting personal narrative, but taken together, the two present a picture of a profoundly creative and innovative individual with wide-ranging interests and spheres of influence.

The day he died, the Adventist Review described Branson as “a fervent activist for various causes, from the civil rights movement to anti-smoking legislation, anti-poverty initiatives, and social, political and medical ethics.” The Review article also reported that he received his undergraduate degree from Atlantic Union College, earned graduate degrees at the University of Chicago and Andrews University, and received his PhD in religious ethics from Harvard University in 1968.

One of Branson’s many close friends, David R. Larson, PhD, professor of ethical studies at Loma Linda University School of Religion, enlarges that portrayal by citing a few notable titles and highlights of Branson’s remarkable career:

Associate dean and professor, Loma Linda University School of Religion Director, Center for Christian Bioethics at Loma Linda University Health Scholar-in-residence, Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University Teacher, Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University and Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) Founding member, Association of Adventist Forums (now Adventist Forum) Co-founder and editor, Spectrum Magazine Founder, Center for Law and Public Policy at Washington Adventist University Founder, Interfaith Coalition Against Tobacco President, The Adventist Society for Religious Studies

Branson was one of the first to integrate, and perhaps transform, Adventist theology by bringing a strong emphasis on social justice and religious ethics into the discussion, literally carrying his faith into the field when he felt the need to take a stand.

“He marched against racism with Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel and many others at Selma (Alabama) 50 years ago this spring,” Larson says, adding that Branson also protested the exclusion of women from the ministry by organizing the first ordination service for women elders at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, in 1973, and for women pastors in 1995. In discussing Branson’s contributions to Adventist theology, Larson lists Adventist studies, a theology of Sabbath and the second coming, apocalyptic literature and ethics, the secularization of medicine and the theology of joy as major areas of interest.

"Despite his many other contributions,” Larson concludes, “the countless number of people all around the world, in socially high places and low, who counted Roy as among their very closest friends will be his greatest legacy."

In 1967, former LLU librarian Alice Gregg introduced Branson to a third-year medical student and the two became fast friends. Today, Donna Carlson, MD, looks back on her friendship with Branson and articulates two contributions for which Branson often told her he would most like to be remembered.

“In addition to his passion for social justice, he hoped his influence on Adventist theology would be a major part of his legacy,” she notes. “He believed, as I do, that he helped shift our focus from something of a theology of exclusiveness and apocalyptic gloom to one of inclusiveness and apocalyptic joy and hope.

“Branson never lost his gift for creative ideas,” Carlson continues. “Here at Loma Linda, he conceived and started the ‘Heroes of Health Care’ course and the ‘Ethics in Great Films’ series. He also worked to bring different schools together — most recently Public Health and Religion with a Sabbath school ‘Healing of the Nations’ series based on the book of Revelation — and he brought back the Provonsha lecture that now opens the Alumni Postgraduate Convention. His work in organizing and presenting fascinating Sabbath School classes at Loma Linda and Sligo is legendary.”

Born July 3, 1938, at Portland Sanitarium in Portland, Oregon, to missionary parents Ernest Lloyd (E.L.) and Ardice (Detamore) Branson, the future scholar grew up in Lebanon where his father established Middle East College. His grandfather, William Henry (W.H.) Branson, was president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists from 1950 to 1954. Much of Branson’s childhood was spent in the Middle East in cities like Addis Ababa, Beirut and Cairo.

“When he was about 4, his mother was hired as a tutor for Emperor Haile Selassie’s two teenage daughters,” Carlson says. “She used to take Roy with her to the palace where the princesses would pick him up and kiss him; Roy didn’t like all that a bit.”

He did, however, like school. He skipped a grade, advanced at a rapid pace and finished high school at Greater New York Academy in New York City at 16.

“While living in New York, he had free run of the city,” Carlson reports. “He rode the subways to visit museums, parks and libraries; he got cheap, standing-room-only tickets to plays and concerts. His favorite haunt was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He loved art, literature and music — particularly Mendelssohn — all his life.”

Carlson notes that Branson was deeply committed to the church that nourished him and was involved in helping spread the Adventist message from a young age.

“Roy was such a devoted member that he carried Adventist literature to give out to other passengers on the train,” she recalls. The fact that some of them may not have appreciated his zeal did not deter Branson in the least, as evidenced by an encounter with one of the greatest names in symphonic music.

“He was hanging around 57th Street, passing by the back entrance of Carnegie Hall one day when he heard the symphony,” she shares. “Finding an unlocked door, he entered a room where Arturo Toscanini was conducting a rehearsal. As soon as it was over, he went up and handed Toscanini a tract. I don’t know what Toscanini thought, but Roy felt he had fulfilled his Adventist duty.”

Branson’s natural leadership abilities revealed themselves at Atlantic Union College, where he was elected president of the student body. “He majored in English literature,” Carlson says, “and then went on to the University of Chicago where he got a master’s degree in the same subject. His thesis was on Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem ‘Parliament of Fowls,’ which was actually a romantic, political and social satire with philosophical undertones about the nature of free will.

“For Roy, Chaucer combined an interest in literature, politics and philosophy,” Carlson continues. “In fact, he always thought it was partly his work at the University of Chicago that got him into Harvard because his major professor wrote such a favorable letter supporting his application.”

In 1968, Branson successfully defended his dissertation, “Theories of Religious Pluralism and the American Founding Fathers,” and was awarded a PhD degree in religious ethics from Harvard. In the paper, Branson discussed the rift between two competing attitudes on the relationship between church and state at the beginnings of American democracy. His conclusion indicates the subtle schism between the views of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, a difference that persists to this day. Evangelicals are fundamentally Jeffersonian, while mainstream Protestants tend to agree more with Madison.

While at Harvard, Branson became interested in the plight of other Adventists in graduate school and, with enthusiastic friends there, started the Association of Adventist Forums to help them stay in touch with other Adventist graduate students and the church.

During his years in Washington, Branson was invited at least twice to Rose Garden receptions at the White House where he met Bill and Hillary Clinton. He also testified before Congress on anti-tobacco legislation. Aside from his passion for theology, the church, social justice, art, literature and music, Branson enjoyed one other notable long-term interest.

“It was baseball,” Carlson discloses. “He was an avid and enthusiastic Dodgers fan. It goes back to his days in New York. The family lived in Forest Hills, which is in Queens, and he became a lifelong fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, complete with a fierce antagonism for the New York Yankees.”

As news of his passing spread, numerous Branson friends and associates weighed in on the importance of his contributions to Adventist education and life.

Long-term colleague Bonnie Dwyer, MA, who currently serves as editor of Spectrum Magazine and member of the board of directors for the Charles E. Weniger Society for Excellence, points out that the society recently selected Branson as one of three honorees for the Charles Elliott Weniger Award for Excellence in Adventism, which will be conferred posthumously in February 2016.

“The society has been honoring people who have made significant contributions to Adventism for the past 40 years,” recalls Dwyer. “Like Charles Weniger, the man for whom the awards are named, Roy was an enthusiastic Adventist who embraced life with an adventurous spirit. He mentored many ethicists and journalists over the years. Among other things, he will be remembered for his pioneering role in establishing an independent press in Adventism through the creation of Spectrum.”

Jon Paulien, PhD, dean of Loma Linda University School of Religion, recalls that after Branson became associate dean in early 2008, he took the lead in accreditation visits in 2008 and 2010 and program reviews in 2010 and 2014.

“Perhaps his greatest contribution as associate dean was his formulation of the five goals that religion teachers at Loma Linda seek in every class,” Paulien observes. “These five goals have encouraged the School of Religion faculty to elevate the use of Scripture and to keep the Adventist heritage up front whenever relevant. Branson also successfully pushed us to keep in mind the importance of moral advocacy to the task of religion within society.”

Paulien portrays another side of Branson’s personality when he discusses interpersonal relationships with the people of the department. “Branson was most beloved among the faculty and staff of the School of Religion,” he explains, “for the way he circulated around the office, expressing caring concern for everyone and listening carefully to all joys, sorrows, and family narratives. He is deeply missed.”

Calvin Thomsen, PhD, assistant professor of religion and relational studies, concurs with Paulien on Branson’s collegiality.

“Roy was best known for his powerful role in shaping Adventist intellectual life and for his prophetic voice in calling Adventists to reclaim our heritage as people who care about addressing issues of social injustice and public health,” Thomsen notes. “But I remember him,” he continues, “as somebody who made an extra effort to connect with the people around him. Long before I came to work for the School of Religion and he had any particular reason to be interested in me, I remember ways he engaged me in deep conversation and indicated an interest in my ministry and my ideas. As a work colleague, I could see the same forces at work. He was the guy who regularly stopped by people’s offices to ask a question, indicate interest and draw out the best in us.”

In addition to his many friends around the world, Branson is survived by his nephews, Brian and Bruce Branson, sons of his late brother, Bruce Branson, MD, who chaired the department of surgery at Loma Linda University School of Medicine for many years.

Branson was laid to rest July 20 in Montecito Memorial Park, where his father, mother, brother and grandfather are interred. He once told Carlson he wanted to wake up on the morning of the Resurrection and see the people he loved so much. The Azure Hills Church will hold his memorial service on Saturday, August 8 at 4:00pm (Pacific Time). The service will be streamed live via the Azure Hills Church website,

Azure Hills Church Senior Pastor John Brunt will deliver the homily. Music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Black and Widor will be offered by Kimo Smith (Organ), Byron Moe and Ben Gardner (Trumpets), Kimber Schneider (Euphonium), Terry Douglas (Tuba) and Dan Murrell (French Horn).

Biographical Recollections and Reflections will be presented as follows:

Begininngs Ronald Numbers The Middle East Larry and Gillian Geraty Atlantic Union College Robert Soderblom Harvard Years Alvin Kwiram Andrews University Gerald Winslow Washington, D. C. Charles Scriven "Spectrum" Bonnie Dwyer Loma Linda Colleague and Friend David Larson Roy and the University Richard Hart

The Honorary Pallbearers will be:

Jonathan Butler Ronald Graybill Henry Lamberton David Larson Zak Plantak Richard Rice Charles Sandefur Charles Scriven Ronald Walden James Walters Gerald Winslow

All are invited to the reception immediately following the service. It will be a Courtesy of Marti Loveless Olson and Marilyn Loveless Howard in honor of the long friendship between their late father, William A. Loveless, and Roy Branson.

Contributions may be given either to the "Roy Branson Endowment" at the Adventist Forum or to the "Roy Branson Letureship" at the Loma Linda University Center for Christian Bioethics.

Donna Carlson Reeves led the planning for the entire service. It will be a sad but joyous occasion. Befitting Roy, mostly joy!

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

What 5 goals?
Elevate use means what?

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Was he a brother-in-law to Fordyce Detamore?
Fordyce has been at my house a couple of times, one of his daughters as friends,and 2 granddaughters as my hi-school students.
If so, he married into a great family.
Review and Herald, July 16, 1950, p 94

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No. Fordyce Detamore was Roy’s uncle, sister to his mother, also a “Detamore.”

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If there is one practice that defined Brother Roy Branson it was the importance of Interfaith dialogue. Roy was comfortable, and at his best, in exchanges and meetings among religious practitioners and communities on matters of doctrine and issues of mutual concern in culture and politics. He was most eloquent in exploring the world’s religious traditions around theological questions and efforts to collaborate on questions of peace, human rights, and economic and social development.
His desire was to get people involved in interfaith dialogue and to break down the stereotypes of the “other” that exist within their own religious traditions and groups. He was authentic and sensitive in reminding religious groups of their need to first acknowledge and confess their own role in fostering and contributing to injustice and conflict. He personally reminded me several times that when there is a deep understanding of one’s own religious beliefs and commitments that progress can be made in achieving true understanding and respect for the religious values and beliefs of others.
Engaging Roy in any topic was a guaranteed learning experience for me. He did not aim for PC he was always going for integrity even when it meant he would face opposition from his own church family. The best gift as a friend and mentor that he gave to me, in my work as a Chaplain, is that that he taught and exemplified that interfaith dialogue does not in any way mean undermining one’s own faith or religious tradition. Indeed, interfaith dialogue can be a blessing as persons become firmly grounded in their own religious traditions and through that process gain a willingness to listen and respect the beliefs of other religions and practices.


A very wide and diverse group of honorary pall bearers But I see an entire generation passing. The present nurture seems to be inward , not a glimpse of ecumenical dialogue. There seems to be an increasing cloister mentality from the top. But I also sense a narrowing of Spectrum’s interests. What ever happened to the spirit of the 1919 Bible Conference? Tom Z


Thomas said above
A very wide and diverse group of honorary pall bearers But I see an entire generation passing. The present nurture seems to be inward , not a glimpse of ecumenical dialogue.:

Tom. not only that there is not now an alternative to the lack of vision, perspective and creative spirit that is needed to lead our church into the next generation of changes. Our church is starting to look like the Mormon Council or the Curia, Council of Bishops, a group of old men, not because of age, but because of intellectual atrophy.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of reformers, radicals and idealists who challenged the status quo of their day. They helped change America by organizing movements, pushing for radical reforms, popularizing progressive ideas, and spurring others to action, even starting a new church and organizing it for service to others.

To understand the history and leagacy of our SDA Church, we need to know about the accomplishments of people like Roy Branson and many like him.

Today’s battles over WO, build on the foundation of previous generations of people who asked good questions, who were loyal dissenters. In today’s SDA culture, dissent is viewed as being disloyal and an obstruction. We don’t want to hear dissenting views or understand and cherish our differences.

Each generation of Adventists faces a different set of economic, political, and social conditions. There are no easy formulas for challenging injustice and evangelizing a secular world. But unless we know this history, we will have little understanding of how far we have come, how we got here, and what still needs to change to make our church and the message it has relevant.

Several years ago I heard Angel Rodriguez (former BRI director, NOT appreciated or well liked by present GC leaders) in a meeting expressing sincere appreciation and respect for several persons who had deep disagreements with him and for their honest search for truth. I was so impressed with his calm demeanor and courtesy. What are we doing to encourage other voices that will ispire and help us to grow into what God want s us to be. Are we listening to only those who agree with us?
Where is the next generation of creative thinkers?


The fundamental issue is that the New Testament is about Christ and the LGT is about us… 180 degrees out. Tom Z


Never been so intellectually stimulated on Sabbath morning as when attending his Sligo class.

Will always miss that.


What a great man. Roy blessed so many with his depth, his curiosity, his devotion, and his joy. There are few like him. He is already profoundly missed.


it is quite interesting to see Ron Numbers and johnahan butler listed–Given their entry in the encyclopedia of Religiom on the Seveth day Advenist church and Ellen White… It is obvious that scholarly affection is strong than institutional affiliation. Which is exactly how it should be. Man was designed relationally not institutionally… Tom Z


Just curious, on surviving family no mention of wife or children. Did he ever marry or have children?

Unless we hear from Paulien himself I am not sure we can know what the five goals were. As to elevated use of Scripture I think that is saying making them the foundation and definition of our faith.

Two fundamental elements are revealed in Scripture Man’s need and God’s solution. We are God’s adopted children. he asks two things, behave like we are sons and daughters of the King of Kings and seek more to be adopted… It’s Sabbath but Monday is coming So I am keeping busy before the new system starts. tomZ


… just finished watching Roy Branson’s memorial service - very inspiring -. Thank you for providing access to it.



IMO - this may be his greatest accomplishment. My fear is that the SDA current trend is back to that exclusivity that forms a barrier between us and our fellowship with other Christians. I also recall my nights of fear and anxiety as a child after a Sabbath sermon on the ‘time of trouble’ or aspects of religious liberty. I credit Roy Branson and many of his friends and colleagues with helping shift the focus to “joy and hope”, a focus from which I benefited in my spiritual development. As I saw the presenters, I wondered who can/will carry their torch? We still need them!