The student newspaper at Walla Walla University has published a special issue dealing with the discussion of creation and evolution among Seventh-day Adventists over the past three years. The Collegian has a long history of excellent student journalism and has prepared a number of individuals who have served the Adventist movement well in this field.
On a university campus the topic of origins and how the views of science and faith can be understood coherently is always at hand. At a faith-based institution there are times when it boils over. Clearly there is some fear that this special issue will set off a firestorm of anger and un-Christlike behavior instead of leading to the thoughtful study and interaction that the editors are hoping for. The editor-in-chief introduced the issue gingerly, writing, “Personally I wish this wasn’t such a prominent issue. I want to be part of a church that focuses on Jesus and doesn’t allow disagreements over the less important things to pull us apart.”
Some readers are likely to jump on this statement and strongly urge that creation is not “less important.” Others will assert that nothing is more important than Christ.
A news article carefully recounts the emergence of this issue at La Sierra University over the past three years. One observer speculates that perhaps the Walla Walla University administration allowed the newspaper to publish this special issue to prevent the same kind of debacle. The editor sees it simply as part of the tradition at Walla Walla of giving the student newspaper staff the freedom to address topics of their choice.
Not all of the articles were written by students, but many were. These articles provide significant insight into the thinking and faith of Adventist young adults.
A number of articles clearly support the doctrine of the denomination while stepping away from the intricate scientific debates. “I have no doubt that God is the Creator,” writes one student. “I have chosen to trust God about how He created the earth and have not assumed the responsibility of knowing precisely how.”
This special issue includes a strong statement on behalf of the doctrine of creation by Rob Folkenberg III, a theology student, son of the local conference president, grandson of the former General Conference president and vice president for religious activities in the student association. His line of reasoning is theological and pastoral. After describing evolution, rooted in “survival of the fittest,” as “improving life through death,” he writes, “It makes no sense for God to use death to create [the world] and finally … restore a creation that has ‘no more death.’ (Rev. 21:14)” He tells the story of a friend serving as a student missionary at an orphanage in Tanzania, holding the body of a dead baby and telling him, “Death isn’t a part of God’s good and perfect plan.”
There is significantly less space devoted to those who state opinions contrary to the official position of the denomination. No article advocates the standard views of scientists today. Two out of about a dozen pieces suggest some reasons to adopt what is called “theistic evolution” and neither of these want to discard their Adventist faith.
One of these students writes, “While some Adventists believe that a literal seven-day creation week is essential to the Sabbath doctrine and Adventist belief as a whole, other Adventists don’t see the details of creation as a church-breaking issue. God can still make a day of rest even if He didn’t create the earth in 144 hours.”
This is a painfully personal issue to many of these students. One began her article, “My mother is a pastor. My father, a scientist.”
“The Bible is clear on matters of origin,” writes another student. “However, I have seen many times a militant ‘Christianity’ that teaches a literal six-day creation attack those who believe in a figurative six days [and] often those who are attacked by the literal Creationists are Christians themselves, and indeed more Christian than those doing the attacking.”
“It is important to have certain, identified beliefs that everyone can agree on,” writes another student. “It is valuable to re-evaluate when these beliefs cause more division than community. … I worry more about alienation from the larger community than I do about whether or not the belief is valid. … The message and mission of Adventism is not conveyed well if we put ourselves in a position of intolerance. … The more legalistically we define concepts … the more we risk losing opportunities to foster relationships with our communities. … I [am] much more comfortable with doctrine that focuses on how we should live our lives as Christians.”
A number of students from a variety of views expressed their negative opinion about the action of the Michigan Conference, cutting off assistance to any of their employees who might have a child as a student at La Sierra University. “I am horrified,” wrote one student, “that the leaders of an Adventist conference would dramatically condemn fellow Adventists” in this way.
The editors asked for more discussion on the newspaper’s web site, but cautioned against “disrespectful and unnecessary” comments, pointing out that there is a “risk of extensive commenting,” people who repeatedly write verbal volleys instead of expressing themselves one or two times. “This problem is not unique to WWU,” the editorial stated. It is one that “newspaper staffs around the country have been dealing with increasingly over the last few years.” The editors warned that comments that crossed over the line would be deleted.
The students who prepared this bundle of articles are clearly faithful Adventists, committed to Christ and His mission, wanting to live fruitful lives in a world where there are significant differences between the historic teachings of the church and current scientific views. They want to be thoughtful and educated, but more than that they want to enter into discussions in a way that reflects the kindness and fairness of Jesus. That is the bottom line for these young adults and that, more than anything, may be evidence of hope for the future of the Adventist movement.
This special issue of The Collegian can be read on line by clicking here.
If you’d like to view a pdf version of the printed issue, simply follow this link.
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