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Delimitation of Academic Freedom at Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary

A new policy that acknowledges the limits of academic freedom in a religious institution has been created, approved and distributed to faculty at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the campus of Andrews University. The document comes as a result of ongoing discussions between the IBMTE (International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education), which is a General Conference entity, and Presidents of Adventist Colleges and Universities in North America.

As previously reported, in September of 2016, the presidents presented a unanimous statement to the IBMTE saying they were, “fundamentally unable to support” a proposed IBMTE endorsement process that called for religion teachers “to be supportive of and work within” guidelines presented in the form of five denominational statements. The North American Division Association of Adventist Academic Administrators, the North American Division Ministerial Association, and the North American Division administration also stated they did not support the process.

In response, the IBMTE met in October and agreed to make changes to the process which included allowing policy creation to begin at academic institutions, rather than top-down from the IBMTE.

The seminary’s new policy, however, appears to uphold the IBMTE’s original request and more. The two-page policy, which bears the title, “Delimitation of Academic Freedom for the Faculty and Staff of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University,” begins by stating the seminary “values and promotes academic freedom,” but goes on to state it “also expects from its faculty a firm support of and commitment to the beliefs and lifestyle of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” As such, the seminary, “hereby delimits the academic freedom that you as a faculty may exercise in your teaching and writing as well as in your personal life.”

Six items follow the preamble:

1) “You will hold the Bible as your only creed and rule of faith and practice.”

2) “You will support the ‘28 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists,’…in all your teaching, both in and out of the classroom, in your publications and lifestyle. At the same time, this does not preclude you from discussing or even raising questions about the Beliefs responsibly and in the appropriate circles. Furthermore, you will support the GC document ‘Methods of Bible Study’ and ‘Academic and Theological Freedom and Accountability.’”

3) “You may not interpret the Bible employing methodologies that undermine the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, including historical-critical methodologies…This does not preclude you from discussing historical-critical methodologies in your teaching or publications, nor does it prohibit you from belonging to and actively participating in scholarly societies, conferences, or gatherings organized by critical scholars…[or from] forming collegial relationships with such scholars…”

4) “You may not employ theories of macroevolution, including theistic evolution, to interpret the Bible and its creation account in your teaching, either in or out of the classroom, or in your publications. This does not preclude you from discussing or mentioning such ideas in your work or lectures.”

5) “You will support monogamous, heterosexual marriage as the divine pattern in all your teaching…Monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the only divine plan for marriage. In addition, you will abide by the ‘Code of Ethics for Seventh-day Adventist Educators,’ and the ‘Pastoral Ethics.’”

6) “You may not make personal attacks against a colleague’s character and competence at the SDATS in your teaching, either in or out of the classroom, or in your publications, as well as in your private conversations. This does not preclude discussing their ideas in the context of respect and collegiality.”

At the end of the document, faculty are requested to sign that they, “accept the above stated terms of engagement for my lifestyle and academic activities as long as I am employed by the SDATS at Andrews University.”

The full policy can be found below.

When asked for comment concerning the new policy, Teresa Reeve, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament Contexts, stated:

The idea of the Delimitation of Academic Freedom document originated with a faculty member in a faculty meeting in which we were discussing the plans being made for the new IBMTE endorsement process. The faculty voted this action, worked together to create the document, and then voted on the final draft. The reasoning was that it would be better for us to express in our own words our commitment to God, to Scripture, and to the fundamental beliefs of the church. It is an expression of our academic freedom coming out of our own institution. We hoped that producing our own statement might be a model that other institutions could follow if they wished. The faculty were simply invited to sign the document. It is my understanding that all our regular faculty have signed the document.

A source close to the process said the seminary’s policy has indeed been circulated at IBMTE meetings as a model for other Adventist academic institutions to follow.

The GC has not responded to several previous requests for comment on the subject of the IBMTE endorsement process for religion teachers.

 

Alisa Williams is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

Image Credit: www.andrews.edu

 

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