On Wednesday, archival video of pastor and Pacific Union College Chaplain Jonathan Henderson’s widely viewed “Adam and Steve” sermon from his Fall Revival series at PUC disappeared from the PUC Church Livestream page. The video had garnered over 33,000 views in 138 countries, and quickly spread virally on social media before suddenly going offline.
Spectrum featured the video on October 10 as that day’s Sabbath Sermon. It became one of the most viewed articles for the month of October.
Following the unheralded disappearance of all the videos from the Fall series, we asked the PUC Church and the college campus where the video went.
In response to our inquiry, PUC President, Dr. Heather Knight, sent the following reply through the office of Vice President for Enrollment and Marketing, Jennifer Tyner:
We appreciate the interest in the recent Fall Revival at Pacific Union College, which occurred now some 3 weeks ago. However, we do not want the intentional integration of Adventist faith and learning, which happens daily at PUC, to be overshadowed or misunderstood because of this series of presentations, which has garnered great interest and many varied responses from members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Heather J. Knight, Ph.D.
Pacific Union College
In an email message, Mark Witas, the Lead Teaching Pastor of the PUC Church, filled in the details of the video’s removal from the church livestream page, noting that it stemmed from a request by the university:
As far as what has happened to videos that were posted…these are decisions that have not been made by me. PUC’s legal counsel asked us to take the series down at this time. My heart breaks when I see in the many sides of this issue angry people online that represent the different views on this subject within our church. I believe they are making it even harder for some to step into our churches to learn about the all embracing grace of Jesus. As for me, I want to connect as many people to the vine as I possibly can.
Jonathan Henderson spoke very briefly about the situation, reiterating only that the decision to remove the series of videos involved the university’s legal counsel and was “very disappointing.”
While it was unclear, after conversations with college administration and with church leaders, what precipitated the decision to remove the video series after its three weeks online, a PUC spokesperson confirmed that numerous comments reached the president’s office, both in favor and in disapproval of the “Adam and Steve” video in particular.
One email exchange between former PUC employee Gigi Beckham and President Knight provided insight into what detractors had to say. Beckham posted an unedited copy of the exchange publicly on Facebook. Her letter to Knight read in part:
As a current nursing student and former employee at the Records Office, I have wonderful memories of the events and people here. Unfortunately, the atmosphere on campus is such that I feel I cannot, in good conscious, encourage my daughters to attend this school. Should they attend here, my concern would be that they would no longer abide by the guidance and principles I felt convicted to teach them.
After listening to Pastor Henderson’s sermon, I felt the time had come to voice my disappointment and concerns and forward them to your office for your records. I appreciate your leadership of the school. The campus is beautiful, but, as a parent, the moral atmosphere of a college takes priority as a factor in choosing a school for my daughters. May the Lord continue to guide you in your work.
Gigi C. Beckham
President Knight, in her reply to Beckham (also posted in its entirety on Beckham’s Facebook page), said that she was “taking steps to counsel with Chaplain Henderson who is a new employee of the College” (Henderson began as chaplain on September 1, 2014).
“I hope that we will be able to win back your trust, and that you will see PUC as a wonderful institution to which to send your wonderful daughters at the appropriate time,” Knight said in the message. Beckham thanked the president, but remained nonplussed.
News of the removal of the video spread quickly online. Tweets, Facebook posts and emails swirled like Autumn leaves all day Wednesday and into Thursday. One attention-grabbing tweet from an account purporting to be PUC Campus Ministry (@pucministry) said, “For the record PUC Campus Ministries does NOT support the removal of Pastor Henderson’s week of prayer sermon.” Pastor Witas from the PUC Church and VP Tyner from the college both confirmed that the account had no official relation to the college, and neither one knew the person behind the account. The account owner did not respond to requests for comment.
While news of the “Adam and Steve” video’s deletion moved fast, so did efforts to bring the video back online. Several YouTube accounts re-posted the video within hours of its disappearance. One account, called “Adventist Snowden,” created a companion Facebook page Thursday morning.
In addition to the copies of the video posted online, archival podcasts from the Fall Revival series including the “Adam and Steve” message remained live on the PUC Church website. They were not deleted along with the video.
Speaking by phone, Pastor Witas corrected a rumor that surfaced in the wake of the video’s removal that the church’s Livestream service had been suspended and that any videos posted would need review and approval by college administration. First, Witas noted, the church’s Livestream service remains active. Jon Henderson is scheduled to preach this coming Saturday, and the service will be broadcast live, Witas said. Second, well before Henderson’s famous Fall Revival series, the church and college had begun discussing the recording and distribution of college event videos filmed in the church’s sanctuary. That layer of approval became necessary in part because several speakers with specific contract stipulations, notably Dr. Benjamin Carson, have recently spoken for the college’s colloquy. Some contracts forbid recordings altogether.
Before publishing this article, we heard from numerous current PUC students and recent grads who shared their reactions to the university’s removal of the “Adam and Steve” video.
“I think that this a big issue in the Adventist church,” said sophomore Brett Dickinson, “but one that is not discussed enough because people are afraid to approach the situation. I felt the sermon was the best commentary I have heard on the subject. I was really sad when I was told the school took it down from the website.”
Nic Miller, the PR and Marketing officer for PUC’s student association was not surprised by the video’s disappearance. “The PUC Student Association met to talk about what’s going on with Henderson; we want to support him,” said Miller. “He is our chaplain.”
Ashley Vance, a recent graduate and Gay and Straight People (GASP) member of over four years at PUC, was disappointed to see the series scrubbed from the web.
“Frustrated and resigned are my biggest emotions,” she said in a phone interview. “This is what happens at PUC, we take a step forward and then it gets pulled. I was almost expecting something like this would happen again.”
Vance describes the cycle she has seen many times on the PUC campus, and how she hopes it will change. “This is what happens. Both sides get up in arms and there is anger for awhile. And then we start talking. I just wish we could cut the angry part out and get back to listening and understanding why people think and feel the way they do.”
Film/Theater major Camilo Nazar said Pastor Henderson’s message opened up a conversation that many young people never had with a leader of the church. “It created a new level of trust between church and youth,” he said.
“I don’t think people realize how much harder life gets for a young person if they are gay and how hard it is to feel like they belong in a Christian church, Adventist or otherwise. The fact that the sermon was taken down is heartbreaking.”