|A Statement on Theological and Academic Freedom and Accountability
Document One: A Statement on
Theological and Academic Freedom
The Church and Its Institutions
Freedom for the Seventh-day Adventist
pastor/worker, hereinafter referred to as worker, is based on the theological
premise that God values freedom) and that without it there can be no love,
truth, or justice. Love asks for affection and commitment to be given without
constraint; the acceptance of truth requires a willing examination and reception
of evidence and argument; justice demands respect for personal rights and
freedom. The presence of these elements within the Church nurtures the spirit
of unity for which our Lord prayed (John l7:2l-23; of Psalm 133).
Seventh-day Adventists have derived
their distinctive world view from the Old and New Testaments. They believe
that Biblical truth and freedom of conscience are vital issues in the great
controversy between good and evil. By its very nature evil depends on deception
and falsehood, and sometimes force, to maintain itself. Truth thrives best
in a climate of freedom, persuasion, and a sincere desire to do God's will
(John 7:17; Psalm 111:10).
Consequently, it is consistent with
Adventist administrative practice to recognize the worker's privilege to
study the Bible for himself in order to "prove all things" (1 Thess
5:21). It would be inconsistent for the Church to preach that truth and freedom
cannot exist without each other and then to deny its workers the right to
freely investigate all claims to truth. This means, therefore, that the Church
will not obstruct the quest for truth but will encourage its workers and
constituents to engage in serious study of the Scriptures and to appreciate
the spiritual light they disclose (Psalm 119:130).
Although the worker is free to pursue
his studies, he may not assume that his personal, limited perspective does
not need the insights and corrective influence of the Church he serves. What
he thinks to be truth may be regarded by the larger community of believers
to be error. And workers and members are called upon to be in agreement on
essential points "that there be no divisions" in the body of Christ
(1 Cor 1:10).
Freedom for the individual Christian
grows out of his belonging to the community of Christ. No one is free in the
Biblical sense who is out of relationship with God or others. Theological
truth, therefore, is affirmed by community study and confirmation. One person
may stimulate the community to study a question, but only God's people and
church as a whole can decide what is or is not true in the light of Scripture.
No member or worker can ever serve as an infallible interpreter for anyone
Inasmuch as deceptive teachings,
harmful to the eternal welfare of souls, may at times arise from within the
Church itself (of Acts 20:29-31; 2 Peter 2:1), its only safety is to receive
and to foster no new doctrine or interpretation without first submitting
it to the judgment of experienced brethren, for "in the multitude of
counselors there is safety" (Prov 11:14).
Even a genuine insight into truth
discovered by a worker may not be acceptable to the corporate body upon first
exposure to it. If such a teaching is divisive, it should not be taught or
preached until evaluated in the manner described above. The apostles themselves
provide an example of this approach (of Acts 15:2, 6; Gal 2:2). It would
be an irresponsible use of a worker's freedom to press a viewpoint that would
endanger the unity of the church body which is as much a part of truth itself
as are the formulated statements of doctrine (see Phil 1:27; Rom 15:5,6).
Furthermore, workers should distinguish
between doctrines that cannot be compromised without destroying the gospel
in the framework of the three angels' messages and other beliefs that are
not church supported. An example of this distinction may be seen in the Jerusalem
Council's decision (Acts 15). The apostle Paul's concern was to establish
the truth of Christian liberty in the gospel for the Gentiles. Once that
principle was accepted by the Church, he was willing to make concessions
on matters of less significance (Rom 14:5-13) for the sake of unity. Allowing
a principle or a new truth time to translate itself into the daily life of
the Church shows respect for the integrity of the body of Christ.
But where shall the line be drawn
between freedom and responsibility? An individual entering into employment
with the Church is expected to assume the privilege of representing God's
cause in a responsible and honorable manner. He is expected to expound the
Word of God conscientiously and with Christian concern for the eternal welfare
of the persons under his care. Such a privilege precludes the promotion of
theological views contrary to the accepted position of the Church.
Should a worker violate this trust,
the Church must move to maintain its own character (Acts 20:28-31) inasmuch
as the community of faith stands to be divided by the promulgation of divergent
doctrinal views. The worker's privileges consequently stand in jeopardy.
This is particularly so because the worker, being in the service of the Church,
is accountable for the preservation of its order and unity (of Mark 3:24,
25; Eph 4:1-3; 1 Peter 5:1-5).
In the interest of genuine progress
in spiritual understanding (2 Peter 3:18), the Church will arrange for a
worker's divergent views, if he believes them to be new light, to be examined
by a competent committee. Listening to alternatives will always advance truth.
Either the alternative will strengthen and enlarge upon the truth, or it
will stand exposed as false, thereby confirming present positions.
To ensure fairness and a mature
assessment, therefore, the following guidelines are to be followed by the
administrations concerned when dealing with a worker alleged to hold conflicting
views on doctrine.
Guidelines for Assessing Divergent
Views and for the Disciplining of Dissidents: Churches, Conferences,
X-12 Institutions, and Nonacademic Institutions
The Church reserves the right to
employ only those individuals who personally believe in and are committed
to upholding the doctrinal tenets of the Church as summarized in the document, "Fundamental
Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists" (1980). Such individuals are issued
special credentials by their respective church bodies identifying them as
continuing workers in the Church.
As church members, employees continue
to be subject to the conditions for church membership as stated in the Church
Manual. This document also relates to employment as salaried workers.
It is understood that the disciplining
of such a church employee who persists in propagating doctrinal views differing
from those of the Church is viewed not as a violation of his freedom, but
rather as a necessary protection of the Church's integrity and identity.
There are corporate church rights as well as individual freedoms. The worker's
privileges do not include the license to express views that may injure or
destroy the very community that supports and provides for him.
In spite of a careful process of
screening and selection, there still may be occasions when a worker's theological
views are brought under critical review. If a hearing is necessary,
the following process is recommended:
1) Private Consultation Between
the Chief Executive Officer and the Worker. Consultation should be
in a spirit of conciliation allowing the worker every opportunity to freely
express his convictions in an open and honest manner. If this preliminary
conversation indicates the individual is in advocacy of doctrinal views
divergent from accepted Adventist theology and is unwilling to refrain
from their recital, the chief executive officer shall refer the matter
to the conference/institutional executive committee, which will then arrange
for a select committee to review the situation with the worker.
At the time of consultation between
the chief executive officer and the worker, the officer's perception of the
point in question shall determine the administrative options that shall be
a. If the worker voluntarily initiates
a consultation and informs the chief executive officer of his theological
uncertainties, and if his attitude is open to counsel without compulsion
to promulgate his doubts and views, the following course of action is recommended:
1. The worker will continue to function
at his post and will render a written report of his position before the end
of six months.
2. If within that period the matter
is satisfactorily resolved, no further action is necessary.
3. If the matter is not resolved,
the executive committee of the conference/institution in which the worker
is employed shall arrange for a hearing before a review committee. (See below
for its composition and function.)
b. If the worker actively promotes
his divergent doctrinal opinions and his chief executive officer is obligated
to initiate the consultation, the following course of action is recommended:
1. The worker, at the discretion
of the conference/institutional executive committee, shall either remain
in his position with express instructions to refrain from private or public
presentation of his views or shall be placed on administrative leave during
the period of the hearing.
2. The executive committee of the
conference/institution in which the worker is employed shall arrange for
a hearing before a review committee. (See below for its composition and function.)
2) The Review CommitteeIts
Composition and Function.
a. The Review Committee, including
peers chosen by the conference/institution executive committee with the concurrence
of the next higher organization, shall give bearing to and judgment upon
the doctrinal issue.
b. The doctrinal views of the worker
shall be submitted by him to the review committee in writing previous to
the meeting. At the time of review he shall be available for discussion with
c. The review committee shall conduct
its business with serious purpose, complete honesty, and scrupulous fairness.
After a careful adjudication of the points at issue, it shall give a detailed,
written report of the discussion with its recommendations to the conference/institutional
executive committee. If agreement is not reached within the committee, a
minority report shall also be included.
d. If the review committee finds
that the views of the worker are compatible with the Fundamental Beliefs
of the Church, no further action will be necessary. However, if the worker's
theological position is at variance with Seventh-day Adventist doctrine,
the review committee shall discuss its conclusions with the worker and advise
1. To restudy his theological position
in the hope that this will eliminate his theological divergence.
2. To refrain from the promulgation
of his divergent doctrinal views.
e. If the worker is unable to reconcile
his theological views with the denominational positions and also feels constrained
by his conscience to defend his views both privately and publicly, the review
committee shall recommend to his executive committee that his credentials
f. If the worker has discovered
a new position that is accepted as valid by the review committee, his view
shall be studied by the union conference officers (in the case of a division/General
Conference institution, the officers of the division/General Conference)
and, with appropriate recommendations, shall be referred to the Biblical
Research Institute of the General Conference for final disposition.
3) Provision for Appeal.
a. The dissenting worker may make
an appeal and appearance before an appeal committee of seven members appointed
by the union executive committee (or the division committee in the case of
a division/General Conference institution). This committee shall be chaired
by the union conference president or his designate and shall include the
ministerial secretary of the union, two representatives named by the division/General
Conference executive committee, the conference/institutional chief executive
officer, and two of the worker's peers selected from among five names submitted
b. Any recommendations of the union
conference (division, if in a division institution) appeal committee shall
be referred to the union conference (division) executive committee. The union
conference (division) officers through their chief executive officer shall
notify the worker of their collective decision.
c. Any recommendations of the union
conference (division) executive committee shall be referred back to the conference/
institutional executive committee for final action on the worker's employment.
d. A last appeal may be made by
the worker to the executive committee of the division of the General Conference
in which he resides. Their decision shall be final and shall be communicated
to the executive committee of the employee's conference/institution.
e. During the period of hearing,
review, and appeal, the worker shall refrain from public discussion of the
Document Two: Academic Freedom
in Seventh-day Adventist Institutions of Higher Education
All learning and all teaching take
place within the framework of a world view of the nature of reality, man,
knowledge, and values. Roots of the Christian university are found in a principle
that has long undergirded the development of all higher educationthe
belief that the best education is attained when intellectual growth occurs
within an environment in which Biblically based concepts are central to the
aims of education. This is the goal of Seventh-day Adventist education.
In the Seventh-day Adventist college
and university, as in any institution of higher learning, the principle of
academic freedom has been central to establishing such aims. This principle
reflects a belief in freedom as an essential right in a democratic society,
but with a particular focus in an academic community. It is the guarantee
that teachers and students will be able to carry on the functions of learning,
research, and teaching with a minimum of restrictions. It applies to subjects
within the professor's professional expertise within which there is a special
need for freedom to pursue truth. It also applies to the atmosphere of open
inquiry necessary in an academic community if learning is to be honest and
For the church college or university,
academic freedom has an additional significance. It is more important than
it is in the secular institution, not less, for it is essential to the well-being
of the Church itself. This places a responsibility on the Christian professor
to be a self-disciplined, responsible, and mature scholar, to investigate,
teach, and publish within the area of his academic competence, without external
restraint, but with a due regard for the character and aims of the institution
which provides him with credentials, and with concern for the spiritual and
the intellectual needs of his students.
Seventh-day Adventist colleges and
universities, therefore, subscribe to principles of academic freedom generally
held important in higher education. These principles make possible the disciplined
and creative pursuit of truth. They also recognize that freedoms are never
absolute and that they imply commensurate responsibilities. The following
principles of academic freedom are stated within the context of accountability,
with special attention to limitations made necessary by the religious aims
of a Christian institution.
1) Freedom of Speech. While
the right to private opinion is a part of the human heritage as creatures
of God, in accepting employment at a Seventh-day Adventist college or university
the teacher recognizes certain limits to expression of personal views.
As a member of a learned profession,
he must recognize that the public will judge his profession by his utterances.
Therefore, he will be accurate, respectful of the opinions of others, and
will exercise appropriate restraint. He will make it clear when he does not
speak for the institution. In expressing private views he will have in mind
their effect on the reputation and goals of the institution.
2) Freedom of Research. The
Christian scholar will undertake research within the context of his faith
and from the perspective of Christian ethics. He is free to do responsible
research with proper respect for public safety and decency.
3) Freedom to Teach. The
teacher will conduct his professional activities and present his subject
matter within the world view described in the opening paragraph of this document.
As a specialist within a particular discipline, he is entitled to freedom
in the classroom to discuss his subject honestly. However, he will not introduce
into his teaching controversial matter unrelated to his subject. Academic
freedom is freedom to pursue knowledge and truth in the area of the individuals
specialty. It does not give license to express controversial opinions on
subjects outside that specialty nor does it protect the individual from being
held accountable for his teaching.
Just as the need for academic freedom
has a special significance in a church institution, so do the limitations
placed on it reflect the special concerns of such an institution. The first
responsibility of the teacher and leaders of the institution, and of the
Church, is to seek for and to disseminate truth. The second responsibility
is the obligation of teachers and leaders of the institution and the Church
to counsel together when scholarly findings have a bearing on the message
and mission of the Church.
The true scholar, humble in his
quest for truth, will not refuse to listen to the findings and the advice
of others. He recognizes that others also have discovered and are discovering
truth. He will learn from them and actively seek their counsel regarding
the expression of views inconsistent with those generally taught by his Church,
for his concern is for the harmony of the church community.
On the other hand, church leaders
are expected to foster an atmosphere of Christian cordiality within which
the scholar will not feel threatened if his findings differ from traditionally
held views. Since the dynamic development of the Church depends on the continuing
study of dedicated scholars, the president, board of trustees, and Church
leaders will protect the scholar, not only for his sake but also for the
cause of truth and the welfare of the Church.
The historic doctrinal position
of the Church has been defined by the General Conference in session and is
published in the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook under the title, "Fundamental
Beliefs." It is expected that a teacher in one of the Church's educational
institutions will not teach as truth what is contrary to those fundamental
truths. Truth, they will remember, is not the only product of the crucible
of controversy; disruption also results. The dedicated scholar will exercise
discretion in presenting concepts which might threaten church unity and the
effectiveness of church action.
Aside from the fundamental beliefs
there are findings and interpretations in which differences of opinions occur
within the Church, but which do not affect one's relationship to it or to
its message. When expressing such differences, a teacher will be fair in
his presentation and will make his loyalty to the Church clear. He will attempt
to differentiate between hypotheses and facts and between central and peripheral
When questions arise dealing with
matters of academic freedom, each university and college should have clearly
stated procedures to follow in dealing with such grievances. Such procedures
should include peer review, an appeal process, and a review by the board
of trustees. Every possible care should be taken to insure that actions will
be just and fair and will protect both the rights of the teacher and the
integrity of the institution. The protection of both is not only a matter
of justice but on a college or university campus it is also a matter of creating
and protecting collegiality. It is also a protection against the disruptive,
the servile, and the fraudulent.
It is recommended that the above
Statement on Academic Freedom be presented to each university/college faculty
and board by its administration to be used as the basis for the preparation
of the institution's academic freedom statement.
This position paper was approved
and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive
Committee at the Annual Council session in Washington, D.C., October 11,