Loyalty and Responsible Dissent

Among the people whom I have greatly admired is Dr. Roy Branson. I do not remember exactly when I first met him. It may have been at some event in the 1980’s. What I do remember is that in the 1990’s, when I regularly came to Washington DC to attend the Annual Council of the General Conference and other meetings, Roy would usually make contact with me and invite me to give a presentation in his very popular Sabbath School class in the Sligo Church. This church with a membership, at that time, of more than 2,000 people had the reputation of being rather “liberal”. It was the church where the first female Adventist pastors were ordained to the ministry—notwithstanding the heavy opposition from the denominational head office nearby. Roy’s Sabbath School was non-traditional, and, yes, possibly at times somewhat “liberal.”

Branding Roy Branson as “liberal” would, however, not do him justice. He was a unique, creative, human being. He was a scholar with broad interests—a theologian, an ethicist and an activist. He was born in 1941 in the Middle East in a missionary family. His grandfather—William Henry Branson—was president of the General Conference from 1950 to 1954. Roy’s academic career was partly within the Seventh-day Adventist educational system and partly elsewhere. The leaders of his church did not always appreciate what he had to say, and Roy did not always like what his church was saying on particular issues. This was a definite factor in his role in co-founding the Spectrum journal and serving as its editor for a number of years. But Roy continued to love and serve his church. His last assignment in the denomination was his directorship of the Center of Bioethics at Loma Linda University, while being the associate dean of the School of Religion of this same university.

Our paths crossed again when I was invited in 2014 to come to the School of Religion at Loma Linda University for three months as a visiting professor. Although I do not know the details about how this invitation came about, I have a hunch that Roy was involved in making the suggestion. I look back with great pleasure at the three months that my wife and I spent in southern California at “Loma Linda”. We treasure the warm friendships that we established with a good number of people at that time.

It was a terrible shock when about a year later we heard that Roy had quite suddenly died. One of the ways in which his name lives on is through the initiative of dr. David Larson, who made sure that the sabbath school that was led by Roy Branson was continued under the name Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS). It was a great pleasure to visit and to actively participate a number of times in this class that assembled every Sabbath morning in one of the amphitheaters of the School of Religion. But then . . . Covid struck and for the past 18 months or so, the RBLSS has met on line. During that time I have made several presentations, followed by a discussion, from behind my laptop in Zeewolde. It is not quite the same as being in the amphitheater with some 60-70 people, but the digital variant has served the group quite well and will continue to do so for some time.

Next Saturday morning (California time), which is Saturday evening Dutch time, I will begin with a series of eight presentations in the SBLSS. The series is entitled: Christian Profiles in Courage: Examples of loyalty and responsible dissent. On October 2, I will begin with a general introduction to this theme, and from October 9 onwards I will discuss a number of courageous persons who, through the centuries, showed great courage and loyalty, while disagreeing with their church—beginning with Erasmus. In each case I will seek to relate the issues these people were dealing with, with parallels in Adventism. In many ways this series is also a tribute to Roy Branson, who was indeed a great example of responsible dissent and of loyalty—to himself, the people he cared for, the causes he was passionate about, and the church he served.

For those who might be interested in visiting the RBLSS, see: http://bransonlegacysabbathschool.com