By AT News Team, April 23, 2015: Dr. Gordon Bietz told the faculty yesterday at Southern Adventist University (SAU) that he will end his two decades of leadership at the institution a year from now in the spring of 2016. The board has already established a search committee for his successor, according to the Times Free Press, the daily newspaper in Chattanooga.
During his tenure both the enrollment (now 3,100) and the budget at the university has doubled and nearly $80 million of construction projects have been completed. SAU now offers 14 graduate degrees, including one doctorate (in nursing). He told the newspaper that he hopes to break ground on a planned $28 million student center before he leaves next year.
Bietz has lived in the Chattanooga area for much of his life, even though he was raised in California. He was president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference and senior pastor of the Collegedale Adventist Church on the university campus before he was appointed SAU president.
Despite SAU’s conservative reputation, Bietz is known as a progressive leader in the denomination. He convened about 100 Adventist scholars and thinkers at the beginning of the 21st century to talk about the future of the Adventist movement and invited David Neff to speak (among others); the editor of Christianity Today who was raised an Adventist and served as a pastor in the denomination up until the early 1980s but then left. Bietz is also the only Adventist to complete a leadership residency at Harvard University.
Bietz comes by his leadership ability honestly. Both his father and his uncle have significant places in the denomination’s history. Pastor Reinhold R. Bietz (Gordon’s father) was a vice president of the denomination’s General Conference (GC) from 1968 through 1974 and came close to being elected GC president. He was president of the Pacific Union Conference and before that the Southern California Conference, the Southern New England Conference and the Texico Conference. After his retirement, he spent ten years directing leadership training events for denominational administrators. He died at 99 years of age in 2005. A statement he wrote in 1954 for Ministry magazine give some idea of his foresight and compassion: “Divorce and remarriage is the most perplexing and bewildering problem facing the church today.”
Dr. Arthur L. Bietz (Gordon’s uncle) was one of the first in his generation of Adventist administrators to earn a PhD; at the University of Southern California in 1946 focusing on religion and psychology. He was head of the division of religion at Loma Linda University’s Los Angeles campus for a number of years and served as senior pastor at the Ellen G. White Memorial Church in Los Angeles. Later he was senior pastor at the Glendale City Adventist Church in a nearby suburb and served as top executive of Glendale Savings and Loan Association, a major financial institution in the state. He maintained a radio ministry for many years which started when he was pastor of the Adventist congregation in Berkeley (California) where the main campus of the University of California is located. He wrote a number of books which have recently been republished as eBooks by Amazon.
Gordon Bietz summarized his approach to faith and life for the Chattanooga newspaper with this statement: “When students ask me for advice I have just three words: love your neighbor. I don’t think we have begun to grasp the depth of those words and put them into practical application in our everyday lives. If we loved as Jesus loved, and sought what was best for others rather than ourselves, we could truly change the world!”
“Gordon reads widely and listens carefully,” his senior vice president, Dr. Robert Young, told the Adventist Review. Bietz told the denominational journal that his major achievements at the university are “a well-established collaborative leadership style” and a strategic plan for the future of the institution. He has served on the boards of a number of civic groups in the Chattanooga area, including the Better Business Bureau, the Rotary Club, the symphony orchestra and Arts Build, according to the Review.
Bietz will be 72 years of age when his term ends next spring. He intends to spend more time with his grandchildren, clearly a well-deserved opportunity.