Controversy Raised around Pasadena Official for His Adventist Sermons
by Monte Sahlin
By AT News Team, May 6, 2014
Updates added May 9 and 16
Dr. Eric Walsh, director of public health for the City of Pasadena (California), will not be the commencement speaker at Pasadena City College on Friday (May 9). He withdrew last week after a student group gave journalists what they say are transcripts of sermons that Walsh preached as a Seventh-day Adventist Church member in southern California.
Faculty members and student leaders were quoted in the Los Angeles Times and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune objecting to Walsh's "homophobic, misogynistic and anti-pop culture" statements in the sermons. They also criticized his "harsh attitudes toward other religions, particularly Catholicism" and his opposition to the theory of evolution. They stated that he is "a proponent of intelligent design."
The student group stated that they obtained recordings of the sermons from the web site of the Altadena Adventist Church where Walsh was listed as an associate pastor. When Adventist Today checked the web site it was found to have no recordings available for download, no listing of personnel and little information of any kind except a brief notice that it was under development.
Walsh was thrust into a conflicted situation when he was announced as the replacement speaker three weeks ago. Originally, Dustin Lance Black, an Oscar-winning screenwriter in Hollywood and graduate of Pasadena City College, was the announced commence speaker. The college withdrew the invitation when a video surfaced which evidently shows Black having sex with a boyfriend.
Walsh is a graduate of Oakwood University with a medical degree from the University of Miami and a public health degree from Loma Linda University (LLU). He is the immediate past president of the California Academy of Preventive Medicine and a member of the U.S. Presidential Advisory Council on HIV-AIDS who has served through two administrations. He is an adjunct faculty member in the School of Medicine at both LLU and the University of California Irvine. He served as a public health official for Orange County (California) before his appointment in Pasadena.
Update on May 9
The City of Pasadena has placed Walsh on administrative leave with pay while an internal investigation of his reported statements in sermons is completed. Michael Beck, the city manager, said the suspension was "to provide the City of Pasadena the opportunity to complete an inquiry into statements made by him, in his private capacity, and to assess the impact those statements may have on his ability to effectively lead the City's Public Health Department."
The Pasadena Human Relations Commission has scheduled a hearing on Walsh, the actions of Pasadena City College, and disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling the Star-News has reported. Nat Nehdar, chairman of the municipal commission, was quoted, "We don't tolerate this type of behavior, this type of thought. … it's not right … they are … not being fair and just to all human beings." A representative of the denomination's Southern California Conference told the Pasadena newspaper that Walsh "does not hold ministerial credentials [and] does not speak on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination."
Walsh is the latest in a series of situations where people speaking out on sensitive issues face threats to their employment, a story in the Salt Lake City Deseret News pointed out. "Mozilla Foundation co-founder and CEO Brendan Eich left his job after an Internet firestorm over his $1,000 donation in support of California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage in the state as being between one man and one woman," wrote Mark Kellner, a Deseret reporter who was until recently the news editor of the Adventist Review. "Several months earlier, cable network A&E temporarily suspended appearances of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the popular reality show Duck Dynasty, after he told GQ magazine that the Bible views homosexuality as a sin. And a minor kerfuffle erupted Wednesday when popular cable network HGTV first approved and then yanked support for Flip it Forward, a home-fix-up show hosted by twin brothers David and Jason Benham, sons of a controversial Christian preacher and graduates of Liberty University. According to Entertainment Weekly, the brothers' show was scheduled to premiere in October. However, RightWingWatch.org, a blog site operated by People for the American Way, called out David Benham for expressing conservative views on marriage, abortion and other social issues."
Update on May 16
Walsh resigned from his position with the City of Pasadena on Wednesday the Pasadena Star-News reported yesterday (May 15). A memo to the employees in his department stated, "I want to apologize for any hurt or disruption that these past few weeks have caused. … My time with the department has been a highlight of my career." Beck told the newspaper, "We appreciate Dr. Walsh's service to the City of Pasadena and wish him continued success." Adventist Today has been told that Walsh has been offered a position in the U.S. state of Georgia, but later in the day the Los Angeles Times reported that the job offer had been withdrawn by officials there due to the same issues described above.