February 22, 2016: Adventist Today has obtained a copy of what would have been the February 2014 issue of the Criterion, at that time a quarterly news magazine published for and by students at La Sierra University (LSU), the Adventist institution in Southern California. The issue focused on sexuality, an often painful topic for the young adults involved in Adventist higher education and the administrators of Adventist campuses.
One of the administrators at LSU prohibited the printing and distribution of the magazine, Adventist Today has been told. A copy of what was intended for publication was brought to the attention of Adventist Today during a panel discussion on “Hookup Culture: The Sex/Intimacy Disconnect and Christian Faith” on a Sabbath in November (2015) at Loma Linda University. The two institutions are located about 20 miles from each other.
The 38-page news magazine prepared by the student staff contained 11 articles. The “Editor’s note” ask readers to “join the conversation on an essential part of us: sex.” It ended, “Let’s talk about sex,” reflecting the often-expressed feeling among Adventist young adults that the denomination, its clergy and institutions are generally unwilling to address contemporary issues in this area of life.
An article entitled “Reality of Sex” included “a varied look into the sexual perceptions of our campus.” Another article, headlined “Sex Talk” asked if students were “candid about our sexual experiences.” A third articles was a “conversation with a leader of our LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] community.” Another considered the “relevance of AIDs in Adventism, rediscovered.”
An article titled “The Sexy Lie” addressed the use of sexual themes by the advertising industry in America. “Sexual fantasy” considered how sexuality is portrayed in film and art. An article entitled “Female Fans” dealt with female fans rooting for male athletes or at sports events and the sexual overtones involved. “Desire of Love?” asked if there is a difference between the two. “Marriage and Sex” examined “religious perspectives of the sexual ethic.” A final article was entitled “The Porn Industry” and considered what draws people to pornography.
All of these are topics that official Adventist journals and other, conservative Christian publications have touched on many times in recent decades. As sexuality has become more open and talked about in contemporary society, religious media often consider it a missional responsibility to help young adults sort out issues related to an aspect of life that at that stage of human development cannot be easily ignored.
Jonah Valdez, the student editor of the issue was interviewed by Adventist Today to obtain his perspective on the events surrounding the decision to halt the final proofing of the Criterion and prohibit its printing. Valdez is a senior history major at LSU with an interest in pursuing a career in journalism. He compiled a time line for Adventist Today and notes on the statements made to him in conjunction with the decision to kill the publication. The events cited were documented in a series of emails that he also provided to Adventist Today.
According to Valdez, the university administrator to whom he, as the editor, reported, was Dr. Yami Bazan, vice president for student life at LSU. Valdez said that initially she reacted positively to a draft of the materials in the issue, praising it as being tasteful and well-written, doing a good job of initiating conversation on the topic among LSU students. However, she was concerned about one movie review. When she received page proofs that included photographs, she also raised a concern about the cover and several of the photos in the issue.
After some discussion, the movie review was replaced with a review of a different movie and one of the photos was also removed from the magazine. The Valdez wanted to retain the cover and an apparent accommodation was reached between he and Bazan with the understanding that it might create controversy for which he had to take responsibility.
Valdez recalls that Bazan signed a requisition to print the revised version of the magazine. Later that day, he discovered that the requisition had been withdrawn. He later was informed that Barzan had decided that the entire issue would not go into print and that the publication of the Criterion as a news magazine would be shut down for six months. She told him there were grammatical errors and it failed to meet journalistic standards, and gave these as reasons for stopping the publication.
In an interview with Bazan, she confirmed that she had been responsible for making the decision to withhold publication of the magazine. She explained that this decision was a difficult one for her but it was made after she had consulted with LSU faculty members familiar with journalistic standards and had been told that there were serious problems with the writing quality of the articles. Bazan insisted that the topic of the magazine had not been an issue in her decision.
So that Adventist Today readers may have an opportunity to assess for themselves the journalistic standards of the publication which never appeared, we would be happy to share a copy of the page proofs. Please email email@example.com.
This story is not breaking news and very likely could be replicated in recent years at most Adventist institutions of higher education if there were absolute transparency on administrative decisions. Nonetheless, Adventist Today decided to report on this particular incident because the information became available and our concern for the needs of the young adults involved with the Adventist faith.