By AT News Team, July 10, 2015: Dr. Roy Branson, associate dean of the School of Religion at Loma Linda University (LLU), died from a heart attack early on Tuesday (July 6). He was 78 years of age and well known as a seminary professor, ethics scholar, author and advocate for social justice. He became part of the LLU faculty in 2008 and was also director of the Center for Christian Bioethics.
His grandfather, Pastor William H. Branson, was president of the denomination’s General Conference from 1950 to 1954, after having been a division president in Africa, Europe and China over a span of three decades. His father, Ernest L. Branson, was a missionary in the Middle East and later president of the Greater New York Conference, so Roy grew up in Cairo, Beirut and New York City.
Branson graduated from Atlantic Union College in 1957 as president of his graduating class and editor of the campus newspaper. He then earned graduate degrees at the University of Chicago and Andrews University. He received his PhD in religious ethics from Harvard University in 1968.
When he completed the doctoral program, he joined the faculty of the theological seminary at Andrews University and established the Christian Ethics program there. A few years later, when bioethics was first developed as a discipline, Branson was invited to become a senior research fellow at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and served on a national committee that formulated ethnical guidelines for biomedical and behavioral research with human beings. He also held a faculty position at Georgetown University.
Branson played a key role in the development of a number of innovative ministries. In 1967-68, he helped to form the Association of Adventist Forums (AAF) with chapters on a number of secular university campuses and in major cities. It provided a place for educated Adventists to discuss important issues and it has become the largest organization of Adventist academics. He was editor of Spectrum, the journal AAF publishes, for 23 years, starting in 1975.
While he was at Harvard University, Branson was part of a group in the Boston Temple who put together the Boston Inner City Program, one of the first Adventist city ministries since the early 20th century. In the 1990s he was director of the Washington Institute, which maintained an Adventist witness in the U.S. capital city, and he was co-chair of the Interreligious Coalition on Smoking and Health.
Branson organized the Center for Law and Public Policy at Washington Adventist University (WAU) and served as director a number of years. The university continues to have the largest number of pre-law students of any Adventist college or university in North America. For several years the Mock Trial Team from WAU, which Branson initiated, won exhibition contests with teams from major universities across the country despite the fact that it did not participate in regular competition because those were often scheduled on Sabbath.
There are 108 articles which Branson authored listed in the Seventh-day Adventist Periodical Index, starting in 1972. An example of the important work he provided in these papers is one published in May 1991 in Spectrum, entitled “Social Reform as Sacrament of the Second Advent.” His most recent article was a book review of a recent volume from the denomination’s publishing house in Australia entitled Do Justice: Our Call to Faithful Living in the Winter 2015 issue of Spectrum.
Branson also authored many articles for academic journals outside the Adventist community, although many of these shared ideas from Adventist thinking. For example, the December 1996 issue of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal includes a paper he wrote entitled, “Virtues, Obligations and the Prophetic Vision” about patient-physician relationships.
He contributed to a number of standard reference works, including the Encyclopedia of Ethics and the Dictionary of Christian Ethics. He was a past president of the Adventist Society of Religious Studies.
Throughout his career Branson was a fervent activist for various causes, from the civil rights movement to anti-smoking legislation, anti-poverty initiatives, and social, political and medical ethics. Branson testified before the U.S. Congress on a number of occasions and led student and professional groups advocating for improved health and safety in the U.S. and internationally.
“What Roy Branson has fought for during his entire life still matters more than anything,” said Dr. Charles Scriven, retired president of Kettering College in Dayton, Ohio, in 1998 at a gathering in Takoma Park. “The Gospel in word and deed, and the church, despite its imperfection, upholding it to all. For that long fight, and for the fighter, I am glad and grateful.” It seems to many Adventists and others an even more appropriate epitaph today.