Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Roy Branson, Former Washington Adventist University Professor, passes away

Roy Branson, PhD, noted Seventh-day Adventist theologian, social activist, ethicist, mentor and educator, died from complications of cardiovascular disease on Tuesday, July 7, at the age of 77.

Story by Susan Onuma, Loma Linda University

Born July 3, 1938, in Portland, Oregon, to missionary parents Ernest Lloyd (E.L.) and Ardice (Detamore) Branson, the future scholar grew up in Lebanon where his father established Middle East College. His grandfather, William Henry (W.H.) Branson, was president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists from 1950 to 1954. Much of Branson’s childhood was spent in the Middle East in cities like Addis Ababa, Beirut and Cairo.

Branson received his undergraduate degree from Atlantic Union College and earned graduate degrees at the University of Chicago and Andrews University (Mich.). He received his PhD in religious ethics from Harvard University in 1968.

Branson was one of the first to integrate, and perhaps transform, Adventist theology by bringing a strong emphasis on social justice and religious ethics into the discussion, literally carrying his faith into the field when he felt the need to take a stand.

He marched against racism with Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel and many others at Selma (Ala.) 50 years ago this spring, and also protested the exclusion of women from the ministry by organizing the first ordination service for women elders at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, in 1973, and for women pastors in 1995.

In addition to serving as associate dean and professor at Loma Linda University School of Religion, Branson was also the director for the Center for Christian Bioethics at Loma Linda University Health. Prior to his work at Loma Linda University Health, Branson was scholar-in-residence, Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, and taught religion at the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, and Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University).

Roy Branson was a founding member of Adventist Forum, co-founder and long-term editor, Spectrum Magazine; founder, Center for Law and Public Policy at Washington Adventist University; president, The Adventist Society for Religious Studies; and founder, Interfaith Coalition Against Tobacco. It was in this role that Branson was invited to testify before Congress on anti-tobacco legislation. He was also invited to Rose Garden receptions at the White House, where he met Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Donna Carlson, MD, looks back on her friendship with Branson, and articulates two contributions for which Branson often told her he would most like to be remembered.

“In addition to his passion for social justice, he hoped his influence on Adventist theology would be a major part of his legacy,” she notes. “He believed, as I do, that he helped shift the Adventist focus from something of a theology of exclusiveness and apocalyptic gloom to one of inclusiveness and apocalyptic joy and hope.”

In addition to his many friends around the world, Branson is survived by his nephews, Brian and Bruce Branson, sons of his late brother, Bruce Branson, MD, who chaired the department of surgery at Loma Linda University School of Medicine for many years.

Branson was laid to rest Monday, July 20, in Montecito Memorial Park, where his father, mother, brother and grandfather are interred.

A memorial service for Roy Branson is scheduled for Saturday, August 8, at 4:00 p.m. at Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grand Terrace, California.

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