RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Early this morning, La Sierra University’s administration announced the appointment of “Year Without God” ex-pastor Ryan Bell as the new Dean of the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School. Bell was pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church before the termination of his church employment. His subsequent decision to live as an atheist for a year and blog about it resulted in massive media attention which peaked again when, at the end of his experimental year, Bell confirmed that he was an atheist.
“Whether we like it or not, we have a reputation for being the edgiest bunch in Adventism. We can either flee that identity or embrace it and hire Ryan Bell,” said Strait Chouter, a La Sierra spokesperson.
Chouter stressed that Bell, who earned his doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary, has excellent academic credentials and a record of campaigning for issues related to social justice and responsible community organizing in addition to his many years spent pastoring. “Plus he’s got tremendous name recognition,” said Chouter. “This will put us on the map.”
Bell will begin his official duties as dean at the end of the 2014-2014 academic year. “I wouldn’t have said ‘yes’ to any other Adventist school but there’s something special about La Sierra,” said Bell. “People stick their necks out around here. Even for atheists.”
La Sierra administrators are hoping for as smooth a re-introduction to Adventist academia as possible for Bell, who has previously taught at the institution as an adjunct professor. Bell, for his part, is exercising caution. “It’s been a while since I’ve walked around an Adventist campus. Getting stoned hasn’t exactly been high on my bucket list. Especially not in the biblical sense.”