Do Christian artists feel limited by their beliefs?


In the video above, Madeline Mace, junior fine arts major, describes her journey with art and shares insight into the inspiration behind her pieces.

By Natalia Perez

This week, I interviewed four Southern students on their backstories as creators, and how their religious affiliation or cultural/societal gender roles have affected — or not affected — their creative process and expression.

Barry Daly, senior religious studies major, is an imaginative and detailed artist. He has been creating as a photographer for seven years.

Tell me a bit about you as an artist.

B: “For the majority of my life, I’ve tried my best to create from my imagination through writing, storytelling, and filmmaking. When I was starting out I would draw [inspiration] from everywhere, and as a result, I was able to draw emotion from my subjects that many other photographers could not. At this point in my creative journey, I draw from minor details in conversations, certain body language, details in movies, music, or other forms of entertainment.”

For more on Barry’s work, visit


Audrey Fankhanel, junior international studies major, has been especially flourishing as an artist during her year abroad in Italy. She creates through writing, photography, painting, and designing.

A: “It is hard to become an artist. It’s something that is innately within you. I have been creating since before I can remember. I have a portfolio for every year of my life, each filled with short stories and paintings. However, I still struggle with calling myself an artist because by claiming the title I feel a huge responsibility and pressure to create.

I am most inspired by nature, but my works are not directly about nature. I’m fascinated by the rhythms and patterns found in every aspect of the natural world, from the orbit of an electron to the ever-expanding universe. This life is so unpredictable, but these natural laws are perfect and never changing, and if that isn’t evidence of a God then I don’t know what is.”

For more of Audrey’s work, visit


Kristen Vonnoh, senior journalism-publishing major, has a special flair in her writing that matches her personality. Her writing interests include faith, fashion, and music among other things.

K: “I guess my writer’s journey began when I made a blog in fifth grade documenting horribly written short stories. I never really considered calling myself a writer until college, and even now I typically call myself a journalist. But I suppose “writer” is all-encompassing, which I like.

I definitely tend to be the overly dramatic, overly romantic type, so I draw creativity from pretty much everything honestly. Whether it’s a super mediocre cup of coffee or a TED talk I just heard, my mind is constantly absorbing ideas for my writing. That and my journalism professors have given me the wonderful advice to always, always, always be looking out for interesting stories.”

To read Kristen’s work, visit
To read her blog, visit


Jordan Putt, Southern alum, is a soulful and heartfelt creative. On April 21, 2018, he released an EP called “Honest to God,”  available on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and all music online-streaming sites. His album is a meditation of God, humanity, imperfection, and faith; and it’s the culmination of almost four years of sporadic writing. His music reads like a love letter to a best friend.

J: “I’ve been interested in music for as long as I can remember. Since I was old enough to pull myself up onto the piano bench, I would pretend to play music on it. I got my first guitar when I was 10, and it’s been a love affair ever since. I draw inspiration from my own experiences and feelings, as well as whatever I happen to be listening to at the moment. I think one of the things that has helped me become a better musician is listening to music from as wide a variety of musical genres and eras as I possibly can. I get a lot of inspiration from hearing what other people have done and trying to assimilate that into my own playing and writing.”

To listen to Jordan’s EP, visit

Here’s more of what the four artists had to say on this topic:

Do you feel limited by our religion or do you feel it enhances your creativity?

B: “When I was younger, I really believed that anything was possible within the confines of the church. As I have gotten older, I’ve consistently encountered judgment and opportunism. For the longest time, I had no idea why so many made the decision to leave the church. Often times, church-goers don’t take the time to really show love and support artists. Ultimately, I don’t believe that religion and belief limit me, but the people who “control” them do their best to shame creatives into fitting in the box they’ve built.”

A: “Growing up surrounded by the Adventist culture in Loma Linda, California, I absolutely have felt limited creatively. My spiritual beliefs enhance my art more than anything else, but the religious culture in which my beliefs reside creates a bubble of “appropriateness” that SDA’s are expected to operate within.”

K: “I 100% believe my relationship with God fuels my creativity. Understanding the gospel and my freedom in Christ has only allowed my creativity to flourish. And I think the key in all of that is a relationship with God—the ultimate Creator.”

photo courtesy of Jordan Putt

J: “I feel less limited by my beliefs than by what I think my audience will tolerate. My beliefs go hand in hand with my experiences and who I am as a person, so as long as I stay true to myself in my art (which has always been my goal), I won’t even think about creating something that goes against my beliefs. However, I do think that there are a lot of taboos in Adventist culture as it relates to doubts, struggles, and questioning. I have felt like there’s a lot of pressure to put on a good face and appear secure and content all the time, even when that may not be the case. This can be especially true for people who have been raised in the church.

For me, the anxiety that comes from being vulnerable and open about those questions or struggles can sometimes cause me to feel limited in what I feel comfortable talking about because of how I think it may cause my audience, especially the more conservative segment, to perceive me as a person.”

What do you think differentiates traditional feminine art from masculine art?

B: “I believe that the biggest difference is that most often it’s much easier for women to show emotion, and they are most often more willing to be vulnerable because for them art is healing.”

Madeline Mace displays dried flowers hanging from her ceiling in her art studio. A project representing traditional feminine art.

A: “Traditionally, masculine art has dominated feminine art, and this is mainly at the fault of the consumer. Male artists are given unwritten permission to be provocative and enticing. Their works tackle big ideas and complex emotions. Meanwhile, females are associated with creating “pretty” paintings or fun business logos. There are many female artists creating just as great works as males, but you will never hear about them. This goes for the Christian church as well, especially if you look at preaching as an art form. How many mega churches do you see being spearheaded by women? How often do you hear of a great female theologian outside of the context of an “inclusion” seminar?”

K: “I’ve always found this idea interesting because while there are universal feminine and masculine characteristics, much of it is also determined by culture. As a woman going into the field of journalism, I definitely recognize the “masculine” aspects of the craft (i.e. analyzing, collecting data and documents, etc.) and honestly I love it because it pushes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to engage with a different aspect of my mind.”

J: “I think art that we perceive as feminine usually tends to deal with softer, more traditionally feminine themes — love, family, etc. What is generally perceived to be masculine art usually deals with things that are traditionally male themes or traits, such as aggression, strength, security, etc.”

If you're a Christian artist, do your beliefs inhibit or enhance your creative process?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

La Familia: The Latino Experience at Southern Adventist University

By Natalia Perez

The interactive map and slideshow below feature the population of Southern’s Latino students whose citizenship is outside of the U.S., along with stories from students who are second-generation immigrants. 

Last semester, I and a team of ladies from the Southern’s School of Journalism designed and assembled the content for the Latin American Club’s first magazine, “Unidad Latina” (Latino Unity). The purpose of the magazine is to both celebrate the Latin American students of Southern and connect them with Southern’s alumni and the surrounding community. Although LAC has traditionally celebrated Latino culture through LAC events and especially on LAC night, this year we’ve opened a new avenue of expression through the written word.

Throughout this first issue, as well as the map above, you’ll find that many stories hold prominent themes of strength, family, and remembering home. In light of the various struggles Latinos face in the U.S., we find joy in celebrating our cultures together, and we’d love to celebrate them with you.








Southern Adventist University ranked third most diverse college in the South. What can we learn from that history?

By Natalia Perez

Living in Tennessee for five years and attending Southern Adventist University for 4.5 of them, I’ve watched my university ebb and flow into different versions of itself, as did the students before me.

In 2017, U.S News & World Report ranked Southern as the most diverse university in the South, tied with Keiser University and the University of North Carolina. This year, Southern is ranked third in the region, with Keiser University in first-place and Marymount University and the University of North Carolina tied for second. Southern trails very close behind with a diversity index of .68, only .1 point lower than its second place counterparts.

I believe, along with many students who attend Southern, that we find ourselves with a very unique opportunity: We are the only institution in the state with as much cultural representation as we have. Therefore, successfully integrating could serve as an example here in the South, showing that different cultures and ethnicities can truly come together as one single tribe.

By successfully integrating, I don’t just mean that we all manage to share the same campus and tolerate each other. But do we celebrate each other? Do we understand, or try to understand, each others’ backgrounds, history, culture, and struggles?

While diversity has been widely discussed in higher-education, are diverse colleges and universities truly proud of that status? Or is it all about the numbers?

In the fall semester of 2018, the ethnic breakdown of Southern students showed that Whites constituted 46 percent of the university’s population,  Hispanics constituted 24 percent, Asians constituted 12 percent, African-Americans constituted 11 percent, Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders each constituted less than one percent of students identified with two or more races.

Compared to previous years, there is no longer a dominant ethnic majority, as all ethnicities make up nearly half of the population. While some of us may flaunt this fact, are we as well integrated as we are diverse? The timeline below shows some brief highlights of Southern’s race relations history, and our efforts to culturally integrate over the years.

Celebrating individual cultures: A threat to unity?

Throughout Southern’s race relations progress, many questions have been raised and many still remain. Although our student-body now represents several cultural identities, some may ask if all are being taken into consideration by the ones who create the structure for us to thrive and learn in. Recognizing that there are several ethnicities present is one thing, but searching for ways to provide an environment where people from all backgrounds feel deeply seen and understood is important.  

An argument that’s often brought up, especially in our current political climate, is that celebrating our individual cultures is detrimental to our university’s unity. Celebrating cultural differences, by some, is seen as a way to isolate certain people groups from others. Validating one culture while invalidating the rest.

Brandon Beneche, recent Southern alum, thinks that cultural celebrations should be a welcome practice on any campus as long as they are inclusive, educational, and fair.

“If a celebration excludes other peoples, promotes an inaccurate and damaging depiction of an ethnic group, or fails to represent its culture ethically, then I think cultural celebrations can be harmful,” Beneche shared.

“I believe one of the most effective ways our university can have better cultural integration is by developing a more understanding and accepting student body. It’s easy to say that one race needs to be more understanding of another, but that’s a bit shortsighted in my opinion. I’d argue that a student body that can demonstrate Christ’s love and patience while having informative and, occasionally, difficult conversations about race and culture with each other can make real strides towards a healthier level of integration.”

Rhidge Garcia, student association president, believes that celebrating individual cultures allows him to better appreciate the unique narratives they tell. He believes other entities and organizations on campus, other than student association and our cultural clubs, should get involved in the celebration of different cultures.

“I think it would be powerful for a student to be celebrated not only for one night a year, but also in the classroom, dormitory, professor’s office, and greater campus property,” Garcia shared. “The only reason why people might think that the celebration of cultures is divisive is because they are not willing to listen to those who haven’t been listened to. It sounds harsh, but it is imperative for us to listen to each other. And if people don’t want to listen, they will not see the importance of celebrating other individual cultures.”

Tierra Hayes, editor-in-chief of Southern’s university paper, the Southern Accent, says that celebrating individual cultures is something that should unite us, but it depends on our personal perspectives.

“By highlighting our differences, we can celebrate what makes each of us unique, but that doesn’t discount other cultures,” Hayes shared.

“I think people might see individual cultural celebrations as divisive because they fail to see how they play into the equation. They may also feel as if the highlighting of other cultures is meant to suppress their personal culture, while it is usually just a tool to enlighten and uplift the marginalized.  We need to be able to understand and embrace others, without having to make minorities assimilate to ensure the continuance of the dominant culture. Cultural clubs shouldn’t be sequestered off to one month or even one night. It would make more sense to have such cultures reflected in different worship styles on a rotation, instead of having one culture as the default and the minority cultures solely as special features.”

I believe that true unity is able to celebrate our cultural identity as a whole while also being strong enough to not be threatened by acknowledging and celebrating our individual cultural uniqueness. However, I want to hear your thoughts.  How do you think we can integrate better? What are your thoughts on cultural celebrations? Join the discussion below!

Colorism: The elephant in Hispanic communities

Natalia Perez

When I was 16, I got my first job at McDonald’s. I was determined to start my own savings and be able to purchase most of my own things.

I saw a lot of different types of people on the job: druggies, frazzled moms, dads who would tell me their life stories while I rang up their fries, and middle-aged Hispanic men or young black men who would question me on my ethnicity.

“So. like, you’re not black, right?”

“Are you, like, mixed?”

And the dreaded:  “I figured you couldn’t be black, you’re so pretty.”

And the: “Oh wow, you’re pretty for a black girl.”

(for a black girl? I’m sorry, what?)

The first time I heard it was like a punch to the face by a stranger (literally, but with words). Like, how do I make him aware that he just verbally punched me when he thinks what he said is a compliment?

For years, I’ve just kinda shrugged it off, seemed as if I didn’t really understand what the person was saying, and just moved the conversation literally anywhere else.

The standards of beauty and intelligence that have been praised and cultivated by the colonizer have then been adopted and cultivated by the colonized.

Issues of colorism run so, so deeply within Hispanic/Latin American and African American communities, and it’s very much become an “us vs. them” situation:  light-skinned women vs. dark-skinned women. It’s an age-old oversimplification that really boils down to the belief that the lighter your skin tone, the more beautiful and valuable you are.

In the context of beauty, lighter skin is the metric of success in many communities. The standards of beauty and intelligence that have been praised and cultivated by the colonizer have then been adopted and cultivated by the colonized. They’ve been ingrained in us, to the point where, especially in Hispanic/Latin American communities, it can be so subtle you almost don’t even notice it. Almost.

It took me years to pin down why these comments bothered me as much as they did. As much as I love my people and our culture, I do believe we can be pretty racially unaware, in the sense that many of us are not completely — if at all — in touch with the effects of colonization in our culture and perspectives.

So growing up in a Hispanic community, we never touched race relations in America or its skewed beauty standards. We just kind of existed, handling things as they came. Everything was as it was for a reason and we didn’t explore too deeply as to how those reasons came to be.

Many of our perspectives are eurocentric, but not many of us are aware of it, especially if our families are first-generation immigrants. My parents’ major priority when coming to the States from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic was figuring out how to survive and integrate into “American culture,” and the hardships they faced were much different than the ones I’ve had to navigate.

Since it’s typically believed that kinky hair, dark skin and beauty are mutually exclusive, I remolded myself to fit the standard as best possible.

I remember attending our Hispanic SDA church every week on Sabbath as a young girl, carefully examining the women gathering in the ladies’ room, praising each other on their straightened hair. I enjoyed being praised for my own straightened mane when my time came along. I’d successfully assimiliated; I belonged.

I also remember noticing that our worship styles, the hymns we sang and our promotional materials presented, featured,  well, — only white people. I noticed a lot of things but rarely questioned much. This was just the way things were. This was the way the world was run.  

Our standards of beauty were what I most deeply grappled with throughout my life. Since it’s typically believed that kinky hair, dark skin and beauty are mutually exclusive, I remolded myself to fit the standard as best possible. For years, I presented a fabricated version of me, one with long straight hair. It took me longer than most to feel the disconnect within myself.

Once my college years beckoned, I realized I was exhausted of trying to reach a standard of beauty that would never truly be my own, and I chopped off all of my hair. I dreaded confessing this to my very conservative mother. Telling my less conservative father, who also religiously altered the texture of his own hair, was probably scarier. The scariest was facing my church, who’d only known me as the former version of myself.

Going back as a newly discovered Afro-latina wasn’t as bad I thought, but I had a few frustrating interactions. My friend’s father put his hands in my ‘fro as soon as he saw me.

“It’s like a sheep!” he said, laughing. I was less than pleased.

His wife walked over to me a few minutes later, exclaiming in disappointment.

“Natalia, what have you done? I don’t like it. You look crazy! Te vez loca!”  she said.

I mustered all of the patience within me, along with some of the patience only God could give, and looked down at her.

Amor,” I said. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to look at it. But why do you think it’s crazy? This is how God created me. This is the way the hair grows out of my head naturally. I don’t think embracing that is crazy.”

She stared at me for a few moments and walked off. I’m not sure what her thought process was after that exchange because she hasn’t spoken much to me since then.

I don’t share this to sound like a sob story, but to bring to light that there’s much to be done in race relations and cultural understanding not just within black and white spheres, but also within the Hispanic population.

The diversity within our church is powerful, and we can harness it to its full potential only by intentionally striving to understand each other, embracing the beauty in each of our cultures.

Natalia Perez – Complex Identity in a Complex Church

Hello! My name is Natalia Perez. I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, and ventured down to the adorable little city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to pursue a writing degree.

Growing up amid Puerto Rican and Dominican cultures, my parents have fueled my rich background. Since I was raised in a bubble of Latinos for the greater part of my years at home, I didn’t really become culturally aware until I moved down South, where people, including my own people, question my ethnicity often and seem surprised when I speak Spanish fluently.

This forced me into cultural self-discovery, a switch between not only identifying as a Latina, but an Afro-Latina, a Latin American woman with prominent Afrocentric features.

Aside from my complex racial identity, I’m a passionate journalist and a second-generation Adventist who’s still discovering tons about race, gender, ethnic/people groups and how we all come together to make one church.

Understanding a diverse community is wonderful and necessary for our growth as a church. With our blog, we hope to intentionally raise awareness about the diversity within our people groups, our cultural backgrounds, and our stories.

Let’s navigate together.