Loma Linda is a pleasant place and it would be quite easy to forget the larger world outside. However, when I am not at home, I try to stay informed about what happens in the town where I live, in my country, in the world, and in the church. I am a frequent user of the internet service that allows me the watch the latest Dutch television news programs. When I fire up my laptop at about 7 am, I watch the news of 15.00 hrs. in the Netherlands. In the evening we spend some time watching CNN and the news on a local PBS station. And thus we will stay abreast of the latest developments in the Ukraine, the new turns in the court case against Pistorius and the negotiations between the Netherlands government and the opposition parties about the Dutch heath care reforms.
The Dutch Adventist Church has an excellent news service. When I look at their site, it gives me a good feeling when reading about the many activities and developments. But, unfortunately, the news from the international Adventist church is not only positive. Regularly, there are news items that confirm how the leadership of the international church is steering an extremely conservative (and, I think, disastrous) course.
Last week I mentioned in my blog that the church has adopted a ‘guideline’ in one further attempt to put a halt to ‘alternative sexual behavior’. It urges local Adventist churches to take measures against people with an undesirable sexual orientation. This caused a lot of reactions around the world—both positive and negative. However, I have great doubt that this ‘guideline’ will bring many changes. Once people have certain opinions in this area, it proves almost impossible to make them reconsider these.
This past week two regrettable news items caught my attention. For some years, one of the most important Adventist denominational publishing houses is in the financial danger zone. In 2013 the Review and Herald Publishing Association once again suffered a major loss, and 2014 has not begun well. Obviously, something must happen. One of the measures that have now been decided upon is to drastically reduce the number of new titles that has been planned for publication in 2015. It is beyond me how such a measure can bring any financial relief—except if we must assume that every new book will increase the house’s loss. Could it, however, be that the problem is that this publishing firm does not succeed in promoting its products effectively around the world? And could it perhaps be that, increasingly, this firm does not supply what the readers in the Adventist Church want? From what I hear from colleagues, friends and other people I know around the world, it would appear that they often prefer other Christian books. It would seem that such authors as C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, Alistair McGrath, Max Lucado, Rick Warren, John Stott, and Tim Keller (just to mention a few) are more popular with a large segment of the Adventist public than even George Knight, Clifford Goldstein, Ellen G. White of Doug Batchelor (to mention just a few of the most popular Adventist writers). The solution for the Review and Herald is not primarily, I would think, a new round of lay-offs and economies, but a more daring strategy, with more innovation and creativity—and a far more effective marketing strategy!
And then there was the announcement that the church has gotten cold feet regarding The Record Keeper—a series of 11 video programs that attempt to communicate the essence of the ‘great controversy’ between good and evil in a contemporary format. The series targets young people in particular. Initially, the church gave its blessing. The people at the church’s headquarters had read the script and provided a considerable subsidy. (The church’s communication director was one of the key people in the production of this series.) But now that the series is ready, and has created a lot of enthusiasm with many of those who have had a chance to see it, the denominational leadership has decided not to release it. On second thoughts it was found that the series contains some inaccuracies in the way it depicts the biblical story. Maybe the church leaders have a point, but it is rather late to come to that conclusion.
For many young people it is yet another indication that the church leaders live in a world that differs from theirs, and that they simply do not speak (nor understand) their (mostly visual) language. The fact that they unexpectedly cancelled this creative project will cause a lot of frustration and will not be understood. The church must be prepared to take risks and even accept that mistakes may be made when people try to put the old message into new formats, so that people may be reached whom we now fail to communicate with. Too much reluctance to experiment with new forms (perhaps there have been a few conservative alarm cries?) carries the even greater risk that ever more young (and older) people will decide to leave the organized church in utter frustration. This is something that we should greatly worry about.
As I write, we are at the beginning of the Easter weekend. My wish is that the most radical deed of God, that we focus on during this weekend, may inspire us to also be much more radical for his sake.