March 25 – Day of Dialogue

 

The preparations are in the final stage for the event that will take place on March 25 in the Triumfator-church in Utrecht (the Netherlands). Until recently the church was the home of one of the congregations of the United Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN).  It has now been bought by the Adventist Church, after its former building in the center of the city was sold. Those who have not yet visited this ‘new’ Adventist church should decide to do so. The event of March 25 is an excellent opportunity.

On March 25 a day of dialogue will take place around the theme: DO I GO or DO I STAY? Most of my blog readers will know that some six months ago a new book of mine was published. The theme of this special day reflects the title of the Dutch edition of that book. (The English edition is entitled: FACING DOUBT.) This book has caused a considerable amount of discussion. A small group has now taken the initiative to organize a day of dialogue devoted to this topic.

The first part of the program will consist of two short introductions. Pastor Rob Doesburg will explain why he decided to leave the Adventist Church. After having studied to become an Adventist pastor, he continued his theological studies elsewhere, and he is now a pastor in the United Protestant Church in the Netherlands. His story promises to be very interesting and personal. I will be the second speaker and will explain why I decided to remain in the Adventist Church—despite my doubts regarding some doctrinal issues and my worries about recent trends in my church.

These two introductions will be the basis for an open discussion during the rest of the morning. In the afternoon the visitors can choose from five different ‘workshops’. The topics will be:

  1. Who makes the decisions in the Adventist Church?
  2. How do you read the Bible?
  3. Contemporary trends in Adventism
  4. Question regarding the 28 Fundamental  Beliefs
  5. How relevant is the church of today?

The final part of the program will be a plenary discussion. Hopefully it will also become clear whether this initiative must be followed by something else—and if so, in what form.

I look forward to this day with great interest. I believe it can help many people to understand more clearly their own role and place in the church, and how they can constructively deal with their own doubts and concerns. I hope this can be a start for a further, open dialogue, in which difficult questions are not evaded.

If you happen to be in the Netherlands around that time, please note these details:

Where:          Triomfatorkerk (Adventist Church, Utrecht) Marco Pololaan 185, Utrecht.

Time:             25 March,   10.00  to 16.00 hrs.

(Bring your lunch. There will be soup and coffee. No program for children. Adequate parking near the church).

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Update FACING DOUBT project

 

Since my book Facing Doubt: A Book for Adventist Believers ‘on the Margins’ was launched, a lot has happened. Messages from around the world, but in particular from the USA and Britain, indicate that the book has found its way to a wide array of readers, and has also caused a lot of discussion. Some (but not many) have reacted negatively, as I had expected. But I have been surprised at the many positive reactions I have received from people who have told me that they recognized themselves in the book and have found it stimulating and helpful to read it. I want to thank all who have encouraged me to pursue this project further.

The English and Dutch editions have now been available for some six months. The major hurdle that we have faced (and are still facing) is that it has (predictably) proven very difficult to get publicity through the regular Adventist media—with some notable and much appreciated exceptions. We have been fortunate in receiving good support from Adventist Today and Spectrum, but we have had to rely mostly on the social media and word-of-mouth.

It would seem that the time has come to ask you, as my blog readers, to help give the project another boost. You can do this by making others aware of the book, and by sharing the Facebook message that I just posted on my FB page.   @Reinder Bruinsma. Please do so, and ask you FB friends also to share this announcement.

You may also want to look from time to time at the special FB page for the book:  @Facing Doubt, or to check the reviews on the Amazon.com website.

The main distribution channel for the English edition edition is: www.amazon.com, but many other on-line booksellers in many different countries also carry the book. The Dutch edition may be ordered by sending an e-mail (with name and mailing address) to book@bruinsmas.com.

We expect to launch the French edition: FACE AU DOUTE per 1 April. The main distribution channel will be www.amazon.fr.

The Russian edition is also about to appear. It will be available though a Russian on-line-bookshop.  Details about the name of the website and the sales price in rubles will soon be announced.

Work on a Danish edition is progressing nicely. The plans for a German edition are now also taking definite shape.  In addition, we are pursuing Czech, Norwegian and Portuguese editions.  And we will promptly react when further opportunities present themselves (and as funding for the initial expenses is available.

So—once again—please help to promote this important project further. There are thousands of people ‘on the margins’ of the Adventist Church that we are eager to reach—all around the world. Let’s do what we can to tell them they are not alone in their doubts and concerns, and that there may yet be a constructive way forward for them in the church they once embraced.  Thank you so much for all the help you can give in making people aware of this book that could be meaningful to many of them.

 

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Nostalgia

 

During most of my childhood years and early teens I lived in a Dutch windmill. Built in the 1630′s, this tall wooden structure with its thatched roof was used, together with dozens of such windmills, to pump the water from a lake of roughly 6.000 acres and to transform it into a fertile “polder”.  At the ground level we had our simple living quarters: four small rooms with a total of about 600 square feet. Our family of three adults and four children had moved there because my father was suffering from a debilitating illness, and we were dependent on a small amount of social security. The fact that the rent was dirt cheap had inspired my parents to move from a regular house into our new abode.

I have often gone back to “my” windmill and each time I visit, alone, with relatives or with foreign visitors, I take many pictures. They are always the same! When I visit my two sisters in Canada I see the same pictures of “our” windmill on their walls as I have at home. A few years ago I was in a US bookshop and saw a calendar with Dutch windmills. And, lo and behold: “my” mill was on the front cover of the calendar. I bought several copies of it. I once happened to see (in Holland, Michigan) a 1000-piece jig-saw puzzle with “my” windmill. It is still sealed in cellophane. I knew I was not going to put the puzzle together, but I could not resist buying the thing.

Perhaps it is not so strange that I continue to have such an intense interest in windmills. But, at times, I step back and force myself to look at the reality and not simply cherish my nostalgic memories. As I think back, I often tend to forget how cramped the rooms were and how cold it was during the winter. I somehow seem to have forgotten that we had to get our drinking water from a neighboring farm; that we had no electricity but used oil lamps, and that we had an outdoor toilet. Looking it the picture postcards the Dutch windmills may look romantic, but I can ensure you that they did not make for very comfortable living.

When people in the church tell me they want to go back to Adventism of the past, I must conclude that they have fallen victim to an unjustified form of nostalgia. It seems to be in human nature to look very selectively at our past and to sift out those things that were not so pleasant. We often seem to have an uncanny way of pushing these elements far back into the recesses of our minds. And so, when people say, they want to go back to the church of the past, they, in actual fact, tend to work with a heavily edited version of the past, from which the uncomfortable aspects have been erased.

The past has many good things that we must hold on to. There is nothing wrong in my regular visits to the windmill to take even more pictures. The windmill is linked to my personal identity. But I do well to also remember the disadvantages under which we lived and to be grateful for the way our comfort in life has drastically been improved since.

When people tell us they want to recreate the church of the past, they actually mean that they want to go back to the nostalgic, expurgated version of the past that they have created. There are many elements in our collective Adventist past that we must cherish. If we lose them we are in grave danger of losing major chunks of our identity. But if we think about it (and do a bit of reading) we will soon see that there are also aspects that were not worth keeping. In fact, as a church, we have every reason to be grateful that we have moved away from some of them.

 

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A few remarks about Trump

 

I realize that CNN may have been somewhat biased in the way it reported on the Trump presidential campaign, and that it since his inauguration shows a clear antipathy towards the new president. I try to balance their reporting with what I see on other channels, such as the BBC, Euronews, and other European and non-European news channels. And, of course, I also follow the main Dutch media. (I have always been interested in what happens in my country and around the world.)

I must admit that lately I am more emotionally affected by what I see, hear and read than usual. Hearing the Trump rhetoric during his inauguration speech, for instance, and listening (last night) to his address to the Republican leaders in Congress and in the Senate, made me really depressed. Is this megalomaniac, egocentric business tycoon, who is unable to utter any two sentence without using expletives like ‘great’, ‘amazing’, ‘tremendous’, ‘fantastic’ when describes his plans and capabilities—is he going to do all the things he has, often so incoherently, announced? It made me almost physically sick.

Now, I know that many of my fellow-believers actually voted for this immoral, but self-confessed born-again Christian, and that one of the prominent members of my  church even accepted a cabinet post. It is truly beyond me. The official Adventist media are very careful in commenting on political issues. To some extent, this is to be expected and even respected. Yet things change when moral issues are concerned. In such cases these media should be clear where Christian (and Adventist) values are at stake and in great danger of being ignored.

The Adventist Review has, as far as I can tell, made a few exceptions and has reported on two issues that are related to the political earthquake that has shaken the USA. It has reported in rather positive terms on the fact that a Seventh-day Adventist now occupies such a high position in the new US government and that the daughter and son-in-law of the president are Sabbath keepers. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a senior advisor in the White House, is a Jew and Trump’s daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism. The Adventist Review applauded the fact that their Sabbath keeping will ensure that the importance of the Sabbath is highlighted in a very special way.

I would have hoped that our official church media had been more reluctant in their ‘endorsement’ of Ben Carson. The 64.000 dollar question is not whether it is good (and may be useful?) to have a Seventh-day Adventist close to the president, but whether he will show in his conduct, his influence and the policies that he will propose and put in place, that he is guided by Christian values and principles.

And what about the Sabbath keeping of two members of Trump’s family? Let us remember the prophetic words, as for instance found in Isaiah 1 and Amos 5, that tells us that Sabbath keeping is only pleasing to God when those Sabbath keepers ‘do justice, encourage the oppressed and defend the case’ of the disadvantaged in society. It remains to be seen whether mr. Jared will live up to that prophetic challenge. The omens are not very good and positive reporting on him in Adventist media is, in my view, at least premature.

 

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Generous Spaciousness

 

I am currently reading a book that is entitled Generous Spaciousness[1]. Its subtitle is: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church. I am in the process of preparing some presentations for a small Kinship-sponsored convention in March in Germany, and want to read up on the theology of sexuality. Generous Spaciousness was among the books I ordered from Amazon.com, partly because of the title that sounded so intriguing. I have found the reading very rewarding.

The book is written by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter. This, and the fact that she refers to her Christian-Reformed background, gives me the suspicion that there are some Dutch connections in her family. She studied theology, and when looking for a job she found a position in the Exodus-organization. She worked for this organization a good number of years. This evangelical organization was founded in 1976 and ceased operations in 2013. One of its main activities was its ‘healing ministry’ for gay people. Gradually, however, many of its leaders and of the people active in the ministry had to conclude that they were on the wrong track and that it ministering to people with a gay orientation is far more complicated than they had thought, and that many of their ‘healing’ claims were, in fact, not based on lasting changes.  The writer of the book also gradually distanced herself more and more from her initial approach and began to increasingly question many of her ‘traditional’ Christian convictions regarding homosexuality.

Wendy VanderWal has not yet solved all biblical and theological questions in her own mind, but she has more and more understood that the biblical material is not as clear-cut anti-gay as she had long believed. She is realistic about the fact that Christians are very divided on the issue of ‘alternative’ sexualities and does not believe that any time soon there will be a consensus. But she feels that all faith communities must arrange for a continuous dialogue about this topic. In the meantime the church—in all its layers—must offer a safe place for all who—irrespective of their sexual orientation—want to belong to it and/or worship in it. For this ‘safety’ for all, she coined the beautiful phrase Generous Spaciousness. (She admits that she was inspired by the title of another book, entitled Generous Orthodoxy, in which the author, Brian McLaren, calls, in words of publisher Zondervan, ‘for a radical, Christ-centered orthodoxy of faith and practice in a missional, generous spirit.’ This book is also well worth reading.) She appeals to her readers, irrespective of how they interpret the biblical statements, not to judge but to support each other—in particular those who have a ‘different’ sexual orientation. The church—in particular the local community of Christian believers—must be a place of ‘generous spaciousness’ where, in the Spirit of Christ, there is ample room for all!

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is as divided as many other Christian denominations on the issue of homosexuality. It certainly needs continued dialogue, but reaching consensus any time soon is an unrealistic dream. We can, however, promote a ‘generous spaciousness’, in which a judgmental attitude makes place for a willingness to support each other, irrespective of our sexual orientation, as brothers and sisters in Christ.

I can personally testify to the truth of the following statement by the author of Generous Spaciousness: ‘Building relationships over the last years with gay Christians has allowed me to experience, in a very tangible way, the wideness of God’s mercy . . . I have been confronted with my own impoverished view of God, one that often expected a stinginess in God’s mercy rather than lavish acceptance’ (p. 52).



[1]  Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, Generous Spaciousness: Rsponding to Gay Christians in the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014).

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