1995 saw the publication of the book ‘Hoe God Verdween uit Jorwerd’ (How God Disappeared from Jorwerd). It was one of the early successes of the now famous author Geert Mak. In a novel-like documentary he analyses what happened during the last fifty years in a village in Frisia, in the North of the Netherlands. The character of the village changed dramatically. Not only the farmers and shopkeepers disappeared, but the religious outlook of the people was also totally changed. It is a beautiful book about an extremely sad reality: God disappeared from Jorwerd due to the relentless secularization of our times.
Just a few weeks ago another book appeared, also about God’s disappearance. Emiel Hakkenes (1977), the chief editor of the section on philosophy and religion for the Dutch daily Trouw, wrote a chronicle about his family. The title of the book may be translated as: The God of Ordinary People. And the subtitle as: How Faith Disappeared from a Dutch Family.
Hakkenes relates how very gradually he became estranged from his Christian Reformed background. The issue of his personal faith became acute when he had to decide whether or not his first child was to be baptized. Hakkenes tells his own story against the background of the history of his family. He starts at the beginning of the eighteenth century and follows the fascinating religious pilgrimage of his ancestors, building on the data he found during his careful (and adventurous) research. The thread that runs through the story is this: In the past religion was the basis of life in the Hakkenes family. But gradually, their religious experience changed and now faith is on the point of completely disappearing from this family.
There is much that many of us will recognize in these two books, both with regard to the process of secularization in general (that is certainly not limited to Jorwerd), but also with regard to the spiritual history of many in individual families. Many of my generation of early septuagenarians have seen how this same kind of process has taken its toll in their own family. More often than not the active involvement with faith and church has disappeared from the lives of their children who are now in their forties or below. When I take a look at myself, I cannot deny that over the years my faith has changed in many ways. But, fortunately, God has not disappeared from my life. Yet, I must add something to this.
On the website of the Dutch Adventist Church the reader is told there is every reason to be proud of his/her church. To a large extent I agree. There is much in my church, especially in the Netherlands, that I am happy with. And, in general, I have a lot of appreciation for the leaders of my church in the Netherlands. But my pride in the international Adventist Church is regularly severely tested. And many times I ask myself whether some of the top leaders do, in fact, live in the twenty-first century and do understand how people (in particular in the Western world) are thinking.
The commotion around the issue of the ordination of female pastors is developing into a very sad story. I was tempted to use the word ‘soap’, if it were not such a serious matter. While comprehensive studies are taking place, voluminous books are being written and one meeting is held after the other, the leadership of the church is in danger of losing its credibility. The largest subdivision of the church in the United States (Southern California) recently elected a female pastor as its president. Top leadership of the General Conference protested in vain. Days later, the umbrella organization for the Adventist Church in North America approved a document that endorses the full equality of males and females—also when it pertains to church offices. It was deemed irresponsible to wait any longer with stating clearly where the organization stands. I cannot but wholeheartedly agree. The top leadership again protested, but this protest did likewise not carry any weight. And a things are simply happening, the official discussion that is organized by the world church leadership, and is ongoing, becomes an almost superfluous and very sad story.
I hope I will not complete lose my faith in ‘my’ church and its leaders. I hope ‘my’ church will soon find a way to do what should have been done a long time ago, without jeopardizing the true unity (which is not the same as full uniformity) in the church. Perhaps I must accept that things often go slowly, and that hurdles may break the speed. In the meantime I will try to have some more patience. But it is not easy.