Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Gender Gap


Together with three Dutch colleagues I am attending an international symposium about aspects of mission and church growth. The venue is the Friedensau University in the Eastern part of Germany, not far from the city of Magdeburg. ‘Friedensau’ provides a pleasant atmosphere and excellent facilities for such meetings, even though, to my taste, the campus is a bit too far removed from the inhabited world.

I was one of the circa fifteen presenters. When the symposium started on Tuesday morning, I was the first speaker on the program. My topic was: Criteria for a Healthy Church. I gave my talk with the aid of a power point presentation, but intend to put it also in the form of an article, with all the academic requirements, such as a respectable number of footnotes, documenting my sources.

One of the lectures that interested me in particular was that of a Bulgarian participant. He has studied the demographics of the Adventist Church in his country. His talk was accompanied by a vast number of slides, with extensive numerical data and lots graphs. Something like that can easily become quite boring, but this presentation was far from tedious.

The Adventist Church in Bulgaria has about 7.500 members. Roughly ten percent of them live outside of their country. Three quarters of the members are ethnic Bulgarians, while the remaining one quarter has a Roma (gypsy) background. In the past decade or so the membership in Bulagaria has steadily decreased. The few growing churches are almost all Roma churches.

One element that I was particularly interested in was the major gender gap in the Bulgarian church which is even more worrisome than it is, on average. in other westerns countries. It usually stand at about 58 percent women and 42 percent men. However, in Bulgaria these percentages are at 68 and 32 respectively.

After the presentation a fascinating discussion followed about the reasons of this ‘gender gap’. No clear reason was discovered as to why the Bulgarian statistics deviate so strongly from the average. The discussion then focused on the question why women would be more attracted to religion and to the church than men. The speaker suggested that the solution is not in a more active ‘men’s ministry’, or something like that, but rather in removing the barriers that keep men away from the church.

Different aspects were mentioned that give church life a strong feminine character, as for instance the decoration of the worship place (flowers), the predominance of sentimental images in the ever-present power point presentations, and the fact that Jesus Christ is often presented in a very ‘soft’ manner–as someone with whom most men find it difficult to identify. What made me think most was the suggestion that the ministry to children (children Sabbath school) is mostly a female activity, and that many of the projects and activities are more geared towards girls than to boys. Much speculation about this issue of the ‘gender gap’ is found in current literature. Some have suggested that several of the christian virtues that are most intensely emphasized in church (like humility and meekness) do appeal more to women than to men.

The presentation of our Bulgarian participant has definitely inspired me to pursue this topic further. Yet, at the same time I also realize that the gender gap is nothing new. From the very beginning women often were active in the church when men were nowhere to be seen! Just think of the resurrection morning.

I am writing these lines on Thursday morning. Today will be another full day of presentations. Early tomorrow morning I will take the train from the nearby town of Burg to Berlin, from where I will fly to London. Tomorrow evening and Saturday afternoon I have a part in a meeting of the South-England Conference in Oxford. Some 250 people have registered to come and take part in this event that is focused on the challenges of the growing diversity in the church.

Who could possibly say that the life of a retired church worker is monotonous and boring?



Forming our opinion


While driving on Saturday morning November 12 to the city of Meppel—as I was scheduled to preach there—I heard an interesting discussion on Radio 1 with a certain Ms Tamar de Waal. On her website she refers to herself as a political philosopher. The theme of the exchange between the interviewer and Ms. de Waal was the turmoil around ‘black Peter’ (a black servant accompanying St. Nicolas; some find it objectionable to have a black person in the role of a servant; others feel it is no more than a tradition that is an innocent part of the annual feast for the children). Ms. de Waal broadened the subject to deal with the right of free speech and freely expressing one’s opinion versus the importance of forming one’s opinion in a responsible way.

Free speech is an important human right. We must, however, realize that there may be a tension between different human rights. The case that is currently in the Dutch courts about some statements made by Geert Wilders, the leader of a Dutch populistic party, is a very telling example of this. Were his statements a permissible expression of his political views, or did he, through what he said, offend a segment of the Dutch population and was he possibly guilty of discriminatory behavior? Should Mr. Wilders’ right to express his opinion not have been shaped by the fundamental right of others not to be discriminated against and not to be offended?

Ms de Waal emphasized that people who claim to have the right to freely express their opinion, should also make sure that they are not just making any kind of wild assertion or are simply giving in to some vague sense of uneasiness. We all have, she said, the moral duty to form our opinions in a responsible manner—by carefully listening to other people with different opinions and then carefully considering the force of these opinions. She pointed to the Greek philosophers. Representatives of different philosophical ‘schools’ met each other on the market place, where they entered into a discussion with the aim of modifying their own opinion when needed.

We notice all around us that people find it difficult or even impossible to seriously listen to others and to weigh the various standpoints in a process of forming an informed opinion. We see this in the political area—often in an offensive and gross manner, as during the recent US elections. I fear we will see a lot of this also in the Netherlands, in March when the Dutch go to the voting booth. Unfortunately, we also see this in many faith communities, including the Adventist Church.

The Adventist community has a specific problem with regard to the free expression of opinion. Many church members do not have access to the official denominational media where they can express their opinion, and do not get the opportunity to say what they think, and talk about the conclusions they have reached, in church sponsored events and meetings (including the weekly Bible study period on Saturday morning). To a certain extent this is justifiable. A church wants to emphasize a particular message and is not just a club for debaters. But it would be a good thing if representatives of the various schools of thought within the church would have more space and opportunity to explain what they think and believe.

A responsible way of forming one’s opinion remains an absolute priority—for the corporate church as well as for individual church members. As believers we must, of course, make every effort to first of all listen to God’s Word without preconceived ideas. But we must also consider the views and interpretations of others around us. This is often very problematic. The so-called ‘right’ wing of the church hardly pays attention to anything the ‘left’ brings to the table—and vice versa. The ‘conservative’ segment of the church simply assumes that the ‘liberals’ hardly believe anything, while the ‘liberals’ or ‘progressives’ look with pity down upon the more conservative segment in the church, as people who refuse to think for themselves and remain stuck in all kinds of nineteenth-century ideas.

Lately, much is said and written about the need to restore unity in the church. Who will deny that this is crucial? But unity, in which we truly see and respect others as our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, can only come about when we stop shouting at each other, make an effort to seriously listen to each other, and form a well-considered opinion before we decide to express it.


Adventists in the news


As Adventists we are (most certainly in the Netherlands) only a tiny minority of the population. That is no doubt the reason why we immediately pay attention when the media say something about Adventists.

In October the new Mel Gibson film Hacksaw Ridge premiered in the United States. It is now also on the schedule of numerous Dutch cinemas. The film is about Desmond T. Doss, who in the Second World War risked his life to save 75 US soldiers in a fierce battle near a dangerous cliff on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The story is so special for Adventists, because Doss, as a Seventh-day Adventists, was a conscientious objector who refused to bear arms. He accompanied the troops as a medic. His courage was so extraordinary that he subsequently received the Medal of Honor from President Truman. I am not yet sure whether I want to see this movie. I have read that the film contains a lot of violence and I am not very keen on bloody war movies. However, I must admit that I am pleased that a Seventh-day Adventist is portrayed in such a positive manner. (At the same I deeply regret that today in many countries Doss’ example of not bearing arms is not followed by the majority of young Adventists.)

Another Seventh-day Adventist, whose name is brought back from the almost forgotten past, is that of the Dutch-Swiss businessman Jean Henri Weidner. He was the son of a teacher in classical languages at ‘Collonges’, the educational center of the Adventist Church at the French-Swiss border, near Geneva. Weidner became the initiator and leader of the Dutch-Paris escape route, which saved some 1.500 lives: Jews, resistance people and pilots whose plane had been downed. The route ran from Belgium, via Paris and Toulouse, to the French-Swiss border near Collonges, or via a difficult path over the Pyrenees to Spain. Some 300 people were involved in this network, of whom more than forty were eventually arrested by the Germans. Many of them did not survive the war.

An American historian, Dr. Megan Koreman, wrote a book about Weidner and his escape route, after three years of painstaking research. The book is entitled Ordinary Heroes and is published by the Dutch publisher Boom. An English edition will shortly be published in Oxford (UK). The mini-symposium held on November 10 in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel—at the occasion of the publication of Koreman’s book, was attended by scores of children and grandchildren of men and women who owed their lives to the Dutch-Paris route. Since I have been involved with the project in a modest way, I was invited for this event. I was especially touched by the emphasis several of the speakers at the symposium placed on the faith of Weidner, which motivated him to put his life on the line to save others.

And, yes, thirdly, there is also Ben Carson, the (contemporary) Adventist who has become even more well known than he already was as a gifted surgeon and author of books about his life. He entered the American electoral race for the Republican nomination. He was eliminated quite soon, but then he decided to get behind Donald Trump. I happened to see him again yesterday on CNN, when he was mentioned as one of the Trump-supporters who may well be rewarded with a cabinet post. However, while I proudly tell others about Desmond Doss and Jean Weidner, I keep silent about the fact that Carson is a fellow-Adventist. How he could decide as a Christian (as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian!) to join such an amoral leader as Donald J. Trump baffles me. I hope that, if he were to become the Surgeon General in the Trump government, he will never speak of his denominational affiliation. Well, we will wait and see what happens . .



I have been quite productive since I came home from a trip to Sweden about two weeks ago. (We all know that trying to do a lot of things is not the same as being really productive!) Besides preparing two new sermons, I wrote two short articles in Dutch and two longer articles in English. In addition I worked on two presentations for a congress on ‘Celebrating Diversity’ that is to be held in Oxford (UK) towards the end of this month. I finished one earlier this week and this morning I finalized the second of the two presentations.

And I also succeeded in restoring order in my study and to make it more pleasant by shifting some of the book cases and my desk. So, all together, I feel rather satisfied.

One thing that I also appreciated very much this past week was viewing the impressive film that David Brillhart has made about the theme of female pastors in the Adventist Church. It runs for about 30 minuts and is entitled CALLED.

I know David since 1990. At the time I lived in Ivory Coast, a country in West-Africa. I was charged with making a 45 minute video report about the work of the church in the part of the African continent that was then referred to as the Africa-Indian Ocean Division.  This region comprised, apart from a few Anglophone countries (Ghana, Nigeria), all African countries where French is the official language (even as far as Madagascar and Reunion and Mauritius). I wrote the script and traveled with the small team that did the filming in a dozen or so African countries, while David was responsible for the final product. I vividly remember how we worked through several nights in a studio in California in order to get the film ready, in time for the General Conference session in Indianapolis.

I have stayed in regular contact with David. Therefore I was not surprised when (together was many others) I received a message from him with the internet link to the film (, and with the request to share his message, with the link to the film, to my Facebook networks.

This film about the experiences of four female pastors in the Adventist Church touched my deeply, in a way that few films have been able to do. The film gave an impressive picture of the resistance and prejudices female pastors must face when they begin their work in the churches that have been assigned to them. Fortunately the film also shows how many of these prejudices fade once the church members get to know their woman pastor and begin to appreciate her and recognize her calling. Brillhart and his team have succeeded brilliantly in telling the story of these women, without getting into fruitless arguments about Bible texts, but by putting some actual faces to the ‘problem’.  One remark of a young girl with Rumanian parents struck me as extremely important: ‘Do not write someone’s story before you heard it.’

In the past few days David and I have exchanged some messages about another project. Would it not be great if a similar film could be made about the issue that I deal with in my recent book FACING DOUBT: A Book for Adventist Believers ‘on the Margins’? David would love to work on such a project but for the time being it will most likely remain just a dream—unless from somewhere a Maecenas emerges who is willing to take care of the finances. Well, who knows?

For now I ask all readers of this blog to take the time to watch this movie CALLED (see the link above) and to tell others about it—by word of mouth and through the social media.