Monthly Archives: January 2017

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.


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, 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).

Walking with God

Years ago I met the now deceased Bill Shea in the Adventist center in Jerusalem. Bill trained as a medical doctor, but later switched to theology and became an accomplished and much appreciated theological scholar. He had a keen sense of humor. We talked about the tourists who visit Israel en masse, and about the many guests who stay at the church center. Bill remarked that the tempo of these tourists is often very high. He said: Most people ran today in the places where Jesus walked.

I am a keen walker. In the past week I made two substantial walks. One was about sixteen kilometers and the other almost twenty. I like to walk at a brisk pace, but try not to make it a race. It is good for my physical condition, but the main thing for me is to enjoy it.

In the Dutch language wandelen (walking) is quite different from going. Dutchmen do not often say that they walk to the bus or to the train station, whereas in English walking and going are, it seems to me, often used almost synonymously. The Germans have two distinct words for walking and goingspazieren and geheh/laufen. Likewise in French: se promener has a different feel to it than aller.

Walking has the connotation of sports and recreation. I was thinking of this when I read in Genesis 5 about Enoch. In many Bible translation we read that Enoch walked with God. Other translations describe Enoch’s relationship in other words as very inimate.

Walking with God—how do we do this? Many Christians (and this certainly applies to Seventh-day Adventist) are with regard to their relationship with God perhaps more inspired by Paul’s counsel to run the race, so that we, in the end, may receive the crown of victory, than by the metaphor of walking with God. Adventists tend to be do-ers rather than thinkers. The church organisation keeps coming with all kinds activities, that push us from one project to the next. At present it is called Total Member Involvement. Soon it will be something else again.

Perhaps we should be more intent on walking with God, rather than on always running for him. Perhaps we should put more emphasis on the development and on the nurturing of our spiritual life than on constant activity. Walking with God means relaxing in the rest that he provides.


Adventist of the year


At the end of each year Time magazine features the man or woman of the year. Last year the honor went to Angela Merkel. This time, almost inevitably, Donald Trump was chosen. A few weeks ago the independent Adventist journal Spectrum took the initiative to choose an ‘Adventist of the Year’. A list with a dozen or so names was published on the Spectrum website, and the readers were invited to choose their favorite or to suggest additional names. Dr. Sandra Roberts, the president of the Southeast California Conference, was the winner. She is the only female conference president in the Adventist Church, for the simple reason that church policies do not (yet) allow women in that office. She is not recognized in her role by the General Conference leadership and is mostly ignored by them. But in the few years that she has now been in this role, she has proven herself as an inspiring spiritual leader, who is greatly valued in her conference.

Other names with a high score were Dan Jackson, the president of the Adventist Church in North-America, Dr. Andrea Luxton, the new ‘boss’ of Andrews University, her predecessor Dr. Niels Erik Andreasen and Desmond Doss. I was not on the list, but, lo and behold, I got some votes (about as many as Ted Wilson).

There are, I think, reasons for criticizing the way in which the election of the ‘Adventist of the Year’ took place. The list consisted mostly of people in North-America. And, of course, the Spectrum-crowd is not representative of the average Adventist population. Moreover, the total number of people who cast their vote in this first election of the ‘Adventist of the Year’ amounted to no more than a few hundred. Nonetheless, it was a good initiative and I hope it will become a tradition.

I am very comfortable with the choice of Sandra Roberts. I follow her on the social media and am impressed by the way she performs her job. But, after considerable thought, I myself went for Dan Jackson. He is a man who combines a lot of courage with great wisdom in the way he deals with the differences of opinion between the North-American Division and the General Conference. He remains loyal to the world church, while at the same time carefully steering the church in his territory in a different direction.

But in retrospect I would like to plead for another choice.  Perhaps Spectrum should place ‘the Adventist church pastor’ high on the list of candidates for the next ‘Adventist of the Year’ election. I realize that ‘the’ Adventist church pastor does not exist. The 20.000 or so pastors worldwide do not neatly fit into one box. But, in general, it would be fair to say that they have a tough job. No wonder a considerable percentage suffers from a burnout, find their work very stressful, or quit altogether.

Most pastors must care for more than one congregation. Only a relatively small part of all Adventists belong to a large church that has its own minister or even a staff with several pastors. Many pastors—especially in the developing world—lead a district with ten or even up to twenty churches. In the western world two to four churches per pastor has become the norm. Church pastors are expected to be spiritual leaders with good preaching skills, who know how to inspire their parishioners.  But they must also have organizational and leadership qualities, and must have experience in conflict resolution. They are expected to foster church growth, while retaining the youth.

A major problem lies in the theological sphere. Often a pastor lives in a kind of split world, when his/her churches are quite unlike each other—in ethic composition and/or theological orientation. In addition, there often is a personal challenge. How does the pastor deal with his own questions and doubts, and with his worries about trends in his denomination? It is usually rather difficult to discuss these things with church members. And how does a pastor provide the church members with information and insight regarding important theological and organizational issues, without running too far ahead of his people and contributing to the already alarming degree of polarization? And, last but not least (or better: first and foremost) how does a pastor fit enough time into his/her schedule for study and personal spiritual nourishment?

When I think about it a bit further, it seems a miracle to me that, in spite of everything, so many men and women still feel called to the ministry. And chapeau for all those who, year after year, continue their work with commitment and satisfaction. So, therefore I suggest: Put ‘the Adventist pastor’ at the top of the list of candidates for next year’s election of ‘the Adventist of the Year.’