A few days ago my wife said to me: “Why, for a change, don’t you write this week a “pleasant” blog rather than all the time commenting on the situation in the church? Perhaps this advice was appropriate, but I should mention that she also very closely follows what is happening in the church, locally and world-wide, and in most cases shares my opinion. I will, however, do my very best to honor her request next week, but his week’s events in Battle Creek do require some comments.
To be honest: I do wonder from time to time whether expressing my opinions on church matters does make much difference. I realize that I am mostly preaching to the choir. Of course, there are always some readers who simply want to discover what terrible heresy my newest blog contains, with a view to immediately airing this on their favorite websites (which I do not visit). From time to time people send me a message to inform me that someone said something negative about me on such and such a site, but I have ceased to worry about that long ago. The vast majority of my faithful readers are at the same spiritual wavelength where I am, and have the same concerns about their church. All the time readers assure me that my blogs and other writings encourage them. Together with other similar voices this keeps them going. They are happy to discover that there are others who think like they do, and dare to say so.
I must, however, admit that at times I find it difficult to remain optimistic. Watching last Sunday, until way past midnight (Dutch time), the live stream of the debate about the proposed measures against the “con-compliant” leaders and rebellious unions/conferences, and seeing the results of the vote, I wondered more strongly than ever before whether this is still my church. The next day I asked myself whether I should perhaps re-read my latest book FACING DOUBT: A book for Adventist believers ‘on the margins. In this book I try to encourage people who are ‘on the margins’ of the church to stay with the church, in spite of many negative experiences! Perhaps the book can also encourage me.
In the past few days a flood of communications have made it clear that the session of the Annual Council did not solve anything, but possibly further hardened the standpoints. There is no doubt that also in the coming period a good number of conferences and unions will insist on treating their female pastors in the same way as they treat their male colleagues. I hope (and this hope is, I think, justified), that their number will increase, in spite of the threats from the GC.
It seems undesirable that the protests against the decisions of the General Conference take the form of withholding funds that would normally be sent to the GC. Abuse of power from the side of the top of the church’s structure must not be answered with another kind of display of power: money. Loyalty towards the organization remains important, but when in certain instances the denomination’s structure totally ignores the conscience of constitutionally elected leaders of conferences and other organizations, it is justified (or even obligatory) to disobey GC policies and to deviate from GC approaches, regardless of the consequences.
Could it be that time will have to do its work? As the decades went by many ideas and practices have gradually changed without deliberations and decisions at the highest level. (A clear example is how the church’s attitude towards military service and the bearing of weapons has shifted, without any formal decision by an Annual Council or a GC session.) This led to increased diversity in the church but did not endanger its fundamental unity. I would wish that the topic of ordaining female pastors would no longer appear on the agenda of GC meetings and that the church would simply accept how things in this regard will develop in the coming years. Is this realistic? Perhaps not so. very realistic, but it seems to me that the church has no other option if we want to stay together and not each time see a sharp divide between winners and losers.
In the meantime I have the privilege of focusing for a few days on something totally different. Last Tuesday my wife and I flew to California, where next Sunday I will officiate at the wedding of good friends. In addition, it will be great to see many friends and colleagues around Loma Linda and to relax for a few days after some very hectic months.