Monthly Archives: January 2019

Healing homosexuality

A few days ago the Nederlands Dagblad (a Dutch Christian daily) reported that a certain David Matheson had come “out of the closet.” On his Facebookpage he let it be known that from now on he will go through life as a homosexual.

For a number of reasons the newspaper article is quite remarkable. First, David Matheson is a Mormon and the Mormon Church is fiercely opposed to homosexuality. Further, Mr. Matheson did not hide that he had been married for 34 years and that his marriage had been reasonably happy. But last year he divorced his wife, and admitted that all the time he had felt attracted to men. He explained that he could no longer ignore his desire to have an intimate relationship with a man. “It had become a non-negotiable need,“ he said.

The most remarkable aspect of this story was that this Matheson was one of the founders of an organization for the healing of homosexuals, “Journey into Manhood”, and as ex-homo (as he described himself for many years) he authored several books with therapies for curing homosexuality. However, he now admitted that he had not been honest to himself (and to his clients) and had made serious mistakes.

Nowadays there are still Christian who are convinced that homosexuality can be “cured”. This, in spite of the fact that most experts are adamant that this is impossible and that it is extremely unethical (or even criminal) to promote the idea that there is a “cure” for homosexuality. Many therapists, who have been involved with these therapies, have had to admit that in reality no real “healings” occurred. Leaders of the Exodus movement –an organization with divisions in various countries which claims to “cure” homosexuality—have left the organization and have acknowledged that these claims do not reflect reality.

The Adventist Church had to learn a painful lesson in the nineteen-eighties after it had given Colin Cook, a British pastor who had emigrated to the United States, substantial financial support for his ministry that supposedly was able to help homosexuals to change their sexual orientation. However, the church had to bite into the dust when it became public that Cook never parted with his own homosexuality and had behaved quite scandalously with many of his clients.

Nonetheless, we still hear, also from within the Adventist Church, statements from people who believe that God stands ready to “heal” homosexuals from their orientation. And, regularly, some Adventist men show up at various events who claim that they have been “cured” from their homosexuality. What should we think about this? Could their claims be true, in spite of the opinions of the experts who say that such “cures” are not possible? Or could it be a matter of (self-)deception? I have talked about this with several people whom I consider to be very knowledgeable with regard to this subject. They have suggested to me that it may well be possible that these men are not homosexuals for the full one hundred percent, but that they are somewhere in the middle of the well-known Kinsey-scale, and can therefore move into either direction (either towards homosexuality or towards heterosexuality). Or it could perhaps be, so I was told, that these men happen to have a very low libido—something that also occurs with some heterosexuals.

As a heterosexual male I cannot understand what it means to be a homosexual. But I would wish that Christians (Adventist Christians most definitely included) would stop sowing confusion by insisting that homosexuality is a sin, but that, thank God, it is possible to be “cured” from this “unfortunate condition”.

Maria Monk

A few days ago I spent some time as a volunteer in the archive of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands. I helped with an inventory of the books and pamphlets that have been published by the Dutch church over the course of its 120-plus year history, in order to eliminate duplicate copies. While looking at each individual book, I suddenly came across a little book that was not actually published by the church, but may have been part of a book collection donated to the archive. It was the Dutch translation of a book that caused quite a stir when it was first published in the United States.

Maria Monk (1816-1849) was a Canadian woman who claimed that the nuns of the convent, where she supposedly lived for a number of years, were (according to her account) systematically abused by priests who could enter the convent through a secret tunnel. Baby’s that resulted from the sexual encounters were—after being baptized—strangled and dumped in a pit in the basement. Nuns who proved to be uncooperative disappeared.  Maria Monk recorded her experiences in this convent in Montreal in a book, published in 1836, with the title: Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, or, The Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed. It was later found that there were many inconsistencies in her story and that she apparently had a hard time distinguishing fact from fiction.

The book appeared in a period of mounting anti-Catholic sentiments in North-America. The millions of Catholic immigrants were not exactly welcomed by an American population that was still predominantly Protestant. Catholics received the kind of reception that may well be compared with the way in which Muslim immigrants are presently regarded by the majority population in many western countries.

Seventh-day Adventism emerged and developed in the United States in this anti-Catholic climate. Stories such as written by Maria Monk were also popular among nineteenth-century Adventists and there was little doubt in their minds that they were based on truth.

As the Adventist Church worldwide studies the book of Revelation during this quarter it is important to remember that our negative views regarding Roman Catholicism developed in this fiercely anti-Catholic context. As genuine Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists do well to remain critical with regard to Roman-Catholicism. There were many things in the past of the Roman Church that were not only wrong but evil. And although there have been positive developments in Catholicism—certainly in the wake of the Second Vatican Council—there are a number of doctrines which we must reject as totally unbiblical. But as we study the lessons that will deal with “the beast” and related topics, we must not let our attitude towards Roman Catholics be fully colored by stories from the past—whether true or not. We do not live in Maria Monk’s time but in 2019. In my view Roman Catholics are fellow-Christians. Their understanding of a number of “truths” may be defective, but the picture painted by Maria Monk was not an accurate portrayal of convent life in the nineteenth century and should be seen for what is was and is: unfair, one-sided anti-Catholic propaganda.

It is a sad reality that the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church has in recent years been seriously damaged by sexual scandals. But in this respect also we should not be too quick with Maria-Monk-like accusations. It is true that the Catholic authorities have been far too slow (and sometimes unwilling) in dealing with those members of their clergy who abused minors who were in their care. However, let us remember that there were, and are, many Catholic clergy who did not participate in this horrific behavior. And (sadly enough) other faith communities—including our own—have not always been immune to this kind of sexual misbehavior.


Road assistance for stranded travelers

Just over two weeks ago I paid my annual contribution for to the Dutch organization for Road Assistance. I was not happy with the sizable amount I had to pay. But yesterday I concluded that, after all, it was money well spent.

Minutes after leaving the compound of the office of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands, where I had participating in a meeting, I found I could no longer use my clutch and thus I could not shift gears anymore. I succeeded in letting the car glide to a safe spot, where I could wait for help. After having gone through the inevitable menu of the Nationale Automobile Association, that also deals with technical assistance, I was connected with the department that organizes technical help for stranded drivers. Having provided all my membership details and having described my exact location, I was told it would probably take about an hour to get someone to me. But already within twenty minutes I saw the yellow car with the well-known WW-logo coming my way. The technician saw immediately what the problem was and also that he would not be able to fix it. But I was lucky. This particular type of car of the Road Assistance carries a small collapsible trailer, on which the front wheels of my car could be fastened. As a result the car could be transported safely. The technician was willing to take me and my car to the garage in the place where I live—a distance of some 40 kilometers, and then to take me to my home address. I am still impressed by the kind of efficient and excellent service.

While we were on our way to deliver the car to the garage an interesting conversation developed. The technician told me how he had recently assisted a Catholic priest. This priest had told him about his work and also that he had recently written a book. As a gesture of appreciation the priest had actually sent a copy of this book to the technician’s home address! I responded by informing him that he was now sitting next to a pastor, and that I had also written a few books. I promised him to follow the example of tmy Catolic colleague and to send him a book of mine as a thank-you-gesture for his excellent assistance. So, this week a copy of one of the devotionals that I have written will go in the mail to him.

Later that day it occurred to me that Christians should, in fact, also provide some kind of road assistance—ready to help people who find that they cannot no longer shift gears as they travel along the highway of life. I am, in particular, thinking of people who have embarked on the road to the Kingdom, but for some reason have stranded and do not know how to continue. Or, to make it even more explicit: I am thinking of people I know personally quite well and who have come to a full stop on their spiritual journey. This raises the question: “Does my church have a good mechanism to discover these cases, to determine their spiritual coordinates, and to set a process in motion to ensure that these people are found and can be “pulled” to a place where they can find help for their problem?” And more specifically: Am I sufficiently alert to get involved when this is needed? Maybe we can learn something from efficiency of the system of this Road Assistance organization. (And in any case: My technician had the required “people skills” to allow him to start another career as a good pastor!)


And what about emeritus-angels?

The first chapter of Revelation in one of my favorites Bible passages. I find the first vision of John to be extremely relevant and encouraging.  John sees “One like the Son of Man”.  That “One” is, of course, to be identified as Jesus Christ. This “Someone, like the Son of man” (vs. 13)  walks among seven golden lampstands, while he holds seven stars in his right hand.

Some symbols in the Revelation are hard to decode, but in this case the explanation is given straight away. The lampstands symbolize the churches in Asia Minor to which the message that follows is to be sent. And the stars stand for the “angels” of the seven churches.

I have always doubted whether the traditional application of the letters to the seven churches in the chapters 2 and 3, as seven periods in church history, is correct. There seems to be nothing in the text that brings us to that conclusion. These messages were intended for seven literal congregations in what is now the coastal area of Western Turkey. However, the very fact that Providence has seen to it that the Apocalypse became a part of the Word of God suggests that it has a meaning that goes beyond the first century, and has something to say to Christians, everywhere and in all times. The seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 reflect the diversity in religious experience of the church universal. Therefore, the picture of Jesus walking among the lampstands, while holding seven stars in his right hand, continuous to be meaningful.

What an encouraging thought, that Jesus walks among his churches. He did so in the time of John and he does so today. And when reading the word “churches” we must think of local congregations rather than denominations. Let us hope and pray that Jesus also walks in the corridors and meeting rooms of denominational headquarters, but in Revelation 1 the focus is on local faith communities. I know of no perfect local church. But it is clear from the descriptions of the churches of Ephesus and the other churches that are mentioned by John that none of these churches were perfect either. However, in spite of all their imperfections, Christ walks among them!

But what about the stars?  The stars, we are told, are the “angels” of the churches.  Who are these “angels”?  Are they perhaps guardian angels that each have a specific assignment in watching over one particular church? That does not seem very probable. (In any case, the existence of “guardian angels” has no biblical basis.) The word “angel” is the translation of the Greek word “angelos”. This simply means “messenger” and can refer both to heavenly and human messengers. Clearly, in this passage in Revelation it refers to the leaders of the churches.  Christ holds these in his right hand–the symbolic expression for power and authority.

What a marvelous thought, also for elders and pastors in local churches today. They can feel safe. They may face problems in their churches, perhaps rivalry or opposition. They may at times feel insecure and misunderstood. But they need not have such feelings. Christ holds his “angels” in the churches in his mighty right hand. I take the liberty to assume that this also includes emeritus-”angels” like myself.

Let me just add one further thought. If Christ cares so much for his “angels”, perhaps that should inspire church members also to take greater appreciation for their local leaders. Their job can be difficult and challenging. God’s “angels” in your church need your love and support. Say with words that you support them and show it in tangible ways!

Anxiety or confidence?

During my ministerial internship—now about half a century ago–I visited an Adventist family in Amsterdam. Our brother had just bought a large American car and I wondered what had prompted him to make this unusual purchase. Most Dutch people, if they could afford a car at all, tended to buy small European or Japanese cars. Our brother explained that he needed a large vehicle for the moment (in the near future) when he would have to flee, together with his family, because of the predicted persecution of all Sabbath-keeping Christians..He would then take his family and essential belongings to a wooded area in Sweden, where he felt he would be safer than in the densely populated western part of the Netherlands. (He seemed to have forgotten that this car would need a lot of gas, and that he might “not be able to buy or sell” while en route). Most of his fellow-believers did not take these same precautions, but I remember that, at the time, there was a rather general sense of impending doom among Adventists. Many were afraid that scary times were soon to come.

Even today many Adventist believers are frightened when they think of the difficulties that will be part of the Adventist  of end-time scenario. Will they be able to stand tall during the “time of trouble”? What will happen to them when Sunday laws will make Sabbath-keeping a very risky business? And what about the close of probation and the time when they supposedly can no longer rely on a Mediator?

I am worried that in the coming quarter some of those fears may return or increase, as we study the book of Revelation in our world-wide Bible study hour. I fear that there will once again be a lot of emphasis on the dragon and the beasts, and that the kind of enemy-thinking that (I believed) was beginning to disappear will get a new impetus. Many Sabbath School members may be unaware of the fact that the study guide for this quarter has been significantly changed, at a very late stage, because church administrators discovered “serious theological mistakes” in the manuscript that had already been sent around to all Adventist publishing houses for translation and publication. Unfortunately, these changes were made to ensure that only the traditional viewpoints would be circulated.

Happily, there are a number of initiatives to point members to alternative perspectives and new ways of looking at the last Bible book. In my blog of three week ago I pointed to the weekly comments that are prepared by Pastor Werner Lange, a retired editor of the German Adventist publishing house and that are published in German and English on the website of the Hansa Conference ( An English version is also published on the website of Adventist Today ( I also recommend the website of dr. Jon Paulien, who has many inspiring insights in the meaning of Revelation ( weekly Sabbath School comments on the Spectrum website may also offer many fresh ideas.

As I study the book of Revelation in the coming months I plan to constantly keep in mind that this book is not a revelation of the dragon and the beast from the sea or the beast from the earth, but of the Lamb—Jesus Christ. I also want to keep in mind that the book begins with a vision of Jesus as he is walking between the candle sticks, which represent his churches. And that it ends with his presence in the midst of his people on the earth made new. Everything else must be related to this overall theme. Everything else is part of the pattern of Christian life that marks our pilgrimage with Christ: individually and collectively. Indeed, it is a story of ups and downs and we will meet challenges, in ever-changing constellations. But whatever happens, the Christian life can be a life of victory. That is the meta-story-line. Revelation should not give us a sense of dread, but rather a sense of destiny and victory. I hope that many who study their weekly lesson during this quarter will see something new and exciting in the Book of Revelation, and that their aim will not be to learn more about their enemies but to become better acquainted their Friend, whose revelation it is.