Monthly Archives: May 2021

Once again: something about sexual orientation

Occasionally, readers of my blog ask me why I regularly return to the topic of sexual orientation–as I did again last week. My answer is that it hasn’t been the last time either, because in the faith community which I call my spiritual home, full acceptance of LGBTQ people is still a long way off. Two things led me to raise this issue again this week.

I received a request to read a manuscript of a book that is about to be published in the US. The intention was that I would write a few lines as an endorsement for the book, which could be placed on the back cover (depending, of course, on whether I felt I wanted to recommend the book!) After reading it, I gladly complied with the request. The manuscript is written by an Adventist pastor who came “out of the closet” as a bisexual person after a lengthy struggle. She lost her job, but not her faith. In the first chapter she describes her journey. It is impressive and at the same time shameful. She has since married a woman, but would have liked nothing better than to remain a pastor. Unfortunately, that could not happen . . .

In response to my blog of last week, I received a brief comment from a certain David, a reader from Australia. When I saw his last name, it rang a bell. Was he the person about whom I had heard the vague rumor that he had come “out of the closet” as a gay man? He replied at length to the e-mail that I sent him. His story, he reported, was not a secret, so I could feel free to talk or write about it. He was indeed the person I was thinking of. For several years he lived with his parents in England. Immediately after his studies at Newbold College he had married. He became a minister in Australia and worked for the church in various capacities. In the meantime, he had also become the father of three sons. .

David had hoped that he could silence the voice of his sexual orientation by getting married, but that proved impossible. When he “came out of the closet” in 2006, after twenty years of inner struggle, it not only meant the end of his marriage, but it also ended his career in the Adventist Church. His ex-wife found someone with whom she could be happy. His children accepted their father’s decision, and David himself found a partner to whom he has been married since 2014. Their marriage took place in New Zealand where “same-sex” marriages were already possible at the time, and their relationship also received a legal basis in Australia a few years later.

That’s how it goes all too often—unfortunately also in Adventist circles. People are urged to marry someone of the opposite sex–against better judgment, assuming that the “other” orientation will wear off. The result in most cases is a mountain of misery, often ending in suicide. David has kept his faith, but has he lost his job and also lost his church. A homosexual ex-pastor had no place in the Adventist congregation of which he was a member.

Perhaps it is still a bridge too far to expect that someone with a “different” orientation, who is in a monogamous same-sex relationship, can become or remain a pastor in our church without difficulty. But at the very least, people who are eager to remain part of our faith community must be warmly welcome and be allowed to actively participate in the life of the congregation. As long as this is not the case everywhere, I will from time to time dedicate a blog to this subject. I cannot change the world-or my church–singlehandedly, but together with others I must make my voice heard and will do so until the goal is reached: full equality regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

The homo-trial in Faan

Until a few weeks ago I had never heard of a village by the name of Faan. But since I got hold of a book by amateur-historian Koert ter Veen (Protestant Fundamentalism in Faan, Groningen), my general education in this respect has further improved. Faan is a village in the vicinity of Groningen, which in the eighteenth century, together with a few surrounding villages, formed a community of about 1750 people. The special thing about Faan was that, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was the center of the enclave Oosterdeel Langewold, which was ruled in turn by one of the leading land owners. This was the “grietman”, who had more or less feudal authority. His powers also included the administration of justice. This took place, from 1601 until well into the eighteenth century, according to regional legal traditions, but the Mosaic law was also used as a guideline.

The latter explains why in the early thirties of the eighteenth century in and around Faan “sodomy” was a crime that was severely punished. It was not always clear, however, what that term exactly meant. Sometimes, in all likelihood, it involved sexual intercourse between two males, but in other cases it could have involved (mutual) masturbation. Either way, these were practices that were believed to be condemned in the biblical book of Leviticus and were punishable by death.

In 1731 a certain Rudolf de Mepsche was the “grietman” who had to make sure that the people stayed on the “straight and narrow.” When he heard that certain (mostly young) men were suspected of the crime of “sodomy”, he decided to act forcefully. Sources from that time claim that he also saw his chance to eliminate a few political opponents in the process. What is certain is that he was strongly influenced by the local pastor, Hendricus Carolinus van Byler. He had written a book whose title left little to be desired: Hell-inspired iniquity, or the dreadful sin of sodomy, in its evil, and its well-deserved punishment, clearly explained from divine and human writings as a mirror for present and future generations (1731).

In April 1731 the arrests of a total of 24 suspects began. The interrogations were far from gentle. The professional executioner from Groningen had to be called in to (literally) tighten the thumbscrews in order to obtain the confessions. A few months later the court hearings took place and all were found guilty. One of the suspects had died in the meantime (possibly as a result of the torture). Two boys, who were below 14 years, were sentenced to a life-long stay in a disciplinary institution and the remaining 21 men were publicly strangled in the neighboring town of Zuidhorn, after which their corpses were burned.

In reading this horrific history, we must of course place things in the time in which they happened. Other trials against suspects of “sodomy” are also known from that time. And Rev. Van Byler’s book was not the only Christian protest against this “terrible sin.” But nevertheless, the Trial of Faan remains a stern warning of what religious fundamentalism can lead to.

Many will say, It’s all in the past and we have left this kind of abomination far behind us. That certainly applies to the Netherlands. After all, we are extremely tolerant. Wasn’t the Netherlands the first country where people of the same sex were allowed to marry each other?
But let’s not be mistaken. Although few Dutch people would like to apply the Mosaic laws nowadays, as people did in Faan some three centuries ago, many still interpret these laws in a fundamentalist way, which results in completely excluding (or worse) a considerable group of people.

We cannot sit back contentedly with the thought that it is now unthinkable to put non-hetero people to death, as long as being gay is still a life-threatening situation in all sorts of places around the world. The “problem” of how to deal with homosexuality and related aspects has not been “solved,” as long as there are schools in the Netherlands, too, where gay youth (and teachers) cannot safely “come out of the closet,” and as long as gays run the risk of being called out on the street.

And as an Adventist, I certainly can’t sit back when I consider that the world church still has a document on its website that puts homosexuality on a par with, among other things, bestiality, and when I realize that there are church leaders in some African countries who believe that the government should give practicing gays the death penalty. I must continue to resist the idea that church members with “other” sexual orientations cannot hold church office (as is the case in many local congregations). And I must not stay silent when hearing that in some congregations gay people are not really welcome or that even family members of gay or “transgender” people are shunned.

The deeper cause is still the same as it was in 1731 in Faan: a fundamentalist view of the Bible leads to inhuman conclusions that are completely at odds with how Jesus Christ treated people.


I once had a vague plan to write a crime novel. It never happened and I suspect it never will happen in the future. But if I had succeeded in producing a “who done it?” alongside my other writing projects, I would not have been the first to combine theological activity with thinking up plots for detective books. The famous Dorothy L Sayers (1893-1957), for example, did just that. She had even more talents, for besides mystery novels and theological treatises, she also wrote poetry and translated some of Dante’s books into English. As far as the Dutch language area is concerned, the name of Robert van Gulik (1910-1967) comes to mind. He was an orientalist and diplomat, who was successively ambassador of the Netherlands in a number of countries. He wrote various scholarly works about oriental culture, but as an author he became best known for his series of seventeen crime novels that were set in China, with Judge Tie as the main character.

This week, I was presented (on the occasion of the honor I received a fortnight ago) with a book written by an author who, in addition to the crime genre, also mastered the genre of the psychological novel. I am referring to Georges Joseph Christian Simenon, who was born in 1903 in Liège, Belgium, and died in 1989 in Lausanne, Switzerland. The ever-pipe-smoking Simenon wrote no less than some 500 novels and countless short stories. He owed his international fame mainly to his 75 Maigret books, in which a police inspector with this name was the main character. Who of my generation in the Netherlands does not remember the popular Zwarte Beertjes paperback series, with Havank and Simenon as the most famous authors? As a teenager I devoured both Havank’s books and Simenon’s Maigret books, but until a few days ago I had never read a “serious” book by Simenon. Until I read The Bells of Bicêtre in one breath last weekend.

It was an extraordinary experience. Not only is this book by Simenon beautifully written and very well translated from French into Dutch, but also the subject matter of the book really fascinated me. I should add, however, that you should not read this book if you are low in spirit, because most likely it will push you even deeper into your depression. It is not a book that makes you happy, but it is a book with depth that makes you think.

The main character is René Maugras, the successful publisher of a Parisian newspaper. One day he wakes up in a private room in a large hospital. He is one-sidedly paralyzed and has also temporarily lost his speech. Naturally, he wonders what will become of him. It is difficult for him to experience some structure in the small world to which he now seems to be confined. As the days go by, snippets of his past life pass by. The doctors and nurses work hard for him, but he does not know whether he will find the strength to return to everyday life.

The reason why this book made such an impression on me is not primarily Simenon’s writing skill (although that is beyond dispute), but the realization that so many people of my generation are struck down by a sudden stroke or another serious illness. It can just happen to you, as evidenced not only by Maugras’ misery, but also by the experiences of friends and acquaintances who have been immobilized by Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious illnesses. Last week I visited the closed ward of a nursing home and looked around. I did not come away happy.

We do not know what our personal future holds. Will we celebrate our hundredth birthday with flying colors, without being restricted by any nasty illness, or will the degree of our mobility be determined by rollators and wheelchairs? We do not know, and nothing can be taken for granted. But let us be grateful for all the days of good health we are experiencing, and for all the beautiful things life still gives us.

For or against?

Since about thirteen years, my wife and I have now lived to our great satisfaction in Zeewolde, a place with more than 22,000 inhabitants in the Flevopolder. This polder came into being when, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, dikes were built around an area of water of some 1,000 square kilometers before this land could be drained. Zeewolde was the last residential center to be built in the early 1980s in this piece of land, that lies several meters below sea level. It has a very central location in the Netherlands and is extremely spacious. Less than ten kilometers away is the “old land”, with the historic Hanseatic town of Harderwijk, and it a takes just forty-five minutes to drive to Amsterdam!

Yet, Zeewolde has more history than many people might think, because before the IJsselmeer (which has now been largely reclaimed), was formed, there was a wooded area where people lived. The name Zeewolde is therefore derived from Seaeuuald or Seuuuald, a name that first appears in documents from 793, for a village near present-day Zeewolde. (Uuald stands for ‘wold” and means ‘swampy forest’. Sew means ‘sea’ or ‘lake’). However, besides a past, Zeewolde certainly has a future, even though there are some questions about some developments in and around “our” our place.

A new airport has been built between Zeewolde and neighboring Lelystad. It is intended to relieve Schiphol, which is far too busy and has no space to grow. Lelystad Airport is intended to handle a lot of holiday traffic. Everything has now been ready for about two years, but not a single passenger plane has taken off or landed on the brand new 2700 meter runway and the arrival and departure halls have not seen a single passenger yet. If it were up to all sorts of action groups, it will stay that way.

I assume that sooner or later ‘Lelystad’ will open and will not remain empty and useless.
For me, Lelystad Airport, less than 15 kilometers from our home, is a kind of symbol for the ambivalence of living in the 21st century. I can understand the resistance of a large part of the population when they protest against the noise pollution that will certainly result from this airport in our immediate vicinity, and against the amount of traffic that will also certainly increase. But, on the other hand, I do like to travel and hope soon to be able to regularly board a plane, and I understand that new airports have to be built somewhere.

The ‘uncanny’ feeling that my habitat and way of life are made possible by technological and infrastructural developments on the one hand, but that these threaten our space, tranquillity and enjoyment of life on the other hand, is greatly reinforced by the fact that there are advanced plans to build one of the largest data centers in Europe on the outskirts of our village, where the industrial estate borders on extensive farmland. There is still a great deal of secrecy surrounding which data giant will be coming to Zeewolde. Will it be Apple, Facebook, Google or perhaps Amazon, which does not yet have a data center in the Netherlands? Of course, all sorts of administrative procedures are still ongoing, but it is generally expected that this digital supertanker has been set in motion and that the “shore” will not be able to turn the “ship”. 166 hectares have been reserved for a cluster of enormous oblong buildings. The Zeewolde administrators are trying to reassure the population that the problems of energy supply, water consumption, cooling, safety, etc. are not as worrisome as they seem, and that the arrival of this company will bring huge economic benefits.

Well, am I for or against the arrival of this datacenter? It will not be pleasant to see enormous blocks of steel and concrete on the edge of our village, and one may well ask whether the advantages are not being presented in too rosy a light and the problems trivialized. But I understand the need for datacenters. I spend, on average, five to six hours a day at my laptop. The data I produce and consume are “in the cloud.” But that “cloud” does not hang invisibly in the thin air above us, but consists of endless rows of servers, which have to be housed somewhere. Perhaps in Zeewolde as well…. ?

It is all part of our time. It is a process that will continue as long as this earth has not given way to the promised “new earth”. Nevertheless, in the meantime we must keep a critical eye on everything that happens and continually ask ourselves whether our way of life, from a Christian perspective, does not need to be drastically adjusted in order to keep things under control. For, as the authors of the famous “Report of Rome” said fifty years ago: There are “limits to growth.”