Daily Archives: May 19, 2021

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.