Monthly Archives: June 2022

Does every local church need an EGW coordinator?

The sessions of the General Conference of the Adventist Church, that were postponed by Corona for two years, are now part of history. If there are no unexpected events causing future postponements, the next General Conference will take place three years from now. The place of the meeting will again be St. Louis.

One of the notable decisions of the meetings of a few weeks ago was the appointment of a new functionary in all local congregations. This person will be tasked with “the responsibility of promoting the importance and right use of the Spirit of Prophecy writings, in collaboration with the publishing ministries coordinator [The term "Spirit of Prophecy" in this context should be read as "Ellen G. White."]

Whether this decision will be widely implemented is highly questionable. My guess is that there will not be many unions and conferences that will give this high priority, and there will not be many congregations that will put this new function on their list of vacancies to be filled at their next election cycle. There is a danger, however, that in some (many?) congregations this issue will lead to further polarization between those who believe that Ellen White’s publications deserve more promotion and those who, on the contrary, believe that she already receives far too much attention.

In very many local churches it has become increasingly difficult to find people for all offices and positions. It is a characteristic for our postmodern society that people are less and less prepared to take on long-term commitments. Often the most capable men and women are not willing to accept positions of leadership. And frequently, those who are willing to do so, are pushed into caring for several different positions. It is curious, to say the least, that the top leadership of the church has not given more weight to this reality at the local level and now adds yet another function to the range of responsibilities for which persons must be found. Small congregations, in particular, will not (be able to) comply with this recommendation.

However, there is a much more important objection that deserves urgent attention. At present, as far as the role of Ellen White is concerned, the main emphasis is on the promotion and mass distribution of her books. The contentious idea of distributing free copies of the book “The Great Controversy” worldwide in the hundreds of millions, illustrates this tendency. At the same time, the church is silent about the questions being raised from many sides about aspects of Ellen White’s person and work, and about all sorts of serious accusations that have been made about how she operated. The General Conference and the Ellen G. White Estate (the body that administers Ellen White’s literary estate) have the primary task of providing the church with information with regard to various matters that remain shrouded in darkness, and of relieving Ellen White and her work of all kinds of myths. Ellen White, with her husband and other early leaders, played a prominent role in the birth and further development of Seventh-day Adventism. Her work can remain an important source of inspiration, but in the long run this is only possible, if the story of who and what Ellen White was, is told in a way that is consistent with the historical facts.

Unfortunately, instead of an initiative from the higher echelons of the church to answer the questions surrounding the person and work of Ellen White, a new initiative is being launched that completely ignores the questions that are becoming more and more pressing.

I hope that unions and conferences that will decide to facilitate the appointment of this local promoter of Ellen White’s books will at least organize webinars or other channels of instruction to adequately equip these coordinators for their task.

Learning patience

This morning I called my garage to make a service appointment for my car. It turned out that this is not possible for the next three weeks. The reason? Lack of staff, and at the beginning of the vacation season, that has become an even bigger problem than it already was.

I was also in contact this morning with one of the denominational publishers about a business matter. I had emailed about it twice before and received a promise that the matter would be taken care of quickly. Now, a few weeks later I asked again how things had progressed. Apologies: “We have a serious staff shortage. Please be patient a little longer.”

One hears the same thing everywhere. Lack of staff. In the hospitality industry. From the Dutch Railways and in the government offices. From a lot of businesses.

Last Friday I returned from a trip of almost 2 weeks to Canada.
Going: Checking in at the Air Canada desk at Amsterdam Airport took about 1.5 hours. The security check was not too bad: about 45 minutes. Customs was about the same.

In Toronto the situation was even worse than at Schiphol. Upon arriving we had to stay in the plane for some time because it was very busy at the airport and further congestion had to be avoided. Customs and pass control were a lengthy ordeal. I then had the misfortune to be picked out of the crowd as a random sample to undergo Covid-testing. But it id not lengthen the entire process, since the baggage also took considerable time to arrive on the belt.

The return trip followed much the same pattern. However, we were better prepared for it. And it didn’t spoil our vacation fun.

I assume that others are wondering with me how it is possible that there are suddenly so many staff shortages in so many sectors. And how we ended up in a situation where vacant positions can hardly be filled. Covid, of course, has had its consequences. People who became unemployed because of the pandemic were looking for other work, and it is now often difficult to induce them to return to their previous kind of employment. There was still a lot of absenteeism in the recent period, particularly in health care, but also in vulnerable areas where the absence of one key person creates a series of problems. There are also issues in the way labor is paid and taxed. For the unemployed, it is sometimes not financially attractive to seek work.

I have no idea how all current problems can be solved in the foreseeable future. In some cases, however, the remedy is obvious. In some industries, pay is so low that it is not surprising you can no longer find people to work for so little. The recent hefty pay increase for baggage handlers and security staff at Schiphol Airport was very reasonable, and long overdue, and will possibly have a positive effect. The work pressure in a lot of jobs is too high. Although knowing nothing of economics, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for everyone if we worked a few more hours each week, without any additions to our tasks . Couldn’t that bring some much-needed relief into the system?

But perhaps the fundamental problem is that, collectively, we have created a society in which our demands are simply too high. Apparently, we can no longer do and deliver everything we need (or think we need).

An example is obvious. Now that in many countries airports are threatening to become ever more congested, we must ask ourselves whether we have not made air travel too cheap. It’s nice that it’s a lot cheaper to buy a plane ticket now than it was some 20 or 30 years ago. But does it really have to be so cheap that people can fly to their home country every week for the purposes of commuting? Or that people can afford an almost unlimited number of city trips, because the Easyjets and the Ryanairs, etc, will take you to London, Budapest or Madrid for just a couple of bucks? Shouldn’t we be willing to pay a little more for some services, so that more can be paid to those who provide them? And at the same time reduce somewhat the demand for some services?

A lot of patience will be required of us in the coming weeks and months. It is as it is. But that there is a lot in our society that should be organized differently is not in doubt.

Hold fast what is good

When Ted Wilson delivered his inaugural sermon twelve years ago, after his election as president of the General Conference a few days earlier, I sat in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta listening to him with growing uneasiness. It was a through-and-through conservative speech in which he left no room for opinions that differed even slightly from his own. The title of his sermon was “Go Forward.” For many, however, it was the beginning of a trajectory of “going backward.” The sermon was a key moment in the polarization process that has increasingly held the church in its grip ever since.

Since then, Wilson’s sermons at the last GC in 2015 and at the annual councils of the GC executive committee consistently had the same focus: preserving the past and warning against change. The sermon at the last Autumn Council in October 2021 focused on the doctrinal dangers that, according to Wilson, threaten the Adventist church. The sermon of a few days ago was very similar. This time there was a list of 25 points—a catalogue of all the things we must hold on to and not let slip away. The sermon was based on 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Test all things, hold fast what is good.” What followed was not a careful exegesis of this Bible passage. The text was used as a hook to hang everything on that, in Wilson’s opinion, we should hold on to. It was no surprise, by the way, that in doing so Wilson quoted more often from books by Ellen White than from the Bible.

Some church members want to jettison all traditional views. Others do not want to abolish or revise anything. Both extremes are deplorable. According to the text on which Wilson based his sermon, we must keep what is good after first thoroughly examining everything. Certainly, among the 25 points Wilson listed there are things we should preserve, because they are good. However, the tenor of the sermon is that everything that has become part of our Adventist tradition is “good.” Seventh-day Adventists are the only ones who have the full truth. They know how the Bible should be interpreted and they have a prophetess who keeps them on track in that regard. And if “testing” is needed at all, it is by employing the method laid down from on high, to which everyone in the church must adhere.

I was not in the audience when Wilson preached his sermon but read its text on the internet. I did not experience the content as a blessing. On the contrary, reading it made me depressed. Once again, the leader of the church did not try to foster reconciliation between the different segments of the church. Rather, it seems that he has no qualms about increasing the polarization in the church and promoting the “shaking” that he believes must inevitably come.

Does he then not worry about the large numbers of (younger, as well as older) Adventists who are dropping out because they want the space to “test” the theology and practice of their church, so they can examine “everything” and then keep what is “good”? It pains me greatly to see this, and it has bothered me quite a bit over the past few days. How can I keep my enthusiasm for a faith community in which I am increasingly told in great detail what to believe and how to read the Bible, in order to be a “good” Adventist? It’s a question I hear from many sides in the church. My answer is: I want to, once again, put this temporary depression behind me, realizing that many local congregations do provide the space that is denied to us from on high. I remain hopeful for changes in the future and, with the little influence I have, I will continue to work for them.

St. Louis: More of the same

From a distance I followed the business meetings of the General Conference in St. Louis. The summaries via Twitter of what was happening helped me to stay informed about what was going on at any given time. The coverage through unofficial channels, such as Spectrum and Adventist Today, also provided a helpful perspective. I can’t say I missed not being physically present in St Louis. Except that I would have liked to have chatted with friends and people I met during my career in the church.

By now I have recovered a bit from my disappointment that Ted Wilson was re-elected as the president of our highest governing body. It was, however, no great surprise. And if the presidency had not gone to him, Erton Köhler would probably have become president. He is the recently elected (and now re-elected) general secretary of the General Conference, already waiting in the wings to take over from Wilson. This Köhler, who is from South America, is in many ways a copy of Wilson. We can expect Köhler to be the main candidate for the highest church post in the next round of elections. But I would not at all be surprised if Wilson finds a reason to resign shortly before the expiration of his new term, and then puts Köhler forward via an election process at an Autumn Council. This has now become a tried and tested method of ensuring the continuity of a particular vision for the church.

What is particularly striking in the election of the hundred-plus GC-positions is the huge percentage of re-elections of incumbent leaders. Is it really so difficult to find new leaders whose creativity and fresh ideas can revitalize the church? Or do we simply see an attempt to obstruct all innovation and to leave everything as it is? It was to be expected that the only woman on the presidential team (Ella Simmons who is retiring) would be replaced by another woman (Audrey Anderson). Incidentally, of course, it remains extremely strange that a woman who is elected as one of the vice-presidents of the world church does not have to be an ordained minister, while she cannot become the president of a local conference, because the (once again tightened) rules do not allow for this. Anyone who understands this should try explaining it to me . . .

My interest was, of course, mainly in the election of the new leadership team in the Trans-European Division, to which the church in the Netherlands also belongs. That there was going to be a new president did not surprise me. I am curious to hear in the coming weeks from insiders about the considerations that played a role in this. The choice of Dr. Daniel Duda is reassuring. He is someone in the theological middle, and I know him as someone who does not hide his personal, often progressive, opinions. Moreover, he is an inspiring speaker. But whether it is wise to choose all three division top executives from the countries of Eastern and Central Europe is a question for me. Although, as I write these words, I immediately realize that in the past, administrators with a Western- or Northern European origin were always over-represented!

The agenda of the 61st General Conference was extremely boring. Unfortunately, there were all kinds of signs that the current conservative course must be safeguarded. The ill-fated idea of having someone appointed in local congregations to promote Ellen White will only reinforce the current polarization around her person. It will be interesting to see how many local congregations will comply . . . The Damsteegts’ attempts to reverse what little has been accomplished in recent years in terms of the recognition of women in the church have, thankfully, remained unsuccesful.

That most of the comments from Spectrum and Adventist Today sympathizers have been negative should surprise no one. The newly elected leaders of the church can simply ignore them, because, after all, they come from a relatively small percentage of church members who are already on the margins of the church. That reaction, however, would be as wrong as it is short-sighted. For these negative comments reflect the opinion of an ever-growing number of Adventists who are in the process of dropping out, because they no longer feel connected with what is happening at the higher church echelons. The leaders who are now beginning a new term are facing an ever-growing segment of the church that no longer cares about what they do and say. That should worry them. If they are determined to continue the policies of recent years, they will find that they are becoming increasingly irrelevant to large numbers of fellow-believers.