Tolerance in practice


About ten years ago the Adventist Church in the Netherlands held its first ‘open day’.  Since I planned this event for the first time with my colleagues at the national head office of the church, the concept has somewhat changed, but it remains an important day in the annual church calendar.

When, last Sunday, I walked on the grounds around the office building, along the 40 or so stalls, I was once again struck by the diversity of the information, services and products that were on offer. And that was also true of the diversity of the sponsors of these market stalls.

Books have always been an important element of the ‘open day’. The official church publishers were present: the publishing department of the Netherlands Union and Stanborough Press (the Adventist publishing house in the  UK). In addition there were some independent organizations rooted in the right wing of the church, such as the Ellen White Foundation and the ‘christian book house De Haan.’  ADRA was, of course, very visible, but some other charity organizations (with or without a direct link with the church) had also rented a stall.  There was an abundance of  (mostly vegetarian) food. My wife and I left the ‘open day’ with a bag full of delicious food that the volunteers of the Adventist church in Huizen were adamant that we should accept without paying for it. Earlier in the day I had enjoyed a meat sandwich and twice I stood in line in front of the professional coffee-cart that did excellent business. The conservative Adventist Theological Society promoted its activities, while not far from their stall Kinship (the Adventist organization of homosexual people) provided information about its work.

As usual, the atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant. For most visitors it was a feast of meeting friends and acquaintances. The fact that, in spite of the pessimistic weather forecast, the sun persevered, also helped to create a nice atmosphere. But there was also another aspect—one which is perhaps not always present during similar Adventist events elsewhere in the world.

I appreciated how relaxed the organizers had been in assigning the stalls. The official church activities were given space to present themselves, but this privilege was also granted to initiatives that come from the right fringe of the church and to activities that might well have been banned in other places (such as Kinship and the coffee cart). Nowhere, however, did I hear any criticism about this. Yet, I am sure that not all visitors and participants felt (to phrase it euphemistically) affinity with all the products and initiatives that were available. But, apparently,  there is nowadays sufficient tolerance in our faith community that we can also give space to things that not all agree with–without adversely affecting the close bond that we have with one another.

I am sure there are many who, with me, are eager to further extend this climate of tolerance. It creates an atmosphere in which people can feel at home and where we can unitedly concentrate on the key elements of our message and mission.