Lately the media are full with news and commentaries about elections and referenda. First (June 23, 2016) there was the disastrous referendum in the United Kingdom that produced the tragedy of the forthcoming Brexit–the breaking away from the European Union. On November 8 of last year we saw the just as disastrous outcome of the election campaign in the United States, that saddled the world with President Donald Trump. In our own country (the Netherlands) the citizens went to the polls on March 15 of this year, after a long, intense and in many ways strange, campaign. Opinions differ starkly as to whether the result was good or bad. My feelings were dominated by the satisfaction that the populist results were not as good as had been feared, and that the PVV (the populist party of Mr. Wilders) did not succeed in becoming the biggest party! Next in the series was the Turkish referendum in April 16 about important changes in the Turkish constitution that would give more power to President Erdogan. We know the sad outcome for the democratic process in Turkish society.
Last Sunday the French people voted in the second round of the presidential elections. They could choose between Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen. I belong to all those Europeans who uttered a sigh of relief when it was confirmed that Macron had won a decisive victory and that–at least for now–the extremist threat of a Le Pen presidency had been averted. This week the South-Koreans elected a new president after President Park Gun-hye had been impeached. For Europe the election of a German chancellor in September is of crucial significance.
What many, or perhaps all, of these elections and referenda, tell us is that in most parts of the world society is dangerously polarized. And even though the candidates on the extreme right did, in many cases, not do as well as had been feared, the worrisome fact remains that they can muster much support.
We also see strong polarizing trends in the Adventist Church–worldwide as well as in my own country. It is a sad but undeniable reality. I am relieved that during last week’s quinquennial session of the Dutch Adventist Church, that was held in the city of Almere, this polarization, though palpably present, did not lead to disastrous consequences. Certainly, opinions differed, but moderate voices held the day. The more extreme voices were heard, but they received far less support than I had feared.
There were some major changes in the leadership team of the Dutch Adventist Church. The president and the executive secretary were replaced. The fact that these men were good friends of mine inevitably influences my feelings about this. However, the delegates elected persons who are, theologically, middle-of-the-road and this is something to be grateful for.
The new leaders will need a major dose of tact and administrative and communicative skills in order to meet the challenges they face and which, also after the session, they will find on their desk. Many church members would like to see a more conservative approach to the way the Adventist faith is presented–both to internal and external audiences. One of their problems is that the issue of ordaining female pastors (and the non-compliance with the world church) remains very much alive. And homosexuality remains a very hot potato that causes a lot of division.
As far as politics is concerned I wonder whether the political leaders of our world will succeed, in the years to come, in creating an atmosphere that fosters dialogue between groups with different opinions; in which the participants will look for elements they have in common rather than for the things that separate them; and in which reasonable compromises can be worked out. And looking at my church I wonder how we can create a situation in which we will be more prepared to listen to each other, and to give space to others when they disagree with us. As long as the new leaders in th Dutch Adventist Church will try to work towards that end, they can count on my support.