‘Boundary-crossing conduct’

In the Dutch language a particular term has lately become one of the most common expressions: ‘’grensoverschrijdend gedrag’, that is: conduct that crosses acceptable boundaries. About a month ago some American media came with very painful revelations about Harvey Weinstein. It was soon apparent that this influential film producer had been guilty of sexually abusing scores of women. Via hashtag #MeToo thousands of women around the world admitted that they had also been the victims of similar unacceptable conduct.

In The Netherlands we now also have our own Weinstein-like case. Film producer and director Jos Gosschalks has decided to leave the casting agency, where he had an extremely powerful position after admitting that in a number of cases he has been guilty of conduct that has ‘crossed acceptable boundaries.’ Several persons have explained in the print media or in television talk shows what this boundary-crossing conduct consisted of. It seems that Gosschalks’ behavior was a public secret, but so far he got away with it.  He has dramatically fallen from his pedestal, but one might well ask whether he should be torn to shreds in the media before a judge has had a chance to consider his case.

In the past week we also heard of prominent British politicians who were unable to keep full control of their hands, and who, as a result, lost their position. Stories of long-time sexual abuse have also emerged from the world of sports, in particular about trainers who abused young people that were entrusted to their care.

This ‘boundary-crossing’ behavior is nothing less than an epidemic. But is must also be said that the boundaries between what is and what is not acceptable in the relationship between people have at times become so vague that there may be disagreements whether or not something qualifies as abuse. Moreover, words and actions may be interpreted as intentional, while there were no wrong intentions. That does not, however, take away from the fact that there are a great many things which happened in the past–and are happening today–that cannot be justified by any stretch of the imagination. In recent years we have seen how in several countries members of the Roman-Catholic clergy have abused (mostly) young boys. But also in many Protestant churches countless instances of sexual abuse have taken place. In the past, these things were usually covered up, in an attempt not to damage the reputation of the church. Today many Dutch Protestant churches (Seventh-day Adventists included) have developed a protocol that prescribes what to do in cases of abuse. In addition, there is the rule that only people who possess a ‘certificate of conduct’ may work with young children.

The Adventist world church tries to ensure that ‘boundary-crossing’ conduct does not occur and that, when something goes wrong in the sphere of sexual abuse, adequate measures are taken. This means that in many cases the authorities will be notified.

But there is one particular form of ‘boundary-crossing’ behavior that is still not adequately addressed in the Adventist community: in most countries women continue to be discriminated when it concerns full access to the pastoral ministry. This violates the norms of modern civilization, but also clearly contradicts one of the Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists. We read in article 14: ‘The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ . . .’