Forming our opinion

 

While driving on Saturday morning November 12 to the city of Meppel—as I was scheduled to preach there—I heard an interesting discussion on Radio 1 with a certain Ms Tamar de Waal. On her website she refers to herself as a political philosopher. The theme of the exchange between the interviewer and Ms. de Waal was the turmoil around ‘black Peter’ (a black servant accompanying St. Nicolas; some find it objectionable to have a black person in the role of a servant; others feel it is no more than a tradition that is an innocent part of the annual feast for the children). Ms. de Waal broadened the subject to deal with the right of free speech and freely expressing one’s opinion versus the importance of forming one’s opinion in a responsible way.

Free speech is an important human right. We must, however, realize that there may be a tension between different human rights. The case that is currently in the Dutch courts about some statements made by Geert Wilders, the leader of a Dutch populistic party, is a very telling example of this. Were his statements a permissible expression of his political views, or did he, through what he said, offend a segment of the Dutch population and was he possibly guilty of discriminatory behavior? Should Mr. Wilders’ right to express his opinion not have been shaped by the fundamental right of others not to be discriminated against and not to be offended?

Ms de Waal emphasized that people who claim to have the right to freely express their opinion, should also make sure that they are not just making any kind of wild assertion or are simply giving in to some vague sense of uneasiness. We all have, she said, the moral duty to form our opinions in a responsible manner—by carefully listening to other people with different opinions and then carefully considering the force of these opinions. She pointed to the Greek philosophers. Representatives of different philosophical ‘schools’ met each other on the market place, where they entered into a discussion with the aim of modifying their own opinion when needed.

We notice all around us that people find it difficult or even impossible to seriously listen to others and to weigh the various standpoints in a process of forming an informed opinion. We see this in the political area—often in an offensive and gross manner, as during the recent US elections. I fear we will see a lot of this also in the Netherlands, in March when the Dutch go to the voting booth. Unfortunately, we also see this in many faith communities, including the Adventist Church.

The Adventist community has a specific problem with regard to the free expression of opinion. Many church members do not have access to the official denominational media where they can express their opinion, and do not get the opportunity to say what they think, and talk about the conclusions they have reached, in church sponsored events and meetings (including the weekly Bible study period on Saturday morning). To a certain extent this is justifiable. A church wants to emphasize a particular message and is not just a club for debaters. But it would be a good thing if representatives of the various schools of thought within the church would have more space and opportunity to explain what they think and believe.

A responsible way of forming one’s opinion remains an absolute priority—for the corporate church as well as for individual church members. As believers we must, of course, make every effort to first of all listen to God’s Word without preconceived ideas. But we must also consider the views and interpretations of others around us. This is often very problematic. The so-called ‘right’ wing of the church hardly pays attention to anything the ‘left’ brings to the table—and vice versa. The ‘conservative’ segment of the church simply assumes that the ‘liberals’ hardly believe anything, while the ‘liberals’ or ‘progressives’ look with pity down upon the more conservative segment in the church, as people who refuse to think for themselves and remain stuck in all kinds of nineteenth-century ideas.

Lately, much is said and written about the need to restore unity in the church. Who will deny that this is crucial? But unity, in which we truly see and respect others as our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’, can only come about when we stop shouting at each other, make an effort to seriously listen to each other, and form a well-considered opinion before we decide to express it.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Adventists in the news

 

As Adventists we are (most certainly in the Netherlands) only a tiny minority of the population. That is no doubt the reason why we immediately pay attention when the media say something about Adventists.

In October the new Mel Gibson film Hacksaw Ridge premiered in the United States. It is now also on the schedule of numerous Dutch cinemas. The film is about Desmond T. Doss, who in the Second World War risked his life to save 75 US soldiers in a fierce battle near a dangerous cliff on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The story is so special for Adventists, because Doss, as a Seventh-day Adventists, was a conscientious objector who refused to bear arms. He accompanied the troops as a medic. His courage was so extraordinary that he subsequently received the Medal of Honor from President Truman. I am not yet sure whether I want to see this movie. I have read that the film contains a lot of violence and I am not very keen on bloody war movies. However, I must admit that I am pleased that a Seventh-day Adventist is portrayed in such a positive manner. (At the same I deeply regret that today in many countries Doss’ example of not bearing arms is not followed by the majority of young Adventists.)

Another Seventh-day Adventist, whose name is brought back from the almost forgotten past, is that of the Dutch-Swiss businessman Jean Henri Weidner. He was the son of a teacher in classical languages at ‘Collonges’, the educational center of the Adventist Church at the French-Swiss border, near Geneva. Weidner became the initiator and leader of the Dutch-Paris escape route, which saved some 1.500 lives: Jews, resistance people and pilots whose plane had been downed. The route ran from Belgium, via Paris and Toulouse, to the French-Swiss border near Collonges, or via a difficult path over the Pyrenees to Spain. Some 300 people were involved in this network, of whom more than forty were eventually arrested by the Germans. Many of them did not survive the war.

An American historian, Dr. Megan Koreman, wrote a book about Weidner and his escape route, after three years of painstaking research. The book is entitled Ordinary Heroes and is published by the Dutch publisher Boom. An English edition will shortly be published in Oxford (UK). The mini-symposium held on November 10 in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel—at the occasion of the publication of Koreman’s book, was attended by scores of children and grandchildren of men and women who owed their lives to the Dutch-Paris route. Since I have been involved with the project in a modest way, I was invited for this event. I was especially touched by the emphasis several of the speakers at the symposium placed on the faith of Weidner, which motivated him to put his life on the line to save others.

And, yes, thirdly, there is also Ben Carson, the (contemporary) Adventist who has become even more well known than he already was as a gifted surgeon and author of books about his life. He entered the American electoral race for the Republican nomination. He was eliminated quite soon, but then he decided to get behind Donald Trump. I happened to see him again yesterday on CNN, when he was mentioned as one of the Trump-supporters who may well be rewarded with a cabinet post. However, while I proudly tell others about Desmond Doss and Jean Weidner, I keep silent about the fact that Carson is a fellow-Adventist. How he could decide as a Christian (as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian!) to join such an amoral leader as Donald J. Trump baffles me. I hope that, if he were to become the Surgeon General in the Trump government, he will never speak of his denominational affiliation. Well, we will wait and see what happens . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Called

 

I have been quite productive since I came home from a trip to Sweden about two weeks ago. (We all know that trying to do a lot of things is not the same as being really productive!) Besides preparing two new sermons, I wrote two short articles in Dutch and two longer articles in English. In addition I worked on two presentations for a congress on ‘Celebrating Diversity’ that is to be held in Oxford (UK) towards the end of this month. I finished one earlier this week and this morning I finalized the second of the two presentations.

And I also succeeded in restoring order in my study and to make it more pleasant by shifting some of the book cases and my desk. So, all together, I feel rather satisfied.

One thing that I also appreciated very much this past week was viewing the impressive film that David Brillhart has made about the theme of female pastors in the Adventist Church. It runs for about 30 minuts and is entitled CALLED.

I know David since 1990. At the time I lived in Ivory Coast, a country in West-Africa. I was charged with making a 45 minute video report about the work of the church in the part of the African continent that was then referred to as the Africa-Indian Ocean Division.  This region comprised, apart from a few Anglophone countries (Ghana, Nigeria), all African countries where French is the official language (even as far as Madagascar and Reunion and Mauritius). I wrote the script and traveled with the small team that did the filming in a dozen or so African countries, while David was responsible for the final product. I vividly remember how we worked through several nights in a studio in California in order to get the film ready, in time for the General Conference session in Indianapolis.

I have stayed in regular contact with David. Therefore I was not surprised when (together was many others) I received a message from him with the internet link to the film (https://vimeopro.com/user2035123/called), and with the request to share his message, with the link to the film, to my Facebook networks.

This film about the experiences of four female pastors in the Adventist Church touched my deeply, in a way that few films have been able to do. The film gave an impressive picture of the resistance and prejudices female pastors must face when they begin their work in the churches that have been assigned to them. Fortunately the film also shows how many of these prejudices fade once the church members get to know their woman pastor and begin to appreciate her and recognize her calling. Brillhart and his team have succeeded brilliantly in telling the story of these women, without getting into fruitless arguments about Bible texts, but by putting some actual faces to the ‘problem’.  One remark of a young girl with Rumanian parents struck me as extremely important: ‘Do not write someone’s story before you heard it.’

In the past few days David and I have exchanged some messages about another project. Would it not be great if a similar film could be made about the issue that I deal with in my recent book FACING DOUBT: A Book for Adventist Believers ‘on the Margins’? David would love to work on such a project but for the time being it will most likely remain just a dream—unless from somewhere a Maecenas emerges who is willing to take care of the finances. Well, who knows?

For now I ask all readers of this blog to take the time to watch this movie CALLED (see the link above) and to tell others about it—by word of mouth and through the social media.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The two sides of the church

 

Last Saturday I saw the two sides of my church. I had no preaching appointment elsewhere in the country, which enabled me to worship in the small church where I hold my membership.  That morning we were to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. As usual I arrived about ten minutes before the start of the service, with enough time to greet all members personally. There was no Sabbath School. Normally the Sabbath School starts at 9.30. It is followed by a 20 minutes coffee break, before the divine service begins around 11. However, on days when we have the Communion the service starts at 10, with coffee after the service. So, this was the program for last Sabbath.

It was a very good service. A welcoming, friendly atmosphere. A well-planned liturgy, a sermon with content and a communion ritual that was experienced as meaningful by all who participated—myself definitely included.

A few hours later I was in another town where I joind a discussion group of some 20-25 people, most of whom are ‘on the margins’ of the church or have ceased to be members. Some decided already quite some time ago to lave the Adventist Church, but they still enjoy visiting this monthly discussion. Some weeks earlier I had been invited to introduce my recent book to this group. Apparently, there were still so many questions raised by the book that it was decided to devote another afternoon to it. There also, the atmosphere was excellent and I went home with a good feeling. The meeting had been quite meaningful.

When later, during the evening, I looked back at my day, I thought: Yes, these are the two sides of the Adventist Church. And even though they are miles apart, they belong together. The painful truth, however, is, that it is extremely difficult to build a bridge between those two elements, for the gap has become so wide that the groups no longer understand each other’s thinking. Those who attend church faithfully every week and feel safe in their faith, fail to understand why so many others have left the church and have so many doubts about things they once believed. Many ‘doubters’ who have gradually moved to ‘the margins’ have the sense that what happens on Saturday morning in church is no longer relevant to them. And they see things in the church (elsewhere in the world, but also in their own country) that they can no longer accept.

For me building bridges remains a sacred task. What can I do to help those, who hardly know any doubt and who have no major concerns about the way the church operates, to realize that the doubts and concerns of others are very real and touch their entire being? They must not simply shrug their shoulders and silently conclude that this is what happens when people give up their simple faith or allow too many questions to create unrest in their hearts. I am convinced that we often see an alarming lack of understanding and loving care for the people who are ‘on the margins’.

And what can I do to assist people who struggle with their faith and their church, so that they may consider to give the church another chance? How can I convince them that most church members are pleasant and positive people, who are willing to give them space and will not worry unduly when they have ideas that deviate from ‘the 28’—as long as they will also respect the opinions of others? What can I do to help them see that the church does indeed display some very disconcerting trends, but that it, nonetheless, still has much to offer, and that you actually do yourself a disservice not to participate in a constructive way in the life of this church family.

All of this presents an enormous challenge, and not only at the local level, to which I referred above. Worldwide perhaps the greatest problem the Adventist Church ever had to deal with is the polarization between those who are happy in their faith and content with their church (since they have ‘the Truth’) and the millions of men and women who, for all kinds of reasons, no longer feel at home in the church. The international debate now largely centers on the topic of ordaining women as pastors. That discussion is hugely important, but, in fact, this subject serves as a kind of symbol for a much broader underlying array of issues. The year of listening to each other and praying together that the General Conference has recently announced will not solve this. More is needed for that. There is a great suspicion on the part of many that the ‘lower’ organizations must listen to the ‘higher’ layer of the church! However, it is at least as important that the top leadership learns to intently listen to, and to look at, the concerns of the ‘doubters’ and those who are ‘on the margins’.

At the same time, I remain convinced that building bridges must first of all happen at the local and regional level. In my local church many members do not know who Ted Wilson is and the majority has never seen a GC Working Policy. Most have no clear idea whether or not the Dutch Adventist Church is in line with all international ‘laws’ of the church. But most of them do have children or relatives who are now ‘on the margins’ of the church and can give you a list of names of those ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ who once were active members but have left through the church’s back door.  Only when at a local and regional level we are serious about designing and building bridges, can we hope to help, through a slow process, to de-escalate the crisis of polarization the church is presently experiencing. I want to continue working towards that end and hope many will want to join forces in the designing and building of bridges.

FACING DOUBT_SIDE BAR_S2_web_GB kopie

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Once more: Facing Doubt

 

A lot has happened since a few months ago my recent book FACING DOUBT: a Book for Adventist Believers ‘on the Margins’ was published.  Most reactions from readers around the world have been very positive. Time and again I received messages telling me that the book described their personal situation. Some added that it helped them to face their doubts in a more constructive way and to see their church in a realistic but more positive way, in spite of the trends they do not like.  Selected reactions have been posted regularly on the special Facebook page:  @facingdoubt.

At time I have wondered about the wisdom of sticking my neck out in the way I did. But, looking back, I feel richly rewarded and it is a truly fulfilling ministry to support an important –sometimes marginal—segment in the Adventist Church.

As I expected there have been preciously few reaction from church leaders (Many did receive a copy and through the pipeline I get signals that it is being read and that some even feel it is important that the book gets a wide audience)

Official church channels for the promotion of the book have mostly remained closed. This, of course, presents a challenge. How do we make more people in the church aware of the book?  I am very grateful for the support I received from Adventist Today and Spectrum, and from the many individuals who have used their social media contacts to help with the promotion of the book.  As a result, for some weeks the book was the nr. 1 best selling Adventist book on Amazon.

The Dutch edition has received a warm reception from many of my fellow Dutchmen. French, Danish and Russian translations are under way. Initial contacts have been made with a view to also getting the book out in the German and Norwegian language. And—who knows?—a Spanish translation might also be feasible. Finding the funding for the costs of translations, etc. remains one other challenge, which means that things may not go as quickly as I had hoped.

However, the time has come to give the English (and Dutch) edition another promotional boost.  One again I want to ask all my (now almost 4.000) blog readers to look at my current Facebook page. My simple question is: Please share this page with all your FB ‘friends’ and ask them to then share it further with their network!

And, of course, please tell others about the book (or give it to relatives and friends whom you feel might benefit from it.

A big thank you!

PS  And if you hav not ordered your own copy: do so now at Amazon.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment