The Conference on the Contours of European Adventism (Day One)

Friedensau Adventist University in the former East Germany is deeply rooted in the history of Adventism. Its Institute of Adventist Studies has chosen as the subject for its Third Symposium: “The Contours of European Adventism.” It’s a time of reflection on identity and mission for European Adventist scholars from East and West. Between forty and fifty people in two concentric circles – some presenters, others “guest auditors” participate in a round-table discussion. We are meeting in the Friedensau “Aula” – a light and airy room with twelve large windows looking out on the campus trees, blossoming now in the German spring.

After the first day, some contours of European Adventist faith are emerging. Born in a new country where freedom of religion was a founding principle, and received in “old” countries where established religion had deep roots in culture and in government, Adventism in Europe has matured in a variety of different ways. If we didn’t know it before, by the end of the first 24 hours of the symposium, it is clear to us all that nobody can talk about “European Adventism” as if it were a homogeneous group. It is a much more complicated animal than anyone, anywhere, can know. This report can focus on just a few of the contours presented.

In the keynote speech, we saw European Adventism from the viewpoint on the church often privileged within the church – the perspective from North America. Dr. Denis Fortin, Professor of Historical Theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, focused on familiar themes for any discussion on European Adventism – the role and relationship of Ellen White to the European church and what some Europeans have made of her approach to ecumenism. He suggested that from the American side of the Atlantic, European Adventist ecumenism is sometimes seen as too reflective of the ethos and culture of the Lutheran reformed church. In contrast, he suggested that what American Adventists may fail to recognize is the extent of the American Adventist church’s involvement with Protestant Evangelicalism and fundamentalism in the United States.

Dr. Reinder Bruinsma focused on the relations of the Adventist church to the European Union. Given Adventist apocalyptic interpretation, one might have expected this to be a fruitful perspective from which to understand the European Adventist. Instead, he discovered a scarcity of mainline Adventist attempts to tie contemporary events to particular prophetic interpretations. He suggested that Adventists have become increasingly wary about “the risk of having to modify its views as times goes on.”

Dr. Michael Pearson’s autobiographically-based paper followed. He narrated his sense of alienation as a child in London given Adventist publications like “Our Little Friend” about children who were different from him in their families and their locations. He summed up the effects of the disjuncture between what is sometimes dominant American Adventist culture and other cultures in a question about mission, “Why would people in my place recognize the importance of my church, when my church does not recognize the importance of my place?”

The second half of the morning offered two presentations on Violence against Adventists. In the words of Dr. Daniel Heinz, Archivist of the Historical Archives of Europe in Friedensau, “The Suffering Church in Europe has other priorities than the post-modern concerns of Western Adventism.” His presentation focused on the Adventist martyrs in Germany, Russia and Armenia – the “red” martyrs who gave their blood for their faith and the “white” martyrs who, though not killed, paid the price for being seen by their compatriots as religious fanatics from America in fines, physical abuse, harassment, and imprisonment.

An equally sobering paper followed from Yevgeniy Zaytsev from Zaoksky Adventist University. He traced the history of Seventh-day Adventists in the Soviet Union 1939-45 when the church experienced ideological pressure from the State first under the Bolsheviks and later under the occupying German authorities who sought to undermine the previous government by offering freedom of religion. Finally, he described how the Soviet government sent many Adventists to the Gulag for “assisting” the occupying German forces.

There was only one response to these two papers – the participants stood for a minute’s silence in respect for our brothers and sisters who faced, in different ways, the struggle to remain true to their consciences, true to their civic duties and true to their God.

The afternoon reflected the themes of the previous sessions as participants divided to discuss further examples of Adventist relations. In one small group, Adventist relations to other faiths were discussed. Sometimes those relations were lived out fruitfully with other “free” churches in work for the Bible Societies in various countries. In other places, particularly where a state church is dominant, the relations were much more fraught. In the second small group, the relationships to socialist Czechoslovakia and communist Romania were discussed and Adventist responses to state attempts to undermine the influence of all churches.

After a long day, any weariness among participants was dispelled in the evening by a sparkling presentation on “Being a Politician and an Adventist in Europe” from Dutch Adventist politician, Marianne Thieme – the founder and party leader in the Dutch House of Representatives of PvdD – the Party for the Animals. Marianne had clearly found in the teachings of the Adventist church great resonance with her own concerns for personal freedom and responsibility, stewardship, compassion and sustainability. When asked what lessons the European Adventist church could learn from her success as a politician, she left the participants with an optimistic thought at the end of the day. “Be a real Protestant – against the Establishment…” she said, “we can be the Reformation Movement of the 21st century.”

Helen Pearson is a counselor, psychotherapist, writer, and trainer from Wokingham in England and a longtime elder of Newbold Church. She and her husband, Michael, run the website Pearsons’ Perspectives.

Photo courtesy of the author.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8725

Thank you Dr. Helen Pearson for your vivid and illuminating analysis of the historical and cultural context of European expression of Adventism.
It is important to consider the enormous stresses all families encounter in the process of acculturation due to sudden and radical shifts in family dynamics. Parents, from recently migrated families from Europe often are aligned with the culture of the country of origin, while their offspring are likely to adapt to the dominant culture more rapidly. This often leads to intergenerational conflicts that our church is ill-equipped to deal with.

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Thank you Helen, for such a nice summary of what happens so close by :wink:
And thank you, SPECTRUM for putting European Adventism on the map. Too often “Adventism” is defined by its American version. There actually might be more…
Finally - I am glad that Friedensau Adventist University is being described a little. Truly a gem of a place, well worth finding out more about. But then - I gladly admit, I am biased. :sunglasses:

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Interesting stuff. For some reason some of the experiences recounted above reminded me of an interesting interfaith podcast conversation with a couple UK Adventists. I remember thinking at the time that some of the answers they gave during this dialogue were much more “mainstream” than I would have expected from within my American SDA perspective.

Actually, I bet a number of folks in the Spectrum community would really enjoy the Unbelievable? podcast. It’s from a large London Christian radio station, and features interfaith dialogues on apologetics, science and faith, philosophy and theology. It’s rare to hear honest, civil and thoughtful dialogue on these “big questions” of life the universe and everything. And I swear, I get nothing from this plug, it’s just a good show. :slight_smile:

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this discussion brings a thought to my mind.
There have been a lot of American students who have taken studies in various European
SDA Universities.
Do these students come back home with a different view of SDA than when they left.
And, if so, has their views of American SDAism changed? Do they keep these views
for life, or do they lose them after re-emerging into American SDA-ism?

OR, when they attend studies in Europe, are they too ISOLATED from mainstream European
Adventism to even know they have left “home”?

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Thank you, Helen.

I attended the last two of these Friedensau meetings, and both were, for both their candor and collegiality, just wonderful. I pray that God blesses every conversation!

Chuck

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My grandmother was jailed for her Adventist faith in Finland, and accused of being a “Jew spy”, arising from her refusal to bake karjalanpiirakat on sabbath during the “Winter War” of '39.
She was baptized by early Scandinavian SDA pioneer Väinö Bernhard Kohtanen. He was an early evangelist, charismatic speaker, president of Toivonlinnan Yhteiskoulu, and later, President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Finland. She bore 13 children, lived nearly a hundred years, and never lost her faith despite all that she faced. Sisu!

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Speaking of Dr Mike Pearson’s paper, Helen said:

Great point Mike! As I remember it, the early American leaders of the Adventist movement in the UK struggled to understand that missionary methods that worked superbly in America had to be modified or even abandoned in England. One must also teach prophecy with a truly global perspective and a locational sensitivity. Yet the major pillars of our faith remain the same wherever we are!

Andreas,
That’s true, European Adventism should be much more "on the map."
Cheers.

Yes, European Adventism should be on the map, and especially the PvdD brand of independent but deeply scriptural thinking. We as Adventists are much too timid when it comes to the ramifications of 'Fearing the God who made" the animals and the earth’s climate systems. If we are keeping Sabbath to honor God as Creator, we must not be known as unhealthy, overweight dessert crazed and reluctant vegetarians, very poor recyclers, climate change deniers, or gas guzzling speed limits scoffers. All these elements of American Adventist culture need to be dramatically addressed and sent to the ‘dust bin of history’! Let us be witnesses for Jesus in new and relevant ways.

The whole strength of USA founded religion the Seventh-day Adventist lies in the fact that exclusiveness is a characteristic of richest showiness high society. Young converts of skunk European countries become snobs. They have forgotten their ancestors, their traditions, their customs. European Adventism on the map is forgotten. A European mother takes twenty years to make a man of her boy, and SDA the American founded religion make a fool of him in twenty minutes.

I wish more student’s would test your questions, Steve. :wink:

Friedensau certainly welcomes international students. About half our students don’t speak German as their mother tongue (but … our ACA approved language school can teach you). Sorry - couldn’t resist a little advertising.

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