Dutch church retains "atheist" preacher

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An atheist preacher has been allowed to stay in office by the Protestant Church of the Netherlands.

The regional church assembly in the southwestern town of Zierikzee decided that preacher Klaas Hendrikse's views do not fundamentally differ from those of other liberal theologians in the Protestant Church. A clerical court case against Mr Hendrikse has been suspended. The decision was opposed by about a quarter of the representatives at the regional meeting.

Mr Hendrikse was subjected to an inquiry following the publicaton of his book, Believing in a God who does not exist. In it, Mr Hendrikse explains that he does not believe in a personal God, or in his words, "To me God is not a being, but a word for what can occur between people." He has since been loosely referred to as "the atheist preacher", although he has not declared himself a total non-believer.

Multiply and go forth
Mr Hendrikse preaches from pulpits in Dutch-Reformed parishes in the cities of Middelburg and Zierikzee, in Zeeland province. His is a late calling, for he took up theology only later in life, after a career with a photocopying manufacturer.

Later this year the national administration of the Protestant Church will tackle the issue of how to discuss God in church. Formed in 2004, the Protestant Church of the Netherlands consists of the Reformed Churches, the Dutch-Reformed Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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