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Topic: The Nashville Statement

The Nashville Statement and Human Rights

January 31, 2019

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the January 2019 edition of the CBMW Newsletter, a monthly ministry update that features exclusive editorial content from CBMW Executive Director Colin Smothers. We are posting part of this month’s newsletter editorial here to give non-subscribers a chance to read it and have the opportunity to sign up here to receive CBMW’s monthly newsletter in your inbox.

This month, the CBMW office was surprised by the news that over 200 pastors and leaders in the Netherlands had translated and signed the Nashville Statement. Although the Dutch translation and signatories were released at the end of last year to very little fanfare, that all changed when media outlets in the Netherlands caught wind of the statement and signatories earlier this month. Significant national—and even some global—backlash quickly followed. Dozens of news reports appeared about the Dutch translation of the statement, including an opinion piece in The Economist.

In a tellingly symbolic move replicated in cities across the Netherlands, the City of Hague, which is the seat of international justice, raised a rainbow flag in protest of the Nashville Statement.

The 60 minutes equivalent of Dutch TV, Nieuwsuur, ran specials on the statement two nights in a row. The second show included an interview with CBMW president Denny Burk. Denny was grateful to be given the opportunity to explain the original intent behind the Nashville Statement, which is more than can be said for American media when the statement was released in the fall of 2017. Although the original statement was covered by secular outlets as diverse as the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, and even some Christian outlets such as Christianity Today, the only media outlet to contact CBMW for comment was WORLD magazine—for which we were grateful.

One alarming aspect in all of this was the report by several news outlets that the Dutch government was considering opening a criminal investigation into the pastors who signed the Nashville Statement. These reports cited as possible grounds for the investigation Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution, which prohibits discrimination “on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever.”

The irony of Dutch media citing Article 1 in the Dutch Constitution should not be lost on us. Article 1 obviously prohibits discrimination on the basis of “sex”—of course an originalist interpretation of this would almost certainly not implicate the Nashville Statement—but one has to completely ignore the first part of the Article in order for this constitutional appeal to make any sense.

Article 1 first prohibits discrimination on the basis of “religion” and “belief” logically prior to “political opinion,” which is itself listed prior to “race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever.” Why this order? There are philosophical and historical arguments behind this order, arguments that stand similarly behind the US Constitution.

Most elementary US History courses recount the story of the English Separatists who fled persecution by the Church of England to Holland (present day Netherlands), which provided them religious asylum and a place to practice their religion according to their consciences. These same refugees, which we know today as the Pilgrims, eventually left Holland aboard the Mayflower for the New World and formed not a small percentage of the original settlers of America when they founded a settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.

America’s founding fathers knew their cultural heritage and history when they set about drafting a new constitution for a new nation, and it wasn’t until the First Amendment was drafted, alongside the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, that the US Constitution was ratified by all of the original states. The first lines of the First Amendment guarantee that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This priority of religious liberty is no accident, and the philosophical and historical reasons are important to recall: (1) Religion involves the deepest aspects of what it means to be human, to be an individual, and to be an individual in community; (2) All of life is downstream from religion; if one cannot speak, associate, vote, and generally live according to one’s religiously formed conscience—with all the necessary natural law limitations—one is not truly free; (3) A government that bears the sword in order to force strict adherence to a certain religion will make a nation of heretics or hypocrites; and (4) History is replete with examples of governments that ignore these realities at great cost to its subjects.

But ever since the departure of feminism and the acceleration supplied by the sexual revolution, religious liberty has been on a collision course with sexual liberty. This inevitable collision points to a greater conflict between what philosopher Roger Scruton terms human rights vs. natural rights. America’s founding fathers understood, at least in writing, that individuals are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights—what we could call natural rights. The connection between natural rights and the natural law written by the finger of God into His creation is most important. These natural rights are fixed, in that they do not change, grow, or diminish with the passage of time, because the Creator is eternal. And they are rooted in creation, meaning they cannot contradict the natural order.

But progressive liberals, of the kind that were outraged in the latest dust up around the Nashville Statement in the Netherlands, trade in a completely different understanding of rights & liberty. Namely, that human rights are endowed not by our Creator but by our fellow man.

But man is fickle and finite, and human rights that are rooted in man’s permission will likewise be so.

Nowhere is the progressive liberal understanding of human rights and liberty perhaps more manifest than in this quote from Anthony Kennedy, which comes from his Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Against such folly, it is paramount we as Christians acknowledge that we cannot “define” ourselves to be something we are not, something we were not created to be. This is exactly the premise currently being rejected by the global progressive consensus, especially with regard to sexuality. They are not interested in inalienable, natural rights endowed by the Creator. Instead, at least according to Kennedy’s definition of liberty, the rights they claim for every man are as boundless as his own imagination and as secure as his own mortality. What is more, they are not at all based on our common humanity, but on our fractured individuality.

The Nashville Statement bears witness to a different reality, and these Dutch pastors should be commended for wanting to bear witness to this reality. The preamble of the Nashville Statement confesses, in the words of Psalm 100:3, “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.”

We should continue to try and persuade those in our pews and a wayward world to recognize the futility of attempting to revolutionize the natural order in the pursuit after arbitrary human rights. This is exactly what these pastors did in the Netherlands, once a safe haven for the religiously persecuted, now prosecuting the religious for their faith. But God is seated on his throne in the heavens. It is He who made us, and it is from Him that all human dignity flows.

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