Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Fall 2022 issue of Eikon.
It seldom happens that theological statements make the news in a secular country such as the Netherlands.
However, in the first week of 2019 this is what happened. The Dutch translation of the Nashville Statement set off a metaphorical bomb — the national news devoted attention to the topic, politicians were shocked, the prime minister expressed his disapproval, there were demonstrations in Amsterdam and extra police security was warranted during the church services of the signatories. Days on end, the media devoted extra coverage. The Netherlands was shocked that there were still people who held these convictions and expressed them in this day and age. Even though there are still thousands of orthodox Christians in the Netherlands today, the outside world seems to be unacquainted with their convictions. The Nashville Statement changed this.
The Netherlands is a progressive country with respect to the LGBT ideology, which even amongst Christians causes questions and confusion. Several churches have joined this progressive movement. For example, in 2018, 400 progressive theologians published an appeal in the newspapers for complete acceptance of gay marriage in the church. In response to such developments, it seemed a good idea to several other pastors to create a Dutch translation of the 2017 Nashville Statement, and to draw attention to this statement in the churches and call for adherence.
At the end of December 2018, the document was ready for publication. The text was published online in the first week of January, including the names of the signatories, among which was the name of the reformed politician Kees van der Staaij, a member of the House of Representatives. When this became public, it caused a lot of turbulence.
The press started to get involved and the initiators were bombarded with questions from the media and invitations from famous talk show hosts came flooding in. I, myself, was visited by a spokesperson of the national news channel NOS. The broadcast produced a wave of negative (and, I am happy to add, positive) reactions via email. Even CBMW’s president Denny Burk was interviewed about the background of the Nashville Statement and appeared on the news. Still, this did not help to overcome the negative connotations. Nashville was deemed “absurd” and “homophobic” and, according to the minister of Emancipation, it was “ruthlessly harsh and a step back in time.”
People felt particularly offended by the claim in Article 7 that it is against God’s purpose when persons adopt a homosexual or transgender self-conception. This claim simply intends to teach that homosexual or transgender feelings cannot be our deepest identity; however, people soon came to read and understand this statement as denying people experience transgenderism or homosexuality. In addition, many Christians also contested this wording. In the Netherlands, it has been a common practice to differentiate between homosexual attraction and homosexual praxis. The fact that a person has homosexual feelings may not be something they can help; however, one should not practice homosexuality. But many thought the Nashville Statement was denying homosexual or transgender feelings.
Because the discussion about the link between homosexuality and identity was much further developed in America than in the Netherlands, this claim was not perceived as we intended. For that reason, the Nashville team in the Netherlands added a pastoral epilogue to the statement, tailored to the Dutch context.
They who in themselves recognize a homosexual orientation or struggle with their gender may know themselves to be a full member of the Christian congregation. For none of us can boast or pride oneself to be better; as we all should live by the grace of God. Everyone’s heart is known to have a naturally sinful orientation and every human being knows of sinful desires, which are also expressed in a sexual nature. Battling sin, therefore, always means self-denial. That is a gift of God’s grace which, most profoundly, is possible only in and by Christ and through the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ has come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repent and save them. That is what determines the Christian life. In this manner, our identity is not in our sexuality but it is in our relation to Christ. This is all with the knowledge that, here on earth, when we live by God’s Word and in community with Him, it will give us the greatest joy, but only in part. The full victory over our sinful, old nature is coming soon, when all the true believers will forever be with Christ. Then, they will be made whole, with body and soul, devoted to Him and will He be all and in all.
After the storm
The storm around Nashville did not die down immediately. The Public Prosecution Office investigated whether there was any criminal liability. Thankfully, charges were not brought.. According to the Public Prosecution Office the claims made in the Nashville Statement fall within the scope of freedom of expression and religion. Although critics argue the statement had an adverse effect and ultimately furthered the LGBT ideology in our society, and ultimately only served the church, there has also been a positive effect.
Nashville was a wake-up call for churches and Christians which led to a new reflection on the themes of marriage, sexuality, and questions about LGBT ideology. One of the positive developments after the storm around Nashville was the establishment of a new organization which could be described as the Dutch equivalent of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Bijbels Beraad m/v, which sees itself confronted with an increasing demand for good reading material and the equipping of churches and schools who yearn for scripturally acceptable teaching.
Maarten Klaassen (Ph.D.) studied theology at Utrecht University, where he wrote his Master’s thesis on John Owen. His Ph.D. dissertation is on the doctrine of justification in the reformed tradition (Amsterdam, 2013). Klaasen has pastored three congregations in the Netherlands, and today he lectures for Bijbels Beraad m/n to equip churches, schools, and Christian organizations on biblical marriage and sexuality.
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