By Jonathon Van Maren
In early January 2019, a media firestorm erupted in the Netherlands over a document authored in — of all places — Tennessee. A translation of the so-called Nashville Statement — a declaration of fealty to traditional biblical sexual ethics signed by over 22,000 Christian leaders in the U.S. and abroad — was released after two theologians from the Theological University Apeldoorn wrote an op-ed opposing it, thereby putting pressure on those working on the Dutch version of the document to publish it ahead of schedule.
Although the document had already been circulating in some Dutch Reformed circles as early as 2018, the premature release of the Nashville Statement — which simply lays out what Dutch Christians have believed for centuries — created a firestorm, particularly since the names of signatories included Kees van der Staaij, leader of the Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (Political Reformed Party or SGP), the oldest political party in the Netherlands.
Dutch LGBT activists immediately condemned the Nashville Statement as “hate.” The Public Prosecution Service promised to investigate whether publication of the Statement broke the law (affirming the following year that it did not). And opera singer Francis van Broekhuizen, claiming that the Nashville Statement was a “call [for] discriminating against [LGBT] people,” even filed a police complaint — against the SGP’s Kees van der Staaij.Although the Netherlands was the first nation to redefine marriage (in 2001), there is still a significant Christian minority which holds to the biblical definition of marriage. However, due to the ongoing ‘balkanization’ of Dutch society — with many Christians keeping to their own church-oriented communities — many in the progressive mainstream seemed shock to discover that people who held these views still existed. Within traditional pockets in the ‘Bible belt,’ secular progressivism had failed to secure a foothold.
Although he had not been aware that the document would be released, van der Staaij responded calmly. “The Nashville Declaration reflects the classic Christian notions on relationships and sexuality on a current and much-discussed theme,” he wrote on the SGP’s website. He continued:
“These notions are shared across borders of churches and countries. The SGP has never made a secret of standing for the biblical notions of marriage, family, and sexuality. In line with this I have indicated that I can agree with the scope of the Nashville Declaration. I find the comprehensive afterword in the Dutch version particularly valuable. It rightly emphasizes the great responsibility for careful handling of people who have probing questions about their sexual orientation and gender. These notions are an essential addition to the [American] declaration for me.”
Over the following weeks, van der Staaij gave numerous interviews, appeared on television, and calmly and compassionately addressed his critic’s concerns. This had an impact. Many who heard him expressed surprise that a man so demonized in the press could turn out to be the furthest thing from the hateful person he had been made out to be. Instead, van der Staaij emerged as a powerful witness for the Christian worldview in a dominant secular culture.