Over the last days, there has been outrage in the Netherlands over the emergence of the Nashville Statement. This religious statement about gender roles and sexuality in today’s society was translated to Dutch, and signed by a few hundred Orthodox Protestant preachers. Among whom were some prominent figures. 

What is the Nashville Statement?

The Nashville Statement was initially written by the American Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). The CBMW’s mission is to ‘set forth the teaching of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women, created equally in the image of God, because these teachings are essential for obedience to Scripture and for the health of the family and the church.’ A similar statement, called the Danvers Statement, was published by this organisation in 1987.

The Statement was released in August 2017. In the meantime, it has been signed by over 22, 000 people. As it says in the opening paragraph, ‘Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being’. In other words, the statement is a reaction to changing times in which Christianity and its view on gender roles and sexuality are losing in popularity. It then goes on to describe the evangelical Christian view on what human sexuality and gender roles are supposed to look like.

In essence, the statement is an attack on the LGTBI community. In its view, only marriages between one man and one woman are legitimate and approved of by God, and therefore, same-sex marriage is not. Moreover, according to the statement, there is no such thing as homosexuality or transgenderism, and ‘adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is inconsistent with God’s holy purpose in creation and redemption’. As if that is not enough, by stating that the ‘pardon and power [of God] enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord’, it implicates that the gay and transgender people can be ‘cured’.

Its impact in the Netherlands

As soon as the Dutch version of the Nashville Statement was signed, it sparked criticism and outrage. Critics of the Nashville Statement contest the notion that God would judge people for their love for others. People where specifically outraged by the implication that homosexuality and transgenderism could and should be cured. The COC, a Dutch advocacy group for the rights of the LGTBI community, called the statement a harmful document for Orthodox-Protestant members of the LGTBI community, and a cruel and insensitive move by its signers. The statement makes it hard for those who are gay, bisexual or transgender to be out.

Kees van der Staaij, a Dutch Politician and leader of the Reformed Political Party, was one of the most prominent signers of the Nashville Statement. While he says that his party has always been straightforward in its support of marriage, family and sexuality only in the Biblical sense, he was criticised for denying a fundamental part of the Constitution to thousands of Dutch members of the LGBTI community. Others criticised Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, for not speaking out against the statement. The fact that four signers of the Statement are professors at the Vrije Universiteit (the Liberal University of Amsterdam) was also cause for anger. 

The Nashville Statement also did not go well with many Dutch Christians. Gert-Jan Segers, politician and leader of the ChristianUnion, tweeted that this statement does not serve the conversation about religion and homosexuality at all. He added that Jesus’ first message for this world was not one of do’s and don’ts, but one that made clear that everyone is welcome to join Him.

Others emphasised that, regardless of one’s identity, everyone will always be welcome in the house of God. In protest, a group of Dutch Christians started a petition called Ik sta naast je (I stand with you). By signing, Christians attest that ‘God’s unconditional love is for everyone’. Another voice against the Nashville Statement comes from het Humanistisch Verbond (the Dutch Humanist Association) in the form of the Liefdesverklaring (Statement of Love). Just as the Nashville Statement, the Statement of Love is an online document that can be signed by anyone. However, signers attest that women and men are equal and that love can take many forms. It denies that people have to hide their sexual orientation and confirms that marriage is a choice made by two people, gay, bisexual or heterosexual. So far, the statement was signed by 45,000 people. On 9th January, Amsterdam hosted a Viering van de Liefde (Celebration of Love), where people gathered to demonstrate against the Nashville statement and to celebrate love and inclusivity. 

The Netherlands as a tolerant and progressive country?

The Netherlands has an image of being progressive and tolerant, and the Dutch are proud of this. It was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001, and various festivities to celebrate the LGBTI community are held each year, such as Pride Amsterdam and Pink Monday in Tilburg. On first sight, it seems that the LGTBI community is fully accepted in the Netherlands and that everyone has the freedom to be themselves. 

But the data suggests differently. Whereas 92 per cent of Dutch people think that gay people should be able to live as they want, things change when one’s own child might be gay. One in six parents think it is not okay for their children to be gay, and in parents with Turkish, Moroccan,  Antillean or Surinamese background, it is even three out of four. Moreover, 15 per cent of adults said rather not to hang out with people who do not clearly look like either a man or woman. 

Who thinks acceptance of the LGBTI community is higher among young people is sadly mistaken. In 2017, 27 per cent of boys and 13 per cent of girls said to disapprove of it if two boys kissed in public. 18 per cent of young people say not to want to be friends with someone who is gay, and at least 15 per cent disapproves of it when transgender chooses to undergo sex change. Of openly transgender young people, almost half said to have experienced verbal violence in school, and 20 per cent to have faced physical violence.

Unsurprisingly, this intolerance and discrimination take its toll. One in ten adult transgenders says not to be open about their gender identity, and only 62 per cent of young transgenders have told their parents about their gender identity. In 2016, one in five LGBTIs said to have faced LGBTI-related violence during the year before, and in 2013, the city of Amsterdam saw 535 reports of violence against LGBTI people. Moreover, mental health problems and suicides are significantly more prevalent in the LGBTI community. 

What we can do

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for others to change their minds and become more tolerant. We can all do something.

It is easy to dismiss the Dutch Nashville Statement as just a single incident, a hateful document signed by an extremely religious group of people. But intolerance towards the LGTBI community clearly is a big issue in the Netherlands, and based on data in young people, this is not improving. Moreover, statements like this influence public opinion, and disrupts the conversation on gender roles and sexuality. They send a signal to LGBTIs that they have no place in society.

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for others to change their minds and become more tolerant. We can all do something. Especially those who are cis-gendered and heterosexual should make an effort to learn about the stories and experiences of those who are not. We should all speak up when we witness discrimination, intolerance and misogyny to send a strong signal that that is not okay. And we do not need to wait until another Nashville-like statement is published to celebrate love and acceptance. Every day, we can honour those of the LGBTI community. Not despite their sexual orientation or gender identity, but because of it. Because everyone is perfect the way they are, and because diversity makes the world more beautiful. 

As the Dutch saying goes, unknown makes unloved. Intolerance towards others stems from ignorance. Let’s talk to each other in order to make our society more inclusive for everyone.