In recent years, theologically orthodox Christians have come under sustained attack throughout Europe and North America. The Netherlands, once renowned for its tolerance, is no exception. Some 250 Dutch Calvinists are now undergoing a hate-crime investigation for publicly reaffirming the traditional teaching of the Christian Church on the sinfulness of sexual intercourse outside the bond of marriage between a man and a woman.
The focus of the investigation by the Dutch Justice Ministry is the Nashville, a Dutch version of the Nashville Statement on sexualmorality that was issued by an evangelical group in the United States in 2017. Dutch prosecutors are particularly concerned about provisions affirming that “God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage” and denying that “a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”
More than 22,000 North Americans, including such eminent Evangelical leaders as Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and J. I. Packer, Board of Governors Professor of Theology at Vancouver’s Regent College, have publicly endorsed the Nashville Statement. In contrast, a host of secular journalists, politicians and liberal Christians have vehemently denounced the document. In a typical tirade published in The New York Times, Eliel Cruz, a self-described “queer Christian,” characterized the Nashville Statement as a “hateful” message of “intolerance” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that “represents a renewed commitment to open bigotry.”
So far, though, no one in North America has been subjected to a hate-crime investigation for signing the Nashville Statement. The 250 Dutch signers of the Nashville Verklaring including Kees van der Staaij, a member of the Dutch Parliament and leader of the tiny Calvinist SGP party, are not so lucky: They are all targets of the hate-crime investigation by Dutch prosecutors.
The case focuses on three key provisions of the 2008 Dutch Constitution: Article 1, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race or sex or any other ground whatsoever,” and Articles 6 and 7, which guarantee freedom of religion and freedom of expression. The Dutch government explains on its official website that these freedoms are not absolute: “For example, a journalist may express an opinion concerning a particular religion in an article, but may not use that article to incite hatred against followers of that religion.”
Accordingly, the Dutch signers of the Nashville Verklaring should be safe from prosecution. Notwithstanding the slanderous allegations of perfervid critics like Cruz, there is nothing in that document that incites hatred against homosexual, bisexuals, the transgendered or any other group.
However, while the Nashville Statement is excellent as a cryptic reaffirmation of faith for Evangelicals, it is seriously inadequate as an explanatory public document for people who have little understanding of the Christian faith.
Consider, in contrast, the Manhattan Declaration of 2009. Like the Nashville Statement, this declaration reaffirms “marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation.” However, the declaration also explains at considerable length why the traditional conception of marriage is, and always has been, “historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society.”
The signers of the Manhattan Declaration also emphasized that they do not presume to pass judgment on homosexuals, bisexuals or anyone else. “We, no less than they, are sinners who have fallen short of God’s intention for our lives,” the signers confessed. “We, no less than they, are in constant need of God’s patience, love and forgiveness.
“We call on the entire Christian community to resist sexual immorality, and at the same time refrain from disdainful condemnation of those who yield to it. Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become the rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts.”
The Manhattan Declaration was jointly drafted by an eminent Catholic – Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University – and two prominent Evangelicals – Timothy George of the Beeson Divinity School and Charles Colson, author of Born Again and several other excellent books. More than 500,000 evangelicals and Catholics signed the Manhattan Declaration including Evangelicals Mohler and Packer as well as Cardinals Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Timothy Dolan of New York.
In light of the uproar over the Nashville Statement, faithful Christians would do well to recall Benjamin Franklin’s warning: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” By jointly, rather than separately, affirming the timeless, but now controversial, moral truths of the Christian faith, Catholics and evangelicals can make themselves considerably less vulnerable to attack by anti-Christian bigots.