Gay in church

Written by Kimberly Nicolaus

The Netherlands is a tolerant country towards gays, but within the Dutch Catholic church and conservative parts of the Protestant church, open homosexuality is still a problem. Individual gay believers who are coming out are being repressed.

How do conservative Christians behave towards LGBTQ+ Christians? This year, both the Protestant and the Roman Catholic Churches in the Netherlands have been confronted with this question. In January, the Nashville Statement forced the Protestant Churches to take a clear stance on the acceptance of LGBTQ+ Christians. In March, the Catholic priest Pierre Valkering revealed he is gay and refuses to live in celibacy. How these incidents have been dealt with clearly shows that the opinions about LGBTQ+ Christians are still quite different amongst Christian communities, although the Netherlands became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001.

“Some people say you can have homosexual feelings as a gay person, but you cannot express them in a sexual relationship with another gay person”, tells Protestant Gert-Jan van Leeuwen (47) and president of ChristenQueer, a Christian LGBTQ+ movement that provides a safe place for Christian gays to meet like-minded people. “If conservative Christians say it’s not allowed to express your own identity, it is hurtful.” That’s why the relationship between the freedom of speech and freedom of religion is sometimes tense: “Can a Christian say everything even though it might offend another person? Where does the freedom of speech end and where does the freedom of religion start?”

Interpretations of Bible verses
Different opinions within the church about LGBTQ+ Christians are a result of different interpretations of the Bible. According to Gert-Jan, there are several verses about the situation that a man lays down with another man, consequently, they would be condemned and punished by God. “Conservative Christians tend to explain those verses very literally”, he says, “but there’s also the question: Is it about homosexuality or about male prostitution for example?” Unlike conservative Christians, Gert-Jan interprets the bible as a whole and discerns the main message of Christ which is: to love one another. Thus, it was possible for him to be both, Christian and gay, after he’s been struggling with his feelings since his eighteenth birthday and tried to live a celibate life for more than ten years. “It didn’t work for me”, he explains, “because celibacy can be a choice, but it should be the own choice of freedom. Back then, I chose to live in celibacy because I had thought God wants that from me because I cannot be gay.”

Nashville Statement hurts gay Christians identity
The conservative view of how to behave as gay Protestant Christian was clearly noticeable within the Dutch debate on the so-called Nashville Statement, published last January. As stated in an article of de Volkskrant, approximately 250 Protestant ministers from the Restored Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches, as well as Kees van der Staaij, leader of the Reformed Political Party (SGP), have signed the controversial document. Every signatory affirms that “God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife” and that “it’s sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism.” 

According to Hans-Dieter de Smit, a 27-year-old project manager for LCC Plus Projecten, the fact that Dutch politicians from a national party signed the Statement led to a heated debate. LCC Plus Projecten is an organization that promotes social acceptance of homosexuality in any Christian circles and schools. Hans-Dieter himself is also city councillor of CDA (Christian democratic political party) in Amersfoort and believes that a politician cannot sign a statement like the Nashville Statement:

“A politician is bound by the constitution, which represents the entire Dutch population. You cannot keep this pledge while at the same time signing a document that is harmful to several members of that population.” At the same time, Gert-Jan points out that the Nashville Statement made a lot of Christians say that this isn’t the way they want to talk about their gay fellow believers. Indeed, LGBTQ+ advocators in churches as well as in Dutch government buildings flew rainbow flags to oppose the Nashville Statement. However, the state prosecutor is still looking into the case if the statements of van der Staaij are against the law. 

As reported by Statistic Netherlands (CBS), fifteen per cent of the Dutch population aged fifteen years and older were Protestant in 2017, including Dutch Reformed Church, Reformed Churches and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN). Whereas around 24 per cent were affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

Strict conservative rules within the Catholic Church
Pierre Valkering, a 58-year-old Catholic priest in Amsterdam presented his book “Ontkleed niet naakt staan” (Undressed not standing naked) on 31 March. He’s openly homosexual, wrote about his sexual adventures and his porn addiction, and he refuses to live in celibacy. The diocese of Haarlem has forced him to put down his priestly duties. 

“He was very brave to come out as gay and that he wants to initiate a dialogue within the Roman Catholic Church about sexual identity, about celibacy and about being human and what that means”, says Hans-Dieter. “I know the rules in the Roman Catholic Church so the consequence for Pierre wasn’t a surprise to me”, but Gert-Jan’s sincere hope is “that in the future a gay Christian can be a priest within the Roman Catholic Church and that heterosexuals and gays of all churches will unite.”

The freedom of speech includes giving one’s own opinion, but not dictating what a gay person is allowed to do or not in his or her personal life. That’s why Hans-Dieter stresses out that there’s still a long way to go within Christian circles and outside: “It’s naive to think that everything is already good as it is.” He notices a sort of paradox within society: “People celebrate diversity at Gay Pride or any other event. But at the same time, LGBTQ+ people are called names by some citizens when they walk hand in hand with their partner.”

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