“If someone is homo and seeks God and has good intentions, who am I to judge him.” This recent statement by the jolly and cuddly Pope Francis came as a real bombshell to many. For the first time since time immemorial, a Pope showed mercy to his gay fellow man. That the Pope only meant those who are celibate, did not cast a shadow on the joy of the free-thinkers. Finally a Pope with something positive to say.
God Settles in the Bedroom
Rimmer Mulder, former journalist of such newspapers as “Trouw” and the “Leeuwarder Courant” argues in his book “Seks en de kerk” (Sex and the Church) that the largest churches in The Netherlands have consistently spoken negatively about anything that reeked of depravity. Contraceptives, masturbation, sex before or outside of marriage, gay sex, they were abominations in the eyes of our Lord.
Father Augustinus saw the sexual act as the epitome of sinfulness. With Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, inner harmony had been lost. The Apostle Paul saw marriage as the institution in which burning desires could be channeled. Luther and Calvin continued this way of thinking. They elevated the marital status to the highest norm. And with this, Rimmer Mulder concludes, “God settles in the bedrooms of faithful Christians, and would stay for a very long time. And around this dogma of sex and original sin, an extensive system of rules and regulations was built.”
In the beginning of the eighteenth century, after the French period, sodomy had disappeared from the Dutch penal code. A century later, the Christian anti-gay norm made a come-back in the code because of Catholic Minister Regout. Article 248-bis of the Penal Law banned homosexual contacts of youths under twenty-one. Approximately 5,000 people were convicted on the basis of this anti-gay article. At the same time as the adoption of 248-bis, the rules on pornography became stricter, and a brothel ban was also introduced.
There has been much speculation about the life of Jesus, celibate or not. In the gospels, nothing can be found on his intimate life.
Theologian Nico ter Linden leaves it at “Jesus was too busy for relationships with women.” Rimmer Mulder does not think this explanation is satisfactory as Jesus only started his wanderings at the age of thirty. “What he was doing as a teenager and in his twenties is left in the dark. Whether his disciples, twelve young men, were involved with women, was something we did not need to know either.” There is speculation that Jesus was involved with John, the “pupil Jesus loved a lot.” According to the Dutch Authorized Version, those two sought each other out at the Last Supper. “One of his disciples was sitting in Jesus’ lap.” In the translation of the Bible from 1951, there is also physical contact: “One of the disciples loved by Jesus was at his bosom.” In the latest official translation from 2004, the “Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling,” any suggestion of physical affection between master and pupil has been avoided: “One of them, the pupil Jesus loved a lot, laid next to him at the table.”
The “Heidelberg Catechism,” obligatory reading material up to the 1960s for reformed youth, imposed a kind of total ban on sexuality. Sunday 41, question 109 is clear: “Because our body and soul are temples of the Holy Spirit, He wants us to keep them pure and sacred; He therefore forbids all impure acts, gestures, words, thoughts, lusts, and what will attract those.” To be clear: “He” is God.
Now, the “Heidelberg Catechism” only has the character of a creed for orthodox Protestants.
The Roman-Catholic dogmas are still standing tall today, at least in theory. Directly after World War II, a pastoral from the bishops appeared in which they warned for the “worldly spirits” that would ruin marriage and family life. In the flush of the liberation, many people indulged in excesses. The bishops acted quickly to suppress this worldly spirit. The first Dutch cabinet after World War II is led by the deeply religious catholic Louis Beel. With the Dutch Labor Party PvdA (sic), he starts a campaign against moral decline. Beel wants “the recognition that Christianity, for very large groups of our population, is the source from which they draw spiritual power, and its reasonable standards are also accepted by many others who do not share our Christian beliefs.”
Catholic Spring Suppressed
In the 1960s, it looked as if most of The Netherlands was experimenting with sexuality. Popular author Gerard Reve published “Nader tot U” (Nearer to Thee, 1966). The glorification of homosexuality in this novel should be banned, according to reformed senator Hendrik Algra. Reve rewarded the Frisian politician by rechristening his temporary residence in the Frisian Greonterp to “Algra Residence.” Phil Bloom appeared naked on television, and the Dutch foundation for sexual reform NVSH had a record number of members. Fortunately, the Royal Dutch Touring Club ANWB would watch over the morals on Dutch camping sites for quite some time. Mixed camping was only allowed when married or with the entire family. Singles of a “different gender are not allowed to be together in the same sleeping quarters from one hour after sunset to dawn,” the regulations specified. This possibly made the Royal Dutch Touring Club the first organization to favor homosexuals.
In the Dutch Catholic Church, there seemed to be a breath of fresh air because of some bold statements by Bishop Bekkers. Rome is quick to act by appointing the extremely conservative bishops Simonis en Gijsen. It made the editor Spiritual Life of the catholic magazine “De Tijd” complain that “at least homosexuals know what to expect from Gijsen and Simonis, namely nothing.”
Bishop Simonis has some words of comfort for homophiles: “You have been called to a love of a higher order, a love that can be deeply human and enriching without physical contact.’
Protestants See the Light
In 1987, the Synod of the Dutch Calvinist Churches calls for “complete acceptance of gay members of the congregation, including those in posts.” The Dutch Reformed Church followed suit. And that is why, at this point in time, homosexuality is only a hot item in orthodox and evangelical churches. Those churches usually differentiate between “being” and “doing,” between “sexual orientation” and “practicing” it. Especially in reformed circles, this last term has a connotation of something criminal. Orthodox Christians love to use a text from the Roman letter by Paul to reject this “practicing.” In the Dutch Authorised Version, the loathing really hits home: “also the men, refraining from the natural use of women, have become heated in their lust for one another, men with men in lewdness.” This results in orthodox homosexuals having to undergo a huge struggle. For example, the president of the Reformed/Calvinist Youth League HGJB, Herman van Wijngaarden, is a celibate homosexual. To him, this means “self-denial and bearing a cross.”
But besides this struggle in orthodox circles, homosexuality in this protestant land is quite generously accepted. The orthodox are seen as the “divine counter-culture in The Netherlands.”
Despite of the recent statements by the new Pope, Roman-Catholic circles hold on to their century-old dogmas. “The choice for a small and pure church seems a flight forwards.” Or, as former politician Erik Jurgens phrases: “The Catholic church is reduced to a very small group of strict believers.” With all its consequences, revealed by the many scandals over the last years...
In a smooth style of writing, Rimmer Mulder takes us on a tour of the Dutch ecclesiastical bedrooms. He convincingly shows how “the church has lost its grip on sex in society.” Yet, Mulder could have given the influence of Christianity on the current Zeitgeist some more thought in his book. It is typical that in the seventies, the pastorate of the interdenominational Dutch broadcaster IKON for example, was a sanctuary for people with other than heterosexual feelings. Reverend Alje Klamer stood up for everyone who was unable to walk the righteous path of the Bible. Nowadays, the IKON pastorate is only known as a misconduct complaints office.
It would have been interesting to review the influence of the Dutch political party the Christen Unie (CU) on issues of morality. During its brief period in government, the CU more pointedly put various themes on the political agenda. Exit programs for prostitutes, lover boys, sex addiction, all themes of this time. Raids on prostitutes were unthinkable in the 1970s, but are now normal again. How were these issues put on the agenda? Those questions are outside the scope of Mulder’s book. A line has to be drawn somewhere.
Rimmer Mulder presents us with a book full of priceless reading. That is worth something.
“The church needs to survive. That is something both catholic and protestant fundamentalists agree on. They want to maintain themselves as the divine counter-culture in a hedonistic, materialistic world. [...] They are a small, but flourishing settlements in an increasingly empty landscape.” Amen.