To advocate for God’s will in a secularised world. An interview with Lisca van der Eijk from Dutch ChristenUnie
The Netherlands is home to one of the most laicised societies of Europe. In their political system there exist, however, parties which in their activities appeal to Christianity. One of them is the Christian Union (ChristenUnie), originating from the traditions of Calvinism (reformed evangelicalism). In an interview Lisca van der Eijk, who deals with the party’s foreign affairs, says how she views some elements of the ChristenUnie’s ideas and forms of functioning.
When and in which circumstances was the ChristenUnie (CU) party founded? What were its main objectives then?
The ChristenUnie actually is a merger between two political parties, GPV (Gereformeerd Politiek Verbond or Reformed Political Union, established in 1948) and RPF (Reformatorisch Politieke Federatie or Reformed Political Federation, established in 1975). As fewer Dutch citizens were member of different Reformed Dutch denominations, it made less sense to have two different political parties. Merger between the two parties happened in 2000 and the ChristenUnie is the result of that merger. Its main objectives, both then and now, are activities for a society that acts according to God’s will. We hope to achieve that by promoting Christian views and policies. We value all life as God is the Creator of all life and we want to protect the vulnerable.
The Netherlands may be described as an avantgarde of Europe’s laicisation. It might be pointed out as one of the least conservative societies of the Old World. In your opinion is this stereotypical image true or the reality is more nuanced?
The reality is a bit more nuanced but overall we live a very secularised country. Being religious in the Netherlands really is an active choice and part of your identity as culturally religion is seen as intolerant or outdated. In other words, being Dutch is usually not related to being Protestant or Catholic but sooner liberal or socialist. However, more and more irreligious people seem to value the cohesiveness that religion can bring into society. This as a counter movement to the current extreme individualism. This extreme individualism has led to liberal and progressive policies, such as on the matter of euthanasia. That said, a small minority of the Dutch people is religious and has a living faith and cultural Christianity is not very important in our country.
How does ChristenUnie find itself in such a state of the matter? How would you describe your political strategy?
We have to realize that we have only 3% of the seats in our parliament so we have to be strategic. We have to form coalitions to get majorities for our policies, what means that we have to cooperate with every potential ally.
How such a cooperation may look in practice?
If a green party feels it is important to ’protect mother earth against climate change’, we as ChristenUnie would say: ’we agree that we should be good stewards of Gods creation’. So we cooperate where we can to realize our policies but we don’t water down our own political beliefs. This strategy does require a lot of communication with our voters and members; we have to explain why and how we sometimes work with political parties that seem to be our opposite. We always try to be responsible partners in the government, be open to cooperate and try to stay faithful to our own beliefs. It is important for us to be honest, explain our motivations and not play ad hominem. If we reach an acceptable compromise, we never embrace it or defend it as the ideal.
You have mentioned the motivations of the ChristenUnie – so what are your main ideas? What proposals are the most important for you?
We want to be a Christian political party for all the Dutch citizens, so not only for our voters. We are convinced that our policies would and should benefit all our fellow citizens as we base our political philosophy on Gods commandments. However, we do not copy the Bible and hand that out as our political manifesto; we do translate biblical values into policies that we hope will help our society be more in line with God’s vision for it. We protect human life from the beginning to the end, we want to reduce climate change and be good stewards of God’s creation that He gave us. We want to support people that need it but we also want people to have their our responsibility and freedom from the state. We value our school system and the freedom of education that we have. We value the family and promote freedom of religious and beliefs. We promote social justice, development of low-income countries and we want to be hospitable to refugees that need shelter.
Such a set of beliefs does not match the traditional political divisions to which we are used to. Personally you perceive yourselves as the left, the right, or you rather distance your party from such labels?
Some would say we are left-wing when it comes to economic policies and right-wing when it comes to social policies. You could say we are liberal as we value our liberty in education (the right to start you own school and having it funded by the government) but you can also say we are conservative as we are against abortion and euthanasia. You can say we are green because we feel that climate change should be addressed more seriously, but we also stimulate family run farms to farm organically. We feel we are not left or right but socially Christian.
What is in your opinion the main mission of a Christian politician – or, more broadly, an activist – in modern, laicising societies of Europe? Is it narrowly-perceived party politics or something more? How does the CU realise such a mission?
Our mission is broader than just party politics. As a Christian you should help develop your society to the common good. We as politicians just play our small part to help get fair and just laws. It is not only our mission to promote Christian policies but also to promote a personal Christian attitude in political activity. You have to be very transparent, act with the most integrity and be reliable. Also as a parliamentarian you are a representative of all your voters so your ego should be small as you serve them and not yourself. As a Christian politician/activist you should do your utmost to be a representative of Jesus and act by His grace; this will reflect upon your work (so broader than just party politics) and policies too. His blessing is what we need so in our political work. By the way, this attitude does not only hold for Christian politicians or activists but for any Christian in the different laicising European societies; Christian dentists or Christian bus drivers alike.
The ChristenUnie is a part of Mark Rutte’s liberal government [editor’s note: coalition negotiations have been ongoing durign the interview; as of publication’s date, the talks are finished – Rutte remained the prime minister, and ChristenUnie is still part of ruling coalition]. What has been your role in ruling the country? What common features and differences have been between you and other members of the coalition?
We have had a part to play but only a small one. We did have 2 ministers and a deputy minister. However, we did have some impact. The most poignant issue is an end-of-live-policy. Two liberal parties in the coalition wanted to take that law a step further and wanted to legally open up the possibility of assisted suicide for people of 75 year that have a persistent death wish (without having any physical nor psychological diseases). ChristenUnie is totally against this law and is advocating for better elderly care and policies that tackle loneliness. We feel that all live is valuable and we as a society deeply fail our elderly if we arrange a legally possibility of assisted suicide for them, but not fix the societal problems which affect them. The two liberal parties argue that this is ultimate freedom; you are the only person that has a say over your life and death.
So how did you behave in such a difficult situation?
As ChristenUnie we were able to advocate for a big scientific research into this group of people – who are they, what are their life circumstances and why do they have a death wish? We were able to delay the introduction of this new law as we as a party cannot support it or take responsibility for it. Here we have an example of how much it is needed to explain this to our voters that we are in this coalition. Voters might think; you cannot go into a coalition with such different liberal parties that seems like enemies. But in this case we were happy to be in the coalition, just to prevent things from being worse [editor’s note: the mentioned euthanasia bill has not been passed and ChristenUnie declares that will not vote in favour of it].
The Dutch – and generally all the Western – societies are now undergoing many revolutionary changes. Some perceive the nearest future as a tough time for Christians. How does the ChristenUnie see its future in such circumstances?
We as ChristenUnie members say that we are hopeful realists. The world is in God’s hands and He is in charge. We get to do our best and by His blessings we can help in building His Kingdom. However, we do see that some laws in the Netherlands are rather dark (see the issues of assisted suicide). At the same time despite having only 3% of votes in the National Parliament, we manage to have an impact. We are a constructive party and we are not afraid to take responsibility. We might see tough times in the future but in the end we have a better perspective ahead of us. Meanwhile we want to have a Christian impact in our society by working in politics. And let’s not forget that laypeople, acting as parties, organisations or individually, can also be used by God for the common good.
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Lisca van der Eijk-de Rujter