Dutch churches merger will permit gay marriages
Toby Sterling | August 25, 2003
AMSTERDAM — Three Dutch Protestant churches formally agreed to put aside
their ideological differences and merge on Friday, the culmination
of a process that began more than 40 years ago.
The Dutch Reformed Church, the Calvinist Reformist Church, and
the small Lutheran Church will unite to form the Protestant Church
of the Netherlands, together representing around 2.2 million
churchgoers - or about 14 percent of the population.
In much of the country, the churches already have been merged in
practice for some time.
The synods of the three churches approved the merger by large
majorities at three separate meetings at different churches in the
city of Utrecht, 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Amsterdam,
Dutch national television reported.
Approval required a two-thirds vote of the Dutch Reformed and
Calvinist Reformist synods, and three-fourths of the Lutherans.
Some swing voters were persuaded by an 11th-hour amendment to the
new church's charter allowing the merger to be dissolved after four
years if members were unhappy.
Although the new church won't officially exist until May 1,
2004, a service is planned for Friday evening in Utrecht and will
be broadcast on television Sunday morning.
The service is being held on neutral territory - a Roman
Catholic church on Utrecht's main square - and will be attended by
leaders of the three churches and by Cardinal Adrianus Simonis.
Queen Beatrix also will attend, signifying approval of the royal
house which is by tradition Dutch Reformed.
The Reformed Church represents around 15 percent of the 16
million Dutch population, followed by the Calvinist Reformist
Church at 7 percent and the Lutherans at less than 1 percent.
The new Protestant Church will permit gay marriages and women
pastors, but will not force any local congregation to accept them -
which is the current practice in the mostly liberal Netherlands.
However, some conservative congregations are unhappy with the
decision, and small ultraconservative minorities of the two larger
denominations are likely to break with the new church and file
lawsuits over church funds and real estate.
Although religious debate has played an important role in Dutch
history, many people abandoned their churches in the last half
century, and now nearly 40 percent of the country identifies itself
as agnostic or atheist.
Roman Catholicism remains the country's single largest religion,
representing around 30 percent. Islam follow the Protestants as
third largest, with 5 percent, and is the only religion that is
still growing, due to high birth and immigration rates in the
country's Turkish and Moroccan communities. Small but significant
numbers of Dutch are practicing Jews, Hindus and Buddhists.
Conservative members of the Dutch Reformed Church viewed the
merger with "great apprehension," but decided that unifying the
church was more important, chairman Arie van der Plas was quoted
saying by the Dutch broadcaster NOS.
In a speech Friday before the votes were cast, Van der Plas said
"many have longed for this day" ever since 18 Protestant leaders
"raised a cry for unity" on Pentecost in 1961. –Sapa-AP
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