By BosNewsLife Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos
URK, NETHERLANDS (BosNewsLife)–- A Dutch town known for its traditional churches and fishing community has forbidden an evangelism tent campaign, a move Christian Democrats say further threatens freedom of religion in the Netherlands.
The local government of Urk said Wednesday, April 13, it refused permission “because these activities must be organized by local churches.” Additionally, licenses for evangelism can only be given in “summer holidays” it added.
The decision comes as a major setback for the organizers of the evangelical ‘Netherlands Bible study Center’ (NBC), a foundation focusing on spreading Bible knowledge.
NBC has been holding annual evangelism meetings in a circus tent in Urk, 85 kilometers north east of Amsterdam, as part of a tour through the Netherlands.
A member of Urk’s Muncipality Council said he would protest the evangelism ban at an upcoming council meeting, April 28.
“Such a refusal can only be made based on concerns over public order, safety and health. That’s ofcourse not the case now,” explained Willem Foppen, who represents the Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal party (CDA).
Foppen said it was also strange that evangelism in Urk is apparently only allowed during summer holidays.
Urk’s leadership claimed the decision not to allow, for the first time, the annual evangelistic event was based on agreements with the Church Platform Youth, representing most of Urk’s churches.
Foppen argued however that the Platform was focused on promoting family policies and battling drugs addiction in this town of roughly 18,000 people.
“Now it seems the Platform is also a powerful institute that decides who can evangelize and when,” he said, adding that this could violate the Netherlands’ constitution and the country’s long cherished religious rights.
NBC said it was still hoping authorities would accept a compromise that could involve moving the tent away from Urk’s port to a different location.
The latest stand-off follows reported opposition towards evangelism within Urk’s traditional Protestant churches, who tell their members to strictly observe the Ten Commandments as well as other laws dating back to the Bible’s Old Testament, and forbid working on Sunday’s.
Those involved in NBC’s evangelism activities point out that the Bible’s New Testament makes clear that Christians have been freed from the weight of these heavy regulations because of their faith in Jesus Christ who, they say, “brings true freedom” and eternal life.
Church leaders in Urk earlier expressed anger over some songs of NBC-affiliated Gospel band ‘Bible Believing Christians’ (BBC) as they urged pastors to believe in Christ and His freedom promises, during a tent concert.
The BBC apologized for what it called “misunderstandings”, but was no longer allowed to perform in Urk, BosNewsLife learned.
Urk’s evangelism discussion comes amid a wider debate about religion in the Netherlands where church groups and lawyers say devoted Christians experience, in some cases, tensions at work because of their faith, and Christian converts with a Muslim background have been threatened by religious hardliners. (With BosNewsLife’s Special Correspondent Johan Th. Bos reporting from the Netherlands).