Nashville professor: “I never wanted to hurt anyone”

‘TU Delft professor also signed the Nashville Statement’ Delta wrote in January. Now, Marc de Vries wants to put things right. A talk about pain, damage and silent suffering.

Professor Marc de Vries: "Any comparison would be wrong and would give rise to new irritations and misunderstandings." (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

By Saskia Bonger and Connie van Uffelen

You approached us for this interview on the advice of the Rector and your Dean. Just one week ago you were keeping us at a distance. Why are we sitting here now?
“I was overwhelmed by the first conversation with Delta. I hardly knew myself what had happened.”

Did you not know that the Nashville Statement with your name was online?
“No, that was definitely not my intention. I tried to respond at the time, but I don’t think that that was very wise. I want to make a few things clear, to put them right, so that people can see what I really stand for and how it came about.”

Did you think after the first article “I didn’t mean it like that”? You read it before we published it.
“I am not revoking anything, but it is not the full picture. It does not even cover the most important aspects. That I kept Delta at a distance after that is because, in consultation with some people who were involved, including my Dean, I wanted to first hold personal discussions. I wanted them to hear it from me and not in Delta what I believe in, what I think and what really happened.”

So it is not the case that the Executive Board is compelling you to do an interview with Delta?
“I went to the Board and told them my story. The Rector said then that it would be wise if I would talk about it to Delta.

What were the responses to the first article?
“The whole spectrum, from people who said that they wanted nothing more to do with me to ‘you have your opinions and I have mine, and we will just continue to work together’. These two extremes cover a huge range in between. Some people also said that they felt hurt, especially within our own group.”

How did you experience the responses?
“It really pains me to think that I have hurt people who I should be taking care of. I have damaged people in my immediate surroundings. That is what keeps me awake at night. It’s so awful. I understand that I now have to weigh everything I say to avoid creating new misunderstandings and irritations. I never wanted to hurt anyone. That’s the most painful thing of all of this – that things happened to which I never agreed.”

What exactly do you mean?
“I received the original text of the Nashville Statement about six months ago. I was approached as a member of the board of a Church association to see if it was in line with what the Bible says. In the main, I could agree, but only in the context of a discussion that was taking place in the Church among Christians. In the main and no signature. What they were looking for was advice, do you think it is in line? They were not looking for agreement with every sentence the Statement contains. The Church has confessions of faith to which you say ‘I agree in broad lines’. This is how I saw the Statement.”

You looked at its main lines?
“I read the whole thing of course and was interested in its approach. The place of the family in society is close to my heart. I was a Church Elder for 16 years and saw many sad things in families. If you say to me that the family should be a beautiful thing in the way that God intended, you touch my heart and have drawn me in. This is where I made my mistake. I could not foresee that it would just be shoved onto the internet with my name as a professor attached to it. I should have been more careful. This is why it is partly my fault. And for this, I offer my sincere apologies.”

So you did not sign the Nashville Statement?
“Nobody signed it. We were only asked for concurrence.”

Did they not specify why they asked for concurrence?
“No, and that was my fault. I should have asked what they were going to do with it. I thought that it was for use in the Church. That was naïve of me and I have had to bear the repercussions. I accept this fully.”

Do you then distance yourself from the Nashville Statement?
“From the content? It would be the easy way out to suddenly say that I do not agree with its views. I distance myself from the way in which it is now being used. I have always had the idea of marriage and the family as the norm. It is difficult to find good words for this and that is why it was so stupid to use the text. I see that if you try to explain, you start using new words which only make it worse.”

Words such as ‘sinful’?
“Yes, and then you try to compare it to something else but that something else contains notions that you do not intend.”

You compare sexual orientation to an eating disorder.
“Yes, of course that’s stupid as it’s completely different. In an eating disorder you inflict damage on yourself  and that’s not the case in homosexual relationships. You really can’t compare it. Any comparison would be wrong and would give rise to new irritations and misunderstandings. I would rather not discuss the substance in this interview as I know that whatever I say will always be wide of the mark.”

Is TU Delft not the right place to carry out debates? Diversity is often a topic of discussion here.
“Of course you should discuss it. But just not use the Statement as the basis, though, as it is completely unsuitable for this purpose. My observation is just one observation and I respect people who have other opinions and other lifestyles – my best colleagues included.”

The TU Delft feminists called for your dismissal (Dutch link). What do you think of that?
“It’s horrible of course, but to be honest, I don’t know them. As far as I understand, part of that network isn’t even made up of people at TU Delft. I mailed them immediately but have not heard anything. It is dreadful for TU Delft as it demeans its reputation.”

Has this issue had a negative impact on your work?
“Yes. I sat in a room all by myself for a week. You feel lost. You sleep badly.”

Why did you go and sit in another room?
“To create some distance. The Dean advised me to do this. It was only for a week. I understand the rationale, but in hindsight I wonder if it was the right thing to do. Otherwise I would have been much closer to people and they could have just come in much more easily.”

How’s it going now?
“I still have a meeting with students, in particular Science Education and Communication students, and one for all employees, academic staff and doctoral candidates. Should I miss anyone, they will still have the opportunity to come and talk with me, so that I really know for certain that I can continue into the future with everyone.”

And then?
“We all need to get ourselves together and that takes time. As long as I know that we have the intention to continue working with each other and respect each other and that everyone believes that I support diversity with all my heart. Not to get out of it, but because it really is my belief. There may be lots of other people who I don’t know, people who suffer in silence or who have said something about this in a small group. Even they have been hurt by my actions. And I sincerely want to offer them my apologies.”

News editor Connie van Uffelen

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