July 25, 2014

Dutch Politician Finds Success in Practicing What She Preaches

Marianne Thieme, a trendsetting 42-year-old lawmaker in the Netherlands,
has faced a flurry of insults.

She has been mocked for co-founding the Party for the Animals, the
world’s first political party to move away
from human-centered thinking to encourage respect for animals and sustainability.

She has been ridiculed for belonging
to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with rivals accusing her of having
ulterior motives in her work as parliamentary leader
in the national House of Representatives.

But her small party is one of the fastest growing in Europe and just won
its first seat in the European Parliament in July.

Thieme said her secret for success has been to live what she teaches, stand
by her convictions, and determinedly press ahead despite opposition,
remembering that heated emotions can be a catalyst for change.

She urged Adventists not to forget their own roots and to do the same.

“I have experienced that
one can be successful by sticking to your ideals and by practicing what you
preach,” she
said in an interview.

Thieme, citing Gandhi, said that the world tends to react to social movements in several stages: First it ignores you, then it ridicules you and even
criminalizes you, but in the end you win.

“Adventists will recognize this,” she said. “The Adventist Church started anti-smoking programs
and a lot of Adventists became vegetarian at a time where no one considered
eating animals or smoking cigarettes as unhealthy or unethical. Now, in the 21st
century, it’s a very modern way of living.”

Thieme, raised in a Roman Catholic home, became a vegetarian at the age
of 23 after watching a television documentary on how farmers coax more milk and
meat from cows. A lifelong love for animals led her to work in animal rights
and later to help create the Party for the Animals.

Then in 2006, the same year that her party won its first seats in the
Dutch parliament, she joined the Adventist Church to fuse her twin passions — a
healthy lifestyle and compassion toward animals — with the teachings of the
Bible and church co-founder Ellen G. White.

“Marianne as a Christian could be
described in the key sentence ‘practice what you preach,’” said Niko Koffeman,
a veteran Dutch politician who serves as the Party for the Animals’ sole
representative in the Senate.

“She sticks to her ideals and tries
to be there for everyone who needs her help. She's not preaching what others
should practice, but tries to convince people to make compassionate, sustainable
choices,” said Koffeman, who is an Adventist and a vegetarian.

Wim Altink,
president of the church’s Netherlands Union Conference, described Thieme as a determined leader who was capable of bringing
the goals of her party to the public arena.

“She is a well-known person in the Netherlands and, as a leader, she has been
successful in branding a small political party,” he said. “When asked in
interviews in newspapers and on radio and TV about her membership in the
Seventh-day Adventist Church, she is always very clear and to the point about
her religious convictions.”

<strong>SECRET FOR SUCCESS:</strong> Marianne Thieme says her secret for success is to practice what she preaches, stick to her ideals, and determinedly press ahead despite opposition, remembering that heated emotions can be a catalyst for change. Photo courtesy of Marianne Thieme

Finding Success in

never expect to see Thieme preaching on the job. The Party of the Animals is
secular, and Thieme keeps matters of church and state strictly separate.

“She doesn't believe in 'Christian
politics'; therefore, she started a secular party,” Koffeman said. “She
strongly believes in the separation between church and state.”

Thieme expressed some reluctance to discuss her faith in the interview, noting
that critics tried to use it against her when she publicly disclosed her
affiliation with the Adventist Church in 2007.

“Some people were shocked
by this,” she said. “Others accused me that I, as an Adventist, had a hidden
religious agenda with the Party for the Animals.”

She said she found that some
people who dislike religion believe that Christians have ulterior motives and,
unfortunately, their ideas are often reinforced by Bible-thumping politicians
whose actions fall short of their words.

Furthermore, she said, her critics
would rejoice if she were viewed as untrustworthy or unreliable because then
her party could be dismissed as not serious.

But the time of adversity,
when all eyes are on you, is when it becomes especially important to stick to your
convictions and remain transparent in your activities, she said.

“We have only become
stronger, because many people discover that our party is a common-sense party
that holds on to its ideals,” she said.

Measuring the Party’s Influence

The first
attacks started when Thieme and two associates formed the party in 2002. Critics
mockingly asked whether a Party of Plants or Party of Bicycles would follow.

But the adversity once
again paved the way for success, Thieme said.

“All these emotions of anger, hope, disbelief,
and sarcasm are very useful, I can assure you,” she said. “It takes
emotions to start a debate, to move people, to get social change.”

While skeptics wrote off the party as unelectable
and a national laughingstock, a group of prominent authors, intellectuals and
opinion leaders embraced it as the next emancipation movement. After slaves,
women and children, the supporters said, the next logical step was to look
beyond the interests of our own species and consider animals.

Today, Thieme leads a party with two seats in the Dutch national
parliament, the seat in the Senate, eight seats in regional parliaments, 20 seats
in other local elected bodies and the seat in the
European Parliament.

Inspired by her lead, 14 similar parties have been established around
the world, including in the U.S., Britain, Australia, and Germany, which also secured
a pro-animal seat in the European Parliament in July.

“At first a lot of people thought we were just a
single-issue party,” Thieme said. “But they discover
that a good party for animals is also a good party for people.”

The party’s relatively small political
representation makes it difficult to drive legislation, but its presence allows
it to guide the agenda.

“The biggest source of influence
for small parties like the PvdD is the ability to steer the agenda of more
mainstream parties,” The Economist
magazine wrote in a profile of the party, known by the Dutch acronym PvdD, on
Dec. 21, 2013. “As the party takes
votes from across the political spectrum, others now include provisions on
animal welfare in their manifestos.”

<strong>VEGETARIAN BUTCHER:</strong> Marianne Thieme's husband, Jaap Korteweg, makes meat substitutes, and his Vegetarian Butcher product line won praise from New York Times’ food critic, who wrote, “Why … use the poor chicken as a machine to produce meat when you can use a machine to produce 'meat' that seems like chicken?” Photo credit: vegetarianbutcher.com

Deciding to Go Vegetarian

While Thieme has wanted to protect nature and animals for as long as she
can remember, she hasn’t always felt as warm toward religion.

The Netherlands is a major meat producer in Europe, and Thieme said she
was chagrined when she learned that orthodox Christians owned many of the
factory farms that raise tens of thousands of animals in crowded conditions.

In addition, she said, “I was
shocked to learn that the Catholic Church, my church, blessed bullfights and

As she sought answers in her own life, her
thoughts echoed the words of the Russian-born artist and aristocrat Prince Pierre
Troubetzkoy, who famously said, "Why
should man expect his prayer for mercy to be heard by what is above him when he
shows no mercy to what is under him?"

So I turned my back against
churches,” she said.

Thieme didn’t find it
difficult to become a vegetarian, but she advises other people who might be
considering the change to start by simply eating less meat and fish.

She noted that a study by Loma Linda University Health in California last month found that a vegetarian diet has
the dual benefit of reducing greenhouse emissions by a third and adding 20
percent to a person’s life.

“The vegetarians live longer, giving them 20
percent more time to tell you that they told you so!” she said.

Thieme, who has made two documentary films about the impact of meat eating on the environment, "Meat the Truth" and "Sea the Truth," has the full
support of her husband, Jaap
Korteweg, an eighth-generation farmer and business owner whose
company Vegetarian Butcher makes meat substitutes. His plant-based products
have won raving online reviews, and New York Times food critic Mark Bittman has praised them as “actually pretty
good.” “Why,
in other words, use the poor chicken as a machine to produce meat when
you can use a machine to produce 'meat' that seems like chicken?” he
wrote in a 2012 column.

“You know, I feel privileged not only to be in
parliament to plead for animal rights but also to have a husband who actually
does something in order to save animals and the planet,” Thieme said.

Thieme Finds ‘Animal Rights Activist’ Ellen White

While studying vegetarianism
a decade ago, Thieme learned about
Adventists and began to read books by Ellen White. She said she was struck by
White’s message of compassion toward animals and her passionate plea for

“I dare say she was an animal rights activist,” Thieme said.

One passage that particularly
impressed her came from a chapter titled “Flesh as Food” in White’s book
“Ministry of Health”: “Animals are often transported long distances and
subjected to great suffering in reaching a market. Taken from the green
pastures, and traveling for weary miles over the hot, dusty roads, or crowded
into filthy cars, feverish and exhausted, often for many hours deprived of food
and water, the poor creatures are driven to their death, that human beings may
feast on the carcasses.”

“Together with my beliefs and my
animal advocacy, the Adventist Church appealed to me and I became an Adventist
in 2006,” Thieme said.

Her joy was short-lived, however. As she began
to talk with other Adventists, she found that some downplayed White’s writings
as old-fashioned.

“Old-fashioned? I was so surprised,” she said.

Thieme said she saw nothing 19th
century in White’s writings about a
healthier life with no animal products, her compassion toward animals, her
advice not to smoke cigarettes, and the fact that Adventists were the first
religious group with health programs to stop smoking and provide vegetarian

“Right now, at this moment, it’s a most relevant
and current message,” she said.

She said Adventists should be more visible in
ongoing global discussions about the impact of meat on climate change, obesity,
animal welfare and a looming food crisis.

“Now is the time to stand up and show that you’re
involved and that you have such practical solutions to make this world a better
place,” she said. “Let people know what stewardship really means.”

For Thieme, it all comes back to practicing what
you preach.

“Adventists can be heralds by living the change
they want to see,” she said.

Contact Adventist Review news editor Andrew McChesney at [email protected].
Twitter: @ARMcChesney


article on Loma Linda
University Health study: “Vegetarian Diet Is Effective Tool Against Climate Change, Study Finds”

Economist profile of Thieme’s party: “Free the goldfish”

New York Times review of the Vegetarian Butcher: “A Chicken Without Guilt”

Two documentary films produced by Thieme’s party:

"Meat the Truth" explores the impact of meat eating on the environment

"Sea the Truth" studies the impact of overfishing on the environment