Dutch church leaders have signed a petition against the “exploitation of Christianity” by populist politicians ahead of next week’s parliamentary elections.

“Whether votes go to left or right, the Church will always steer its own course,” said the petition, signed by Bishop Gerard de Korte of Den Bosch along with dozens of Catholic and Protestant theologians and clerics.

“The Church isn’t a political party, nor is any political party a Church,” the petition said. “We have a separation between church and state – since if the two sit together on anyone’s lap, we get a political and religious dictatorship which serves, not God or the people, but only those in power.”

The petition was circulated before next Thursday’s elections for the Dutch lower house, in which the nationalist Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders, is forecast to win most seats.

The petition said it aimed to “send a message” to politicians seeking to “exploit Christian culture”, which was in reality “too radical for coalition compromises, too embracing for borders and too demanding for policymakers”.

It added that those hoping to “turn the sayings of Jesus into a political programme” would “quickly go away screaming”.

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