Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Social Democrats Have Made Bo Giertz's Church "Functionally Atheistic"

One of the voices of orthodoxy in the Church of Sweden fighting for the legacy of Bo Giertz is Rev. Yngve Kalin (his homepage full of information on the issues facing confessional pastors is here, and the homepage of The Church Coalition for Bible and Confession is here). It was Pastor Kalin who took the initiative in sponsoring the Priests’ Declaration against blessing of same-sex partnerships, gathering 867 names. Pastor Kalin has published an article on the state of the Church of Sweden in the Svenska dagbladet, of which Bill Tighe has kindly forwarded me a translation by Dr. Christopher Barnekov and Birgitta Peterson, with a note encouraging circulation. It begins by stating that the church of Karl Gustav Hammar, the outgoing archbishop of the Church of Sweden has collapsed. Incidentally, the archbishop's statement of the aims of his tenure here reminds me powerfully of the existentialist Christianity of Gunnar Schenstedt, a character in Hammer of God. Gunnar repents; while the rulers of the Church of Sweden do the same?

Hammar’s Church has collapsed

The Swedish church has been transformed into a unique church organization, functionally atheistic, adjusted to the contemporary culture and contextual in the sense that it mirrors the society and the dominant ideologies of the day.

This is the result of a consistently applied strategy with a Social-Democratic signature. That party has obscured the catholic feature of the church to such an extent that the Swedish church now stands increasingly isolated in the ecumenical context.

Theology has been turned into an ideology with a new rallying cry: "open, democratic and nationwide" instead of "holy, catholic and apostolic." K G Hammar leaves a church in chaos, in retreat, with a considerable drop in membership, with consolidation of congregations and in many places with a church life that has collapsed.

Arthur Engberg and Harald Hallén, both influential Social-Democrats in the earlier part of last century, had different plans for how the church should be used in the building of a Social-Democratic society. Finally they agreed upon a united political platform for the church that now has been realized in essential parts. Now the academic research is being published. With astute analyses, Urban Claesson at the Dalarna Institute (dissertation:
Folkhemmets kyrka) and soon Daniel Alvunger at Lund University have exposed the Social-Democratic party's deliberate execution of its political platform concerning the church. And there are more papers pointing in the same direction.

There has also been opposition, persons who have put brakes on this development and delayed the collapse, for instance Gunnar Rosendal, Yngve Brilioth, Bo Giertz and others. They made it possible for the traditional spiritual movements within the church to continue their authentic Christian life within the framework of the Swedish church. The question is for how long.

The foremost tactic in remolding the church has been the transformation of her decision making bodies. By doing this, one can secure control of the church. In addition, the politicians have formed an unholy alliance with modernistic theologians who have made a career in the church by adapting themselves to the new terms. At disestablishment in year 2000 the church became free from the state but instead got caught in a secular ideology.

The church was restructured to follow the model of secular governments. Previously every priest was held responsible for the stewardship of his priesthood through the oversight of his bishop and diocesan chapter. Now this oversight for priests has been transferred to the local church councils* by making them the employers of the priests. The dioceses were also restructured to become like county governments. The same restructuring happened on the national level. The new Church Assembly was organized entirely according to models outside the church itself. In that assembly the ordained clergy have very little voice.

Today the democratically elected Church Assembly is sovereign. Whenever it wishes, it can decide doctrinal questions by a two-thirds majority. The worshiping communities are not the base of these decisions. It is rather the so called “nomination groups,” most often the political parties.

Despondency and feelings of powerlessness combined with disappointment are spreading among the ranks of the believers. Many do not recognize their own church any more. But the question is whether the transformation has gone too far? The church organization shows obvious signs of implosion. Who wants a church that is a mirror image of the political powers of the present day?

Yngve Kalin
Hyssna, Sweden

*These 'church councils' are elected in secular elections, by voters who may never attend worship, and are dominated by the political parties who nominate most of the candidates!-- CB