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An abridged version of a letter from the Chairman of the Church Coalition for the Bible and Confession in Sweden:

Hiding Away the Prophets

Hyssna, December 22, 2004.

Dear Friends,

When Queen Jezebel was trying to kill God's prophets, Obadiah, the master of the palace, stood firm, hiding away the prophets so they would be ready for action when the winds of the state religion would blow in a different direction. He did what he could – and God blessed it (1 Kings 18). In many respects, this is really what we are doing. We are trying to save what can be saved, and to be ready for the future.

A massive reshaping of our church is occurring right now. Many feel lost and resigned. But I am convinced that our calling in all this is to hold fast to the Word revealed to us, and to the Creed of the Church. What is important for us is what was important for sisters and brothers during earlier times of sifting in church history: to pray for the spiritual gifts of perseverance and faithfulness and to continue to pray for renewal and restoration of the church.

Our task in the present situation is to preserve a trickle from the life giving spring that is the Word of God and channel it into the dearth of ideas and increasing devastation that now characterizes our church. We need the same inventiveness, courage and action that Obadiah displayed. We are called, like the Lord's apostle Paul, to "prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering – prepared for honor or disgrace, for blame or praise – taken for impostors while we are genuine." (2 Cor. 6:3-10). We have to understand that our questioning of developments and our constant referring to the authority of the Bible creates irritation and indignation. It cannot be any other way.

An organization in crisis needs a common enemy

The Swedish church was disestablished in the year 2000. The new church structure ended up in the hands of a mutually interdependent, unholy alliance of modernistic theologians and political power brokers. The modernistic theologians have an agenda of reshaping the church, but they need the politicians to reach positions of influence in order to control developments. They see their agenda as liberating the church from what has accumulated during the centuries and corrupted the original gospel message. It is as David Mills, editor of Touchstone Magazine, remarks about the modernistic theologians that their fault is not their sincerity and conviction. The problem is that they are demolishing the whole foundation of the church. In reality a new kind of church is emerging, yes, even a new religion in the old clothes.

The political parties need the modernistic theologians in order to keep the church from falling into the hands of people who would call into question the present power structure of society. Sometimes the connection between the modernistic theologians and the political sphere of interest becomes particularly obvious. One example now is the push by the church for legalization of same sex union/marriage, because earlier in history society incorporated the Christian view of marriage into its laws. The political agenda could never have been implemented without the church’s approval and vice versa.

But to keep the alliance together, they need a common enemy. When cracks become evident between the modernistic theologians and the church politicians – in "harmless" church matters the church politicians tend to be rather conservative, wanting everything to stay as it was in the past – one can always call up the specter of the opponents of ordaining women. That can legitimize changes in everything from service books to church law, from administrative changes to merging of parishes and congregations. This will close the ranks.

Killing by ignoring or attacking

In the short perspective the parallel strategy has been successful: isolation of us in the minority and marginalization by administrative manipulation. But at the same time the majority has become obviously uncertain about how to handle the minority. Should it be attacked or killed by being ignored? The most common method seems to be waiting for the freezing out and for the intended effects of the decisions already taken. [Translators’ note: The minority is now ‘frozen out’ by being excluded from consideration for ordination and for appointment to supervisory positions in the church. In its platform for the church assembly elections in September, the ruling party in the government also proposes a final solution: the elimination from church employment of anybody opposing ordination of women.] But sometimes waiting is not sufficient. In 2001, the church assembly somewhat unexpectedly set up conversation groups to discuss the situation of the minorities in the church. For a brief moment the issue was lifted up into an international ecumenical perspective, and the church assembly showed consideration and thought having conversation groups within the church was a good idea. When these were set up, however, two well-known ecclesiastical debaters filed a complaint with the JÄMO (the government ombudsman for equality concerns), creating panic among the modernistic theologians and almost wrecking the process.

Spokespersons for the church leadership will also swing into action if anyone outside the church shows sympathy for the minority. One example is the argumentation by a cathedral dean in a recently published article. She is irritated that Per Ericsson, editorial writer of Svenska Dagbladet, questions the church majority’s political practices. She writes: "Maybe the weeny minority has succeeded with the trick of placing one of its spokesmen on a stage where many other lobbyists would love to be. Ericsson's picture is both misleading and unjust. The opponents of women priests have indeed had a right to be at home in the church and have been given a large space, larger that what the church actually has been able to cope with. Often it is the women priests who have carried the heaviest burden in silence. I sometimes wonder what more they would have been able to do, if they had not always had to consider 'the weaker brothers'. … In Ericsson's editorial I read a desire for a church much like the state church we have left behind. A sort of umbrella organization for all believers, whatever they may believe. A church in which the conflicts will continue, in which women are disrespected and people are leaving. Ericsson should perhaps familiarize himself with Jonas Bromander’s research about why people leave the church, in which one of the few significant reasons given was the opposition to women priests."

The furious indignation

One might be surprised at the furious indignation in comments like this, how the pattern reappears and the line of argument is repeated. It is obvious that the understanding of the faith that is part of the catholic heritage and shared and upheld by large parts of Christianity – and also acknowledged and confessed by many different Christian movements in Sweden – is being ground down step by step.

You may be surprised that what is described as a "weeny minority" can produce such indignation and must be attacked with such vigor. This is not about ordinary mechanisms for expelling undesirables, some kind of "ethnic cleansing" of a minority group. No, it is an attack on the authority and integrity of the Bible and of revelation. Thus the issue is elevated in importance. It is not only about a small group, difficult to control and not wanting to submit, but about the future of the whole Swedish province of the Church. Therefore it is our calling to remain as witnesses and uphold the classical faith of the church, in spite of being called "fundamentalists" in "a playpen" of the church. As long as we remain we are a threat in the eyes of the powerful and a reminder of the classical faith of the church. If we leave voluntarily, we solve their problem. This is revealed in the writer's words blessing the plans of the Mission Province: "I think we should leave the Mission Province alone. Let them organize and follow their calling. And bless the people who engage in its activities," says the dean.

Freezing

It is costly to stand publicly for a politically incorrect opinion in the Swedish climate of debate. It may mean running the gauntlet in the local press or in the national media. Many choose to keep a low profile, trying to handle their frustrations and exposure, in order not to spoil well functioning work in the parish, splitting up well working teams or creating unrest.

But in the long run many become sick. It hits individuals and their families. The hardest part is not the attacks from the outsiders but that leaders in the church silently accept that priests and others are maligned in the media. The silence cannot be interpreted in any other way than approval. It is not uncommon that representatives of the church join the media’s bandwagon and thus collect easy points.

I have earlier written about the condition that recent research calls "freezing" This is related to "burn-out." This frozenness is described as a paralyzing feeling of exhaustion and paralysis that strikes people who are ignored and unable to change their situation, but at the same time are taken advantage of. They are frozen in a flow of events out of control. They are bound hands and feet, thoughts and feelings, and are slowly crushed. Many church workers know what I am talking about. They know the reason. It is today's church politics that pushes them into this with its double message. The result is sadness and feelings of powerlessness and disappointment. The work environment in the Swedish church is indescribably bad. The decision making process is unclear. The responsibility for working conditions is most often held by persons who have no competence. Silence and acquiescence is rewarded. People are forced to act against their conscience by a system that assigns tasks not according to competence but according to points of view.

The future?

It is easy to catch the disease of hopelessness. The situation for us who want to stand fast on the old doctrinal foundation of the church is serious, to say the least, and many are worn down. We are surprised at how fast the breakdown is happening. We feel powerless and perceive that "something has to be done" and that "sooner than later." But we have to be careful not to end up acting without discernment,as I have written about many times before. What we need, perhaps more than anything else, is the spiritual gift of perseverance, trusting that our witness is not in vain. Not all the signs are unambiguous. Some people of good will are beginning to understand. There are others who for various reasons have not had strength to resist but who long for a change. We should take special care of them.

Church workers who daily experience opposition and being ignored may feel I ask too much of them by encouraging faithfulness and perseverance where they are. They may find this exaggerated and unrealistic. But I am convinced that this is the right course. Naturally, some are forced to move away because they find it impossible to stay and maintain any self-respect, or for other reasons.

But we should not crouch down – we have done that long enough for various reasons. We should show respect for others in their handling of difficult situations. We should encourage and exhort each other and those we see as our leaders, those we trust. In our vulnerable situation we need each other and our prayers.

Maybe we must redirect our priorities, where we put our energy and our real commitment. We should ask the Lord for courage to better give reason for our faith and our conviction, founded in the Bible. "There is no need to be afraid or to worry about them," (1 Petr. 3:14). But we should do it with humility and respect, as the apostle says, with a solid Scriptural foundation. And we should dare to be self-critical and review our own motives. We need deepening of our faith and courage to bear witness. If we pray for renewal, we have to start with renewal of ourselves. We have to realize our total dependence on our Lord and Savior in everything we do.

There is great ignorance as to what the struggle is really about. That is our own fault also. We have not educated ourselves, instructed others and explained as we ought to have done. We are not the ones pushing the ordination issue. We have only trusted the promises given in 1958 [Translators' note: The promises were that those opposing ordination of women on biblical and traditional grounds could follow their conscience. This so called Conscience Clause was abrogated with the church law in 1983 and replaced with the secular law for equality between the sexes]. But it is the issue of ordination of women that has been used as a tool to transform the church and now is used to expel us. Because of this the Church Coalition is now preparing for translation (into Swedish) of important material concerning this theological issue and the international debate about it, in order to equip ourselves better. But we do not forget Obadiah, he who overcame his fear and hid away 100 prophets awaiting the Lord's intervention. We pray that the Lord will find us worthy of his service.

"God's gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control. So you are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord." (2 Tim. 1:7-8).

May the Lord bless and keep us all

Yngve Kalin

Chairman

Church Coalition for the Bible and Confession.

2004 © Yngve Kalin

 

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2005-06-29