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Svenska Dagbladet

Opinion/Brännpunkt

Saturday November 10, 2007

 

The political parties still keep their grip on the Church of Sweden. That is a paradox and an inconsistency of the separation between the church and the state which is deeply embarrassing and a cause of a great deal of surprise abroad. This amounts to political double-dealing, writes the Church of Sweden priest Yngve Kalin, who has long-standing experience as a member of the Church of Sweden General Synod.

Politicians in the Church Amounts to Sheer Parody

The current Swedish government, which is constituted by a political coalition, are seeking to introduce a legislation that would prohibit every aspect of religious education in the curriculum of the schools. Such sentiments show a clear resemblance to the way things work in the USA, where the Constitution lays down the principle that church and state must be kept separate coupled with some clear statements about religious liberty.

In Sweden however, the details of these government proposals are being prepared while the political parties continue unabated to hold a firm grip on the Church of Sweden and unashamedly to make use of the Church in order to promote their own political programmes.

This is a paradox and an inconsistency of the formal separation between the church and the state in the year 2000, which is a cause of embarrassment for the political establishment and a fact that gives rise to considerable surprise abroad. This political double-dealing is a cause of great embarrassment.

For anyone who would stand for a clear separation between the church and the state, such a position requires consequence in every aspect and must be followed all down the line.

It is now high time for the political parties to withdraw and stop acting as attorneys for the church - not only for the sake of the church, but also for the sake of their own credibility.

When the business of the Church of Sweden are debated by its own highest decision-making body, the Church of Sweden General Synod, it is in fact Social Democrats, right wing Moderates and members of the Centre Party, etcetera, etcetera, who meet to take decisions on issues of all kind, ranging from statements of faith and doctrine to everyday humdrum matters, and their decisions permeate every aspect of the work of the Church of Sweden at every level.

The parishes as well as the dioceses and the national level are consequently the object rather than the subject in this altogether unique manner of decision-making that is unheard of in any other part of Christendom.
There is no real separation between the church and the state in Sweden. The political parties have made sure of that, mainly due to their innate fear of permitting too many independent players in the public arena.
All this is only too obvious, not least in the current debate about possible new legislation about marriage, in which the political agenda increasingly gains the upper hand, making it blatantly obvious how the church is currently being used to legitimize politically based positions and viewpoints.

BUT: What will these statements and expressed positions really be worth, when it is only too obvious to everyone that they only represent a duplication of decisions taken by the party congress? To begin with, things were different: the uniqueness of the church used to be respected.


When the Church of Sweden General Assembly (as it was called until the formal separation of church and state in the year 2000) met for the first time in 1868, following the Abolition of the Parliament of the Four Estates, it consisted of 30 priests, 30 lay members and the bishops were members ex officio.
The Church Assembly was charged to express "the common thought of the guarantors of the faith and doctrine and of the parishes" and should lift church matters above "such political differences that always shift within a national assembly."
In those days the awareness prevailed that the manner of making decisions in the church – even in an established church – must consider the responsibility inherent in the stewardship of the tradition of faith, confession and doctrine that had been handed down and received, and that the parishes must be accorded some real influence on the matters of the Church of Sweden and its government. However, the manner of decision-making was gradually changed.

A reform in 1949 changed the constitution of the Church Assembly and put the laity in the majority. The ex officio membership of representatives for the theological faculties was abolished in 1970. The role and influence of theology was markedly weakened.

The next decisive reform took place in 1982, when the Church Assembly became openly political on the model of the parochial church councils that had been developed particularly at the local level in the city parishes.

From then on, elections took place by a system of electors, but the number of members was more than trebled and the party groups appeared openly as nominators and as membership groups. That meant that the politically independent members, who had nevertheless been elected, found it necessary to organise themselves into a politically independent group.

At the same time the bishops were divested of their right to vote in the Church Assembly but were charged with the duty to be present. It was left to the political parties and groupings to take decisions about any possible representation of the clergy on the membership.

When all this had been achieved, a way had been found to continue to exert control while at the same time the out-dated bonds between the church and the state could cease to exist in any formal sense. That decision was taken in 1997. Later on the Church Order, which provides the tools for the domination of the church, was laid down.

Through the introduction of direct elections at all levels, the parties no longer need to take the "long way" via the parishes in order to ensure that their representatives become members of the diocesan governing bodies and what is nowadays called the Church of Sweden General Synod.

The Church of Sweden Church Order no longer recognises any independent responsibility for the ordained ministry. The entire framework for the exercise of ordained ministry has been established with great consequence and the limits have been effectively imposed by politically elected bodies.

The control of the church is now totalitarian and complete. How long can this parody be allowed to continue? Should there be a separation between the church and the state or not? Could we please have at least an ounce of consequence, thank you!

YNGVE KALIN

Priest in Hyssna and a member of the Church of Sweden Church Assembly 1995-2000 and of the Church of Sweden General Synod 2000-2001, currently a member of the Nomination Group "Confident Church" and called upon to serve at the recently held sessions of the Church of Sweden General Synod this autumn.

© Yngve Kalin & Svenska Dagbladet 10 nov 2007

 

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