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Op-ed in Kyrkans Tidning, January 16 2003

We belive in coexistence

Silence always is more dangerous than talking, when people disagree

When Desmond Tutu was leading the Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, many of us were proud. The Church had an important contribution to make for the reconciliation of people. Reconciliation at the end cannot threaten anybody. It can only enrich, promote Life.

When the order of women as priests was introduced in the Swedish Church, some people became a minority. Even these had a natural place in the life of the church, and they were repeatedly encouraged to remain in the church and enrich the community. Little by little it was formalized, that it was the accepted order that had priority. The Church was viewed, we think, not as an organization, where a minority was to be rooted out but rather as a nation to which you naturally belonged, even if you were in opposition to the government. But the rules have gradually changed. The space for the minority has more and more been limited. Many with different points of view share a common concern of the locked positions, which is depleting our church and isolating it.

Is there a possibility to turn the development around?

We want to try once more. The consultations we think have to take place are not aimed at another order for women as priests in the Swedish Church. We do not question that the women priests have been accepted and ordained according to the present law of the Swedish Church. We know that women priests have been badly treated in the system of the church, and we have openly and in different forums complained of and criticized such incongruities. Our concern is the Swedish Church and the understanding of her identity and all her members. We challenge all those, who see the decision about women in the priesthood, as a good decision, to argue for it, not only administer a rule. (1 Peter 3:15) Questioning can never be dangerous, if you believe that God’s Spirit leads a church community deeper into the truth (John 16:13). When objections are met with fear, it points at a much bigger problem (1 John 4:18) – and we think that is the case right now in the Swedish Church. We think that silence always is more dangerous than talking, when people disagree.

Slogans talk about ”the fight about women priests” but that is a slogan that covers the reality.There was a debate about the order of women as priests, but in reality that was finished, when the decision was made 1958. From then on it was the introduction of the reform that was discussed, in diocese after diocese. In the middle of the 1970s it was debated, how the reform of women as priests were,to be secured, as the resistence remained, and new decisions were made. This led to discussions about the place of ”the resisters” in the Swedish Church, and it ended with the order that was introduced in the Church Law (Kyrkoordningen) of 2000: the ”resisters” were not to be ordained, neither priest nor deacon, and those already ordained priests were not allowed to become rectors (kyrkoherde).

We notice how the internal debate of the church has gone from theologic argumentation to administrative measures. For an evangelical church tradition this is devastating. The criticism of the reformers pertained to a church system that was using dictatorial language and because of that could not understand the questions that were raised and the objections that were presented. It is our opinion that the greatest damage to the Swedish Church is caused by the rule in the Church Law that bars candidates from the priesthood and prevents priests from becoming rectors. Here the Swedish Church is robbed of energy and competence.

But the damage is worse than so: Here a church system is shown, that has become functionally atheistic, deciding whom God is calling to become a priest. The church which believes that God calls women to become priests cannot in this way reject the calling of others – not the least as priests of this kind have made and make valuable contributions to the life of the Swedish Church.

We believe that the Swedish church is standing stronger when different opinions are openly confronted in a common quest for truth and context. It is true, Professor Gustaf Wingren stated quite definitely that two different churches emerged in the Swedish Church, when the first women were ordained. If you see it this way, it is high time for ecumenism in the ordinary sense. If you instead perceive that there may exist in one and the same church different opinions, it is reason enough to increase the respect for each other’s points of view or in any case increase the insight into how the opposing party is thinking. With the starting point that the other parties see themselves having good reasons for their opinions, the responsible posture has to be to try to understand these reasons. There is a way forward, if the will is there.

The ecumenical commitment to dialoge and consultation, when a split is threatening, has to be allowed to rule also in the internal church relations. Is it really too big a demand that the faith that is part of the catholic heritage and which is shared and maintained by groups within the Swedish Church and her ecumenical partners, should be recognized as legitimate also in the Swedish Church?

The Reconciliation Commission in South Africa did not choose a simple way, for a simple way did not exist. We believe that we can learn from their approach, even if the problems there were of a much more profound nature than our church controversy. However, the process here and there has to be the same, that we keep frank conversations in order to then continue to live together with people, who is nothing else than what we are ourselves:Christians in the same Swedish Church. Beyond fear and construed enemy images, it is our conviction that it is possible to manage fundamental theological issues. If the will is there. The alternative is off course that the dissidents make arrangements of their own. Such actions can result in the creation of new churches and consequently further divide the Church. It is better to take the schism seriously and now create the alternatives where fellow Christians both live and let live.

We continue to believe that in the waiting and working for the visible unity of the Church, it is possible to find forms for a co-existence, where nobody’s integrity is violated. We perceive more and more of a parallell structure, when we see that the gospel is one but the evangelists four. They have Jesus in the center and run in a parallell fashion toward him, but every gospel in its own way. Maybe we could understand church traditions in the same way and just because of that see that the task of the bishops is to be sure that the diffferent church traditions have their focus in Jesus but also that they have a contribution to give to the whole, when they are ”faithful to realized truth”, that is to say secure in their identity?

We challenge you to such conversations, where we without fear will seak a path forward and a break in locked positions. We benefit by conducted ecumenical dialogs. Questions of conflict do not always need to lead to infertil antagonism. They can also open up new connections and in the long run enrich the Church, not rob her of strength and competence.

Yngve Kalin      Anders Reinholdsson      Dag Sandahl

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