Wednesday, 5 August 2009

letter from Sweden

A little while ago, the response of the Church of England to a letter from the Church of Sweden was published in connection with General Synod Questions.

This was also reported on in the Church Times and elsewhere.

The full text of the letter from Sweden to which the reply was being made was not available at that time. But it is now, and, with the approval of the Church of Sweden, is reproduced in full below the fold.

THE ARCHBISHOP
CHURCH OF SWEDEN
UPPSALA

Uppsala, March 2009.

Dear friends within the Porvoo Communion,

Within the Porvoo Communion we are committed to keep one another informed about major issues that are going on within our churches. As you know, the Church of Sweden has, for a long time, been involved with questions pertaining to unions for homosexual partners. As of 1995 Church of Sweden blesses couples who are registered partners by a civil ceremony. The Porvoo Communion has discussed these issues for a long time and I think that we will have them on the agenda for a long time to come. The Swedish society is transforming rapidly and I want to let you know what is happening right now.

In many of our countries the situation and rights of same-sex couples are being discussed. Some churches have also worked with the theological perspectives. The Church of Sweden has, as you might know, decided to offer a ceremony of praying for and blessing same-sex couples who have registered partnership since 1995 and a liturgical order for it since 2007. Some material, translated into English, has been shared with you before.

The decisions of Church of Sweden are based on intense and thorough theological discussions and are of course decisions relating to the Swedish context. Church of Sweden wants to stress and support faithful and lasting relationships. However, we have no intention of propagating our position to others. Since the nineties the bishops have for theological reasons unanimously supported the right of homosexuals to live together and have also maintained that the church can support and pray for these couples.

The issue has been brought up at Porvoo meetings and consultations, and also led to discussions, committee work and decisions within the Lutheran World Federation.

The political majority in Sweden has for some years wanted to abolish the difference between the institution of registered partnership and that of marriage. The differences in actual legal consequences are minimal already but the terminology differs. In early 2008 the Central Board of the Church of Sweden took the stance to accept a law covering both forms of unions but wanting to uphold the terminological distinction. A minority wanted to use the same term. A majority of the board wanted the Church to continue to perform the legal part of weddings and also include registering same-sex unions.

The Swedish parliament is now in the process of deciding upon a new law that will include hetero- and homosexual couples. Only one party, the Christian Democratic Party with around 5% of the voters behind it, wants to uphold a difference between partnership and matrimony. We can foresee a decision on a new law this spring, which will go into effect already from 1st May. The law will include the right for churches to perform the legal office both for heterosexual and homosexual couples. There will be no obligation for any church, pastor or priest to act against their own convictions.

This autumn the General Synod of the Church of Sweden will decide how to act. There will be no possibility to register partnership any longer and there would then be no way for the church to bless same-sex couples after 1st May. The church would then only have a rite for heterosexual couples. The Central Board, the Bishops’ Conference and the Doctrinal Commission are therefore now preparing for the deliberations and decisions of the General Synod at the end of October this year.

There is a majority among the bishops, in the Doctrinal Commission and in the Central Board for expanding the concept of marriage to include same-sex couples. This probably also goes for the General Synod.

There has, however, been a discussion among the bishops about a compulsory civil marriage in Sweden, similar to that which is common in continental Europe. On that issue a majority of the bishops are for a compulsory civil marriage. Among the laity the opinion seems to be the opposite.

The most probable outcome is that the General Synod will decide that the church will continue to handle the legal part of the wedding, including same-sex couples, under the presupposition that no individual pastor/priest is forced to act against his or her conscience. Sweden also has a tradition of a civil ceremony to conduct a marriage ceremony that is handled by the legal community.

It is all the more probable as the church has a strict policy not to discriminate against homosexuals and the church has already taken the most important decision, that of accepting and blessing same-sex couples.

All our churches are self-governed. We cannot force decisions upon each other. However it is to me of utmost importance to keep you informed of what is going on and we are of course ready to inform you more if so wanted.

Yours in Christ

Anders Wejryd, Archbishop

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 5 August 2009 at 12:00pm BST | TrackBack
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Comments

Simon

Are the questions and answers up on the General Synod/Church of England website yet? I keep looking for them and they don't seem to be there.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Wednesday, 5 August 2009 at 12:29pm BST

Mark, I recommend that you write to the CofE website to complain about anything that you find missing...

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 5 August 2009 at 12:59pm BST

The Church of Sweden has done what the C of E needs to do: take a calm pastoral approach to supporting what is good in the way its members are living. Why have they been able to do this, whereas in England the emotive rhetoric of macho bullies a la Dunelm stifles any attempts to deal realistically with the way the modern world is?

I wonder whether it's something to do with the way masculinity is handled in Scandinavia in contrast to Britain. All three Scandinavian monarchies are very gender-equal societies, more so than the UK. Whereas women bishops are unexceptional in Norway, Sweden or Denmark, in the C of E they are still regarded as a daring future possibility (the realisation of which seems to be pushed further into the distant future eery time it is discussed). Consequently, women are the missing voice at the top in the C of E, and a certain alpha-male machismo mentality evidently still exists there.

All the national churches in the Scandinavian monarchies bless same-sex couples already, and have done for years, with little controversy. I think their church leaders are just more adult about sex issues than C of E bishops, who seem trapped in rather adolescent fixations. If you want to see your future, go to Scandinavia and learn rather than condemn.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 5 August 2009 at 1:58pm BST

I'm just reading the letter from Christopher Hill and John Hind now. it really is quite remarkable. Especially the wonderful "From a Church of England perspective it is vital for the Church to maintain a critical distance and to resist what the state is doing if this is at odds with Scripture and the Catholic tradition." This is the Church by Law Established in the Realm of England we're talking about, isn't it?

With that capacity for self-deception noted, it's hardly surprising they go on to give the naughty Swedes a lecture for marrying gay couples - something that happens in the Church of England day in and day out. The difference being that the Swedes are honest and the English aren't.

Oh, and what's "Christian anthropology"? Is that like Christian Physics or Christian Evolutionary Biology?

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Wednesday, 5 August 2009 at 3:52pm BST

Yes GL, Christian anthopology (no queeerrrrssss?) is exactly like:

- Christian Physics (no gravity, God holds everything in place by using angels?)

- Christian Evolutionary Biology (some species of some sort or other may appear to have evolved over long centuries of adaptation, but we are not among them?)

- Christian economics (Following Jesus will make you filthy spanking solid gold wealthy, and if it doesn't you aren't following very well?)

- Christian War College (Kill those hot targets right now, earn brownie points with God?)

...... yeeesssss ..... exactly ....

Hallelujah.

Posted by: drdanfee on Wednesday, 5 August 2009 at 10:16pm BST

"what's "Christian anthropology"?"

An inaccurate term for a good concept.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 6 August 2009 at 1:31pm BST

"The decisions of Church of Sweden are based on intense and thorough theological discussions and are of course decisions relating to the Swedish context. Church of Sweden wants to stress and support faithful and lasting relationships. However, we have no intention of propagating our position to others. Since the nineties the bishops have for theological reasons unanimously supported the right of homosexuals to live together and have also maintained that the church can support and pray for these couples."
- 'Letter from Sweden' -

This letter from the Archbishop of the Church of Sweden speaks of a 'contextual theology' which does not enjoin on any of the Porvoo Partners the necessity of agreeing to what the C. of S. does about accepting the integrity of gay persons as fellow members of the Body of Christ.

While affirming the gay community, the Church of Sweden is accepting that it has no control over what other Churches of the Porvoo constituency thinks or does about this important matter, which it has moved on after "intense and thorough theological discussions", and with due regard to the fact that its decision has been made in a contextual situation.

This should alert the Anglican Communion as a whole, that what has been done in TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada about the inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church and in Ministry, has been done in the context of a Provincial Church, with it's own canons and constitution - and not in any way to suggest that everyone else in the Communion should immediately follow suit.

This 'contextual theology' has been allowed to influence the anti-gay stance of certain African nad South-East Asian Provinces of the Communion without any seeming discipline from the rest of the Communion. So one wonders at the critical comments from these provinces when TEC and the A.C.of C. are pro-actively embracing the cause of a neglected minority in the Churches of their own specific area.

The inclusiveness of the Anglican Churches of the Communion does not necessarily mean that they have a duty of reference to 'Head Office' every time they seek to bring about improvements of human rights and justice conditions within their respective jurisdictions. If equal justice were insisted upon then these conservative provinces would have to do much more in the social justice area; in countries such as Nigeria and Uganda, where certain human rights have long been ignored by the Church in their domain.

Respect for one another's ministry to their own specific constituency would enable the partners in mission of the A.C. to get on with the Gospel initiatives that are pertinent to their own context - without hindrance from the others. We need to learn from the problems of monolithic authoritarianism which exists in other Church bodies, which condemns the world to paternalism, over-population and other systematic ills, which deny the individual conscience that Christianity ought to uphold and value.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 7 August 2009 at 12:53am BST

A thought: Maybe the cherished Idea of our Political and Ecclesiastical anti Moderns that Inclusion is brought upon them from ouside is the Insight that Inclusion is simply Righteous and Gospel?

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 7 August 2009 at 7:02am BST

Some outlines of a certain traditional pattern in Christian Anthropology, provisional:

1. God created them male and female which together reflect the larger nature of God ...

1a. except ... the female part is derived from the male part, especially after God puts the guy to sleep really good ....

1b. and ... tells the guy when he wakes him up that the women is his plaything and property whom he may properly beat up or otherwise discipline whever she happens to show a mind or heart of her very own ...slaves obey your masters, wives obey your husbands ...

1c. and ... above all, she must not go to school, learn to read or write, or speak in public; otherwise she will get notions and think her vapors are the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

2. All males and females are exclusively heterosexual ...

2a. and sex is going to be so bad with men always in charge, ...(...seven kids and not one organism, as the Irish wife in the movie tells her friend after sitting in on one of her kid's sex ed talks from school)...

2b. that of course people will be sexually frustrated, imagining themselves easily tempted by the forbidden excess of same sex stuff, all cheap and thrilling and out of bounds ...

2c. so that when these inevitable grass is greener temptations are operative, one may resist and earn brownie points from God,

2d. thanks be to Jesus.

3. God's plan for ordering creation is just wonderful.

Posted by: drdanfee on Friday, 7 August 2009 at 10:42pm BST

Further evidence that the recent reassessment of the Kingdom of Sweden as a mission territory for the Roman Catholic Church as well as by a number of Pentecostal bodies is well overdue. Further evidence that the Reformation itself has been a disaster for Christianity in the Nordic countries. One may only hope and pray for the return of the Catholic Church to a country now almost entirely bereft of the authentic body of Jesus Christ. Only once Church can re-evangelize Europe, the Church that gave her Birth - The Holy Roman Catholic Church. If the moral collapse of Scandinavia does not render this painfully obvious, what does?

Posted by: CharlieNoel on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 5:44am BST

Charlie Noel: "If the moral collapse of Scandinavia does not render this painfully obvious, what does?"

Er, no, Charlie. The three Scandinavian kindgoms are the world's highest per capita aid donors (is that not a Christian moral action?); they are the societies with the least social inequalities in Europe (is that not also the sign of a Christian ethic?). Where I live, in Denmark, an incredibly high proportion of children are baptised into the state church, and 80% of the population voluntarily pay in the region of £500 per annum each to it.

The Nordic churches are the most equal because the rest of society here is the most equal: they appoint women to the top jobs in church because it would seem to them an unspeakable lack of Christian justice not to. Likewise with their treatment of gay people.

It is true that on a given Sunday, the number of people who bother to pitch up represents about 5% of the population. But that figure is not mch different from church in Germany, France, the UK, the Netherlands or Belgium. I'll also predict that Spain and Italy, followed hotly by Ireland and Poland will have about the same proportion of churchgoers within 10 years, on current trends.

The Roman Catholic Church too needs to address the same important questions that the Nordic churches have been dealing honestly with: it will die out across Europe soon if it doesn't.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 1:59pm BST

"One may only hope and pray for the return of the Catholic Church to a country now almost entirely bereft of the authentic body of Jesus Christ. Only once Church can re-evangelize Europe, the Church that gave her Birth - The Holy Roman Catholic Church. If the moral collapse of Scandinavia does not render this painfully obvious, what does?"

In the words of my Methodist grandmother "Bless the Lord, oh my soul!" Surely there's a sarcasm here that I am missing.

"almost entirely bereft of the authentic body of Jesus Christ"

Seriously?!?!?!

"Holy Roman Catholic Church"

While I have great respect for Rome, I take exception to the epithet 'holy'. The egos of numerous Popes might seek to justify it, but Rome's behaviour through the ages manifestly disqualifies Her from use of that word in relation to Herself. She is just as sinful as any other group of Christians. She deserves respect when She acknowledges it and repents of it. She deserves nothing but scorn when She denies it and tries to pain Herself out as sinless. You might not see it, but the world does. Come have a beer with me some night and I'll introduce you to a huge number of people who will not be reticent in casting the sins of Rome in your teeth. Unless you think it is somehow holy to sexually abuse boys, hide the perpetrators, then spend years in courts trying to avoid paying compensation to the victims. And that's just one of Rome's many sins.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 13 August 2009 at 1:24pm BST
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