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Anglo-Swedish rift over church gay marriage

David Landes · 16 Jul 2009, 15:51

Published: 16 Jul 2009 15:51 GMT+02:00

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In a sharply worded letter to Swedish archbishop Anders Wejryd, two high ranking bishops from the Church of England call the proposal “problematic”, adding that it risks causing “an impairment of the relationships between the churches”.

“What is now proposed appears to be a fundamental re-definition of the Christian doctrine of marriage and of basic Christian anthropology,” charge English bishops Christopher Hill and John Hind in the letter.

The critique comes following March correspondence from Archbishop Wejryd in which he informed his colleagues in England of ongoing discussions within the Lutheran Church of Sweden about allowing gay marriages in Swedish churches.

Following Wejryd’s letter, the governing board of the Church of Sweden proposed that it should continue to perform wedding ceremonies in accordance with new legislation granting same-sex couples in Sweden the same legal marriage status as heterosexuals.

The governing body’s proposal is currently in the hands of the Church of Sweden synod, the church’s highest decision-making body

A ruling on the issue is expected to come in October.

Among other things, the proposal would entail having the words “man and wife” replaced with “lawfully wedded spouses” when a homosexual couple is wed in a Swedish church.

But according to the Church of England, “it is not right either to bless same-sex sexual relationships or to ordain those who are involved in them.”

The critique, in addition to expressing concerns about the Church of Sweden’s stance on gay marriage, appears to also be a less-than subtle reference to the recent election of Eva Brunne, an openly gay woman, to be Bishop of Stockholm.

The Church of England also criticizes its Swedish counterpart’s stance on same-sex marriage as simply bowing to “a wider shift within Western culture and theology” in which “the idea of a fundamental distinction between the genders is seen as irrelevant”.

An extension of the Church of Sweden’s logic, according to the two English bishops, is that marriage is something which could be “gender neutral”.

“This position would be odds with the biblical teaching about the significant of God’s creation of human beings as male and female,” the two bishops write.

Bishops Hill and Hind also charge that the Church of Sweden, in considering religious ceremonies for same-sex couples, is failing to stand up for its fundamental beliefs.

It is “vital for the Church to maintain a critical distance from the state and to resist what the state is doing if it is at odds with Scripture and the Catholic tradition,” they argue.

Sven Thidevall, the Church of Sweden’s bishop in Växjö in south central Sweden, was surprised by the letter, which he called “not especially flattering”.

He interpreted it as a warning that Sweden’s church risks being isolated if it moves forward with the proposal.

“How we handle the marriage question affects so much more than how we refer to same-sex church weddings,” he said in a statement.

Story continues below…

“Now it’s also about our place in the community of Christian churches.”

Thidevall went on to say that, while he is in favour of the proposal to allow same-sex couples to be wed in Churches, he thinks it’s important for the Church of Sweden to listen to other churches.

“The Church of England has made some polite but critical reflections on how the Swedish church is addressing important theological questions,” he said.

“We need to listen carefully to our sister churches before we decide how we can best do things. What else is a communion of churches for anyway?”

In closing, the English bishops strike a more understanding tone, admitting that there is “much we do not understand about your situation” and hoping that dialogue between the two churches will continue ahead of any final decision on the matter.

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David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:39 July 16, 2009 by conboy
Whatever is the world coming to? Is there no future for Teutonic botherhood and sisterhood?
17:21 July 16, 2009 by Paulo +fab muscular than Jonnhy
"What is now proposed appears to be a fundamental re-definition of the Christian doctrine of marriage and of basic Christian anthropology," charge English bishops Christopher Hill and John Hind in the letter."

So I invite this clergyman to study thoroughly anthropology, including its own history concerning primarily Christianity.


(and this is not the only example)
17:42 July 16, 2009 by DeafJeff
I don't think churches should have to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies if they choose not to. Religions and churches are constructed by their beliefs, and some of the churches don't believe in condoning same-sex marriage. And they shouldn't have to. You pick a church based on beliefs. I'm not condemning same-sex. I am simply saying that if you are gay, and want to get married, and the church won't help you out, then you need a new church. Another thing, you don't have to be married to spend the rest of your life with someone!
21:57 July 16, 2009 by Kaethar
As a non-religious critic of organised religion I'll have to side with the English Church on this one. Religion and state should be separated. Sweden's laws and the values reflected in those laws don't have to reflect the laws of the church (or mosque, or synagogue).

As a homosexual you have every right not to face prejudice and discrimination by the church and you also have the right to be a member of a church without being alienated. These are basic human rights. Freedom for discrimination and freedom of belief and association.

You should not, however, have the right to get married in a religious ceremony which is meant for a man and woman. Since the bible specifically states Christianity does not allow homosexuality I think it's enough that Christians tolerate homosexuals and allow homosexuals to practice beside them...
08:21 July 17, 2009 by hilt_m
"Since the bible specifically states" Kaethar the bible specifically states a lot of stuff which modern day religion tends to ignore why should this be any different. If God was so against this he would be out smiteing the wicked. Give it a rest will you. Everyboy deserves their special day if they want to have it. As for the church of england lol lets not forget how they started, by doing things that the Catholic church condemed.
14:33 July 17, 2009 by richardbw
Well it seems a little strange that the CoE is complaining about the CoS' decision to allow gay marriage. They are in a communion of churches but they are not inextricably linked.

Also, on a lighter note I know several young CoE clergy who have no problem with gay marriage, maybe we just have to wait for the old guard CoE bishops to retire and allow the new guys and gals to take over...
15:33 July 17, 2009 by Kaethar
@hilt_m: What you mean to say is what some sub-branches of each religion ignore. It's quite simple - join the religion which adheres to your values.

"Everyboy deserves their special day"

Yes, I never said they didn't. What is not a right, however, is a RELIGIOUS ceremony in a religion which condemns homosexuality. People will always have different beliefs and it's not up to you or the state to force your beliefs onto others. As I said, even though I am a critic of organised religion I recognise the need for mutual respect and constructive discussion. If Protestants do not break any laws they should be free to practice their faith as they see fit. According to their beliefs and traditions marriage is between a man and a women - and therefore this should be the case. State marriage between homosexuals is still allowed, as it should be.
16:38 July 17, 2009 by Nuname
As a private club they should be allowed to do what they want, (this also goes for the MCC and the scouts IMO). However, as a private club they shouldn't be allowed to have the government collect their fees directly from our taxes as they do here. The Swedish church will go along with all and any legislation because they know as soon as they refuse then the gravy train has ended.

On a similar note does anyone know if my burial tax goes to the church or can I choose how it is used?
16:43 July 17, 2009 by Paulo +fab muscular than Jonnhy
It's been already discussed in loads of other similar threads...

16:47 July 17, 2009 by Inletwatcher
I thought I was in this time tunnel and I was being thrown backwards in time, for this has been hashed and re-hashed... ty Paulo for finding the deja'vu thread.
23:46 July 20, 2009 by Kaethar
I agree. :)

You got it. ;)
13:26 July 21, 2009 by Streja
Nuname, you're not a member of the church so you don't pay anything to them. Begravningsavgft is for paying for your burial silly! That means if they burn your body or whatever you've paid for it.

I pay to the Catholic Church through my taxes. I think Muslims pay to their congregations as well through taxes.
14:59 July 21, 2009 by Nuname
So you can chose how your begravningsavgift is spent then? Obviously if you're being buried in Sweden it tends to be on church grounds so I wondered if they got the money, or does it go to the funeral director?

I honestly know nothing about how it works.
15:01 July 21, 2009 by Puffin
I don't really understand your answer in light of the fact that the Cof E is the established church in this context whereas the Swedish church severed ties with the Swedish state in 2000.

It is perhaps not surprsing that there are different views between the anglo catholocism of the Cof E and the Lutheran traditions of the Swedish church
15:32 July 21, 2009 by Kaethar
I meant I side with their views and respect their beliefs. Not that they are right to demand things of the Swedish church. But, as has been mentioned, you can wonder whether active members of the Swedish church really do believe homosexuals have the right to marry religiously or whether they just tolerate it for the $$$. Since the Christian Democrats were against the proposal I doubt it's the former.
15:35 July 21, 2009 by Streja
Not all Christian Democrats are members of Svenska Kyrkan. Not all members of Svenska Kyrkan are Christian Democrats. There are gay members and even priests. There are social democrat members and priests. I dare say that there are even gay bishops.
15:42 July 21, 2009 by Kaethar
You don't have to be for gay marriage in church just because you're gay.

From my experience of rural people in Sweden (who are often Christians) I'd say the majority would not be in favour of gay marriage in church. Compared to elsewhere I've travelled though I found these people to be quite tolerant of homosexuals and most were for gay marriage by state. The sample size isn't huge, of course, but this has been my experience.
15:49 July 21, 2009 by Kieruk

I agree with that. I am Protistant and am fine with gay marriage by the state, but do not see why it should be made to be part of church.

If the church wants to do this, then fine! Members of that church are members because they want to be...you dont have to be, move on if its not right for you!
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