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.
“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.