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Members flee Church of Sweden in droves

TT/The Local · 1 Dec 2009, 13:21

Published: 01 Dec 2009 11:59 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Dec 2009 13:21 GMT+01:00

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Between November 2008 and October 2009, nearly 72,000 people, or roughly 1 percent of the church's 6.8 million members, asked to leave, according to church statistics reviewed by the TT news agency.

The number of people abandoning Sweden's largest church is roughly 20,000 more than the previous year.

Church of Sweden spokesperson Henrik Pederby was unable to point to any specific reason why more people are leaving the church.

“Previously, the drop leveled off, after withdrawals reached a peak in 2004. Now it’s increasing again. We interpret that as indicating that the figures are being affected by some general situation in society. It could be economic reasons which cause someone to leave the church,” he told TT.

Members of the Church of Sweden are obliged to pay just under 1 percent of their annual income in church tax. In 2008, 6.8 million Swedes, or 73 percent of the population, were officially members. Until 1996, Swedes automatically became members of the church at birth if at least one parent was a member.

The decision by the church to allow homosexual couples to be wed in Swedish churches doesn’t appear to have any effect on church membership, according to Pederby.

“The marriage decision had no effect whatsoever,” he said.

At the same time, however, the total number of members in other faith communities increased somewhat, according to figures from the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities (Nämnden för statligt stöd till trossamfund – SST).

A total of 761,538 people now belong to faith groups other than the Church of Sweden, a 1 percent increase from the 753,952 people registered in 2007.

The faith communities which registered increases include Islamic assemblies, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Orthodox and Assyrian Churches.

SST point out, however, that there is uncertainty about figures for many of the parishes.

Story continues below…

Meanwhile, the Pentecostal movement, which has 121,545 members and the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden (115,999 members) have both lost members, with most dioceses reporting a roughly 1 percent drop in membership.

In addition, 6,441 people, or 0.26 percent, have sought to join the Church of Sweden in the last year.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

12:33 December 1, 2009 by Random Guy


12:50 December 1, 2009 by wenddiver
They have made themselves a joke in the world wide Lutheran community ith gay marriage. In the US the Evangelical Lutheran Church did the same thing and instantly filled up their rival the Missori Synod Lutheran Church with their members.. Sola Scriptura, sola Faith.
12:58 December 1, 2009 by MarkieMark
"The decision by the church to allow homosexual couples to be wed in Swedish churches doesn't appear to have any effect on church membership, according to Pederby."

I am sure it has a great effect on it. Church of Sweden: do not forget where you come from: Jesus, in Sacred Scripture, in Sacred Tradition.

Let us pray for the Church of Sweden, that she may rediscover her roots.
13:30 December 1, 2009 by jones2
Goodness, this one brought the God-botherers out!

As it happens, this is almost certainly not because the former church members are raging homophobes, as the other posters are suggesting.

More likely reasons for the fall in membership are:

1) Most members of the church do not attend church, have never attended church did not make an active choice to join and in many cases were not even baptised into the church (practically all Swedes over the age of 13 were made members automatically).

2) There's a recession on. If you're paying 1 percent of your income in church tax to a church worshipping a god you don't believe in, that makes for a painless cut out of a strained budget.
13:37 December 1, 2009 by Reinaert Thomasson
My assumption is that people are leaving church, in general, because they have had enough of it. It does not fit their life style etc. As for gay marriage, I am afraid it is too much to ask for. Why do gay's insist on marriage in a church? They have today more than enough alternatives? Let us face it. In no religion there is a place for homosexuality. Let them be pleased with the possibility of marriage within the framework of the civil legislation. The orthodox churches are growing due to a stream of refugees. Fearful is naturally the rapid growth of Islam within Sweden and western Europe. Islam means destruction
13:42 December 1, 2009 by Nemesis
It looks like more people are joining extremist fundementalist churches and Swedes are leaving the church to keep there money.

We really don't need judeo-christian-satanist-islamic churches anyway. We really should have got past that superstition years ago.
13:44 December 1, 2009 by MinnesotaGuy
This is a shame and not likely to reverse as long as the Church is fat and happy with "automatic" income and no clear message. Jones2 represents too many of us - (s)he knows what the "God-botherers" are against. What about what we're for?

Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide...but let's not lose the Sola Gratia. Luther turned the world on it's head by (re)introducing the word, and reason, to the common man. We appear all too afraid to point out a verse and hide behind it. We need to make a difference in the lives of the jones2's of the world and reintroduce a God of grace and love. We don't need to be wishy-washy stand-for-nothings, but we also don't need to treat God like a little old lady. He can, and does, speak for Himself - and sometimes to His followers as well...

13:50 December 1, 2009 by Osokin
- married priests with children (recognized and else) and family lives

- female priests

- homosexual weddings

- transvestite priests (see Finland)

Of course it has ALL to do with it and they know it and there is no way back.

Remains to be seen if the acolytes they gain from the bizarre, makes up for their loss, seems not. Some religulous CEO is gonna lose his job.
14:06 December 1, 2009 by Shazzer
I'm curious to know where number of people identified as "leaving" the Church comes from. Are they active members who are resigning their membership to seek a different faith alternative or are they just average Svenssons who have never been active and are now choosing not to pay the annual Church Tax anymore?

As I understand it, everyone born in Sweden before 1996 received automatic "membership" in the Church as long as at least one of their parents was a member...with no baptism required. This is why the Church can claim 77% of Swedish population as mambers (as of 2007, anyway). Logic dictates that there are a lot of Swedes counted on the church rolls who have never regularly attended services. But all members pay a church tax of as much as 2% of their annual income (depending on where they live), and I personally know many Swedes who continue to pay this tax out of habit rather than because they are actively involved in their local parish.

But as jone 2 indicated, priorities can change in tough economic times. It's reasonable to assume that some of these "leavers" decided they could no longer afford to pay a tax out of habit.
15:02 December 1, 2009 by livinginsweden
Maybe after believing and waiting for so many years ..... they have yet to see God .... and they just give up..

How long can one believe in something or someone ... someone that we cannot see ... before one give up ......
16:08 December 1, 2009 by Celc
I find it somewhat entertaining that the foreigners seem to know anything about why people are leaving the state church. The fact is that almost every Sweed is an atheist and the only reason why the church can claim such high numbers is because everyone became a member automatically up until recently. My whole family is a member of the state church and none of us believe or have ever believed in a God the same deal is common amongst everyone I know. I too will leave the church whenever I can be bothered, it somewhat annoying to do since you have to send a letter to your local parish.

Since we have religious education in school the question occurred countless times who actually believed in anything and in groups of 20 people maybe 1 or 2 people said they did and I went to a lot of different schools. Only once in my life have anyone been surprised I don't believe in God and that was when I told my 80 year old grandparents (I just casually remarked it when I was nine) and they seemed distraught but never talked about it again.

If anyone doubts what I'm saying try walking to your local church sometime during service and you'll find that it's pretty much only old people there and barely any seats are taken.

It has nothing to do with the state church being allowed to wed homosexuals and you could see that by just looking at the numbers before and after the law passed, there will be no spike.

@Shazzer - They track it because the people who left the church does not have to pay the church tax, you also have to mail your local parish telling them you want out.
16:33 December 1, 2009 by Tennin
It has nothing to do with homosexuals allowed to get married in the churches here. The swedes I know who left the church this past year left because of the taxes they are forced to pay. The economy isn't doing well and they think it's too much money to pay a year when they don't ever attend church.

They also don't believe in god. So they don't feel like paying money to something they never use, attend or believe in. Since they were born they were part of the church, it wasn't their choice, it was just pushed on to them.
16:42 December 1, 2009 by Celc
I realize the first sentence in my remark might come of as xenophobic and that wasn't my intent at all. It was to convey that I found it funny that the earlier comments came from people that quite obviously have not been exposed to many naturally-born Swedes, who are the ones that are members of the Swedish church.

(Dear The Local, if you are going to disallow double posting then you need to ad an edit button.)
17:01 December 1, 2009 by Glempa
Jones2 has it in a nutshell. Most of us are atheists, and there is nothing extrodinary about people leaving a church when they don't believe in any god!

Those of you who quote passages from the bible to condem homosexuality are hiding behind the bible to justify their bigotry. Never forget how Galileo was persecuted for saying 'the earth went round the sun' and not the other round as the church claimed. Perhaps all you bible bashers (bible preachers) should carry on persecuting astromeners, and stoning adulterers because 'that's what the bible says'.
17:10 December 1, 2009 by Renfeh Hguh
I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I worship at the Church of the FSM

I just love it when the religious nut jobs join us to comment :)
17:15 December 1, 2009 by swede1967
I lived in Sweden as a missionary from 2000 to 2002. I have to agree that most people I spoke with said they were a member of the Church of Sweden. Of those that attended, for the most part it was only for Christmas services or Easter. Most of the younger generation affiliated themselves with Atheism.
17:57 December 1, 2009 by Militant Atheist
Sounds like a wonderful idea, to cancel ones contribution to religious organisations. Your time & money is best spent on more worthwhile things in life.

Things that will contribute to peoples lives. Best to contribute to science & technology

18:56 December 1, 2009 by gmaddalo
Really? What a news!After allowing the gay people to get married in the Church what were you exptecting? The Swedish Church has turned to a joke and made itself ridicolous at the eyes of the whole world!Chi e´causa del suo mal pianga se stesso! Who is the cause of its own pain should blame hiself/herself!
19:29 December 1, 2009 by canuk
i want out of the church as well! im not even religious and they take tax money from me. how does one go about leaving the church?
20:43 December 1, 2009 by wxman
This is simple. When a church ceases to be a church, the members go off and join a real church.
20:59 December 1, 2009 by Celc
@gmaddalo, wxman - You clearly haven't read any of the comments, people here aren't religious aka. don't believe in a God. It has little to do with the state church doing something right or wrong.

@canuk - http://www.uturkyrkan.se
21:04 December 1, 2009 by explodp
Women priests - gay marriage.....

Where is God and Christianity in this? Oh, and the Bible?
21:18 December 1, 2009 by laura ka baal
What a shame, does Bible allows gay marriage?
21:31 December 1, 2009 by thevasin
I agree with all comments on gay marriage and women priests. No doubt !!
21:32 December 1, 2009 by boby
You are all wrong. There is a reason there are no specific numbers in the article about how many people converted to Islam. Lets talk again in 20 so years when 50% of population belongs to Muslim faith (well, maybe there will be no internet anymore, I dont think it is allowes under Shaia).
22:04 December 1, 2009 by MinnesotaGuy
@Celc - if you'll indulge a foreigner once more. Your points are very valid; but not necessarily at odds with the wxmans out there. Clearly the Church of Sweden has done some things wrong. For starters, it claims you and your income without you claiming it - unless you jump through some hoops to opt out. Secondly, it either stands for a myth, or it has failed in it's mission. For those of faith, that mission involves introducing a God who matters to non-believers. If that God doesn't matter, than the church is irrelevant. Either way, the church has done things "wrong" Not looking to debate you, but to acknowledge where there may not be disagreement. Peace and a Merry Christmas from the Scandanavian-belt of the USA.
23:51 December 1, 2009 by 2394040
Most people believe in a God, regardless of what is said. Whatever is your "master" is your "God". In the developed world, most of the people, when they stoppped believing in the "God of Creation" quite simply transferred their allegiance to the "God of Materialism".

And what they don't seem to realize is that the "God of Materialism" is a far more demanding taskmaster than the "God of Creationism".

You think not? Then quit your job, throw away your money, and see how long you last.
03:31 December 2, 2009 by Davey-jo
You mean unless you say no, you have to pay for these "cocks in frocks" to spout a load of gobsh*te at you? What kind of a country is this? I know it's dark for 6 months of the year but you can still see you're being robbed can't you? Rise up and tell them to stuff themselves, sideways, if possible.
10:25 December 2, 2009 by Britswedeguy
In other words, stupid people are becoming more stupid.

Does their invisible magic friend who lives in the sky really care which building they sing their songs in and which person in a robe they listen to?

Surely all they need to know was written down by Arab goat-herders thousands of years ago anyway?
10:58 December 2, 2009 by Celc
@MinnesotaGuy - Yes from the point of view of the church its clearly a failure on their part, I do agree there. However I don't think you can blame it on any particular event made in the last couple of decades, you basically need to look at peoples grandparents to find religious naturally-born Swedes at any reasonable frequency. I also agree that people leaving the church must be because they realize they'll save money in doing so, otherwise why would you bother unless you are an activist atheist since it's it takes some effort and people seem to be largely indifferent towards religion as it really plays no part in peoples everyday lives.

@2394040 - Are you saying that "God of Materialism" as you put it does not apply to religious people? I really don't see what you are arguing though and what throwing away your lively hood would accomplish. Working to put food on the table is not the same thing as worshiping money, there's nothing supernatural about making money.
20:19 December 2, 2009 by MonroeM2009
I think most of the Swedes will not care about the marriage of same sex and this doesn't affect the population of people going to church. It is just that they are not interested. Swedes are not interested at what other people are doing and it is like "mind-your-own-business" thing. They want to respect people's private lives. Some people may not go to church but they still believe in God and some still go to church but in another groups. Nowadays, as this is a modern time, we need more enhancement , motivations and interesting personalities and gospel music to put back people to church. I wish the best for the Swedish Church.
21:32 December 2, 2009 by OllieCrafoord
My husband is talking of leaving the church because he's not interested in it religion-wise and it's only taking tax from him. Perhaps other people feel the same?
10:12 December 3, 2009 by Princess P
I am a Christian and would normally be a regulary church goer. I have stopped going to church here in Sweden because they are the most boring church services ever. Church should be happy and full of joy because it is a celebration of the most amazing thing ever (for those who believe). Here it is more like going to grandma's funeral.
15:00 December 3, 2009 by MinnesotaGuy
@celc - Too bad we don't have a few hours and a pint or two at a bar; it'd be a good discussion! You again have good points, presented fairly and with respect - and I agree with you that the issues with state churches are not based on a decision or two in the last decades. Rather they've developed an entitlement-mentality and a resultant loss of direction. It's a shame, because it breeds complacency, annoyance and ultimately disgust - as is all too evident with many of the posts here.

Compulsion is not faith; and religion isn't God. From my perspective, faith should challenge, energize and free one to feed and clothe our neighbor (especially the ones we don't like), physically and spiritually. Too often, I see rule books and traditions, when presented as gospel, serve only to dampen the Gospel and shut the door to a God who I believe still moves among us, still loves, still cares.

I don't blame people for leaving the church, I blame the church. And I struggle with a church that claims people instead of being claimed by people.

Cheers my friend!
01:18 December 4, 2009 by randyt
During my many trips to Sweden, mostly to Stockholm, with one trip to each Gothenburg and Karlstad. Like some have mentioned, I seldom so many people around the Lutheran churches. Then on my one trip to Karlstad I happened to be go best a small Baptist church a few times. There were always folks there and for sure on Sunday morning there was a nice crowd of people.

It seems to me if one wants a church to dry up and go away align it with the state.

The 1% of one's income is nothing, most Evangelical (non-state) churches strive for 10% from their members, I suspect the average is about 3-5% of net income goes to tithing in these non-state churches.
10:30 December 4, 2009 by Da Goat
Love the above comments!

yes it is indeed true the Swedish state church has lost its way (not that it has ever had the plot really) and is truly a joke.

it does not qualify to be judeo or christian or pagan or anything really!

trouble is that humans have religion hard wired into their brains everybody has a religion of some type evolution is a religion so is atheism and a lot of people worship daily at the PUBlic bar "church" of various denominations!

An interesting thing just to contradict nemesis's thought patterns

when people lose their organized religion they immediately become superstitious

the Christian religions are not superstitions they are the exact opposite

non God fearing people are superstitious!

IE if you don't believe in something you fall for everything .... if you don't trust in God you are fearful of the strangest things.... without something to hold onto you drift off to La-la land!
21:03 December 6, 2009 by lingonberrie
Native American Peoples have a strong belief in a Great Spirit, and aside from Mayan and Aztec cultures, no other of the People had any structures for any organized religion. There spiritual beliefs were, among many yet today, are purely a personal factor.

Superstition is an overused and often misused word.

Athletes often have favorite jerseys or other articles of apparel,

or other articles, that they rely on but they are far from drifting

". . . off to La-la land," whatever that means; and people in all walks of life and professions have likewise such talisman that affect the way that they conduct their lives, in small and greater measures, but as well do not leave them adrift in "La la land.
21:47 December 6, 2009 by jimfromcanada
The Church of Sweden is not the only one to have a drop in membership since the Pentecostals and the Mission Covenant Church also lost the same percentage of members. These churches certainly do not support gay marriage, so that does not seem to be the problem either. I suspect that the church tax is the real reason.
13:22 December 11, 2009 by BLADESKATER00
They're deceiving theirselves if they truly believe that church support of homosexual behavior hasn't had a negative effect and has prompted people to leave the immorality!
12:06 March 2, 2010 by desert voice
Gdy odmawiamy Credo, czasem niezupełnie świadomie, wymawiamy

wspaniałe słowa "wierzę w świętych obcowanie", ... i je zapominamy!

Dlaczego? Dlatego, że przez 2,000 lat, teologowie, biskupi i

homiliści, ogólnie, tłumaczą Kościołowi, nam, że słowa te odnoszą

się do "obcowania świętych wśród nas ze świetymi w niebie"! A w

rzeczywistości jest to straszne zubożenie prawdy. W rzeczywistości,

słowa te oznaczają całe stosunki Kościoła katolickiego, a nawet

powiedziałbym, wszystkich innych religii, pomiędzy wiernymi i w

ogóle, ludzkością! A więc to nie tylko obcowanie kilku wspaniałych

stworzeń na ziemi z kanonizowanymi i nie kanonizowanymi świętymi w

niebie, ale moje obcowanie z Tobą, ze świętym Żydem, ze świętym

Muzułmanem,i ze świętym niewierzącym, tu na ziemi! PS: For those not understanding Polish this article (published in "Znak" and in Angora, pl) voices my concern about the massive misunderstanding of the "communion of saints", which we pledge each Sunday to believe, in the Credo. It happens that, for thousands of years, theologians , bishops, and priests, have failed to clarify that this phrase refers not only to the communion between the saints in heaven and a few of us who are saints on earth, but to a communion between all christians, and indeed all human beings! As a result of this lack of clarification, we simply have no common spiritual language, and too often feel no necessity to communicate spiritually, as we must! Try to find a saint to communicate with, and you will understand what I mean!
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