Preacher settles for dialogue over book-burning

Preacher settles for dialogue over book-burning
Jonas Gardell
A renegade preacher in southern Sweden has retracted his calls for the ritual burning in a town square of books penned by comedian Jonas Gardell on God and Jesus Christ.

Holger Nilsson, an independent evangelist preacher, provoked fury earlier this month when he urged residents of Vetlanda to burn Gardell’s books, which he considered blasphemous.

“It’s a statement, and there’s nothing odd about it. We’re far too indulgent in Sweden,” he told local newspaper Vetlanda-Posten at the time.

Nilsson made his comments on a local radio show produced by the Alliance Church in Jönköping, which quickly distanced itself from the remarks and vowed to block any future participation from the preacher.

But rather than burning the books, Nilsson has now called for a debate to be held on the main square in Vetlanda.

“There’ll be one rostrum set aside for those who wish to speak on behalf ofGod and his word, and another rostrum set aside for those who wish to speak on behalf of Gardell and his message,” Nilsson told local newspaper Smålands-Tidningen.

But a coordinating council of Christian groups in Vetlanda said it saw little value in the idea.

“It’s not a method that appeals to me. Both the Church of Sweden and the free churches here in Vetlanda have forums for the discussion of theological issues,” said local vicar Peter Åström from the main Lutheran Church of Sweden.

“Residents of Vetlanda are fully capable of thinking and reading for themselves. Anyone with questions can come to us with them,” he added.

Jonas Gardell is one of Sweden’s best loved comics. He is openly gay and Christian, a mixture that has not always been welcomed in more conservative church circles. Writing on his website, Gardell urged church leaders to “keep the flanks free of extremists.”

He also wondered about the practical aspects of organizing a book-burning session in a small town.

“Should Vetlanda book store, if there is such a thing, buy in extra books to sell to prospective book buyers? It seems expensive.”