The Church of Sweden will only refer to God in gender-neutral terms, reported several of the world's biggest news outlets on Friday, saying it had made the decision in an update of its 31-year-old handbook.
“It's not true,” were a spokesperson's first words when The Local called to ask.
“It's not true,” repeated Sofija Pedersen Videke, head of the Church's service of worship committee, which was heavily involved in the work on the new handbook before it went before the Church Assembly.
The Church Assembly, a 251-member decision-making body, voted on Thursday with a large majority to update the handbook, which includes the Church's aim to use language that is “more inclusive”.
“The old handbook is from 1986 and the new edition is much more in line with the Swedish Bible translation made in 2000,” Pedersen Videke told The Local. “God is beyond 'she' and 'he', God is so much more.”
“We want variation when it comes to how you express yourself, just like in the Bible.”
Some of the updated language includes three alternatives for the words to use at the start of worship services, including one which is gender-neutral: “In the name of the Father and Son, and the Holy Spirit,” “In the name of God, the Father and Son, and the Holy Spirit”, and “In the name of the triune God”.
The Church Assembly also agreed to use the female grammatical gender for the Holy Spirit, as it the case in Hebrew as well as in the 2000 Swedish Bible translation ('den heliga anden' as opposed to 'den helige ande').
“Everyone who wants to call God 'Lord' can remain calm. It is still there in many places in the new handbook. We have replaced 'he' with 'God' in one place, that's all,” Pedersen Videke told The Local.
She said she had been fielding calls from journalists all day, and the Swedish Church also replied to several comments on its social media accounts, emphasizing that the change is not all-encompassing.
When The Local repeats the headline “Church of Sweden to stop referring to God as 'he' or 'Lord'”, which appeared in a major mainstream international newspaper on Friday, to Pedersen Videke, she sighs:
“It's not true, it's fake news. I am aghast and wonder where it's coming from?”
The decision to update the handbook, which was last revised in 1986, was taken at a Church Assembly meeting in 2009. The pronoun 'he' has been removed in one place, one sentence in the Gloria, where the Assembly voted on Thursday to replace it in: “Ära åt Gud i höjden och frid på jorden bland människor som han älskar” (“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among humans whom he loves”).
The change was adopted on the initiative of Kenneth Nordgren, who represents the Free Liberals group in the Church Assembly. He argued: “This is in order to take it one step further with regard to inclusive language and to indicate direct liturgical talk about God, which is preferable to an indirect pronoun. Stylistically, we are also of the opinion that this works well in terms of liturgy.”
Sweden's gender-neutral pronoun 'hen' does not appear in the new Church handbook at all.