The Church of Sweden has voted to adopt a controversial new handbook which says masculine references to God, such as “He” and “Lord” should be scrapped so as to be more “inclusive”.
Despite heavy criticism from organisations including Royal Swedish Academy, on Thursday the church approved the new handbook with a large majority.
The Church Handbook — which was last updated in 1986 — sets out how services, baptisms, weddings and funerals should be conducted, in language, liturgy, theology and music, and is therefore central to the church’s activities.
According to local media, many priests have objected to directions in the new handbook regarding language, which have been added with the goal of making the church “more inclusive”.
This includes instructing clergy to refer to God in a gender-neutral fashion, without “unnecessarily” using the male pronoun “He”, or terms like “Lord”.
God should be referred to as “Mother” as well as “Father” in some prayers, according to guidelines in the manual, which gives the following as an example:
“God, Holy Trinity, Father and Mother, Son – Sister and Brother, and Spirit – Lifeguard and Inspirator, lead us to your depths of wealth, wisdom and knowledge”.
Sofia Camnerin, the deputy chair of Sweden’s Equmenia Church, defended “inclusive language” in the church, stating that the need for it “is based on an awareness of different types of discrimination and inequality in our society.”
“Referring to God as ‘Lord’ consolidates [gender] hierarchies and the subordination of women in a white, Western feminist context,” she argued in a blog.
“Liberation theologists, along with feminist and postcolonial theologians, have been crucial in identifying how legitimising hierarchies leads to violence and subordination,” she said.
But Priest Helena Edlund, who blasted the church as having shown “a total unwillingness to listen to criticism”, expressed concern over the new language guidelines.
“The risk is that we fail to notice the small changes and then gradually over time we find ourselves looking at drastic changes we never would have accepted if they were put to us immediately,” she told Världen Idag last year.
“Is it unlikely, for example, that in five years we will be praying ‘Our Mother Who is in Heaven …’ in our churches? A few years ago, this was called an impossibility, but the church handbook proposal makes it possible.”
Speaking after the vote to adopt the new handbook passed, Mikael Löwegren, commissioner for the church in Småland Ljungby, said the decision signifies that the Swedish Church has “ceased to exist as a coherent spiritual community”.
“Under the guise of ‘diversity’, society is being broken down into different groups,” he said, asserting that there are “so many alternatives and optional variants” included in the new manual that “it will be hard to claim this is the same church from parish to parish”.
Highlighting language guidelines recommending God be presented in a gender-neutral fashion, Löwegren also warned that the new manual “takes the Church of Sweden further away from the major churches instead of bringing it closer to them.”
“Christianity’s most basic doctrine holds that there is a triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” he pointed out, adding that the new guidebook “throws away the progress made by the church through in-depth ecumenical dialogue, and brings in a new worship system that is both anti-ecumenical and anti-science.”
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