The letter [quoted on page 25] may have had more effect than cynics were expecting as Sr Gerd Swensson relates

The letter from the Bishops Christopher Hill and John Hind has been widely read and commented on in Sweden. Traditionalists rejoice to know that their plight is not forgotten and that bishops in a sister church of the Porvoo Agreement are prepared to stand up for the faith received.

Both the Swedish Church Union (arbetsgemenskapen Kyrklig Fornyelse) and the umbrella organisation called The Church Coalition for the Bible and the Confession (Kyrklig Samling) have asked, through their chairmen, that our thanks and sincere appreciation for this letter and its content may be conveyed through the pages of New Directions.

The letter from the Anglican Bishops has indeedbeen noted in Sweden, twice in the national daily paper, Svenska Vagbladet. First, there was a report on the arrival and the content of the letter under the heading ‘Severe criticism from the Church of England’ This was later followed by a substantial article, making the point that the identity of the Church of Sweden is under threat, both because of this proposed change to traditional Christian doctrine and as a result of its failure to consult the Church of England, a church with whom the Church of Sweden claims to have a long-standing and significant relationship.

Reasonable objections

The traditionalist Nomination Group to General Synod, Frimodig Kyrka, has written an open letter headed ‘The Church of Sweden risks being isolated,’ thus echoing the point made by two former Archbishops of Uppsala, Dr Bertil Werkstrom and Dr Gunnar Weman, who have both expressed their grave concerns that the new proposals that would allow same-sex relationships to be seen on par with marriage might cause serious tensions both within the Church of Sweden itself and with its ecumenical partners. In their view, the concern expressed by the Church of England is indeed ‘reasonable’ and should be taken very seriously. Notably, neither the current Archbishop, Anders Wejryd, nor his immediate predecessor, Dr Karl-Gustaf Hammar, has found it necessary to say anything at all in public.

Similar concerns have been expressed by the Bishop of Vaxjo, Sven Thidevall, who in a press release has acknowledged that ‘how we deal with the issue of marriage affect so many other issues besides what we might call the church weddings of same-sex couples. Now it is a matter of our place in the communion of Christian Churches.’ ‘To make far-reaching decisions on significant doctrinal issues without prior renewed ecumenical consultations would be both unwise and incompatible with the ecumenical identity of the Church of Sweden’was the Diocese of Strangnas’ reply to the original proposition.

Support for change

On the hand, counter-reactions have been just as fierce, notably from the Bishop of Visby, Lennart Koskinen, who is also the Bishop for expatriate congregations. He is prepared to offer the Church of England some real gesture.’

Bishop Koskinen was quoted by the most left-wing evening paper in Sweden and then by the Church of Sweden Newspaper, saying, ‘We have no intention of bending on this issue. We are entirely behind same-sex marriages… We will not bend.

The entire College of Bishops stands fully behind same-sex marriages’ [A majority of the fourteen Bishops have actually indicated that they believe it would be better to give up their legal right to marry anybody altogether.] ‘But we will nevertheless have to make some real gesture’ towards the English church.’

According to Koskinen, the reason for this gesture’ is that the Church of Sweden did not consult the English church as it ought to have done. ‘The criticism is serious and we are concerned to continue to have good relations with the Anglican Church, we cannot afford to break that relationship. So we will have to apologise properly, but we will not therefore bend.’

‘Why will you not bend?’ asked the journalist. ‘It was the same thing with women priests. We in the Church of Sweden had the courage to drive the issue and this has led to many other churches having the courage to follow. If we had not done this, the whole issue of women priests would still have been in its infancy’

Our hope is that, come September, the Church of Sweden General Synod will both take note of the letter, and indeed show some appropriate humility by bending both their ears and their course to their fellow Christians, and that Church of England bishops may – if they do indeed receive such a gesture from the Church of Sweden – respond appropriately.