Monday, January 26, 2004

When I spent a couple of days in Stockholm last June, I was really struck by the absence of any detectable signs of religious activity. As a proper amaerican, I don't actually have much idea what's going on in the rest of the world, so it was hard for me to even have any context to put my tiny experience of modern scandinavia into. Well, it looks like Stanley Kurtz has done some research into at least one aspect of Nordic life today, one which should be of condsiderable interest here in the states--gay marriage. The scandinavian countries have apparently volunteered to be the lab rats for the effects of gay marriage on a culture.

Certainly the most interesting part for me of this is the role of the church. This also should serve as a sober warning for us here as well :

Norway's Lutheran state church has been riven by conflict in the decade since the approval of de facto gay marriage, with the ordination of registered partners the most divisive issue. The church's agonies have been intensively covered in the Norwegian media, which have taken every opportunity to paint the church as hidebound and divided. The nineties began with conservative churchmen control. By the end of the decade, liberals had seized the reins.

While the most public disputes of the nineties were over homosexuality, Norway's Lutheran church was also divided over the question of heterosexual cohabitation. Asked directly, liberal and conservative clerics alike voice a preference for marriage over cohabitation--especially for couples with children. In practice, however, conservative churchmen speak out against the trend toward unmarried cohabitation and childbirth, while liberals acquiesce.

This division over heterosexual cohabitation broke into the open in 2000, at the height of the church's split over gay partnerships, when Prince Haakon, heir to Norway's throne, began to live with his lover, a single mother. From the start of the prince's controversial relationship to its eventual culmination in marriage, the future head of the Norwegian state church received tokens of public support or understanding from the very same bishops who were leading the fight to permit the ordination of homosexual partners.

I don't want to make dire predictions about the future of scandinavia (well, I WANT to, but I won't), especially since on my two brief visits everything seemed so pleasant. I will just mention what I notice here. Many in the church wonder about how to "deal" with homosexuality. Some choose vilification; some choose soft-pedaling or silence; some think, "it doesn't matter--homosexuals don't come to (our) church and couldn't care less what we think." But here in this example --and there are numerous examples in our lives I'm sure-- homosexuals DO look to the church for its word. Of course they hope for a word of affirmation, as we all do. But if the church is to be the church, one of the things she needs to do is to tell the truth. To sinners of all kinds we say, "you are enslaved by your sins--come to Jesus to be set free." We just must, like the minority of the German churches in the 30's and 40's, resist the temptation to sell our blessing to the highest bidder.

But you already know all this.

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