The Telegraph — Nov 24, 2017
The Church of Sweden is encouraging its clergy to use the gender-neutral term “God” instead of referring to the deity as “he” or “the Lord”.
The decision was made on Thursday, wrapping up an eight-day meeting of the church’s 251-member decision-making body. The decision will take effect on May 20 during Pentecost.
It is the latest move by the national Evangelical Lutheran church to modernise its 31-year-old handbook setting out how services should be conducted.
The decision to update the book of worship gives priests new options on how to refer to God during their services.
Priests can now open their services by referring to the traditional “Father, son and Holy Ghost” or the gender-neutral phrase “in the name of God and the Holy Trinity”. Other gender-neutral options are available for other parts of the Church of Sweden liturgy.
“We talk about Jesus Christ, but in a few places, we have changed it to say ‘God’ instead of ‘he’,” Church of Sweden spokesperson Sofija Pedersen Videke told The Telegraph. “We have some prayer options that are more gender-neutral than others.”
“A wide majority of people decided on the book,” she said, adding that she had heard of no priests who objected to the new linguistic framework.
The Church of Sweden is headed by Archbishop Antje Jackelen, who was elected Sweden’s first female archbishop in 2013.
Archbishop Jackelen defended the decision, telling Sweden’s TT news agency: “Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human.”
The decision was met with some criticism. Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor at Lund University in Sweden, told Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad that the decision was “undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches.”
“It really isn’t smart if the Church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage,” he said. The Church of Sweden has 6.1 million baptised members in a country with a population of 10 million.
The Church of England told The Telegraph that it also chooses to avoid divisive language in its services, but not with regards to God. “When liturgy is revised we also seek to use inclusive language where appropriate when referring to people,” a spokesperson said.
“The Church of England has always used masculine language when speaking about God, for example in the words of the Lord’s Prayer – ‘our Father, who art in Heaven’ – and in referring to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and continues to do so.”
The decision by the Church of Sweden mirrors an international trend for inclusivity in major churches. Earlier this month, the Church of England published guidelines for helping children “explore the possibilities of who they might be”, including their gender identity.