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A democratic church

What is really an open and inclusive church?


[1. December 2006] The former prime minister was a priest. The current Minister of the Environment is a priest. We have a political system where membership in denominations determines the composition of the government. The elected members of the government have great and decisive power in the church. Without Prime Minister Gudmund Hernes, we would not have had Bishop Rosemarie Køhn, without the then Prime Minister Anne Enger Lahnstein, Oslo would never have received Liberal Bishop Gunnar Johan Stålsett. Similarly, Oslo would not have got its conservative bishop Ole Chr. Kvarme, unless the Ministry of Church and Culture, under the previous government's leadership, had intervened and overruled the ecclesiastical vote by changing the electoral process. Politicians' influence on the church has thus had a number of direct consequences.

At a time when Islamism is on the rise and we are seeing more and more so-called “courageous settlements with Islam”, it is striking how little problematic Norwegians most think the state church is as an institution. In principle, political-religious links between state power and church power are equally problematic regardless of what kind of religion it is, whether the country is called Norway or Iran.

Therefore, both of the two nominated committees that have looked at the issue in recent years, the Bakkevig committee in 2002 and the Gjønnes committee this year, have gone in to find a new arrangement for the relationship between church and state. At the same time, they have presented thorough explanations for how the church can secure its foundation, how it can be democratized and give the residents of the congregations greater direct influence. Among other things, the Bakkevig committee wanted direct election to the diocesan council, to increase both involvement and influence for the congregations.

We support the majority of the Storting who want a distinction between church and state, but in reality there is no dispute about a yes or no to state church. Both the Bakkevig and Gjønnes committees' solutions are constitutional churches with a special position related to membership numbers and funding. Anyway, the relationship between church and state is over-ripe for modernization. The focus should be on the necessary work to strengthen and develop ecclesiastical democracy, and on the fact that we live in a multireligious society where everyone should have the same rights. Only in this way can we get a really open and inclusive church.

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