News

Norway and its national church part ways

The Arctic Cathedral, or Ishavskatedralen, of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Norway in Tromsø, Norway. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) Norway and its church are getting a divorce — or maybe they’re just separating.

On Jan. 1, the Scandinavian country cut some ties with its Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Norway, rewording the national constitution to change the denomination from “the state’s public religion” to “Norway’s national church.”

The change means the nation of just over 5 million people — about 82 percent of them Evangelical-Lutherans — will still fund the church but will no longer appoint its clergy, who will still be considered civil servants.

And like most divorces, this one could be messy. Norway is one of the least theistic nations in Europe, with 39 percent of Norwegians saying they are atheist or agnostic, according to a poll conducted by a Norwegian newspaper earlier this year.

But Norway also has its own “Bible belt,” along its southwest coast, where much of the base of the country’s two Christian democratic parties is based.

“Such a policy change might inadvertently trigger a culture war,” Jacques Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University professor who studies secularism, told RNS. “Certain anti-secular elements in Europe could point to Norway as an example of the ongoing collapse of Christian culture and Western civilization at the hands of diabolical secularists.”

The move has been in the works since 2012, when the Norwegian Parliament approved the change. It comes just as Germany and other Protestant nations prepare to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation later this year.

Secularism has been on the rise in Western Europe since the 1960s, with church attendance declining and strict laws on public displays of religion in nations such as France. But the past decade has seen the rise of anti-secular groups and politicians in England, Germany and France.

Meanwhile, some Norwegians feel the divorce is not sharp enough. Kristin Mile, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Humanist Association, told The Local No, an English-language Norwegian news site, that the change only muddies the relationship between church and state.

“As long as the constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway’s national church, and that it should be supported by the state, we still have a state church,” she said.

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

10 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • “Norway and its church are getting a divorce — or maybe they’re just separating.”

    “The change means the nation of just over 5 million people — about 82 percent of them Evangelical-Lutherans — will still fund the church but will no longer appoint its clergy, who will still be considered civil servants.”

    So alright. Using your analogy and what’s actually occured, it’s less of a “divorce” or even a “separation” and more “that annoying couple that keeps saying they’re breaking up but never really do that.”

  • If 39% of Norwegians are atheist or agnostic according to a poll, how can 82% of them be Evangelical-Lutherans? That’s 121%. What this really tells us is that people are either nominal in their commitment to their faith, or that polls have a greater margin for error than is usually stated. Either way the picture is not clarified but muddied. However, the Lord knows his own. I would look to social and governmental policies, and the citizenry’s response to them to get the best picture of the spiritual state of Norway or any other nation.

  • “What this really tells us is that people are either nominal in their commitment to their faith, or that polls have a greater margin for error than is usually stated.”

    Probably the former. A European asked about his/her faith usually answers with something like, Of course I’m Christian– I live in a Christian country, etc. IOW, Christianity in Europe is far more a matter of culture rather than personal faith, and this has been true since the middle ages. Established clergy, who are essentially bureaucrats, pursue the actual evangelization and teaching of the common people with all the zeal for which bureaucrats are famous – which is zippo.

  • Well, on one hand the 82% comes from a 2011 demographics ~estimate~ by the CIA.

    The 39% comes from a 2016 mail survey sent to just 4,000 people to self-respond. Self-responders cause selection bias within the survey meaning the results aren’t trustworthy or representative of the overall population. And I can’t find any data on the response rate, or what percentage of those 4,000 people responded. Or any details on how the 4,000 mailing addresses were chosen.

    Since the 82% number is only an estimate, I ultimately don’t think either is worth believing, but ultimately the 82% is probably the closer number to the truth given the definite flaws in the 39%’s survey methodology.

  • What a positive move! The other European countries who have set free their national churches have been surprised to watch them take off rather than die out. Those drawn to the gospel of Jesus Christ are the ones who support their church and share the message with others–not their embittered countrymen who must pay taxes to support an institution that has no relevance to their lives.

    This is yet another example of the capitalist notion that “when you own it, you take good care of it!”

  • “diabolical secularists.”

    This made me laugh. I know many secularists of several ethnicities but I’ve yet to meet a “daibolical” one. I guess the search for boogeymen never ends.

  • Like the idea that the church is still considered a part of Norway’s heritage. Secularists have enough freedom to speak. Let the church have her say too,

  • Which is essentially saying that we can’t put much faith in either estimates or polling, and that the best measure again is an assessment of governmental social and religious policies and the public’s adherence to them based on observation of public practice..

  • I would agree, with one possible exception; Britain until the 20th century was noted for the fervor and engagement of it’s clergy (with the probable exception of the High Anglicans) and people with respect to the Christian faith from the Reformation onward. I almost laughed when you mentioned that old canard about being a Christian because one is born in a “Christian” country. I’ve heard that often enough to make me laugh until I cry at the dizzy fuzziness of such thinking and the loss it entails in the end.

  • The true Christian church should never have any kind of tie to the state, especially financial. Of course, Satan prefers atheism and secularism, but the church, the actual Body of Christ on the earth, is dependent only on its members and the Lord Jesus Christ. Anything else is a compromise with the world, Satan’s realm. That will change when Christ returns, but now, today, the true Body of Christ owes Caesar nothing and must always remain separate from anything having to do with Caesar, the State.

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.

ADVERTISEMENTs