The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweden instructed its clergy to only refer to God as “God,” and avoid “Father” and “Son” in order to be gender neutral.
The ELC, also called the Church of Sweden, made the decision to use gender neutral pronouns for God Thursday, which will take effect on the day of Pentecost, May 20, according to the Associated Press. The church’s leader, Archbishop Antje Jackelen, a woman bishop elected in 2013 on a progressive platform, championed the decision and said that the Church of Sweden had discussed having more “inclusive language” since 1986, according to Mirage News.
“Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human,” Jackelen said, according to AP.
The decision came under heavy criticism, as some theological scholars see it as an undermining to the doctrine of the Trinity. The language proposed for referring God is “In God’s, the Trinity’s Name,” to the exclusion mentioning both the Father and the Son, according to Denmark newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad. Christer Pahlmblad, associate professor of theology at Sweden’s Lund University, lambasted the language, telling Kristeligt Dagblad “You cannot replace 2,000 years of theology” and that the move toward gender neutral language 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,” Pahlmblad said.
The Church of Sweden, which was the state church of Sweden until 2000, adopted the language as part of an updated version of a church handbook that governs all aspects of conducting church services, including music, language, and liturgy. The updated version, approved by a compromise vote at the end of the annual convention of the church’s General Synod on Thursday, replaced the 1967 handbook, for which an update has been in the works since 1997.
The Church of Sweden has over 6 million members in a country of nearly 10 million. Women comprise 45 percent of the church’s priesthood and are also the majority of those studying to become priests in the Church of Sweden.
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