Secular Sweden & its liberal church

Everyone knows Sweden is a pretty secular place – its government & elites hold a secular progressive outlook and its previous socialist incarnations did much to drive the church to the margins (which is perhaps a logical outcome of the Reformation). As a result the Swedes are a mostly godless bunch although there are pockets of religion and faith, from Latin American Pentecostals, Ethiopian or Syrian Orthodox to Somali Muslims for example.

The religious landscape in Sweden is also shaped by its former state church which is mostly a mirror to the secular society around it. Updating a church prayer-book is an unlikely item to make its way into international news but the Church of Sweden managed it because the new service book now includes options to pray in more gender neutral way. Instead of praying to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the progressive priest can now lead the congregation to pray to ‘in the name of the Trinity’ instead. The traditional still exists but new options are being elevated.

In and of itself these procedural matters are pretty small, hardly anyone actually goes the Church of Sweden and the more it mirrors the society around them the less the Swedes seem interested in it. But it continues to serve as a pointer to the way theology in Sweden is shaped and done.

The free church denominations are more conservative but several of them are in the same general slipstream of the Church of Sweden just ten years or so behind.

As a result to be an evangelical in Sweden can be a challenging thing.  I’ll share the thoughts of a friend who a couple of months back moved to Sweden from Northern Ireland. Here is her first impression:

I was having a conversation yesterday with a guy who moved to Sweden 3 years ago from Syria. We were discussing how quiet it is here and how little people interact with each other, he was reassuring me that I am in fact not going crazy – that he also finds people here in his words “are cold like robots” (no offence to you warm Swedes –  although finding them is like finding unicorns). He then mentioned something really interesting from the research he’s been doing with Stockholm University. Sweden is the second most secular country on the globe – after China! 76% of Sweden list as non-religious or atheist.

I find myself in a country where the church has been banished to the corners and replaced with intellect as an even greater God. What – it was like a penny drop moment – I’m not going crazy – the atmosphere here is hostile to God & because He’s living in me it’s hostile to me….I’m in a country that isn’t just missing God but is proud that they don’t need him….Living in secular Sweden I have never been more convinced that society without Him leaves isolated hearts.

It can be hard to make friends here but more than that she senses and feels a general underlying hostility towards people of faith. There are several frontlines for Christianity around the world – against Islam in places like Nigeria, Indonesia and the Middle East; against communism in Cuba, China & North Korea; against Hinduism and Buddhism on the Indian sub-continent and up against secularism in Western Europe.

Thankfully, it seems to me, God is using migration as a means of strengthening his body in places where it has grown weak. However for that to work we need multi-cultural, diverse churches that break out of ethnic pockets and become again a city on a hill.

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