(ILC) — On April 11, the Bishops Conference of the Church of Norway (CN) moved to approve the marriage of same-sex couples, planning to create a liturgy to allow such weddings to take place in the church. The decision came in an 88 to 32 vote, but there are still many expressing their objection to the change in the church’s teaching on marriage.
Earlier votes on the subject of same-sex marriage had been rejected, most recently in 2014. The Church of Norway — the state church of Norway — is a member of the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation. It has allowed the ordination of practicing homosexuals since 2007, further straining relations in the church body.
The newly-adopted teaching on marriage “is contrary to the Bible and gathered ecclesiastical and ecumenical tradition,” wrote the Rev. Dag Øivind Østereng after the vote. “To abolish man/woman as the basic unit in marriage is contrary to God’s revealed will and natural law that can be discerned in creation itself. The Church has bowed herself before a gender ideology which is in direct violation of the Bible’s word and to what I, as a pastor, am committed.” Østereng is a prominent figure in the CN’s confessional wing, having been a member of the group Carissimi.
The vote to approve the creation of a same-sex wedding liturgy included allowance for priests and other church workers to refuse to participate in gay marriages. But this is not enough, according to Østereng. “The Norwegian Church as a community has now changed her understanding of utterly fundamental aspects of the Word of God,” he explained. “These are not merely points with which I personally disagree; I cannot belong to a church that teaches in this way.”
As a result, Østereng said he plans to — “with great sadness and deep anguish” — submit his resignation and withdraw from service as a priest in the Church of Norway and as a member of the Church of Norway.
It is unclear how many Norwegian clergy and laypeople may follow Østereng’s example. Just before the vote, 200 priests released a Declaration on the Ecclesial Situation expressing doubt about their continued participation in the Church of Norway if same-sex marriage were to be approved. An online poll taken by Norwegian news site Dagen revealed that 44 percent of respondents intend to leave the Church of Norway over the issue, and that an additional 34 percent are uncertain whether to continue their membership. As the poll was conducted online, it is unclear how accurately it represents the sentiments of Norwegians overall.
While the Church of Norway is the nation’s largest church, there are other Lutheran options in the country. The Lutheran Church in Norway (Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge, LKN), for example, is a small church body affiliated with the International Lutheran Council (ILC) since 2015. The LKN traces its origins to 2005, and its pastors are all former ministers of the Church of Norway. While small, the LKN has begun to receive greater media attention as more Norwegians seek alternatives to the Church of Norway.
Norway also is home to the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Norway (Det evangelisk-lutherske stift i Norge), which officially separated from the Church of Norway in 2013. It entered into communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Finland and the Mission Province in Sweden in 2015, forming the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses.
All three churches recently met with the International Lutheran Council to begin discussions on becoming members of the ILC.
The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran churches, including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Listen to an April 13 Issues, Etc., interview with the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III, LCMS director of Church Relations and executive secretary of the International Lutheran Council, on the recent Church of Norway action.
— Mathew Block/International Lutheran Council (Mathew Block serves as editor for the International Lutheran Council’s news service. He also is communications manager for Lutheran Church—Canada, editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine, and a blogger with First Things.)
Posted April 19, 2016