We Are Church. We Are Trans Church.
Mainstream culture has no real use for a Christianity remade in its image
Pop quiz: Which major ecclesial body recently described itself as a “trans” church? Need a hint? This ecclesial body is a former state church, and with 5.9 million members is the largest denomination in that nation.
Stumped? We’re talking about the Church of Sweden, an Evangelical Lutheran body and the largest Lutheran denomination in Europe. Moreover, it’s the third-largest in the world after the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
An open letter published on the Church of Sweden’s official website, signed by over a thousand members, reads, “We have confirmands, employees, churchwardens, elected representatives…and other parishioners who define themselves as transgender people. The church thus also consists of transgender people. Therefore, the church could be described as trans.” Note that the letter doesn’t describe the Church of Sweden as “trans welcoming” or “trans affirming.” No, it now wants the church to be known as a trans church. Period.
Not very inclusive, is it? In fact, it’s downright exclusive, limiting itself to a club for a particular group that likely comprises a tiny fraction of the Swedish population. Even odder is the letter’s attempt to identify a biblical archetype for today’s transsexuals. “Like Hagar,” it reads, “we all, Christians or not, transgender or cispers, have our own relationship with God…. God shows Hagar that even if we are displaced by those in power, it does not affect our value.” Hagar, of course, was Abraham’s Egyptian concubine and the slave of his wife, Sarah. Hagar bore Abraham an illegitimate son, Ishmael. Abraham eventually cast both of them out when friction arose between Hagar and Ishmael, on one hand, and Sarah and her son Isaac, the “child of promise.”
Christian tradition doesn’t look favorably upon Hagar. St. Augustine says she symbolizes the “earthly city,” or the sinful condition of man. According to Islamic tradition, she is the “Grandmother of Arabians,” and the Prophet Muhammad claimed descent from Hagar through Ishmael. When Abraham cast them out, they settled in Mecca.
What the Church of Sweden’s letter intended by this is a mystery. Modern-day Muslims certainly don’t share the church’s attitude toward the transgendered.
This missive is merely the latest in a long series of capitulations the Church of Sweden has made to the broader culture. The church has long been known for being theologically liberal, particularly in the area of sexual morality. In 2009 it recognized same-sex “marriage, the same year Eva Brunne was consecrated as bishop of Stockholm, becoming the first openly lesbian bishop in the world.” In 2017 the church urged its priests to use gender-neutral language when referring to God, avoiding the pronoun “He” and mention of God as “Father.”
What has the Church of Sweden gained by casting aside the Holy Spirit to follow the Spirit of the Age? It has been losing around 1.5 percent of its membership every year. Though its membership still accounts for 56.4 percent of the Swedish population, official figures show that only five percent of Swedes actually attend its worship services, while 8 in 10 consider themselves “non-religious.” Not to go unnoticed is that Sweden is considered the most LGBTQ-friendly country in the world.
The Church of Sweden’s brand of liberal Christianity simply doesn’t resonate with its home country’s liberal populace. And why should it? Christianity, at its best, is a call to radical discipleship, not a confirmation of whatever happens to be the latest craze.
Here, yet again, is proof that the culture has no real use for a Christianity remade in its image.
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