Norwegian Bishop, Pro-life Leader passes away

Bishop Børre Knudsen
Bishop Børre Knudsen

NORWAY – Norwegian Bishop Børre Knudsen died quietly in his home near Tromsø Sunday morning (August 17), surrounded by his family. Norway’s most prominent Pro-Life leader had suffered worsening Parkinson’s Disease in recent years. His passing sparked a wave of praise from Christian and even secular publications across Norway. An editorial in the Christian daily Dagen entitled “Heartfelt Thanks, Børre Knudsen” described him as “a unique person. His warm heart, his gentle zeal and his steadfastness stand as strong testimony to a life of selfless service for the Life that God created.”

“When the history of our times is written,” Dagen continues, “Børre Knudsen will be one future generations will hear about. Knudsen’s struggle is not driven by opposition to women’s rights or the preservation of traditional gender roles, but by a strong commitment to protect life itself.”

Vårt Land writes, “Børre Knudsen will go down in history as one of the most important churchly personalities of our time, but both he and his family had to pay a high price because he stood out front in the abortion battle.”

Bishop Knudsen was known throughout Norway and beyond for his gentle demeanor but uncompromising struggle against legalized abortion, beginning when the Norwegian law was adopted in 1978. Protesting the law, he refused to carry out government duties assigned to state church pastors, such as keeping official records, and refused his salary, but continued his pastoral service to his congregation.

This protest was modeled after the Church’s resistance against the World War II Nazi occupation of Norway. When the occupation government attempted to transform the Church along their lines and brainwash children as was then being done in Germany, the bishops wrote a Confession known as “The Church’s Foundation” (Kirkens Grunn). This confessed that the Church is bound to God’s Word, that Word and Sacrament cannot be reshaped by the government, and that parents must resist government efforts to pervert their children’s faith. On Easter Day 1942 this Confession was read from the pulpit in Lutheran churches all over Norway. Most pastors then resigned their state appointments, refusing to serve the government or to accept their government salaries, but continuing their pastoral services. The bishops and many pastors were imprisoned, but the Church remained free and faithful.

Following the Kirkens Grunn model, Knudsen continued to serve his parish despite government efforts to remove him, until the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled against him in 1983. He was not, however, defrocked at that time and continued his ministry in a valgmenighet, a Norwegian form of congregation nominally within the state church, but independent of its bishops. On Easter Day 1991, Knudsen and several other pastors formed the Strandebarm Deanery (Prosti), also called the “Norwegian Church in Exile.” The Deanery viewed itself as continuing the historic faith and practice of the Norwegian Church, but outside the control of the government and the government-appointed bishops. It held to confessional Lutheran positions, and thus opposed the state church, on such matters as abortion, homosexuality, and ordination of women.

Knudsen was consecrated bishop for the Deanery in 1997, and this led to his being defrocked in 2001. He continued serving in the Deanery until 2011, when he retired for health reasons. Bishop Thor Henrik With was consecrated in 2012 to replace Knudsen for the congregations in northern Norway. These congregations constituted themselves into what is now called The Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. It cooperates closely with the Mission Province in Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese in Finland. Bishop Knudsen was one of the four Lutheran bishops who assisted Bishop Walter Obare of Kenya when he consecrated the first Mission Province bishop, Arne Olsson, in 2005.

Bishop Knudsen led an increasingly controversial series of protest actions in defense of the unborn as long as his health permitted. He was the object of much hatred and abuse by militant abortion supporters. He maintained a gentle but steadfast attitude in the face of much persecution. His family, especially his children, were also targeted for persecution.

Public attitudes toward Bishop Knudsen have mellowed considerably in light of his consistent and gentle witness. He is the subject of a book entitled A Priest and a Plague (En Prest og en Plage) and a full-length documentary film of the same title. The film was released in Norway earlier this year and shown all over that country. Norwegian television scheduled a nation-wide prime time broadcast on Tuesday (August 19). The film has been released on DVD in Scandinavia (in Region 2 format), and is expected to be released in North America in October.

Coverage (in Norwegian) of Børre Knudsen’s passing:
http://www.dagen.no/Meninger/17/08/2014/Hjertelig_takk_Børre_Knudsen-103915
http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/Borre-Knudsen-er-dod-7670953.html
http://www.vl.no/troogkirke/alle-vi-andre-har-v%C3%A6rt-svake-men-han-var-sterk-1.88597
http://www.vg.no/nyheter/innenriks/boerre-knudsen-er-doed/a/23276007/
Link to documentary film website [a DVD is available in Scandinavia, but has not yet been released in North America … it will have English subtitles]: http://fx.no/en-prest-og-en-plage/
Trailer: http://fx.no/en-prest-og-en-plage-trailer/

Christopher C. Barnekov, PhD
Scandinavia House Fort Wayne
1925 Saint Joe Center RD
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
http://scandhouse.org

Ukraine’s bishop asks for prayer

SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).
SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).

UKRAINE – The situation in Ukraine continues to be tense, following the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Russian military and pro-Russian militia. And things are only getting worse, according to Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU).

“The situation is deteriorating every day,” Bishop Gräfenstein reports in a March 4 letter. “Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. One of our brothers from Odessa, who is currently serving in the armed forces, reported that all soldiers are armed and constantly in a state of readiness for war.”

“Of course the Crimean Peninsula is the primary focus,” the letter continues. “Crimea formerly belonged to Russia, but was transferred to Ukraine in the Soviet period. Now, while Ukraine grapples with the question of whether to line up with Russia or with the European Union (EU), Russia threatens Ukraine with war, especially if Ukraine goes with the EU. Most Crimean residents are Russians who wish to be part of Russia. So now Russia uses this sentiment to hold the Crimea back from the EU.”

SELCU has five congregations on the Crimean peninsula, but Bishop Gräfenstein notes that, while the situation is tense, the people are still safe. “Our brothers and sisters are not doing badly at this moment,” he writes. “People in general are rushing to stockpile groceries, and nearly all the store shelves are empty. Everyone is concerned that, if it comes to war, a famine will break out.”

Bishop Gräfenstein ends his letter with a request for prayer: “We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace,” he writes. “Thank you for your prayer support.”

We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace.

SELCU is a young church body, with thirteen congregations throughout Ukraine. It has strong ties to Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) which has long supported its ministry, especially with theological education and missions. Late last week, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council) called on the wider church to hold up Ukraine in prayer.

“We ask the Lord to comfort the sorrowing who have lost loved ones,” President Bugbee wrote. “We ask Him to meet the legitimate needs of the Ukrainian people, regardless of their preferred languages and political orientation. We implore him that the work of our mission partners in the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine may not be disrupted by the trouble.”

“Above all,” he continued, “we ask God to give courage to our pastors and people there in the mist of turmoil to point their neighbours to Jesus Christ, the great Prince of Peace.”

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Published concurrently at The Canadian Lutheran.