Earlier votes on the subject of same-sex marriage had been rejected, most recently in 2014. The Church of Norway is the state church of Norway, and is a member of the Lutheran World Federation. It has allowed the ordination of practicing homosexuals since 2007, further straining relations in the church.
“[The newly-adopted teaching on marriage] is contrary to the Bible and gathered ecclesiastical and ecumenical tradition,” wrote Rev. Dag Øivind Østereng following 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.” Rev. Østereng is a prominent figure in the CN’s confessional wing, having been a member of the group Carissimi.
The vote to approve 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, Rev. Østereng says. “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.”
“It is with great sadness and deep anguish, and at the same with the peace that conviction gives, that I must announced that within the next few weeks I will submit my resignation,” he continued, “and after the resignation-notice period 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 Rev. 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% of respondents intended to leave the Church of Norway over the issue, and that an additional 34% 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 Lutherans 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 is also 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 Diocese. All three churches have 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.