Opposition as Church of Norway approves same-sex marriage

church-of-norway-samesex-marriage
NORWAY – On April 11, 2016, the Bishops’ Conference of the Church of Norway (CN) moved to approve the marriage of same-sex couples, creating a liturgy to allow such weddings to take place in the church. The decision came in a 88-32 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 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.

Rev. Dag Øivind Østereng
Rev. Dag Øivind Østereng

“[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.

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American Lutherans respond to Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage

USA – On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that same-sex couples across the nation have a constitutional right to marry. That ruling brought expressions of concern from Christians throughout the country, including from confessional Lutheran leaders.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison responds to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.
LCMS President Matthew Harrison responds to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

“Five justices cannot determine natural or divine law,” said President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in a response to the ruling. “Now shall come the time of testing for Christians faithful to the Scriptures and the divine institution of marriage.”

“The ramifications of this decision are seismic,” he continued. “Proponents will seek to drive Christians and Christian institutions out of education at all levels; they will press laws to force faithful Christian institutions and individuals to violate consciences in work practices and myriad other ways…. Christians will now begin to learn what it means to be in a state of solemn conscientious objection against the state. We will resist its imposition of falsehood upon us, even as we continue to reach out to those who continue to be harmed by the ethic of radical sexual freedom, detached from God’s blessing of marriage. And we will stand shoulder to shoulder with Christians, churches and people of good will who are resolute on this issue.”

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), and counts more than 2.3 million members in more than 6,100 congregations. Other American member churches of the ILC include The American Association of Lutheran Churches (14,000 members) and the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod – USA. While these churches have not released public statements on the recent court ruling, both have previously affirmed their support of the biblical definition of marriage.

Other Lutherans Respond

A number of Lutheran churches outside the ILC also responded to the court ruling with concern. Bishop John F. Bradosky and General Secretary Mark C. Chavez of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) released an open letter responding to the decision. “The Supreme Court may have the power to dictate what state governments must claim to be marriage,” they write, “but it most certainly does not have the power to change what God has revealed to be true marriage, an integral part of His plan for human life which is inherent in the order of the world He has created.”

“God alone knows the long-term consequences of the decision for our nation,” they continue. “Now Christians who uphold the orthodox Christian faith and confess that God alone defines marriage must be bold to confess the truth of God’s Word without regard to the consequences.”

The NALC, comprised mostly of pastors and congregations who left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada over issues of human sexuality, biblical authority, and the nature of the Gospel, has more than 140,000 members across North America. Over the past number of years, NALC has taken part in regular dialogues with ILC member churches Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Also responding to the court ruling were the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. “We are saddened that today the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling all 50 states to allow same sex marriage,” wrote President Mark Schroeder of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). “Of course, even though the highest court in the land has changed the legal definition of marriage, it has not succeeded in changing the essence of the institution that was created by God and given by him as a gift and blessing.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) released a statement on the situation via Facebook. “God has established his own criteria for what determines marriage—the intimate and lifelong union of a man and woman into one flesh, entered into by mutual consent and promise,” the release notes. “His institution of marriage is for the great benefit of our families and of our nation. No human authority—even the highest court of our land—can overthrow what the Supreme Judge of all mankind has defined as marriage.”

The WELS and the ELS are members of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference. WELS has approximately 380 thousand members, while the ELS has approximately 20 thousand. In recent years, they and the LCMS have conducted a series of informal discussions together.

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On the Visitation of Mary, a Pastoral Letter Encouraging Young People to Marry and Raise Children

Chairman-VoigtGERMANY – A year ago today, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany released a pastoral letter entitled “Discovering Marriage and Family as Gifts of God.” Its July 2 publication coincided with German observances of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)—an appropriate day to consider the blessings of marriage and children.

The letter came in the midst of turmoil in Germany, following the publication of a reference paper on marriage by the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). The EKD paper—entitled “Between Autonomy and Dependence—Strengthening the Family as a Reliable Community”—was widely criticized, both by other Christians and in the German press, for abandoning a traditional biblical understanding of marriage.

Bishop Voigt’s letter, by contrast, was widely praised. Bishop Wolfang Ipolt of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Görlitz was one of those who hailed its publication. “Given the irritation caused within the Catholic Church by the EKD’s guidance on the subject of marriage and family,” he wrote, “the pastoral letter of the Bishop of SELK is for Catholics a positive sign from Evangelical Christianity. Especially when it comes to the important area of marriage and family, Christians of different denominations must stand together and not lightly abandon the testimony of Scripture.”

In addition to serving as head of SELK, Bishop Voigt is Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). His letter, which presents the case for a biblical understanding of marriage and family in clear, positive language, is now available in English, thanks to a translation by Rev. Charles Schaum.

“Hardly a day passes by currently in which basic questions regarding marriage, family, and sexuality are not dealt with in the public sphere of our western society,” Bishop Voigt’s letter begins. “Uncertainty has now reached even the internal sphere of the Church. With this pastoral letter I would remind you of the foundations of Holy Scripture and the confession of the Church concerning the area of questions on marriage and family.”

“Hardly a day passes by currently in which basic questions regarding marriage, family, and sexuality are not dealt with in the public sphere of our western society.”

“In light of all this uncertainty,” he continues, “I am writing this pastoral message especially to offer encouragement to young people, that they might get married and start a family.”

Throughout the letter, Bishop Voigt discusses the desire young people have to start their own families. To that end, he encourages young adults not to let concerns in this world—extended periods of education, temporary employment arrangements, a desire for greater mobility, and so forth—prevent them from entering into marriage and raising children.

Bishop Voigt also calls on the wider Church to demonstrate love and care for young families, so that they are not overwhelmed by the challenges rearing a family brings in contemporary western society. “Congregations can become a place where older people help younger families with their child-rearing tasks,” he writes. Noting especially the difficulties single parents face, he writes that “the Church is required in a special manner to stand helpfully in allegiance with them.”

This is a truly biblical and Christian model of marriage and family, Bishop Voigt explains. “The words of Jesus and the explanations of the Apostle Paul allow no doubt that the New Testament recognizes no other models for life than marriage and family on the one hand and celibacy—which is a special spiritual gift—on the other. Consequently, alternative models of marital relationship—including polygamy and homosexuality—must be rejected. But this does not condone the mistreatment of people who subscribe to such models. “It is a fruit and consequence of the winsome love of Christ,” Bishop Voigt writes, that the Church must treat “people with same-sex inclinations with respect and love, and additionally stand against discrimination against them.”

Download the full letter in English here. The letter can also be read in German at SELK’s website here.

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