The Church of Sweden has announced that it will begin using more gender-neutral language, which in effect will mean using the word ‘God’, rather than ‘he’ or ‘the Lord’.
The changes are part of a larger effort to modernise the church, and in particular the 31-year-old handbook that outlines how various aspects of services, such as language and hymns, should be conducted. The move was announced towards the end of 2017, and the church says that the move aims to increase gender-inclusivity. The handbook updates will include new options on what to call God and the Holy Trinity; for example, instead of ‘in the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit’, the new handbook suggests saying ‘in the name of God and the Holy Trinity’.
‘We have a consciousness about gender questions which is stronger in our time that it has been before,’ Lena Sjöstrand, Chaplain at Lund Cathedral, explained to PBS NewsHour. ‘Of course, this has had an impact on theology and on church life and pastoral reflection. I don’t think that God is a big mother or a father sitting up in the sky. I don’t think that makes sense. God is something much bigger than this.’
While not everyone is happy with the changes – Pastor Mikael Lowegren says, ‘God being the father means he has a son’ – Archbishop Antje Jackelen says that the discussion surrounding the use of more gender-inclusive language isn’t new. She told Swedish news agency TT that the discussion began as early as 1986.
‘Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human,’ she said.
The Evangelical Lutheran church, which has more than six million members in this decidedly secular country, has long been a leader in modernisation, with Eva Brunne becoming the Bishop of Stockholm in 2009, the first openly lesbian pastor to hold such a high-ranking position.
The changes are due to come into force on May 20, but the church is clear that no one, including clergy, will be forced to adopt the new language; it’s strictly voluntary.