The Church of Sweden, although no longer a state church, remains an important force in Swedish society. In a time when Sweden's political, media, and academic establishment are eager to jettison pretty much everything that makes Sweden Swedish, no institution plays a more central role in the preservation of the nation's cultural heritage than the national church. Yes, ethnic Swedes have become overwhelmingly secular, but, like their cousins elsewhere in Scandinavia, they still look to their national church as a bearer of tradition and a setting within which they wish to baptize and confirm their children and hold their weddings and funerals.
Yet, even as the other key players in Swedish society have adapted to the rise of Islam within the country's borders, so has the Church of Sweden. The church's primate – its equivalent of the Pope or Archbishop of Canterbury – is a 62-year-old woman named Antje Jackelén, who holds the title of Archbishop of Uppsala. Popes and archbishops traditionally have official mottoes. Pope Francis's motto is "Miserando atque eligendo" ("mercy and choice"). It was his motto as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and he chose to retain it upon his elevation to the papacy. If you look at Jackelén's Wikipedia page, you will see that her motto is "God is greater." In Swedish, it is "Gud är större." In Arabic, it is "Allahu akbar," the words that muezzins in mosques around the world shout from the tops of their minarets. These are also, of course, the last words that are heard by many people around the world before they are blown to bits by suicide bombers or run over by jihadists at the wheels of trucks. Some might argue, to be sure, that the Muslim deity is different from the God of Christianity, but Jackelén is not one of them: she has said explicitly that the two deities are one and the same.
"God is greater" was Jackelén's motto in her previous position as Archbishop of Lund. It is also the title of a book she published in 2011. She has always claimed that she took it from the First Epistle of John. Yes, the words do appear in that epistle, but only as part of the statement at 1 John 3:20 that "God is greater than our heart." In any event, her motto was not subjected to nationwide scrutiny until she was selected to head the Church of Sweden in 2013 and announced that she, like Pope Francis, would stick with the same motto. In response to this news, critics accused her of "flirting with Islam." The newspaper Östersunds-Posten ran an editorial calling her "clueless" and noting that in Swedish, the words "Gud är större," in isolation, sound strained and unnatural.
Antje Jackelén, the Archbishop of Uppsala, puts Muhammed on an equal plane with Jesus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
For anyone who had any doubts, it has since become clear that the Jackelén's reason for picking her motto are exactly what they always seemed to be. Recognizing that the concept of Jesus Christ as Savior is a major impediment to what may euphemistically be referred to as her ambitious interfaith efforts, she has made a point of downplaying the importance of Jesus and of stating that, when it comes to the question of salvation, Jesus does not really matter. In March of last year, noting that Jackelén's "relationship with Islam" had occasioned widespread criticism, Morgonbladet interviewed her "in order to get a better picture what she really thinks about the link between Christianity and Islam." Asked about Muhammed, she spurned the orthodox Christian view that he was a "false prophet" and maintained that "[i]n times when Islam is used to legitimize violence and terror, it is important to remember that Muhammad still inspires millions of people today in their pursuit of justice, peace, and a virtuous life." Of course, to speak of Muhammed, a military conqueror, as a model of peace and virtue rather than of violence and terror is sheer whitewashing. Asked whether she believes the Angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammed, as claimed in the Koran, Jackelén "declined to answer."
Last year, three female priests in the Church of Sweden initiated a hashtag campaign, #Mittkors ("My cross"), in solidarity with the Christian victims of Islamic terror in the Middle East. On August 18, 2016, Ann Charlott Alstadt noted in Aftonbladet that Jackelén's spokesman, Gunnar Sjögren, had publicly condemned this campaign, calling it "un-Christian," suggesting that it was an invitation to "religious war," and warning that "the Cross risks being a distancing marker, dividing us into a 'we' and a 'them.'" Asked in a Twitter Q&A why she refused to help persecuted Christians in the Islamic world, Jackelén herself replied: "We do not help people because they are Christians, but because we are Christians."
As head of the Church of Sweden, Jackelén has not let her power go to waste. She has just finished overseeing an extensive revision of the church's manual, its equivalent of the Anglicans' Book of Common Prayer. The main goal was to make the language more "inclusive" – which meant, among other things, removing references to God as "He" or "the Lord." As Jesus Christ was indisputably male, the revision also involved pushing God the Son into the background as much as possible. In the local parishes around Sweden, there was considerable opposition to many of the changes recommended under Jackelén's oversight. On November 23, however, a national Church synod approved the revisions by a considerable margin. A jubilant Jackelén proclaimed: "Let us show the world that we are a church that can deal with diversity."
It would be foolish to assume that Jackelén's ecclesiastical revolution will end with this victory. On the contrary, there is every reason to believe that her success at Thursday's synod will inspire her to redouble her efforts to transform the Church of Sweden into a more Islam-friendly institution – one that ultimately, at the very least, puts Muhammed on an equal plane with Jesus Christ. No, we cannot know what is really in this woman's heart; but one thing we can be sure of is that when Islam does eventually take over Sweden, her remarkable history of appeasement will not save either her or her Church from a brutal reckoning.
Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra(Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.