The Church of Sweden has departed from being a strong and stern state church. In the past, Swedes were born into it and, until 1951, no one was allowed to leave the church. These days, however, it is an institution that has very little to do with Christianity or Jesus. Sweden now, according to the World Values Survey, is one of the world's most secular countries; every year a large number of Swedes leave the church.
It used to be that only atheists left the church; now it is the devout Christians that leave -- in protest against the church's increasingly questionable relationship to the Christian faith.
When, for example, the current Archbishop, Antje Jackelén, just before being appointed, participated in a question-and-answer session in the fall of 2013, and one of the questions was: "Does Jesus convey a more truthful image of God than Muhammad does?" surprisingly, the would-be archbishop did not immediately say yes, but instead involved herself in a long monologue about there being many ways to God. Evidently, this upset a lot of parishioners. A high-profile priest and professor, Eva Hamberg, resigned from the priesthood in protest and left the Church of Sweden.
"This made me leave faster," she told the Christian newspaper, Dagen. "If the future Archbishop cannot stand by the Apostles' Creed, but rather, rationalizes it, then secularization has gone too far."
Hamberg, who has conducted research on the secularization process, said that in Sweden, secularization has escalated ever faster -- even within the Church of Sweden. As an example, Hamberg said that Antje Jackelén does not believe in Immaculate Conception, but says it is a metaphor. Hamberg also said that there is a lack of reverence before the Triune God, and that the priests are afraid to talk about Jesus during mass.
"There is also a clear lack of tolerance within the Church of Sweden. The candidates [for the position of archbishop] were all very keen to talk about dialogue, and that sounds great, but it is all just empty phrases. The church leaders, in fact, persecute dissidents. If you do not agree with the ordination of women, you will not get ordained. The ceiling is incredibly low."
When Antje Jackelén won the election and became Sweden's first female Archbishop, it was time for the next shock. As her motto, she chose "God is Greater" -- "Allahu Akbar" in Arabic. Jackelén referred to 1 John 3:19-21, which says:
"This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything."
However, few believe the choice of motto is anything other than an open flirt with the Muslims of Sweden. In Islam, "Allahu Akbar" are the first words heard in every call to prayer, from every minaret around the world, and it is the cry we hear time and again in connection with Islamist suicide bombings, decapitations of non-Muslims, and terrorist attacks.
Archbishop Jackelén's choice of a motto was not an exception; merely the most visible sign that the Church of Sweden may be headed towards "Chrislam" -- a merging of Christianity and Islam. Swedish priests, noting the religious fervor among the Muslims now living in Sweden, enthusiastically take part in various interreligious projects. Last year, Stockholm's Bishop, Eva Brunne, suggested removing the cross from the Seamen's Church, enabling Muslims to pray there.
Gatestone Institute called her closest associate, Diocesan Priest Bo Larsson, to ask about this proposal.
Gatestone: Can the Christians in Muslim countries expect the same service in mosques?
Bo Larsson: "No, I don't think so. To Muslims, the buildings have such a holy dignity."
Gatestone: But not to Swedes?
Bo Larsson: "Apparently not. But there are already many mosques in Sweden."
Gatestone: So why the need to pray in the Seamen's Church?
Bo Larsson: "You know, it was just a suggestion. Many people on social media got it into their heads that this means Brunne is no longer a Christian, but that is not true of course."
Gatestone: So we Christians should show Muslims respect, even though they do not respect us?
Bo Larsson: "I think so. That is my opinion. I have been a priest for 40 years. We are still the largest church in Sweden, and so we must provide opportunities for Muslims and Jews."
Gatestone: "Are you saying 'If you cannot beat them, join them?'"
Bo Larsson "That is one way to look at it."
Gatestone: The Church of Sweden is known for its positive attitude towards homosexuals. Your own bishop, Eva Brunne, is openly gay. Yet you support Islam, which persecutes homosexuals?
Bo Larsson: "That is a difficult question to answer. But sure, it is terrible that gay people do not have any rights in Muslim countries and cannot live openly. Terrible."
Gatestone: And you still want to support this religion?
Bo Larsson: "There are Christians who are opposed to homosexuality, too, you know."
Gatestone: Who want to hang gays?
Bo Larsson: "No, maybe not. But I think you're oversimplifying. What we want in Sweden is a dialogue with the Muslim people."
Gatestone: Have you discussed homosexuality with Muslims?
Bo Larsson: "No."
Gatestone: Do you think you can change Islam in Sweden into a tolerant, open-minded religion?
Bo Larsson: "There are fundamentalist Christians in the United States who do not accept homosexuals."
Gatestone: But do you think there is a difference between not accepting and wanting to kill?
Bo Larsson: "I have never heard a Muslim say he wants to kill homosexuals."
"Chrislam" has gone farthest in the immigrant-heavy Stockholm suburb of Fisksätra, in which 8,000 people, speaking 100 different languages live. There, the Church of Sweden is now raising money to build a mosque -- a project named "House of God" -- next to the existing church. This is how the project is described on its official website:
"The House of God represents a desire for peace, and real work in the spirit of peace. We are building a mosque adjacent to the existing church in Fisksätra. Between the church and the mosque, a glass enclosed, joint indoor square will be built. The House of God is unique, and an example of the cooperation and religious dialogue that is so important in our time. Come join our work!"
Gatestone called Henrik Larsson, a priest and one of the founders of the House of God project. He assured us that Islam is peaceful and democratic, but then gave some other answers indicating that he may not be so enthralled by this religion after all.
"We Christians have also done some horrible things over the centuries," he said. " We have burned witches, we have colonized other countries, and sided with different armies throughout our history. I think all religions can be used in a similar way."
Gatestone: Are you saying that we live in 2016, and that they are still stuck in the 1400s?
H. Larsson: "If that. They are striving towards creating a society like the one that existed right after the Prophet Muhammad's death, and that means we are talking 600s, 700s and 800s. That is their ideal. But there is also an Islam searching for new ways, a European Islam, those who want to try to be Muslims within the democratic and secular society."
Gatestone: Many Muslims in Sweden seem not to want to adapt to Swedish culture. Look at all the rapes and sexual assaults at public swimming pools.
H. Larsson: "Yes, it is not easy for Afghan boys who have grown up in a society where women have to throw a sheet over themselves before leaving the house; of course they are marinated in an attitude towards women miles away from ours. Of course they should not be allowed to do that, but it is no wonder that there are conflicts. But they need to learn how we see men and women here in Sweden."
Henrik Larsson celebrates the imam with whom he is cooperating in the "House of God." His name is Awad Olwan, a Palestinian who came to Sweden in the 1960s. According to Henrik Larsson, Olwan is a modern Muslim, who became an imam late in life and likes democracy.
But when Gatestone called Olwan, to ask why he supported the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the 1970s and refused to denounce the Munich massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games, he at first pretended not to know what the PFLP was. The BBC has described it as "Combining Arab nationalism with Marxist-Leninist ideology, the PFLP saw the destruction of Israel as integral to its struggle to remove Western capitalism from the Middle East."
Olwan: "Oh, well, yes, we had a lot of different organizations back then, but forget that -- that is history now. It meant Palestine Liberation something. I really do not remember to be quite honest."
Gatestone: You refused to denounce the attack on the Jewish Olympians in Munich?
Olwan: "Yes, that's right, but that was in the 70s! I don't remember what I said then."
Gatestone: Is your attitude different now?
Olwan: "Yes, of course. It was murder and nothing else."
During our first conversation, Awad Olwan claimed to be very positive towards Jews. He said that there are no Jews in the House of God is simply because there is no Jewish congregation in Fisksätra, but that the organizers have invited a Jewish choir and are cooperating very well with them.
During our second talk, however, other thoughts emerged. When Olwan was asked some questions about the Quran and the hadith, he began cursing and saying that everything was the fault of "those f**king Mecca-Arabs."
Gatestone: Are you saying Islam is not the problem; that it is the Saudi interpretation of Islam that messes everything up?
Olwan: "Exactly! And their religion [Wahhabism] was invented by a British imperialist 200 years ago. I cannot say anything more, because then I am an anti-Semite and whatnot."
Gatestone: What is the truth about the Jews?
Olwan: "Okay, there are reliable sources from Egypt, showing that the Saudi royal family is really a Jewish family that came from Iraq to the Arabian Peninsula sometime in the 1700s. They built an army with the aid of British officers fighting the Ottoman sultanate. After that, they created the Jordanian army and so on and so on."
Gatestone: Are you saying this is the reason the Jews are so quiet?
Olwan: "Yes. I wrote in my book that the purpose of ISIS/Daesh is to shift the focus from the Arab-Israeli conflict, and make this a conflict between Sunni and Shia -- and they have succeeded. And now, they will erase the entire Middle East. You will see! It is Catholic land, Muslim land and a lot of other crap countries just to justify the existence of a Jewish state."
Gatestone: I read online that many believe it was Mossad and the Jews who started ISIS?
Olwan: "Yes, that is a common theory in the Middle East, but if you say that in the West, you are told that you are a conspiracy nut and that you have no evidence. But here's the deal: You cannot wage war against strong forces without having weapons delivered every day, you need planning and logistics. These are not f**king terrorists who have learned how to wage war on the internet, these are highly trained, highly skilled people. I have to go now."
Gatestone: Are you referring to the Jews?
Olwan: "Exactly, exactly."
Olwan is most likely a typical example of an imam who shows a conciliatory and friendly attitude towards naïve Swedish priests, but with a bit of encouragement, admits his hatred of Jews. He is, it seems, not too fond of the Church of Sweden's friendly attitude towards gays, either.
Since the Church of Sweden became one of the first Christian communions in the world to approve gay marriage in 2005, more and more priests have come out as gay. In 2009, when Eva Brunne was appointed bishop of Stockholm, tongues wagged that the church is now being ruled by the "Lesbian League." The Church of Sweden has participated in the Pride Festivals in Stockholm on many occasions, and several churches have allowed themselves be LGBT-certified. The price for this may be that the church will be forced to cut certain passages from Bible. Ulrika Westerlund, the chairperson for the RFSL (Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights), has warned the church: "There are elements in religious scriptures that are used against LGBT persons. Then we have to discuss if you want this certification, we do not want you to quote these passages from the Bible."
Henrik Larsson, the priest, sees a problem with imams constantly condemning homosexuality as a sin -- an Islamic tenet that presumably can never change because Allah said it [Quran,7:80-84.IG]. "We have to hope they catch up with us there. It was not so long ago that Christianity preached the same things."
Gatestone: Do you hope and believe that Muslims can change, even though some hurl homosexuals from rooftops, hang them and flog them?
H. Larsson: "Yes, it is awful. But I believe that people are innately good at heart."
Awad Olwan does not agree with Henrik Larsson. He thinks the Church of Sweden's attitude towards homosexuality is a great sin:
"I disagree with them. Homosexuality is not good for the morals of society, and it is not what Jesus and Moses stood for. It is better if the whole thing with homosexuality in public life becomes a parenthesis."
In the meantime, as the Church of Sweden is busy developing "Chrislam," it never acknowledges that in the Middle East, Christians are being killed and effectively eradicated. In 2015, Eli Göndör, a scholar of religion, wrote in the magazine Dagens Samhälle:
"The involvement that the Church of Sweden has shown for the vulnerability of Christian Palestinians, has been replaced with indifference to the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Syria and Iraq. In these countries, it is mostly Muslims who commit the atrocities, which is evidently enough to make the Church of Sweden concentrate on climate change and environmental issues instead."
To be fair, in February 2016, the Church of Sweden did do something for the Christians of the Middle East -- it encouraged congregations and individuals to pray for them. The words Islam or Muslims were not mentioned in the appeal.
Gatestone called the Church of Sweden's information service, to ask if the prayers had helped.
"I cannot answer that," the voice on the phone said. "Can you send an e-mail with your question, and I'll ask my colleagues to get you a reply?"
While Gatestone Institute stands by the articles written for it to date by Ingrid Carlqvist, Gatestone is no longer affiliated with her in any way.