The Church of Sweden is urging its clergy to use gender-neutral language when referring to the supreme deity, refraining from using terms such as “Lord” and “he” in favour of the less specific “God.”
The move is one of several taken by the national Evangelical Lutheran church in updating a 31-year-old handbook setting out how services should be conducted in terms of language, liturgy, hymns and other aspects.
The decision was taken on Thursday at the end of an eight-day meeting of the church’s 251-member decision-making body, and takes effect on 20 May on the Christian holiday of Pentecost.
A former state church, headquartered in Uppsala, some 37 miles north of the capital, the church has 6.1 million baptised members in a country of 10 million. It is headed by a woman, Archbishop Antje Jackelén.
Jackelén told Sweden’s TT news agency that a more inclusive language had been discussed as early as the 1986 conference.
“Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human,” Jackelén said.
The change was met with criticism, however. Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor at Sweden’s Lund University, told the Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper in Denmark that the move was “undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches”.
“It really isn’t smart if the Church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage,” he said.