A LAW that will partially disestablish the Church of Norway from the State has come into force this New Year.
A Bill first passed eight years ago by Norway’s parliament altered the wording in the constitution. The phrase “the Evangelical-Lutheran religion will remain the state’s public religion” has been replaced with “the Church of Norway, an Evangelical-Lutheran Church, will remain Norway’s national Church and will be supported as such by the state”.
From 1 January, the Church of Norway’s 1250 clergy ceased to be civil servants employed and paid by the Government. Earlier, in 2012, the State had also relinquished its right to appoint bishops and deans, and to exercise any oversight on doctrinal matters.
The constitutional shake-up, however, falls short of full disestablishment, as the King of Norway is still required to be a Lutheran, and, unlike any other denomination, children automatically become members of the Church of Norway if one of their parents is a member. Furthermore, the Church will continue to receive state funding, as do all other religious, and even humanist, organisations.
“We are facing the biggest organisational change of the Church since the Reformation,” the head of the Church’s National Council, Jens-Petter Johnsen, said. “The changes will create a clear separation between Church and State.”
But some still think that the changes — which emerged out of a compromise between some of the parties in the Norwegian parliament — do not go far enough.
“We will not be getting a real distinction. Parliament came part of the way this time, but not far enough,” the secretary general of the Norwegian Humanist Association, Kristin Mile, said. “As long as the Constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway’s national Church, and that it should be supported by the State, we still have a state Church.”
But Mr Johnsen said that converting the Church from a state Church to a national one would be good for Norway’s Christians.
“When we had a state Church, the debate centred around the question of whether we had a Church in which the State would decide everything. With a national Church, the debate is now about whether it is the people in the Church who should decide everything,” he said. “This is about the Church having a biblical basis, that one cannot vote their way out of.”
Some 3.8 million Norwegians — 73 per cent of the population — were recorded as being members of the Church of Norway in 2015, but the country remains one of the most secularised on earth. Just three per cent of the population attend church or other religious services at least once a month.