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Lutheranism should not be official religion says Norway’s PM

Lutheranism should no longer be described in Norway’s constitution as the country’s official religion, the Labour Party, the biggest partner in the governing coalition, has stated.

The proposal would mean the end of a system under which at least half of the 19 government ministers need to be members of the majority (Lutheran) Church of Norway.

But the Labour Party is not ready to remove other sections of the constitution that cement the church’s links to the state. The party’s central board also said the church should be given the powers to appoint bishops and deans only after it had increased internal church democracy.

"We have been concerned to preserve an open and inclusive church, while doing away with the state having an official religion. We hope the proposal will have broad support," the Labour Party leader, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, told a 19 March press conference. He invited Church of Norway leaders to work with the government to strengthen church democracy.

The church’s general synod voted in 2006 for an end to the State Church system, saying that it should itself assume all church authority now resting with the king and the government. But some government leaders, including the Labour Party’s Trond Giske, who is the minister responsible for church affairs, publicly defended the almost 500-year-old arrangement under which the sovereign and the government appoint bishops and deans.

The system was established in Norway in 1537, following the Lutheran Reformation. About 83 percent of the country’s 4.6 million inhabitants belong to the Church of Norway.

Still, first reactions to the Labour proposals from the other two parties in the governing coalition have been negative. The Centre Party is a staunch defender of the existing system, and wants to keep Lutheranism as the state’s official religion, while being open to minor changes. Representatives of the Socialist Left Party, however, have reaffirmed their belief that there is no place in a modern country for a State Church system.

Jens-Petter Johnsen of the church’s national council was quoted by the Vart Land daily newspaper as describing the Labour proposals as small steps in the right direction. "For the first time Labour is willing to let all church decisions be taken by Church of Norway bodies," Johnsen stated.

He said the church is looking forward to a dialogue with political authorities on developing church democracy. Three percent of church members currently participate in local church elections. Local church councils elect the eleven diocesan councils that also make up most of the general synod of the church.

As major changes in the State Church system would require revisions of the country’s constitution, 2013 is seen as the earliest date for possible changes to take place.

(c) Ecumenical News International