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Conceptual divide between churches and politicians

Should Christian faith be public or private? That is an important ongoing debate between politicians and church representatives in Denmark

Church representatives at a hearing at the Danish parliament about Christianity in society: Birgitte Stoklund Larsen from The Danish Bible Society, Birthe Juel Christensen from Danish Church Aid, and Niels Henrik Gregersen, professor of theology at Copenhagen University. Photo: Christian Roar Pedersen. 

“If you think Christianity cannot play a role in politics you are mistaken. Politics does not come out of nowhere.”

Former Danish foreign minister Per Stig Møller once said this in an interview about Christian influence on politics. This quote appears on the title page of a new publication from the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Denmark. It is a pamphlet about public theology by Council on International Relations and Centre for Pastoral Education and Research.

The pamphlet discusses how Christian tradition and perspectives can influence public life and public debate (exemplified by e.g. climate crisis, identity politics, and a culture of perfectionism) and invites for discussion about the relationship between Christianity and society.

The pamphlet is widely popular and has been read and discussed by pastors, laymen, church organisations etc. It can be read (in Danish) via this weblink: www.offentlighedsteologi.dk

It was also discussed at a public hearing in a crowded hall in the Danish Parliament, where a wide range of representatives from ELCD and other churches and church organisations participated. Council on International Relations and Centre for Pastoral Education and Research presented the pamphlet and a group of church representatives presented their views on Christianity’s role in the public sphere. Professor Niels Henrik Gregersen, for example, discussed how Luther’s cathechism is relevant today to counter the pervasive perfectionism and testing culture that is affecting the educational system.

The parliamentarians present at the hearing, Morten Messserschmidt, Charlotte Mølbæk, Mads Fuglede and Daniel Toft Jakobsen, were invited to discuss their views on Christianity’s role in society today. They were relatively critical and tended to believe that religion belongs in the private sphere. They insisted on speaking about the church as an institution and how it ought to be regulated politically.

Church in modern society

After the hearing there was a general consensus among church representatives that it is important to address Christianity’s role in public life, and we are witnessing an increasing amount of discussions, events and publications about public theology.

One important topic which must be addressed is the conceptual divide between the church and the parliamentarians who are managing ecclesiastical affairs on what it means to be church in modern society: What roles might a traditional, national church have in developing new insights and points of navigation in the broader societal discussion. So that is an important challenge for Danish churches today.