Norwegians decide on indecision

In 2006, the 20-member doctrinal commission of the (Lutheran) Church of Norway reported that it was split on the issue of homosexuality and has warned that disagreements are straining the unity of the church. This piece from the Church’s website (24 Jan., by Øivind Østang).

“It was not possible to reach agreement on a series of key issues,” commission moderator Torleiv Austad said in Oslo on 20 January, following the presentation of a report on homosexuality drawn up by the commission after a three-year study.

The report was requested by one of the bishops (Odd Bondevik) in 2002 and will now make the terms of another round of debate on whether people in same-sex registered partnerships may hold the consecrated offices of bishop, priest, or deacon. Current church policy is that people in same-sex partnerships cannot hold consecrated office, although several dioceses have priests and deacons living in same-sex partnerships, as some bishops in recent years have chosen to deviate from the official policy.

Professor Torleiv Austad, moderator of the Church of Norway doctrinal commission and professor Turid Karlsen Seim, co-moderator of the Church of Norway doctrinal commission, 20 January presented a report on understanding and use Scripture in regard to homosexuality. The commission stated unanimously that the disagreement about homosexuality strains the unity of the Church of Norway.

However, “this disagreement should still not split the church in the sense that we would no longer be able to celebrate the Eucharist together”, Austad, a theology professor, told the Norwegian News Agency (NTB). Austad belongs to that half of the commission wanting the church to stick to its traditional attitude towards homosexual cohabitation.

Speaking for the other half of the commission, Turid Karlsen Seim, also a theology professor, told the NTB she hoped continued dialogue would settle the matter. “I think the church will now go through what it went through on the issue of female priests,” she said. “I hope we will move towards the point where the church will accept the rights of homosexuals.”

The Church of Norway doctrinal commission consists of the church’s 11 bishops, five theological experts and four lay members. During the commission’s deliberations there was a 6-5 episcopal majority in favour of same-sex cohabitants holding consecrated office.

The doctrinal commission does not comment upon the possibility that the church might choose to have two equally official views on the matter.

Confessing Reader has an an English translation by Dr Christopher Barnekov of a piece by Ingunn Økland in the Norwegian paper Afenposten (21 January 2006). It discusses Church of Norway report and notes that the Report will be discusssed widely in the church and be dealt with by the Church Assembly in 2007. As all eleven bishops are members of the Board, it seems possible that the report may be adopted.

Read the whole post for a more complete context and background-including informative comments by William Tighe about the Norwegian church. I would much like to read the all of the recent whole Norwegian report, but I fear that the curse of Babel will have its way and we may never see it all in English.

There is more English-language background on the Church of Norway’s website . Four of eleven bishops in the Church of Norway are now willing to ordain homosexuals living together.

I am more sanguine than some about keeping questions open and allowing two views to be heard. The desire for instant answers is a contemporary urge that sometimes needs to be resisted. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to work as the Spirit pleases. Some arguments in the early church took centuries to resolve. It may well take the rest of the century to sort out the (homo)sexuality question in the churches. We may never come to agreement, just as we disagree on so very many other things. We must accept that and live with it. We followers of Christ must be able to live and work as church in the meantime.