Acton Institute Powerblog

Sweden’s road to secularism: By politics alone

Sweden’s transformation from a pious Lutheran nation to one of the most secular states in the West is among the most arresting in history. Few appreciate how this followed the Church of Sweden having its governance, and then its doctrine, changed by politicians to reflect statist orthodoxy.

Per Ewert of the Clapham Institute tells the story in a new article for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic titled “Secularizing the Church of Sweden: By politics alone.” A leading Social Democratic politician of the 1930s “wished to ‘de-Christianise the church through its connection with the state’ and wrote that the church should be transformed into ‘an atheistic general religiosity,’” Ewert writes. He then details how the state redefined elements of Scandinavian Reformation theology into a “secularized Lutheranism” before the church gradually changed into a political battleground.

Stunningly, the Church of Sweden’s reaction to the process parallels the Church of England’s decision to outsource its ministries to the state between the late nineteenth century and the postwar era. Ewert writes:

Swedish clergy seem to have been more passive and open than those in other nations to politicians’ attempts to introduce liberal or de facto anti-Christian elements into the church. Rodney Stark and Laurence Iannaccone even state that this process in Sweden was mutual, to the extent that many Swedish priests actually favored the process: “In fact, many Swedish clergy became strong supporters of state socialism. Moreover, they acquiesced when control of the Church passed into the hands of avowed atheists.”

Read his full article here.

(Photo credit: Jarvis. This photo has been cropped. CC BY-SA 3.0.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.