Reflections on those moments when faith and the nitty-gritty of daily life intersect
Some weeks ago, Christian newspaper Dagen published a survey on how Christians plan to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Sweden (to be held on 9 Sep 2018). One of the remarkable results was that the Sweden Democrats would receive 18% of votes* and become the third most popular party in this group of voters.
* In total 3,500 people participated - 500 of whom indicated that they are active in a church (80% Church of Sweden).
Our pastors in Immanuel Church have written (and signed) an article that calls for the church to become proactive in building a society that protects the vulnerable - including the “strangers”. It was published in newspaper Dagen today. A wonderful contribution to the political debate running up to the elections this fall. Here's a quick translation of the article:
Pastors in Immanuel church: We as Christians are not for sale
The state is not our savior. Our calling is to seek the kingdom of God first. We are called to love and show hospitality to those whom Jesus loved, pastors in Immanuel Church in Stockholm write.
With a few months left to the election, many are concerned that the Sweden Democrats will probably gain the best election results so far. To us it is surprising that a party with a clear xenophobic background seems to be an increasingly obvious choice among Christian voters. A deeper analysis suggests that internal secularization is taking place in the churches in Sweden - a kind of memory loss. Have we stopped believing that our unique contribution as a church to building the good and true society in the end is about responding to the call of Jesus to be faithful witnesses of the kingdom of God as the church of Christ? Are the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) not the primary “election manifesto” of the church?
The churches in Sweden are the body of Christ - not a political body affiliated with a party. This means that every Christian is not only called to ask the question of which party-political vision is most relevant. Together we are also called to give voice to the church's alternative and concrete narrative of reality. And its narrative springs forth out of a faithful response to the kingdom of God. It is also in this way that Christian congregations can make a real difference in their endeavor to create the good and true society.
A concrete consequence of Jesus' message of the kingdom of God is that the Christian congregation is not ethnically determined. That is, it is not an ethnic or national identity that gives a Christian congregation identity or constitutes the criterion of those belonging to it. A Christian theological political view stems from citizenship in the kingdom of God through baptism. Therefore, the church's parole is not to build a society where "blood is thicker than water" but to anticipate a world where "water is thicker than blood". In the early church, it was found that "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28). Being a church means being a new family, a new social body.
We belong to Immanuel Church in Stockholm, a congregation that worships in four different languages and with members from at least 40 different countries. The congregation strives to accommodate different theological and political strands and tries to see our differences as an asset for building what is common. We know that it is a big and difficult challenge to live together with this diversity, but it is our calling as a Christian congregation not to repeat social segregation in different forms.
We want to forego by example to show that it is possible to create a life together that overcomes subtle and inherited patterns of racism, exclusion and alienation. This is not easy or conflict-free, but we persevere because it is part of our mission as a congregation.
To faithfully testify of the kingdom of God means defining, visualizing and living out a story other than the narrative of the abuse of power, segregation, violence, enmity and disunion.
It should be natural to our congregation, with our knowledge, our resources and our Christian faith to not only be part of our denomination the Uniting Church in Sweden, but to also be part of civil society. We want to actively participate in seeing political decisions become reality, insofar as they contribute to a better and true society and do not counteract our calling to serve the kingdom of God.
Like many other Christian congregations around Sweden, we experience how difficult it is to find our identity as the church of Christ. Decreasing membership and rapid change in society pose major challenges. It is easy to be tempted to abandon the mission that Christ called us to, and instead choose "golden calves" that seem to offer quick results in a complex reality. One of these temptations is to compete in being the one with the most subtle and effective capacity to push out those who are perceived as strangers. But as the Church of Christ, we are called to love those who are at risk of being marginalized.
We are called to love and show hospitality to those whom Jesus loved. This means that we as Christians are not for sale. Our Lord is not a political leader. The state is not our savior.
As Christian congregations, we now need to organize ourselves and take a visible and clear stand on what kind of society we want to build, based on our calling. In coming elections, we need to place our votes so that those whom Jesus invited into his Kingdom first, are also the ones that are sheltered in our society.
Ulla Marie Gunner, senior pastor in Immanuel Church, Stockholm
Ulf Bergsviker, pastor and PhD candidate in systematic theology
Anna Berndes, pastor with focus on diaconal care and university
Charlotte Höglund, pastor with focus on children & families and young adults
Cho Chong-Il, lead pastor for the Korean fellowship
Chris Peterson, lead pastor for the International fellowship
Claes-Göran Ydrefors, lead pastor for the Swedish fellowship
Ivani Ahlberg, pastor for the Portuguese-speaking group
Karin Fritzson, pastor with focus on volunteers and leadership
Pete Anderson, associate pastor for the International fellowship
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