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Swedish church defends decision to use gender-neutral pronoun for Jesus

A church in the Swedish city of Västerås has responded to criticism after it used the gender neutral pronoun to refer to Jesus in an advert.

According to website thelocal.se, in a notice advertising a Christmas worship service, the church described Jesus using the pronoun 'hen', which in Sweden is used to refer to non-binary people or in cases where a person's gender is not known or not relevant.

The church’s dean, Susann Senter, released a statement after the notice attracted strong reactions, stating: "The religious Christ is greater [than the historical person] and needs to be described and talked about in each era, with new words and new songs..."

However, she also apologized to anyone who felt offended, stating it was unintentional.

The Bishop of Västerås, Mikael Mogren, has also defended the choice, saying he was "grateful" for the debate which the advert had started.

Another story had stated that the Church of Sweden had told its clergy to begin using more gender-neutral language including terms for "God".  However, Sofija Pedersen Videke, head of the Church's service of worship committee, said that this was untrue, calling it “fake news”.

However, it was confirmed that their 31-year-old handbook was reviewed where some of the updated language includes three alternatives for the words to use at the start of worship services. 

This included one which is gender-neutral: "In the name of the Father and Son, and the Holy Spirit," "In the name of God, the Father and Son, and the Holy Spirit", and "In the name of the triune God".

Graham Nicholls, director of Affinity, told Premier his thoughts on the controversy.

He said in a statement: " We absolutely agree that God is beyond our gender definitions. God the Father is not “human” in that sense. But this move is unlikely to stem from the sudden discovery of a long-neglected theological truth.

"Rather, I would suspect that it flows from a very anti-theological desire to accommodate the church to a culture of blurring gender distinctions and antagonism towards any form of male headship."

He added the church should stay away from the "misguided equality agenda" and embrace the intentional language of the Bible, that God is 'he' and not 'it'.

"The reason for the retaining the male descriptions for God is not to hold on to some kind of unwarranted patriarchy but to acknowledge that the Bible reveals God to us in male terms, and in the case of the first Person of the Trinity, as Father," Nicholls said.

"Yes, he has motherly attributes too, and he is not constrained by the biological limitations of gender. But God is never given a feminine name, or referred to using feminine pronouns.

"It is not that God is like a Father; he is the Father – he defines fatherhood. And he made human fathers and he gives us the example of good fathers so we can understand the kind of secure relationship of love and protection he offers to us."



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