Christian Democrats ‘need a new name’

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Rising skepticism in Norway towards religion has made the Christian Democrats’ very name a liability for the struggling political party, claims a former editor for the Christian-oriented newspaper Vårt Land. Helge Simonnes thinks the party should consider changing it.

Norway is proud of its Christian history and traditions, as illustrated by this stave church in Vågå. Christianity doesn’t seem to be attracting many voters, though, and may even be a liability for the Christian Democrats in an increasingly secular society. PHOTO: Berglund

“An increasing fear and skepticism of religion has been developing in Norwegian society,” Simonnes told news bureau ANB this week. “The fear is escalating because we see what can result from Islamic fundamentalism. It’s contagious, and religion is now seen as suspect, and at any rate not something you want to have steering the country.”

That, Simonnes says, can be one of the reasons why Norway’s Christian Democrats party did so poorly in the last election and now has some major, if empowering, decisions to make. Having the word “Christian” in its name can have consequences, he warned, by discouraging people to vote for it. In Norwegian, the party is called Kristelig Folkeparti (KrF), literally the “Christian people’s party.”

“There’s also a deep impression that the Christian Democrats are seen as moralistic,” Simonnes told ANB. “The Christian Democrats right now have very little opportunity to recruit new members with the name they have.”

Johannes Bergh of Norway’s institute for social research (Institutt for samfunnsforskning) isn’t so sure, and thinks a name change would be risky. “The party’s entire reason for existence is its fight against the secularization of Norwegian society,” Bergh noted. “Many think Christianity and Christian values should still be an important part of our society and an element in how society is governed.”

Bergh thinks the party can still appeal to more than the 4.2 percent of votes cast last week. He attributed the party’s poor results more to the effects of having supported the conservative coalition government and its distance from the Progress Party. While the Christian Democrats’ older, core voters may literally be dying off, Bergh worries that those remaining may feel alienated by a name change for the party.

Both the Christian Democrats and Norway’s other small non-socialist party, the Liberals (Venstre), have a standing invitation to join a new four-party conservative government coalition that Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives is keen to form along with Progress Party. Being in government may give the Christians Democrats more power and influence, but the party is deeply divided on the issue. So are the Liberals, with government negotiations set to be begin later this week. Berglund