State church loses support in Oslo

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More than one of every four members of the Norwegian state church in Oslo have considered dropping out, according to a new survey by newspaper Aften. Nearly 40 percent don’t think the church is inclusive. The figures mean the church has a big problem, according to university theologists.

“If those who are critical take action and leave the church, its very foundation is in danger,” warns Halgeir Elstad of the University of Oslo. “I view this public opinion poll as a warning sign.”

The survey, conducted by research firm Respons for newspaper Aften , questioned more than 1,300 Oslo residents and 28 percent responded “yes” when asked whether they’d considered leaving the church. Most Norwegians automatically become members of the church at birth unless their parents register them in another faith.

The survey also asked how inclusive respondents thought the church was. Fully 39 percent answered either “not very inclusive” or “not at all.”

The acting bishop of Oslo, Anne Hilde Laland, was disturbed by the survey results. “The numbers show that the church in Oslo has a problem,” she told Aften .Laland said she was unsure why so many Norwegians were disenchanted with the church. “Perhaps we isolate ourselves too much, maybe the church seems closed to some groups, maybe we use strange language, I don’t know,” Laland said, adding that church officials need to examine the problem and the reasons for it.

A majority responded that they still preferred to use a state church for christenings, confirmations and weddings. But Elstad thinks restrictions on homosexual marriages in the church is one reason why it’s losing popularity.

“In the past, debates over abortion rights, female pastors and the language used in sermons caused many to leave the church,” Elstad said. “This time, the homosexual debate has clearly had an effect, precisely because there’s a lot of turbulence around it in Oslo.”

Norway’s state church currently has 354,445 registered members in Oslo, down from 368,497 in 2001, according to figures from the state church council (Kirkeråde) .