Børre Knudsen, Norway’s high-profile pastor who often resorted to radical demonstrations of his opposition to abortion, died over the weekend after a long illness. He may best be remembered for dousing himself with sheep’s blood in front of the Norwegian Parliament and tormenting young women by claiming that opting for an abortion was akin to murdering their babies.
Knudsen, born in the conservative Christian region Vest-Agder County, was ordained in Bergen as a pastor in the Norwegian state church in 1967. He quickly made his anti-abortion stand known, and when Norway’s state law allowing abortion was approved in 1978, he resigned from portions of his church duties in the northern county of Troms and refused to accept his salary from the state church.
Sporting a trademark beard in the style of strict clergymen of the past, Knudsen continued, however, to perform as a pastor. In 1980, the government minister who was then in charge of church affairs launched an effort to defrock Knudsen after he’d already carried out a number of dramatic, radical protest actions, often with another pastor, Ludvig Nessa. They conducted symbolic funerals for an aborted fetus, entered clinics and hospital wards to stage prayers and sing hymns, and carried plastic dolls covered with ketchup to signify blood. Knudsen was arrested after pouring blood over himself in front of Parliament.
“His extreme means of opposing abortion destroyed support for Børre Knudsen,” theology professor Øyvind Norderval at the University of Oslo told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “He became quite alone on the extreme side of the issue.” Norderval, who otherwise remembered Knudsen as a “charming, highly intelligent and gifted” person, claimed that he “in so many ways was simply born 200 years too late.” He noted that Knudsen also was opposed to women being allowed to become pastors.
A local court acquitted Knudsen of straying from his church duties, ruling instead that Norway’s new abortion law could not be reconciled with the evangelical Lutheran religion. In 1983, Norway’s Supreme Court ruled otherwise and effectively stripped Knudsen of his role as a pastor, but he continued as a pastor for a local congregation. In 1994 he spent 10 days in jail in Tromsø after having refused to pay fines for disturbing the peace at various hospitals.
Film director Fridtjof Kjæreng made a documentary about Knudsen that was shown in Norwegian cinemas just last spring. Kjæreng also found Knudsen to be charming and “a surprisingly humble man” given his dramatic demonstrations. “You just had to understand that his faith made him feel that he had to serve something that was greater than himself,” said Kjæreng, who called his documentary “En prest og en plage” (A pastor and a plague), a take-off on a Norwegian expression “en pest og en plage” for something that can be highly irritating.
Knudsen, who had spent time in southern Europe in recent years, had settled in Balsfjord in Northern Norway after first becoming a local pastor there in 1968. The website for the Christian newspaper Dagen reported that he died early Sunday at his home at Meistervik in Balsfjord. Survivors include his wive of 50 years, Ragnhild Knudsen, with whom he had five children.