Per Arne Dahl, the newest of Oslo’s 12 bishops, finally took a stand Monday on whether he’d perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Dahl, long a celebrity clergyman through Norwegian media, chose to make his position known in his area’s local newspaper in Tønsberg, and said he would not.
“It’s nothing new that I stand for the classic view on marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman,” Dahl told newspaper Tønsbergs Blad. He claimed he had expressed that clearly during the selection process for a new bishop to replace the retiring bishop i Tønsberg, Laila Riksaasen Dahl, last year. She had been positive towards performing same-sex marriages, after earlier being opposed.
Dahl, who had earlier refused to give a clear answer on whether he would wed gays and lesbians, said he does not believe the Norwegian evangelical Lutheran church should wed people of the same sex. He said he did, however, want to “contribute” towards a “worthy and predictable” service for same-sex couples who marry outside the church under Norwegian law and seek the church’s prayers.
He told Tønsbergs Blad that “we must respect that those of us in the church have two views” on the issue, but he does not want those conflicting views to split the church.
Splits bishops exactly in half
By saying he won’t perform same-sex marriages, however, the 64-year-old Dahl is splitting the 12 bishops exactly in half. In a poll conducted by newspaper Aftenposten last autumn, shortly after Dahl became a bishop, he was the only one of the 12 who wouldn’t give a clear answer on the issue. Six of the bishops at that point said they were positive towards same-sex marriage, while five were opposed. Now six are in favour and six are against.
“I am very disappointed,” Torbjørn Steen-Karlsen, leader of the national organization representing gay, lesbian and transgender Norwegians (LLH), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said he had been “hopeful” when Dahl was made a bishop and was convinced that Dahl was a “man of the future, but I was very mistaken. I don’t think this is worthy of the church in 2015.”
At a time when more and more countries are ensuring the rights of same-sex couples to marry, even in heavily Catholic countries, Steen-Karlsen feels the Norwegian church is out of step. “He (Dahl) now shows himself as being judgmental,” Steen-Karlsen said, adding that he thinks the church’s tolerance level is now “very low” and that “Bishop Per Arne Dahl should be a bit ashamed of himself today.”
Ordaining a lesbian pastor
Dahl was well-known in Norway before he became a bishop, both through a column he wrote for Aftenposten’s Sunday edition and for newspaper Vårt Land. He’s the author of more than a dozen books and had often appeared on national TV and NRK radio. He has spoken of the need for the church to be a place of “stillness” and a “free place” in an otherwise challenging world, and that the church can offer “fellowship” and be open to all.
That’s also why Norway’s gay movement was disappointed, not least after news broke earlier on Monday that Dahl would ordain the lesbian pastor Hanne Marie Pedersen-Eriksen, after she won a temporary post at the historic Norderhov Church in Buskerud.