By two constitutional amendments today, the state church was abolished by the Norwegian Parliament, putting an end to a 475-year-old institution. The Church of Norway, as the official name is, will from now on be one religion among many in this mostly secularised country, but will continue to enjoy some privileges.
Norway was christianised between 995 and 1030, and the rich and powerful church, led by the Archbishop, was for centuries an important powerbroker who often opposed the King. This ended with the reformation of 1536-1537, which joined state and church, an arrangement which continued after Norway won its independence 198 years ago. Today a sizeable majority of Norwegians are members of the Church of Norway, but few believe in the biblical teachings and even fewer attend church.
The Constitution now says that the Church of Norway is a “people’s church” and that the Norwegian society is founded upon the “Christian and humanist heritage”. It will no longer be necessary for a certain percentage of cabinet members to belong to the Church of Norway, but there will still be a constitutional requirement for the King to do so (this was the personal wish of the current King, who by expressing this wish made an unusual political intervention). Bishops and provosts will no longer be appointed by the King in Council (i.e. the government), but by the Church of Norway itself. However, the state will still fund the Church of Norway, so that members will not have to pay. Priests will for the foreseeable future remain state employees, but this will most likely change in the coming years.
Rather hilariously, a group of Christians opposed to the constitutional changes have started something called “Everything for the king - Protect the Christian constitution”, whose aim is to make the King refuse to sanction the constitutional amendments. These people are apparently blissfully unaware of the rather well-known fact that constitutional changes do not require the royal assent.
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