After 500 years of serving as the official state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway was partially separated from the government on Jan. 1.
Under the new arrangement, Norway’s 1,250 priests and bishops will no longer be employees of the state who are appointed by the king and whose salaries are paid by taxes. The groundwork for the division was laid nine years ago, and is now coming to fruition.
But the change is far from complete separation. While the Church of Norway is no longer the official church of the country of five million, it will remain the “national” church and will still receive some forms of state support.
Advocates for full separation of church and state say the recent move doesn’t go far enough.
“As long as the Constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway’s national church and that it should be supported by the state, we still have a state church,” Kristin Mile, secretary general of the Norwegian Humanist Association, said.
Like much of Western Europe and Scandinavia, Norway is seeing the growth of cultural secularism. A 2005 survey by Gallup found that only 36 percent of Norwegians considered themselves religious, and the Church of Norway, despite its informal designation as “the People’s Church,” has been losing members since it set up a website in August allowing people to go online and end their membership.