New Bishop of Iceland Says Church Failed LGBTQ+ People

Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir bishop of iceland

Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir, who was recently elected the new bishop of Iceland, said that the Church of Iceland’s attitude towards homosexuality was at a time based on denial.

“The church failed”, she told Morgunblaðið in an interview this weekend. “Therefore it owes a debt to the LGBTQ+ community. The church should have opened its arms to diversity. A majority of priests were on the community’s side, for the record, even if the church itself didn’t come around formally until it was too late.”

Family experience

One of Guðrún’s two daughters is trans. “It was very surprising to us when she told us, the autumn after her confirmation. We don’t choose what we face as parents and our job is first and foremost to love, help, and support our children,” Guðrún said.

“I’ve always had an open mind for how human beings can be of all stripes, but this caused me to feel even more strongly about how important it is that we accept all people the way they are and respect diversity,” she added. “I think the new generation is teaching us a lot when it comes to this.”

Membership decline

Guðrún was elected as bishop on 7 May in an election among 2286 registered voters of the church electorate, which includes priests, deacons, and lay members. She was ordained in 2011 and has served a number of parishes, most recently the Grafarvogur neighbourhood of Reykjavík.

She takes over from current bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir on 1 September. The church, known officially as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, has around 220,000 members, just over 60% of the population. Membership is down from since the turn of the century, when the church’s membership was 90% of the population.

Nordic Bishops Gather for Conference in Akureyri, Discuss ‘the Church in a Changing World’

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

The Nordic Bishops’ Conference took place in Akureyri, North Iceland this week, RÚV reports. Forty-five bishops were in attendance. Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, Bishop of Iceland, says that gatherings such as this one, where attendees can share their experiences and learn from one another, are important for the work of the church.

The conference is held every three years in one of the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden). Agnes was among the organizers of this year’s event.

“There’s always a theme that we lay out and have lectures about,” she explained. This year, the theme was the church in a changing world because “naturally, a lot has changed.”

The theme was intentionally broad, giving the bishops an opportunity to discuss, among other things, climate change, democracy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. Agnes says it’s important for the Nordic bishops to meet regularly “because we have many common issues and most of the ones we’re dealing with are the same everywhere, so we need to fortify ourselves and together, find ways of responding to all the changes that are taking place.”

Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Sweden, agrees. “It’s important to meet for personal reasons. Bishops need to gather and exchange experience,” she said. “Our churches have much in common so we’re familiar with each other’s work, but they are also different in ways that makes the conference inspiring and exciting. From the church’s point of view, the conference is important because we in the Nordic countries need to work together to strengthen our actions and grow together spiritually.”

Bishop Reprimands Reverend for Harsh Rebuke of Government

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir has formally reprimanded reverend Davíð Þór Jónsson for his criticism of the government on Facebook. Despite the admonishment, the reverend has continued to express strong disapproval of the government’s plan to deport nearly 300 asylum seekers.

“A special place in hell”

On Tuesday, May 24, Reverend Davíð Þór Jónsson of Laugarneskirkja in Reykjavík published a post on Facebook in which he criticised the government’s plans to deport an inordinate number of asylum seekers. Davíð Þór stated that the government had decided to “piss all over” the UN’s Conventions on the Rights of the Child and, in reference to the Left-Green Movement, observed that there was “a special place in hell” for individuals who sold their soul for power and advancement.

The reverend’s words did not sit well with Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir. A press release published on the church’s website on Wednesday noted that the Bishop had formally reprimand Davíð Þór as she considered the reverend’s statements “harsh and in poor taste;” the church’s code of conduct requires that priests be “objective in their rhetoric.”

The press release further noted that the Bishop viewed the matter as being “resolved,” while iterating Agnes’ call for “humaneness and mercy” in matters concerning asylum seekers in Iceland.

“Pharisees, hypocrites”

Despite these admonishments, Reverend Davíð Þór continued his criticism of the government on Wednesday, this time referencing the Book of Matthew:

“Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! … You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape the sentence of hell? Because of this, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and others you will flog in your synagogues and persecute in town after town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth …
Pharisee: these words judge themselves.”

The reverend’s concluding words may be interpreted as a jab at Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Chairman of the Left-Green Movement – and the reverend’s former partner; earlier this week, Katrín Jakobsdóttir was asked to respond to reverend Davíð Þór’s criticism and observed that “his statements judge themselves.”

MP expresses disbelief

The fate of the asylum seekers remains to be determined. In an interview with RÚV yesterday, MP Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir Gunnarsdóttir of the Pirate Party expressed disbelief that the government and ministers would follow through with its planned deportation of nearly 300 asylum seekers.

Referring to a recent report by the Red Cross, Arndís Anna observed that what awaited the asylum seekers, in the event that they were deported to Greece, was “hopelessness, lack of rights, destitution, insecurity, deprivation, homelessness, prejudice, and discrimination.”