Hateful Graffiti on Church’s Pride Flag Now Matter for the Police

Hateful, anti-LGBTQIA+ messages have twice been spray-painted on the Pride flag adorning the steps leading up to Grafarvogskirkja, a Lutheran church in the district of Grafarvogur on the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. There have been two separate incidents of anti-LGBTQIA+ messages being sprayed on the flag. RÚV reports that the incidents have now been referred to the police.

The first message, reading “ANTICHRIST,” was sprayed on the church’s stairway last Saturday. “This was the path up to the church this morning,” wrote Pastor Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir in a Facebook post that day. “It shows how important the rainbow’s message is. This rainbow clearly needs to stand in front of the church and remind us of fellowship, that all people are equally precious, and that love is love.” Pastor Guðrún ended her post with a rainbow of emoji hearts, as well as the Pride and Trans flags.

A photo uploaded in the comments of the original post showed people painting over the hateful graffiti later that morning. Per the caption: “A Swedish family who came to see the church offered to paint over [the message] immediately.”

Family volunteers to paint over hateful graffiti. Image via Grafarvogskirkja Grafarvogi, Facebook

Only days later, on Monday, a different message was tagged on Grafarvogskirkja’s rainbow flag. This time, it read “LEVITICUS 20:13,” referencing a verse from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible which says that men who have sexual relations with other men should be put to death.

Grafarvogskirkja Grafarvogi, FB

“Our beautiful flag has been scribbled on again,” Pastor Guðrún wrote on Facebook. She added that the same chapter in Leviticus also lists off other people who should be put to death, including (but certainly not limited to): anyone who curses their mother and/or father, people who commit adultery, and men who have sex with women who are on their periods.

“We at Grafarvogskirkja choose rather to follow the message of Jesus Christ, who told us to love one another. We believe that each and every person is one of God’s beloved creations and is allowed to live the life that has been predestined for her/them/him.”

The post continued: “The message of Jesus Christ is in full accordance with human rights declarations, and we at Grafarvogskirkja stand for human rights and fight against hatred and prejudice.”

Membership in National Church of Iceland Gradually Declining

New data published by Registers Iceland shows that registered membership in the National Church of Iceland continues to decline, albeit slowly. Meanwhile, the pagan Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association have both been quietly gaining members.

As of September 1, there were 229,714 people registered as members of Iceland’s National (Lutheran) Church. This is a decline of three members since December 1. And while this is not a dramatic decrease in membership, it does appear to be part of a consistent pattern. From December 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021, the church lost 75 members from its registry.

The Catholic Church has the second-highest membership, or 14,709 members. Fríkirkjan, the independent Lutheran Church of Iceland, which operates apart from the national church, comes in third with 10,040 members. The Ásatrú Fellowship and the Ethical Humanist Association had the greatest jump in membership—279 new members. (Statistics Iceland shows a total of 5,118 members of Ásatrú and 4,084 members of the Ethical Humanist Association as of January 1, 2021, but the current National Registers round-up offered no more specific, recent data regarding total membership in either organization.)

As of September 1, there were 28,926 people (7.7% of the population) registered as not being part of any religious organization. There were additionally 58,514 people listed as ‘Other and Not Specified,’ or 15.7% of the nation.


Separation of Church and State Inevitable

The eventual separation of church and state is inevitable, writes Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir in an op-ed in Morgunblaðið this morning. The Church of Iceland is fully capable of executing its duties independent of the state.

Iceland’s 1874 constitution guarantees religious freedom, but also specifies that the “Evangelical Lutheran Church is a national church and as such it is protected and supported by the State.” This provision was retained in the constitution of the Republic of Iceland of 1944.

According to Áslaug, the demand for equality among religious organisations has become increasingly salient. “An autonomous church independent of the government better accords with the ideals of freedom of religion and opinion, but the Church of Iceland (The Evangelical Lutheran Church) has enjoyed special status within Icelandic governance,” she writes. According to Áslaug, more and more people are now convinced that the financing of religious organisations should not fall within the government’s purview. “Many will continue to follow the church,” she writes, “even if a complete separation of church and state becomes a reality.”

“A new agreement between the government and the Church of Iceland stipulates that the latter will no longer function as another state institution. Rather, the church will come to resemble an independent religious organisation, responsible for its own operations and finances. These changes are a significant improvement. Heading in the direction of full separation of church and state is inevitable. Until then – and despite this agreement – the Church of Iceland will, in accordance with the constitution, continue to enjoy the support and guardianship of the Icelandic government.”

The above-mentioned agreement, signed in September, specifies the increased financial independence of the Church of Iceland. From January 1st onward, the Church of Iceland will process its own wages and manage its own books. Furthermore, a special law on Church-managed funds will be revoked.

According to Áslaug, the teachings of the Church continue to be significant and meaningful to the everyday lives of Icelandic citizens. If citizens continue to trust the church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church will continue to be Iceland’s national church, irrespective of its legal or governmental status.