In Sweden, church is for 'unbelievers'

Three-quarters of Swedes belong to the country's official church, but only 15 percent believe in Jesus.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Nearly three-quarters of Sweden’s population of 9.4 million continue to belong to what was long the official state church of this Nordic nation, according to a recent survey. Yet only 15 percent of the members say they believe in Jesus, and an equal percentage do not even believe that God exists.

The survey – conducted over the past year by the Church of Sweden – found, moreover, that only about 400,000 of the roughly 6.6 million church members attend church services at least once a month.

Local clergymen such as Sven Björkborg, who serves several rural parishes southwest of Stockholm, says he is not surprised by the findings of the survey, citing the gradual secularization of Swedish society over the years. Members of the church, he adds, are not required to be believers.

Pastor Björkborg argues that Swedes today support the church because it does good work and upholds important national values and traditions, providing assistance to the poor, the elderly, and others.

It is undeniable, however, that membership in the church, which ceased to be the country’s official state church in 2000, continues to decline. It has fallen from 95.2 percent of the population 40 years ago, for example, to 70.2 percent today.

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