About 10,000 people have de-registered from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, the state church of the country, over the past three years alone.
Vísir reports that these figures are drawn from data from Statistics Iceland, and reflect the number of people who have gone through the official step of leaving the church; it does not reflect those who stopped going to church but are still officially registered. At the same time, those registered as being outside an organised religion have increased by about 6,000.
Chairperson of the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association Sigurður Hólm Gunnarsson told reporters that Bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir finds herself in the difficult position of wanting to perhaps liberalise the church, but to do so without upsetting more conservative parishioners.
“In reality, the church is in trouble because they can’t take a clear position on anything while they’re trying to appeal to everyone,” he said.
Serious trouble began for the state church when it was brought to light that former Bishop Karl Sigurbjörnsson was involved in a sex scandal concerning the previous bishop – the late Ólafur Skúlasson – whom several women, including his own daughter, have accused of sexual abuse. Karl, who was a priest at the time of the abuse, concealed evidence of this bishop’s crimes. Public outcry prompted Karl to step down.
More recently, the current bishop faced strong criticism for participating in the Festival of Hope, a Christian festival that had amongst its guests Franklin Graham, an American evangelist known for his strong anti-gay beliefs. The bishop explained her participation by saying that she had already committed to the event when she learned of Graham’s participation.