A Lutheran church in Sweden made headlines recently for erecting an altarpiece image that featured same-sex couples and trans/gender n0n-conforming people.
The Church of Sweden is known for being progressive and accepting. It’s had female priests since 1958 and has been marrying same-sex couples for the past decade.
The church, St Paul in Malmö, erected the image by photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin on the first Sunday of Advent (December, 1), prompting news stories around the world.
Ohlson, 58, who is gay, is known for including LGBTQ diversity in her classical art-inspired photos.
She gained a lot of press 20 years ago for a photo of a man representing Jesus, flanked by 12 drag queens as his apostles. She has also shot many portraits of trans people.
This latest work, entitled Paradise, featured a Garden of Eden setting. There are two same-sex couples holding apples. A trans person is in a tree, holding a snake.
However, just days later, the church decided to take down the image. In a statement released yesterday, it said this was nothing to do with the church having an issue with LGBTQ people – but because on closer inspection, it found some of the details ambiguous.
“The fact that there are two gay couples in the artwork is completely uncontroversial. But the fact that there is a snake, which traditionally symbolizes evil, and that it turns into a transperson could lead to the interpretation that a trans person is evil or the devil.
“The Swedish Church can absolutely not stand for that.”
It says that as it stands, the image has “too many unanswered questions.”
The church has said it has not yet decided what to do with the image or if it will move it to another location, outside of the main church room.
The bishop of Lund, Johan Tyrberg, suggested to STV the church in question hung the image without due process being followed – before authorities higher up in the church agreed its precise location.
The pastor of Saint Paul, Sofia Tunebro, regretted the decision, telling AFP: “We’ve been marrying gay couples for 10 years, and with this artwork, it was a bit like hanging up a wedding photo in the church.”
Ohlson also said she was disappointed, telling AFP: “My calling has been to create Christian works which LGBTQ people can identify with.”
In a statement to Queerty, Ohlson said she was working on a new image to give to the church, “without a snake.”
She expressed some skepticism about the church’s reasoning for removing the artwork.
“Sweden like a lot of other countries in the world have a lot of strong, right-wing opinions about art.
“I think they blamed the snake as the reason to take the altarpiece down. I think they don’t want LGBT pictures inside the holy church room.”