The Lutheran Church in Denmark is not sure what to do with a pastor who has gone public with his atheism. In a newspaper interview, Thorkild Grosboell openly said he believes “there is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection.”1
The pastor’s local bishop, Rev. Lise-Lotte Rebel, felt compelled to suspend him, pending clarification of his views. In response, hundreds of his parishioners rallied to Grosboell’s side, demanding his return.
“The church must be tolerant!”
“If there is no place for our pastor in this church, then there is no place for many of us either,” says the head of the parish council, Lars Heilesen. “The Church must be able to tolerate points of view that are not necessarily its own. There must be some room allowed to express one’s doubts openly without being sanctioned.”2
Actually, the bishop’s demands were not heavy. She simply wanted Grosboell to clarify “that he did not want to sow doubt about the Church's confession but rather trigger a debate.”3 When he would not back down, she suspended him.
Because it is a state church, however, the Lutheran Church cannot defrock Grosboell.
A government committee seeking to clean up the state church from charges of corruption has actually come to Grosboell’s defense, claiming he is a victim of censorship. It has filed a formal complaint claiming a violation of the Danish constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Others are on his side, too. According to an AP report, Mogens Lindhardt, who heads Denmark's Theological College of Education, considers Grosboell’s claims “refreshing.”4
“I was just misquoted!”
After his suspension, Grosboell told the press that his words have been misunderstood: “I feel that I was misquoted. My statements were presented in a way that was oversimplified and categorical.” He says he believes “in something divine, but not in a God who created man and the ant.”5
The media seems shocked by this strange turn of events.
Yet Denmark’s church has been a harbinger of the depths to which Christians can sink once Pandora’s box has been opened—once Christians reject the authority of every word in the Bible, beginning with its historical account of a six-day Creation and a worldwide Flood in Genesis.
One hundred years ago, who would have believed that the church would employ atheists as pastors? It seems that there’s no “bottom” to the depths of society’s decline, once the door has been opened. (See Ken Ham’s article The Big Picture.)
For follow-up news on this article, please read our Update on “Atheist Pastor”.