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Controversy over illuminated Norwegian church crosses

Crosses stir up strong emotions in a society with growing religious diversity.

FUENTES Kristelig Pressekontor AUTOR 283/Stein_Gudvangen OSLO 20 DE DICIEMBRE DE 2021 09:15 h
Skauen church in Skien, Norway need to apply to be able to keep the lights inside the cross on top of their tower after a neighbour complained. / Photo: Stein Gudvangen, [link]KPK[/link].

A recent controversy in Norwegian town Skien may cast light on a trend of increasing secularisation as some people seem to have a low tolerance for Christian symbols in public.



The newly built Skauen church, owned by the Telemark branch of The Evangelical-Lutheran Church Society (DELK), was consecrated in August. Little did the congregation know about the trouble ahead as they decided to put light inside the cross on top of the church tower.



First some neighbours in the suburban area complained that the light was too strong, but they did not object against the cross. The brightness was lowered twice to accommodate those living nearby. But that was not the end of it.



 



“Provoking”



Later in the autumn another neighbour complained, not to the church, but to the municipal authorities, claiming that the illuminated cross was inappropriate because people in the area had different religious or non-religious views. Many seeing the cross could be offended, this citizen said.



“The illuminated cross is annoying because we live in a residential area with a variety of outlooks on life. It is provoking because it dominates and lights up the area 24 hours a day”, the complainant stated to local newspaper Telemarksavisa, which first wrote about the strife.



Fred Arve Fahre, the pastor of Skauen church which cost the congregation some 8 million euros to build, says they are in a dialogue with the authorities. He underlines that the neighbour complaining to the authorities emphasises his dissatisfaction with the cross as a Christian symbol.



“It is the cross in itself that is the problem”, Fahre said to Christian Press Agency (KPK). “We think it is a great cross. It is not very flashy or big”, he adds.



The pastor also informs KPK that the complainant lives some 300 yards away. Between his house and the church there are several other houses as well as a football field with four huge floodlights.



 



Different views



On Facebook many have commented about the case. An unofficial count shows that most people have no problem with an illuminated cross on a church tower. This is in line wit pastor Fahre’s impression as well.



But the case is not over. Just recently the local building authority decided that the church needs to apply for a special permission to be allowed to keep the light inside the cross turned on, because the light was not pre-approved before the church was built. The congregation has not yet decided whether or not to apply.



 



“Torture tool”



The Skien case is not unique. In Norway’s capital, Oslo, another church ran into trouble a few years ago after installing light inside their cross causing some neighbours to protest violently.



Bjølsen Methodist Church was built in the mid 1950s, with a cross on top of the flat tower roof. After several decades the foot of the cross had rotted away, so it had to be taken down. Then in 2017 it was put back up, and that’s when the issues started. When the cross was reinstalled, it was illuminated, which it wasn’t originally.



In the densely populated apartment block area of Bjølsen many reacted against it. Some just found the light annoying, others reacted against the cross as such and also the size of it.



“I totally reject the idea of such an enormous advertising for an ideology belonging to the past”, said one complainant according to Christian daily Vårt Land.



The newspaper also quoted another person’s outburst: “I have long ago distanced myself from the tragic influence of religions on people’s lives, and this is a kind of advertising I would not like to have around. We have religious freedom in Norway, and it means that light signs in the form of an Iron Age torture tool should not be imposed on me”.



The authorities looked into the case, and the church had to remove the lights inside the cross, but the Christian community was allowed to have spotlights lighting it up.



Pastor Steinar Hjerpseth said to KPK that there have been fewer reactions after that, but they have heard both negative and positive comments from people living in the area.



 



Protected sign



Electrically illuminated Christian signs is no novelty to Norwegian urban areas. In fact such a sign is among the very first light signs ever to be put up in the country.





[photo_footer]  The light sign Jesus verdens lys (Jesus the light of the world) by Breiavannet in Stavanger has become an icon in city and is actively protected. / Photo: Dreyer Boks Fotosamling. [/photo_footer] 


This happened in Stavanger, in the middle of Norway’s Bible Belt, where an Apostolic church mounted a sign on top of their roof in the 1920s. The sign says Jesus the light of the world, and was put up by pastor Olaf Kostøl who had been in Portland, Oregon and took the idea with him coming back from the USA.



In Stavanger the light sign is not only accepted by the general public, but actively protected by local authorities as an artefact of high cultural value, symbolising the Christian prayer house and church culture in the city and the region.


 

 


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