The Church of Sweden has reportedly removed its LGBTQ+ inclusive altarpiece over fears it may be perceived as anti-trans.
The issue stems from a depiction in which a transgender person is holding a snake — a figure which, in the Bible, is a stand-in for Satan. While the Church of Sweden claimed that the fact that there “are two gay couples in the artwork is completely uncontroversial,” it feared the altarpiece, which was displayed in St. Paul’s Church in Malmö, could be mistaken as an endorsement of transphobia.
“[T]here is a snake, which traditionally stands for evil,” the church said in a statement, “and that it also turns into a trans person means it could be interpreted that a trans person is evil or the devil. The Church of Sweden certainly cannot stand for that.”
A pastor with St. St. Paul’s Church added that the artwork has been removed from the main room and relocated, claiming “it has too many unanswered questions.”
“I would like to emphasise that this has nothing to do with where Church of Sweden stands on the [LGBTQ+]issues, which we work tirelessly on,” the church leader claimed in a statement.
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Gays.
Or at least that’s how I remember that Bible verse. OK, maybe not. But a church in Sweden did just unveil the country’s first-ever LGBTQ+ altarpiece, which replaces Adam and Eve with gay couples and a transgender serpent, so you tell me.
The painting, titled Paradise, shows queer couples wearing fig leaves in the Garden of Eden and was created by lesbian artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin in 2012. Wallin found inspiration from the work of Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder. The artist wanted to show that LGBTQ+ people deserve a place in paradise, not in hell.
Wallin originally tried to donate the work to the Skara Cathedral in Sweden, which at the time was preparing to conduct the first same-sex wedding in its 1,000-year history. According to reports at the time, Wallin said she “wanted to test if the Church of Sweden was as gay-friendly as it claimed to be” following its 2009 support for same-sex marriage. The gift was declined by Skara Cathedral, which alleged it was “about political activism and not faith.”
Paradise was finally unveiled at St. Paul’s Church in Malmö on Monday, which was the first day of advent. According to the church, the goal was to create “greater inclusion and identification in the Church.”
“It is with pride and joy that we receive Paradise in St Paul’s Church. We need images that open up for greater inclusion and identification in the church,” St. Paul’s said in a statement. “We are grateful to Elisabeth’s artistry, which enables us to build a credible church that shows that we all, regardless of who we love and identify as, are accommodated in Paradise.”
Helena Myrstener, a pastor at the church, took to social media to praise the work.
“On Sunday, history is written,” she wrote. “Sweden’s only LGBT altarpiece (Elisabeth Ohlsson Wallin) is received by St Paul’s church in Malmö… We are so happy and proud!”
Sweden is considered the most LGBTQ+ friendly country in the world, according to Forbes, with Canada trailing behind. While several Euorpean countries performed well, the United States lags behind South Africa, Uruguay, and Colombia at no. 24.