Sunday, May 29, 2011

NOVEMBER 22, 2010 1:18PM
Is nothing sacred? The sad demise of Norway's "sex priest"

Einar Gelius
The now ex-Lutheran pastor Einar Gelius
presenting his new book in Oslo last month

I NEVER THOUGHT I’D live to see the day, but in a recent interview the Pope finally conceded that condoms just might be permissible under certain conditions – in this case, when used by a male prostitute to prevent disease (gee, I wonder how he came up with that example?). The Pontiff’s comments have aroused the media like few other reports from the Vatican in recent years, exciting the WHO and other usual suspects and giving traditionalists a severe case of the dry heaves. (It can’t be doing prophylactic stocks any harm.) But regardless of the controversy his possibly premature comments have caused, one thing is certain: no matter what Benedict says about sex or anything else, his job is secure. The same cannot be said of a Norwegian cleric, however, who published a kiss-and-tell book on sex in the Bible last month, only to encounter a Norwegian religious establishment that is, as Queen Victoria used to say, “not amused.”

Fifty-one year-old Einar Gelius is a Lutheran pastor at a parish near Oslo who has a reputation for unorthodox interpretations of the “good news.” He thrives on controversy, and has gained a reputation as a “soccer priest” for his frequent use of sports imagery in his sermons and for once holding a mock funeral for his favorite soccer club. In 2003, he gave the hidebound Lutheran church some not entirely welcome publicity by performing a wedding ceremony for a couple in a telephone booth. Four years ago, he scandalized many in the Norwegian church by appearing in the TV program “Shall We Dance?” waltzing around a church dressed in his minister’s cassock. This sort of stunt can be forgiven, but Gelius clearly went one pew too far when he dared to question the church’s deepest and darkest taboo. Are you ready for it? Sex. “Christendom, as propagated by the church,” he says, “has been more hostile to sex than any other religion,” leading directly to widespread rape, abuse, and general unhappiness. In his new book, Sex i Bibelen (“sex in the Bible”), Gelius went through the entire Bible in search of salacious material - and discovered a bookful.

Gelius's memorable telephone booth wedding of 2003
(Source: Dagens nyheter)

At a press conference in October, Gelius told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament, “reeks of horniness, lust and pleasure, and is an endlessly rich tale of sex that can stimulate people’s own sex lives.” He also raised the possibility that Jesus enjoyed sexual relations with Mary Magdalene, but that - unlike Dan Brown - the Bible provides no definite proof that they actually got it on. Moreover, Gelius’s volume urges the faithful to watch all the porn they like and provides intimate details of his own sexual experiences with women. “I am a sexual person,” the good pastor told journalists. “Both with and without my clerical collar. I feel it powerfully.” When challenged on the wisdom of describing his own sex life in a religious work, he pointed out that eighty percent of the book is made up of his own retellings of actual racy Bible stories. So that’s all right then.

The response from the church authorities was tepid at first. When he heard about Sex i Bibelen, conservative bishop Ole Christian Kvarme of Oslo, who generated headlines three years ago after firing a pastor for living in a gay relationship, called it “a book we could have done without,” saying that he would read it before passing judgement, but had no desire to sully his mind with such fare.

Is there anything to complain about in the book? Gelius maintains there is not. “Many people have an image of the church as being moralistic and judgmental,” he said in October. “I wanted us to focus on what is positive. To highlight the good texts in the Bible that deal with joyful and wonderful sexuality.” He added: “Sexuality is part of creation. That’s why the first thing God said [to humanity] was, ‘Go out and have sex.’” To his critics, Gelius said: “Read the book first, then we can talk.”

Ole Christian Kvarme
No sense of humor? Oslo's hard-line
Lutheran bishop, Ole Christian Kvarme

Gelius will have plenty of talking to do on November 29. That’s the date for a special church hearing called by Bishop Kvarme, who has finally read the book and determined last week that sex “is not the central theme of the scriptures.” Until the committee meets, Gelius is suspended and will likely be spending this Christmas combing the want ads. So whether you’re talking about Rome, Oslo, or Washington, DC: after two millennia, basic human nature remains organized Christianity’s biggest and least attractive hangup.

But not all Norwegians are as gloomy as Bishop Kvarme. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation quotes one contributor to its online forum as saying, “If all pastors had been like Gelius, I would still be going to church. And I would even leave something on the collection plate.”

UPDATE: Following a meeting with Bishop Kvarme on November 23, Pastor Gelius formally resigned from his position with the Norwegian Lutheran Church.
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