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Denmark - Official Denmark - Church and Religion

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Denmark
1. Official Denmark
1.14 Church and Religion

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1.14.1 Religion in Denmark
1.14.2 Church History
1.14.3 Biographies


Religion in Denmark   

Ecclesiastical and religious matters in Denmark are subject to the Constitution, the main principles being established by the stipulation that the Evangelical Lutheran Church - as the established Church of Denmark - shall be supported by the State, and also by provisions on freedom of religion, speech and assembly. State support is partly moral and political (Sunday observance legislation and legislation on church matters), partly financial and administrative (contributions to clergy salaries and pensions, the collection of church taxes, the maintenance of the national church governance by means of a Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs and diocesan administration, supervision, advisory services, etc.).

Of religious communities, the established church is by far the largest (encompassing 85.4% of the population in 1998). Alongside the established church various other Christian churches are represented in Denmark and have been accorded the status of officially recognised religious communities. These are (in order of size) the Roman Catholic Church with c. 35,000 members, the Danish Baptist Church with c. 5500 adult members and the Pentecostal churches with c. 5000 members; of communities with 3000 members and under mention should be made of the Seventh Day Adventists, the Catholic Apostolic Church, the Reformed Churches in Fredericia and Copenhagen, the Salvation Army, the Methodist Church, the Anglican Church and the Russian Orthodox Church in Copenhagen. In addition, with a rather more distant relationship to Christianity, there are Jehovah's Witnesses with ca. 15,000 members and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) with c. 4500 members. Outside the National Church there are nine other independent recognised Lutheran congregations of Grundtvigian origin. (The Grundtvigian and other elective congregations form part of the National Church) The German minority in Southern Jutland has its own parishes within the National Church, with its own clergy in the four southern Jutland towns of Haderslev, Aabenraa, Sønderborg and Tønder, in addition to which they have six independent Lutheran congregations outside the National Church.

Among the numerically smaller, but characteristically Christian congregations mention must finally be made of the Moravian Brethren in Christiansfeld and the Unitarian Church in Copenhagen (The Free Church Congregation), which in 1907 was expelled from the National Church on account of its denial of certain central Christian doctrines. The oldest of the non-Christian communities in Denmark is the Jewish Community, recognised in 1814, with c. 3100 members and with a synagogue in Copenhagen. During the last decades of the 20th century, the largest of the non-Christian communities has been dominated by Muslim immigrants; on the basis of the number of immigrants from Muslim countries now resident in Denmark, the number is estimated to be c. 119,000 (1998), made up of a number of mutually independent Islamic communities. Official recognition has been given to a number of communities, enabling them to offer religious support to foreign Christians living in Denmark. This applies to the Norwegian, Swedish and German congregations in Copenhagen, all of them Lutheran, the Anglican community in Copenhagen, the German and French Reformed communities in Copenhagen and Fredericia and the Russian-Orthodox Church in Copenhagen. Greek Orthodox services are only occasionally held in Denmark. Icelandic and Finnish Lutherans are offered religious support through the Icelandic community in Copenhagen and the Finnish Church in Denmark. The Roman Catholic Church in Denmark offers Roman Catholics from all parts of the world who are resident in Denmark the support of its churches, which are found throughout the country.

The form of recognition (before 1969) enjoyed by the Norwegian, Swedish and English communities in Copenhagen, the Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Danish Reformed communities, the Baptist Community and the Methodist Church as well as the Jewish Community, allows them to keep legal registers and to issue legally valid personal documents (certificates of marriage and baptism). This is to be seen in the light of the fact that primary civil registration (registration for the central personal register) of all citizens in Denmark is otherwise undertaken by the National Church clergy and church offices; similarly funerals are carried out with the National Church clergy acting as the authority.

With the 1969 Matrimonial Act, state recognition ceased to have such widespread implications. Since 1969, the Danish State has permitted the clerics of all other recognised communities, both Christian and Non-Christian, to perform legally valid wedding ceremonies, though they have a duty to report them to the civil authorities and they do not have the right to keep legal church registers. Both forms of state recognition give tax benefits in the form of the right to receive regular tax-deductible financial contributions from private individuals. However, such recognition is only granted when a number of more precisely defined organisational and theological/ideological requirements are fulfilled; for instance, the Church of Scientology has failed in its application for this kind of recognition.

In addition, there is a number of small organised religious communities (e.g. the Bahais and a number of Buddhist centres), which like the other recognised religious communities have the right to perform marriage ceremonies with civil validity and to receive tax- deductible gifts from private individuals.

Alongside the recognised religious communities, the provisions in the Constitution concerning the freedom of belief and association provide for the possibility of establishing individual religious associations. A number of such associations are often described as "new religious groups", but on account of their private nature it has been impossible to register them statistically, and they often seem to represent religious and philosophical trends rather than constituting organised religious communities or denominations which can be registered as such. At all events, the borderlines between such groups and religious communities proper are difficult to define, and members of these groups will often fail to de-register from the National Church.

In church matters, the Kingdom of Denmark is divided into 12 dioceses, including those of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. In the 10 Danish dioceses the National Church offers its members the services of just under 2000 clergy; the country is divided into 2176 parishes, which are again combined into 1366 livings and 111 deaneries. The National Church is governed with the Folketing as the legislative body and the government (The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs) as the supreme administrative body. Otherwise, however, the National Church is run on democratic principles on the basis of specially elected ecclesiastical bodies in collaboration with the clergy: in the individual parishes there is an elected parish council, in which the clergy are ex officio members, but where the other members are elected directly from and by the members of the national church in that parish. (Participation in elections is very low indeed, and in many places there are uncontested elections or agreed elections with only one list). The parish councils exercise a decisive influence on the choice of clergy in the individual livings, and the diocesan bishops are chosen by the diocesan council and the clergy together. The bishops manage the diocesan administration and - with the support of the deans and the deanery committees - ensure that the various duties of the national church in individual parishes and livings are properly carried out; the administration of the National Church in individual parishes is the responsibility of the parish councils, which under supervision are responsible for finances and fabric maintenance. Church services and religious advice are the responsibility of the clergy (with the assistance of other church representatives, e.g. organists and vergers) who at the same time, assisted by parish clerks and the church offices, keep the church registers and act as funeral authorities. The clergy of the National Church are university trained at the state-run theological faculties in Copenhagen and Århus, which also offer an academic theological training to all, irrespective of ecclesiastical or confessional affiliation.

Jørgen Stenbæk

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