Stranger than fiction: A pro-LGBT Swedish church erected an altarpiece showing two homosexual couples in the Garden of Eden. Yet less than two weeks after unveiling the altarpiece, the church removed it following fears that another figure in the artwork could be seen as “anti-trans” or “transphobic.” Liberal churches should take this as a sign that no capitulation to the LGBT agenda will ever be enough.
St. Paul’s Church in Malmö unveiled a painting entitled “Paradise,” which shows one lesbian couple and one gay couple in the Garden of Eden. Lesbian artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin painted it in 2012, aiming to donate the work to the Skara Cathedral in Sweden, which was preparing to conduct its first same-sex wedding. The cathedral rejected the painting, but St. Paul’s unveiled it on Sunday, December 1 — the beginning of Advent — according to Out magazine.
“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,” the church 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, celebrated the altarpiece toward the end of November. “On Sunday, history is written. Sweden’s only LGBT altarpiece (Elisabeth Ohlsson Wallin) is received by St Paul’s church in Malmö… We are so happy and proud!”
På söndag skrivs historia. Sveriges enda hbtq-altartavla (Elisabeth Ohlsson Wallin) tas emot i S:t Pauli kyrka i M-ö. Självklart hänger den i koret, bredvid den ”gamla” altartavlan. Vi är så glada o stolta! pic.twitter.com/W5TBkL8osa
— helena myrstener 📎 (@helenamyrstener) November 27, 2019
Yet less than two weeks later, the church had removed the altarpiece.
Wallin did not just include two homosexual couples in her painting; she also included a male dressing up as a woman — ostensibly transgender — in the form of a snake looking down on the festivities. Out‘s Serena Sonoma originally reported that the transgender snake had been celebrated as part of the LGBT artwork, but apparently some transgender advocates got a different impression.
— SR Nyheter (@SR_Nyheter) December 11, 2019
While the Church of Sweden insisted the fact that there “are two gay couples in the artwork is completely uncontroversial,” it feared that the transgender imagery might be perceived as an attack on people who identify with the opposite sex.
“[T]here is a snake, which traditionally stands for evil, 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,” the church said in a statement.
Indeed, the snake in the Garden of Eden tempts Adam and Eve to break God’s commandment and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The snake is traditionally associated with Satan. Yet many on the left see Satan as the archetypal symbol of rebellion, someone to be celebrated and emulated, not condemned. Perhaps the artist included the imagery of a transgender serpent for this reason.
A pastor with St. Paul’s noted that the altarpiece had been removed from the sanctuary because “it has too many unanswered questions.”
“I would like to emphasize that this has nothing to do with where Church of Sweden stands on the [LGBT] issues, which we work tirelessly on,” the church leader claimed in a statement.
While Sweden was once a great champion of Bible-based church reform, defending the Protestant Reformation in the Thirty Years War, the country and its formerly state-run church have rushed to embrace LGBT activism. While the Bible firmly condemns homosexual activity and teaches that God made humans male and female, many Christians have rushed to alter their interpretation of scripture to fit the new sexual morality.
Yet no matter how far some churches go, it seems the capitulation will never be enough.
Meanwhile, many gays and lesbians have rightly noted that transgender activism undermines homosexuality. Many transgender activists demand that lesbians be open to relationships with biological men who identify as female, for instance. Some lesbians have warned — not unreasonably — that transgender activism encourages conversion therapy for lesbians — encouraging same-sex attracted women to think of themselves as straight men — and rape culture — allowing biological men to hook up with anyone they want, even lesbian women.
It seems unlikely Wallin intended the snake to be an anti-trans symbol, but the ambiguity of the artwork seems to have won out. Ironically, an altarpiece that was seen as too transgressive in 2012 is now considered backward by the same church that rejected it in the first place. Perhaps the Church of Sweden would be well-advised to return to a solid standard that does not change — the Word of God, perhaps?
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.