Why evangelicals in Sweden are politically progressive

Swedish church historian Joel Halldorf explains why white evangelicals in America lean right and white evangelicals in Sweden lean left. Here is a taste of his piece at the new website Breaking Ground:

The struggle for democracy and economic solidarity shaped Swedish evangelicalism into a liberal, left-leaning political movement. This identity was strong and enduring. In the 1956 election, 58 percent of the evangelicals voted for the Liberal party (Folkpartiet), which was more than twice the figure for the party in the general election (24 percent). The second largest party was the Social Democrats, with close to 30 percent of the evangelical vote. The Conservative party gained 10 percent of the evangelical vote, a mere half of the support among the general electorate.

The politics of Swedish evangelicalism changed somewhat in the 1960s, when Lewi Pethrus, leader of the Pentecostal movement, founded the Christian Democrats. Pethrus was culturally conservative, and wanted to halt secularization, particularly of schools and entertainment. But he was still in favor of progressive economic politics. In their first official political declaration, the party began by affirming the “appreciation and respect” for the welfare state, and declared that it was ready to “wholeheartedly support and develop it further.” They described unions as “indispensable,” and warned against fiscal and corporate centralization. Pethrus, a theologically conservative Pentecostal, emphasized his whole life that “Christianity and social justice are intimately connected.”

Swedish evangelicals were skeptical of socialism, not social justice—even when that justice was mediated through state-sponsored welfare. Polls from the late twentieth century show that Swedish evangelicals continue to be against the death penalty, and for welfare, migration, humanitarian aid, and the environment. Compared to secular voters, Swedish evangelicals are more engaged in environmental issues, more supportive of migration and humanitarian aid, and more critical of military export.

White American evangelicals tend toward the opposite in all those issues. They are, as we shall see, shaped by another and very different story.

Read the entire piece here. Then read Chris Gehrz’s helpful reflections on the piece at The Anxious Bench.