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A Homosocial Priesthood of All Believers: Laity and Gender in Interwar Sweden

  • Martin Nykvist


Around the turn of the twentieth century, there was a growing concern within the Church of Sweden that the church was, to a too large extent, managed by the clergy alone. In an attempt to give the laity a more active and influential role in the Church of Sweden, the Brethren of the Church was established in 1918. Since it was only possible for men to become members, the organization simultaneously addressed a different issue: the view that women had become a much too salient group in church life. This process was described by the Brethren and similar groups as a “feminization” of the church, a phrasing which later came to be used by historians and theologians to explain changes in Western Christianity in the nineteenth century. In other words, the Brethren considered questions of gender vital to their endeavor to create a church in which the laity held a more prominent position. This article analyzes how the perceived feminization and its assumed connection to secularization caused enhanced attempts to uphold and strengthen gender differentiation in the Church of Sweden in the early twentieth century. By analyzing an all-male lay organization, the importance of homosociality in the construction of Christian masculinities will also be discussed.



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1 Protokollsbok 1918–1932, Svenska kyrkans lekmannaförbunds arkiv, A 1: 1, National Archives of Sweden, Arninge. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

2 Not to be confused with the Anabaptist denomination Church of the Brethren/The Brethren Church or the Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine (the Moravian Church).

3 “Nybildade kårer,” Kyrkobröderna 38, no. 4 (September 1962): 107.

4 On secularization in Sweden, see for instance Zuckerman, Phil, “Why are Danes and Swedes So Irreligious?,” Nordic Journal of Religion and Society 22, no. 1 (2009): 5569.

5 Welter, Barbara, “The Feminization of American Religion: 1800–1860,” in Clio's Consciousness Raised: New Perspectives on the History of Women, ed. Hartman, Mary and Banner, Lois W. (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), 138. An embryo of this theory was published in Welter, Barbara, “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820–1860,” American Quarterly 18, no. 2 (Summer 1966): 151174.

6 Douglas, Ann, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1977).

7 See Busch, Norbert, “Die Feminisierung der ultramontanen Frömmigkeit,” in Wunderbare Erscheinungen: Frauen und katolische Frömmigkeit im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, ed. von Olenhusen, Irmtraud Götz (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1995), 203220; von Olenhusen, Irmtraud Götz, “Die Feminisierung von Religion und Kirche im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert: Forschungsstand und Forschungsperspektiven,” in Frauen unter dem Patriarchat der Kirchen: Katholikinnen und Protestantinnen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, ed. von Olenhusen, Götz (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1995), 921; and Langlois, Claude, Le Catholicisme au féminine: Les congrégations françaises à supérieure générale au XIXe siècle (Paris: Les éditions du Cerf, 1984).

8 Schneider, Bernhard, “Feminisierung der Religion im 19. Jahrhundert: Perspektiven eine These im Kontext des deutschen Katholizismus,” Trier Theologische Zeitschrift 111 (2002): 132, 144; and Blaschke, Olaf, “The Unrecognised Piety of Men: Strategies and Success of the Re-Masculinisation Campaign around 1900,” in Christian Masculinity: Men and Religion in Northern Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries, ed. Werner, Yvonne Maria (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2011), 2529. The feminization thesis has been thoroughly scrutinized in Van Osselaer, Tine and Buerman, Thomas, “Feminization Thesis: A Survey of International Historiography and a Probing of Belgian Grounds,” Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique 103, no. 2 (2008): 497544.

9 Juster, Susan, “The Spirit and the Flesh: Gender, Language, and Sexuality in American Protestantism,” in New Directions in American Religious History, ed. Stout, Harry S. and Hart, Darryl G. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 345.

10 Braude, Ann D., “Women's History Is American Religious History,” in Retelling U.S. Religious History, ed. Tweed, Thomas A. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 87.

11 Ibid., 87–88. Cf. ibid., 93, where Braude concludes: “While the size of the female majority may vary, its presence is a constant, not a trend.”

12 Ibid., 92–93.

13 Ibid., 93.

14 Ibid., 94–96, quotation from p. 94.

15 For example, in 1899, the Church of England Men's Society was established in Britain and in 1910, the Men and Religion Forward Movement was established in the United States. See Delap, Lucy, “‘Be Strong and Play the Man’: Anglican Masculinities in the Twentieth Century,” in Men, Masculinities and Religious Change in Twentieth-Century Britain, ed. Delap and Sue Morgan (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 119145; and Allen, L. Dean, Rise Up, O Men of God: The “Men and Religion Forward Movement” and the “Promise Keepers” (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2002), 15133.

16 Lipman-Blumen, Jean, “Toward a Homosocial Theory of Sex Roles: An Explanation of the Sex Segregation of Social Institutions,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1, no. 3 (Spring 1976): 16.

17 Van Osselaer and Buerman, “Feminization Thesis,” 508–511.

18 I agree with historian Tine Van Osselaer that the concept “re-masculinization” is inappropriate, since the use of it “may all too easily follow the idea of a constant binary opposition with a permanent ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ character that would be imposed on historically, socially and geo-politically different discourses.” Van Osselaer, Tine, “‘From That Moment on, I was a Man!’: Images of the Catholic Male in the Sacred Heart Devotion,” in Gender and Christianity in Modern Europe: Beyond the Feminization Thesis, ed. Pasture, Patrick, Art, Jan, and Buerman, Thomas (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2012), 135.

19 Blaschke, “The Unrecognised Piety of Men,” 34.

20 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 25.

21 Hammarén, Nils and Johansson, Thomas, “Homosociality: In Between Power and Intimacy,” SAGE Open 4, no. 1 (January–March 2014): 5.

22 Ibid., 5–7.

23 Johansson, Thomas, Det första könet: Mansforskning som reflexivt projekt (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2000), 138141. Cf. Seidler, Victor J., Transforming Masculinities: Men, Cultures, Bodies, Power, Sex and Love (London: Routledge, 2006), 26.

24 Winter, Thomas, “Crisis of Masculinity,” in American Masculinities: A Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Carroll, Bret E. (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2004), 118119. See also Winter, Thomas, Making Men, Making Class: The YMCA and Workingmen, 1877–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 1.

25 Tjeder, David, The Power of Character: Middle-Class Masculinities, 1800–1900 (Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2003), 287.

26 Delap, “‘Be Strong and Play the Man,’” 138.

27 The statutes can be found in Timelin, Erik, Lekmannagärning i Sveriges kyrka: Kyrkobröderna 1918–1938 (Stockholm: Svenska kyrkans diakonistyrelse, 1938), 143145.

28 Timelin, Lekmannagärning i Sveriges kyrka, 149–150. See also Nykvist, Martin, “‘Vi män höra ock Guds rike till!’: Manlighetsideal inom Kyrkobröderna, Svenska kyrkans lekmannaförbund 1918–1929,” Kyrkohistorisk årsskrift 113 (2013): 76.

29 The Revivalist movements gained ground throughout the Nordic countries in the first half of the nineteenth century, which eventually in Sweden resulted in a religious schism and the establishment of free church congregations. The largest of these were the Swedish Mission Covenant and the Baptist Union of Sweden, who in 1895 had 72,500 and 38,000 members, respectively. By 1932, membership had increased to 112,500 and 62,200. The Pentecostal movement, the Salvation Army, and the Methodist Church also had sizeable memberships. Their critique of the Church of Sweden was, in other words, gaining ground and became something to which the representatives of the state church actively had to relate. Österlin, Lars, Churches of Northern Europe in Profile: A Thousand Years of Anglo-Nordic Relations (Norwich: Canterbury, 1995), 153165; Bexell, Oloph, Sveriges kyrkohistoria, ed. Tegborg, Lennart, vol. 7, Folkväckelsens och kyrkoförnyelsens tid (Stockholm: Verbum, 2003), 251; and Brohed, Ingmar, Sveriges kyrkohistoria, ed. Tegborg, Lennart, vol. 8 Religionsfrihetens och ekumenikens tid (Stockholm: Verbum, 2005), 84.

30 Westin, Gunnar, “De religiösa folkrörelsernas uppkomst i vårt land,” in Svenska folkrörelser, ed. Westin, vol. 2, Missionssällskap, Svenska kyrkans frivilliga arbete, Frikyrkosamfund (Stockholm: Lindfors, 1937), 36.

31 Clason, Fredrik, “Kyrkan och lekmännen,” Vår Lösen 10, no. 24 (December 1919): 322.

32 Brown, Callum G., The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800–2000 (London: Routledge, 2001), 73.

33 Allen, Rise Up, O Men of God, 37–41.

34 Enochsson, Ernst, Den kyrkliga seden: Med särskild hänsyn till Västerås stift (Stockholm: Svenska kyrkans diakonistyrelse, 1949), 241.

35 Bergfeldt, Börje, Den teokratiska statens död: Sekularisering och civilisering i 1700-talets Stockholm (Stockholm: Almqvist och Wiksell, 1997), 7984.

36 Lundin, Johan A., Predikande kvinnor och gråtande män: Frälsningsarmén i Sverige 1882–1921 (Malmö: Kira, 2014), 3842.

37 Fredrikson, Tuve, “Församlingsarbetet och männen: Några ord om Svenska kyrkans lekmannaförbund,” Julbok för Västerås stift 21 (1926): 145146. Cf. Allen, Rise Up, O Men of God, 72–73, where he quotes the Baptist minister Justin Dewey Fulton (1828–1901) who claimed that a parson who is “impelled, guided, [and] censured by women . . . turns woman himself.”

38 Cf. Braude, “Women's History Is American Religious History,” 96–97.

39 Van Osselaer, Tine, “‘Such a Renewal’: Catholic All-Male Movements in Modern Europe,” in Secularization and Religious Innovation in the North Atlantic World, ed. Hempton, David and McLeod, Hugh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 157–172, esp. 171–172.

40 See, for example, Fellenius, K. G., “Generalsekreterarens rapport,” Kyrkobröderna 8, no. 8 (October 1932): 138; and Fellenius, K. G., “Generalsekreterarens rapport till 1937 års generalkonvent,” Kyrkobröderna 13, no. 6 (October 1937): 8788.

41 Killander, Ernst, “Manlig kristendom o. kristen manlighet,” Kyrkobröderna 6, no. 7 (September 1930): 89.

42 Hughes, Thomas, The Manliness of Christ (Boston: Riverside, 1880), 816. See also Gay, Peter, “The Manliness of Christ,” in Religion and Irreligion in Victorian Society: Essays in Honour of R. K. Webb, ed. Davis, Richard W. and Helmstadter, Richard J. (London: Routledge, 1992), 102; and Troughton, Geoffrey M., “Jesus and the Ideal of the Manly Man in New Zealand after World War One,” Journal of Religious History 30, no. 1 (February 2006): 4560.

43 Södling, Maria, Oreda i skapelsen: Kvinnligt och manligt i Svenska kyrkan under 1920- och 30-talen (Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2010), 335339.

44 Holmberg, Teodor, “Manlig kristendom,” Kyrkobröderna 4, no. 2–3 (March 1928): 18.

45 Blaschke, “The Unrecognised Piety of Men,” 36.

46 “Männens aktiva insats i församlingsarbetet,” Kyrkobröderna 13, no. 5 (September 1937): 56.

47 Erik Timelin, “Manlig bön,” Kyrkobröderna 15, no. 7 (November 1939), 117.

48 Dahl, Harald, “Kristus och männen,” Kyrkobröderna 6, no. 9 (November 1930), 121122.

49 Holmberg, “Manlig kristendom,” 18. Emphasizing the role of Christian heroes of the past was a common strategy in nineteenth-century Sweden, too. At that time, it was connected to the establishment of what theologian Kjell Blückert has called an “ecclesial nationalism”: why exemplary Swedish Christians such as Gustavus Adolphus (1594–1632) often were brought to the fore together with Jesus and Luther. Van Osselaer, Tine and Maurits, Alexander, “Heroic Men and Christian Ideals,” in Christian Masculinity: Men and Religion in Northern Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries, ed. Werner, Yvonne Maria (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2011), 6394, esp. 77–92.

50 Clason, “Kyrkan och lekmännen,” 316–322; “Vad vilja Kyrkobröderna,” Kyrkobröderna 5, no. 3½ (April 1929): 33; and Fellenius, K. G., “Kyrkobröderna, Svenska kyrkans lekmannaförbund,” in Vår Kyrka från början av tjugonde århundradet periodvis skildrad, ed. Rodhe, Edvard, Hasselrot, Per, and Bergström, Gunnar, vol. 4, 1921–1925 (Stockholm: Svenska kyrkans diakonistyrelse, 1926), 340341.

51 “Från våra kårer,” Kyrkobröderna 2, no. 7–10 (December 1926): 34.

52 Cf. Clason, “Kyrkan och lekmännen,” 318–321.

53 Eastwood, Cyril, The Priesthood of All Believers: An Examination of the Doctrine from the Reformation to the Present Day (Minneapolis: Epworth, 1962), 254.

54 “Våra uppgifter,” Kyrkobröderna 1, no. 3 (May 1925): 2.

55 “The Smalcald Articles (1537),” in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions; A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord, ed. Paul Timothy McCain, 2nd ed. (Saint Louis: Concordia, 2006), 278.

56 Alner, Hjalmar, “Kyrkobrödernas Sigtunakonferens,” Kyrkobröderna 2, no. 5–6 (October 1926): 18. On Luther's own understanding of masculinity and gender, see for example, Boyd, Stephen B., “Masculinity and Male Dominance: Martin Luther on the Punishment of Adam,” in Redeeming Men: Religion and Masculinities, ed. Boyd, Longwood, W. Merle, and Muesse, Mark W. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 1931.

57 Protokollsbok 1918–1932, Svenska kyrkans lekmannaförbunds arkiv, A 1: 1, National Archives of Sweden, Arninge.

58 Cf. “En afton bland Kyrkobröder,” Kyrkobröderna 1, no. 1 (January 1925): 3, where the “customary chain of brethren” is mentioned.

59 See “Samlivet i församlingen och kyrkobröderna,” Kyrkobröderna 1, no. 6 (October 1925): 1–2.

60 Fellenius, “Kyrkobröderna,” 343.

61 Fridrichsen, Anton, “Gudsriket i Jesu förkunnelse,” Kyrkobröderna 5, no. 2–3 (February–March 1929): 25.

62 Cf. John Mott, “Vad världen behöver,” Kyrkobröderna 4, no. 6 (August 1928): 54; and Holmberg, “Manlig kristendom,” 19.

63 Prestjan, Anna, Präst och karl, karl och präst: Prästmanlighet i tidigt 1900-tal (Lund: Sekel, 2009), 113114.

64 Rosenwein, Barbara H., “Worrying about Emotions in History,” American Historical Review 107, no. 3 (June 2002): 842.

65 Langhamer, Claire, “‘The Live Dynamic Whole of Feeling and Behavior’: Capital Punishment and the Politics of Emotion, 1945–1957,” Journal of British Studies 51, no. 2 (April 2012): 421. For an introduction to gender in emotions history, see Boise, Sam de, Men, Masculinity, Music and Emotions (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 2244.

66 The conception of countertypes is introduced in Mosse, George L., The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 5676.

67 Timelin, Lekmannagärning i Sveriges kyrka, 144–145.

68 Fellenius, K. G., “Generalsekreterarens rapport till 1928 års Generalkonvent,” Kyrkobröderna 4, no. 9–10 (November 1928): 89.

69 Österlin, Churches of Northern Europe, 224, 267.

70 Timelin, Lekmannagärning i Sveriges kyrka, 138.

71 Quoted in Nykvist, “‘Vi män höra ock Guds rike till!,’” 78.

72 Timelin, Lekmannagärning i Sveriges kyrka, 57–58.

73 Timelin, Lekmannagärning i Sveriges kyrka, 87; Fellenius, K. G., “Generalsekreterarens rapport,” Kyrkobröderna 3, no. 11 (December 1927), 5960; and “Den 30 juni funnos i Sverige 3,900 kyrkobröder och 170 kårer,” Kyrkobröderna 15, no. 6 (October 1939), 103–104.

74 Malm, Erik, Kyrkobröderna, Svenska Kyrkans Lekmannaförbund: Matrikel 1/7 1953 (Stockholm: s.n., 1953); and Statistisk årsbok för Sverige 1939 (Stockholm: Statistiska centralbyrån, 1939), 5.

75 Fellenius, K. G., “Generalsekreterarens berättelse,” Kyrkobröderna 7, no. 8 (October 1931): 125; Fellenius, K. G., “Generalsekreterarens rapport,” Kyrkobröderna 8, no. 8 (October 1932): 138140; Fellenius, K. G., “Generalsekreterarens rapport,” Kyrkobröderna 9, no. 7 (September 1933): 135136; and Fellenius, K. G., “Generalsekreterarens rapport till 1937 års generalkonvent,” Kyrkobröderna 13, no. 6 (October 1937): 8789.

76 Fellenius, “Generalsekreterarens rapport,” Kyrkobröderna 8, no. 8 (October 1932): 138–140.

77 Fellenius, “Generalsekreterarens rapport,” Kyrkobröderna 8, no. 8 (October 1932): 140; and Fellenius, “Generalsekreterarens rapport,” Kyrkobröderna 9, no. 7 (September 1933), 136.

78 Prestjan, Präst och karl, karl och präst, 51–55.

79 “Den tidiga bönens kraft,” Kyrkobröderna 6, no. 2 (February 1930): 14–16.

80 Holmberg, “Manlig kristendom,” 18–19.

81 “Ur årsrapporterna,” Kyrkobröderna 4, no. 7–8 (September–October 1928): 71–72. Similar reasoning can be traced already in nineteenth-century Sweden when high church clergy claimed that defending the creed in a time when the revival movements were growing and the state church was losing power demanded courage, strength, and self-denial. Maurits, Alexander, Den vackra och erkända patriarchalismen: Prästmannaideal och manlighet i den tidiga lundensiska högkyrkligheten, ca 1850–1900 (Malmö: Universus Academic Press, 2013), 105108.

82 [Högquist?], Gunnar, “Några intryck från 1930 års generalkonvent,” Kyrkobröderna 6, no. 9 (November 1930): 126.

83 Carstensen, Gustav, “Kyrkobröderna 1918–1958,” in Alltså arbeta vi vidare: Minnesskrift vid Kyrkobrödernas fyrtioårsjubileum 1958, ed. Bromander, Axel (Tierp: s.n., 1958), 50.

84 “Från våra kårer,” Kyrkobröderna 6, no. 10 (December 1930): 145.

85 Holmberg, Teodor, “Folkkyrkotankens förverkligande,” Kyrkobröderna 1, no. 6 (October 1925): 5, 8.

86 Holmberg, “Manlig kristendom,” 21.

87 “Vårt emblem,” Meddelanden till Stockholms Kyrkobröder 1, no. 1 (1922): 1–2.

88 Forshem, Simon, “Männen och kyrkan,” Kyrkobröderna 15, no. 1 (February 1939): 14.

89 DeBerg, Betty A., Ungodly Women: Gender and the First Wave of American Fundamentalism (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 9395.

90 Blaschke, “The Unrecognised Piety of Men,” 35–36; Delap, “‘Be Strong and Play the Man,’” 127–130; and Allen, Rise Up, O Men of God, 91–93.

91 Björkquist, Manfred, “Innerlighet,” Kyrkobröderna 3, no. 11 (December 1927): 5355.

92 Edquist, Carl, “Kristen gemenskap i liv och arbete,” Kyrkobröderna 1, no. 4–5 (September 1925): 58; and Killander, “Manlig kristendom,” 91–92.

93 Holmberg, “Manlig kristendom,” 19. Cf. Killander, “Manlig kristendom,” 90.

94 Tjeder, The Power of Character, 199–206.

95 Dahl, “Kristus och männen,” 121–122.

96 Källander, Josef, “Trons frukter,” Kyrkobröderna 6, no. 4–5 (April–May 1930): 55.

97 “Från våra kårer,” Kyrkobröderna 6, no. 6 (June 1930): 82.

98 “Från våra kårer,” Kyrkobröderna 3, no. 4–5 (May 1927): 16.

99 Fellenius, K. G., “In memoriam,” Kyrkobröderna 4, no. 7–8 (September–October 1928): 69. Cf. “Eko,” Kyrkobröderna 6, no. 3 (March 1930): 49–50 where, in an obituary notice on Axel Lutteman (1880–1920), Olle Nystedt (1888–1974) mentions Lutteman's courage, chivalry, and humility.

100 See “Stridsberedskap,” Kyrkobröderna 4, no. 11–12 (December 1928): 103–105.

101 Karlsson, Klas-Göran, “Historia, historiedidaktik och historiekultur: Teori och perspektiv,” in Historien är närvarande: Historiedidaktik som teori och tillämpning, ed. Karlsson and Ulf Zander (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2014), 7374. For a discussion about the use of history within church history, cf. Nordbäck, Carola, “Kyrkohistorisk historiebruksforskning,” in Minne och möjlighet: Kyrka och historiebruk från nationsbygge till pluralism, ed. Claesson, Urban and Neuhaus, Sinikka (Gothenburg: Makadam, 2014), 1443.


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