(BWA) – Seminaries in Sweden are being instructed by the government to de-emphasize theological education in favor of general religious studies.

“The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education reported in June that state-supported schools must favor religious studies over theological education,” according to Christianity Today.

The government agency is in charge of inspecting and promoting higher education in the Scandinavian country, evaluating universities and colleges, conducting quality assessments and taking initiatives in updating teaching methods.

Higher education in Sweden is free of charge as the school system is largely financed by taxes. A result of the policy change is that “students could ultimately lose government allowances, a necessity in the Swedish system of higher education,” according to Christianity Today.

Karin Wiborn, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Sweden, said its seminary, The Stockholm School of Theology (SST), would be adversely affected by the change if the policy is enforced.

“This is a big problem in Sweden in many ways,” Wiborn explained to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). “A lot of theological institutions have great problems” with the proposed change.

Owe Kennerberg, SST’s rector, said, “It is true that the Swedish Board of Higher Education is questioning that the government is paying the education of those becoming priests and pastors because they think it is partly too ‘confessional’ and ‘unscientific’.”

The government has not approved the SST’s application for a master’s level program, “despite the fact the school has qualities far beyond several of the comparable departments at the big universities,” Kennerberg told the BWA.

Kennerberg stated that at least two other schools, Örebro School of Theology (ÖTS) and Johannelund School of Theology, risk losing their right to grant recognized bachelor’s degrees in theology.

A consequence of the agency’s directives is that theological schools could lose accreditation status for their degree programs or have their application for accreditation denied. Those that follow the government guidelines fear that pastors and priests may not be properly prepared for Christian ministry.

Theological schools in Sweden tend to be ecumenical. SST is owned by the Baptist, Methodist and Covenant churches, but approximately 40 percent of its theological students are training for the priesthood in the Swedish Lutheran Church, formerly the state church that was disestablished in 2000.

SST has 500 students in two programs, theology and human rights. ÖTS is owned by Interact, a Baptist group, and educates 200 full-time and 160 part-time students from a variety of denominations.

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