10,000 Church Members Leave the Church of Denmark in 3 Months Amid Atheist Ad Campaign

Christiansborg Palace Church in Copenhagen in this 2005 photo.
Christiansborg Palace Church in Copenhagen in this 2005 photo. | (Photo: Reuters)

As many as 10,000 people left the Church of Denmark between April and June, statistics from the Scandinavian country have shown, due in part to a nationwide atheist campaign urging people to question the divinity of Jesus, and the importance of believing in God.

The Independent noted that the 10,000 people who left the faith in that time period is almost double the number who did the same between January and March, which has led the Danish Atheist Society to celebrate the news.

"We're pleased that Danes have taken the opportunity to express what they actually want. We have long seen in surveys that there aren't that many Danes who are devout Christians," Chairman Anders Stjernholm told Politiken.

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"So I view [the withdrawals] as an expression of the fact that people can't really see why we should have an institution like the Church of Denmark that has such incredible influence and that takes one's money," he added.

The questions that were poised in banners around the country included things like "Why believe in a God?" "Why should faith cost something?" and "Did Jesus and Mohammed speak with a God?"

The Church of Denmark is the official state-supported religion, but like a number of European countries in recent decades, has been experiencing a steady decline in expressions of belief. All Danish citizens become members of the Church when baptized, but later in life can withdraw their membership by joining another religion, or leaving faith all together.

Still, church leaders have remained optimistic, arguing that the record number of people leaving will not have a lasting effect.

"I think the number is a reflection of a very special situation created by the atheists' campaign. We're not talking about a whole new trend that will continue," said Anders Gadegaard, the dean of Copenhagen's Church of Our Lady.

Gadegaard said that even though many are leaving the faith, the number of baptisms is also on the rise.

"It's obvious that when millions [of kroner] are spent on increasing visibility and advertising for withdrawals, it will have an effect, but at the same time we are seeing an increase in the number of enrollments [and] a rising interest in belonging to the Church of Denmark," he added.

The Danish Atheist Society has been happy with the number of people leaving the church for awhile, however, and earlier this year provided short and easy instructions for leaving the church on a bus campaign, which led to at least 3,000 people using a website devised specifically for making the process easier, the Local reported.

The Christian Post reported last month that Norway also saw a similar effect when the official Lutheran Church put up a web page allowing an easy way for people to renounce their membership. AFP noted that 15,053 members of the flock opted to leave in four days alone.

Church council leader Kristin Gunleiksrud Raaum said that despite the mass exodus, however, the church was committed to being transparent and will continue to allow people to leave with less hassle.

"We will continue to have a broad and open national church. But no one should be a member of a religious community against their will, and therefore I am glad that this self-solution is in place. Those who mistakenly listed as a member of the Norwegian Church or who do not wish to be members can now easily change their status, and it will give us a more accurate registry," said Raaum.

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