Kvinna knäböjer vid altaret.
Foto: Magnus Aronson

Speech of apology

Jesus met people at eye level. We should do the same.

The Gospel of Luke tells of a woman who had had a crooked back for eighteen years. She was unable to straighten up and constantly had to look down at her own feet and the dust of the road. She never saw the wide-open spaces and the sky. Jesus speaks to her. To engage with her at eye level, he must have got down on his knees and turned his face upwards. He touches her, and, for the first time in eighteen years, she is able to straighten her back.

Jesus engaged with people at eye level. We should do the same when we engage with each other. Our crooked backs will be straightened, our burdens will be lifted.

Today, as Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, I stand before you, the Sami, and confess that we have NOT engaged with you at eye level. We have been curved inward on ourselves, we have not stood up to racism and abuse of power. Our backs are bent by the guilt we carry. We have placed unjust burdens on you. We have burdened your ancestors with shame and pain that has been inherited by new generations. 

For a long time, we did not want, or were unable, to understand this. We did not see. We did not listen. It is painful to comprehend that the Church of Sweden has contributed to and legitimised oppression. That the Church we love has caused so much suffering. 

Since the 2011 Ságastallamat hearing, we have learned more about our guilt and responsibility, in particular through the research documented in the White Book on The Historical Relations between the Church of Sweden and the Sami and the Nomad School Book “When I was eight years old, I left my home and I have not yet come home” – Memories from Sami school days.

The testimonies we have heard today confirm our church’s complicity in the abuse of the Sami. The wounds, the pain, the shame, the self-loathing, the anger and the difficult memories are real. When we failed the Sami people, we also failed our Creator. We have not been faithful in our discipleship. We have not been responsive to the presence of the Holy Spirit in Creation.

Within the Church of Sweden, Sami spirituality was despised. Instead of recognising the image of God in our Sami sisters and brothers, we tried to remake them in the image of the majority culture. You have told us about forced Christianisation and Swedish colonialism. Sami culture was denied, and with it the Sami languages and Sami handicraft and art. We did not see your obvious relationship with the Creator and with the lands. We did not understand that Sami spirituality expresses itself in everyday actions. We have not engaged with you at eye level.

Today, we acknowledge this, and, on behalf of the Church of Sweden, I apologise.

The Church of Sweden played a significant role in establishing and running nomad schools and work huts. Sami children were forced to leave the security of their families, and social ties were broken. In the parish registration records, Sami names were replaced with Swedish names, resulting in a loss of language, identity and culture.

Today, the Church of Sweden acknowledges this, and we apologise. 

The Church of Sweden played a crucial role in opening doors for racial biologists. Our representatives used their authority and power in society to justify racist and colonial thinking, resulting in severe violations of human dignity and value. 

Today, the Church of Sweden acknowledges this, and we apologise.

Our representatives allowed Sami remains to be collected for the purposes of racial biology, sometimes in brutal circumstances. The remains were put into museums and other institutions and are still there, resulting in continued dehumanisation.

Today, the Church of Sweden acknowledges this, and we apologise.

The colonisation in which the Church of Sweden participated led to the loss of land and extensive exploitation. The power imbalance that arose still affects the ability of the Sami to protect their traditional lands and livelihoods. Assisted by the Church of Sweden, the majority society separated Sami from Sami. The division of the Sami into different categories came to shape the legislation and the “Lapps must be Lapps” policy, resulting in painful conflict between Sami that remains to this day.

Today, we acknowledge this, and, on behalf of the Church of Sweden, I apologise.

We cannot undo what has been done. But we can feel remorse for our part in Sweden’s colonial history. We can feel remorse for our inability and unwillingness to accept the truth and meet you at eye level. As the party at fault, we want to acknowledge our moral responsibility and commit ourselves to working together for justice and righteousness. We want to respond in the same spirit to the knowledge that will emerge from future research and the state-run Truth Commission.

On the initiative of the Sami Council of the Church of Sweden, after consultation with the parties in the Sami Parliament and the Sami organisations, and following decisions made by the Central Board of the Church of Sweden and all thirteen diocesan boards, I today make this apology on behalf of the Church of Sweden. We also submit to you eight commitments for the next ten years. We want our church, of which many of you are also members, to be involved in creating a more just system in which the Sami enjoy their full rights as indigenous people.

As we apologise to you today, we cannot determine how you will receive this apology. It is not our place to demand to know when a response will be given and what that response will be. 

While we wait, we pray to God and ask you that we may increasingly meet each other at eye level. That we do not repeat past mistakes. That we all let ourselves be touched by Jesus, who gets down on his knees to straighten those who stoop. Both those of us who bear the burdens of the victims and those of us who bear the burdens of wrongs committed in the name of the Church. Both those of us who bear the perpetrators’ burdens of guilt and those of us who bear the victims’ burdens of suffering. So that we can recognise Christ in each other. So that, together, we can see the wide-open spaces and the sky.

Today we kneel before you, to acknowledge the abuses of the Church of Sweden and to take an essential step forward on the long road of reconciliation.

(The General Synod, bishops, etc. stand/kneel)

We apologise for the Church of Sweden’s abuse of the Sami.


(Submission of apology and commitments)


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