Ecumenist advocated for church reform

Published June 1, 2008

New York
Krister Stendahl, a biblical scholar, one-time bishop of Stockholm, and the former dean of Harvard University Divinity School, is being remembered for his path-breaking efforts in inter-religious dialogue and his support for reform movements within the church.

Bishop Stendahl would have turned 87 a week after he died on April 15 in Boston. At the time of his death he was Harvard’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Divinity Emeritus.

Among  Bishop Stendahl’s inter-religious work was his chairing the World Council of Churches’ Consultation on the Church and the Jewish People, described in a Harvard obituary as “a commission that prepared the way for much important interfaith work of the last 30 years.”

Krister Olofson Stendahl was born in Stockholm on April 21, 1921 and ordained in 1944 in the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, which he served as a parish priest. He was later chaplain at Uppsala University, where he earned his doctorate.

Bishop Stendahl later joined the Harvard faculty and in 1968 became dean of the divinity school, a post he held until 1979, overseeing an expansion of the curriculum that gave increasing prominence to the experiences of women and racial minorities.

As Bishop of Stockholm from 1984 to 1988, he became a noted advocate for the rights of women and also for homosexuals within the church and he helped lead efforts that eventually resulted in the Swedish church becoming independent of the State.

His obituary in the New York Times noted that Bishop Stendahl’s commitment to ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue was in part grounded in his belief that, “In the eyes of God, we are all minorities.”


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