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Record number of Danes leave the church

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Record number of Danes leave the church
Photo: janecampbell21/Iris/Scanpix
09:30 CEST+02:00
A successful campaign from the Danish Atheist Society is getting the credit – or blame – for the record number of withdrawals from the Church of Denmark.
The 10,300 people who left the church in the second quarter of 2016 is the highest quarterly figure since 2007, when official statistics on church withdrawals began being registered. 
 
By comparison, that figure was twice as high as in the first quarter of the year and well over four times higher than the same period last year. 
 
A driving force behind the exodus from the church is thought to be a successful campaign from the Danish Atheist Society (Ateistisk Selskab). The group launch a large-scale advertisement push in the spring that included bus banners asking ‘Why believe in a god?', ‘Why should faith cost something'? and ‘Did Jesus and Mohammed speak with a god?'. 
 
 
The ads were used to drive traffic to a new website, udmeldelse.dk, which provides short and easy instructions for leaving the church.
 
The website contains allows visitors to easily access the necessary paperwork to leave the church, which the Atheist Society states will save the average Dane 133,000 kroner in church taxes over their lifetime.
 
The chairman of the society, Anders Stjernholm, said he was “immensely happy” that the campaign led to a record number of withdrawals. 
 
“We're pleased that Danes have taken the opportunity to express what they actually want,” he told Politiken. 
 
“We have long seen in surveys that there aren't that many Danes who are devout Christians. 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,” Stjernholm added. 
 
 
Danish citizens automatically become members of the Church of Denmark (Folkekirken) when they are baptized and can withdraw by written application to the parish in which they reside or by joining a different faith. To be married in a Danish church, at least one of the marriage partners must be a member of the Church of Denmark. Likewise, only members can be buried by a priest. 
 
The church is partially funded by the Church Tax (Kirkeskat), which is automatically drawn from the normal tax contributions of its members and varies from 0.5 to 1.5 percent depending on municipality. The Church is administered by the governmental Church Ministry (Kirkeministeriet). This means that church and state are not separated in Denmark, unlike in most Western democracies.
 
Anders Gadegaard, the dean of Copenhagen's Church of Our Lady (Københavns Domkirke), agreed that the atheists' campaign was likely behind the record number of people leaving the church but he doesn't think it will 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,” he told Politiken. 
 
He pointed out that even though withdrawals are at an all-time high, 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 enrolments [and] a rising interest in belonging to the Church of Denmark,” Gadegaard added. 
 
Denmark isn't alone in witnessing an increased interest in leaving the church. In the country's neighbour to the north, the Church of Norway launched a new website last month allowing people to easily verify their status within the church. The site also allows for a simpler withdrawal process, and over 25,000 Norwegians took advantage of the new tool to leave the church in a matter of weeks
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