New law would require all non-Danish language sermons to be translated before they can hit the pulpit
Thinly-veiled law proposals aimed at stopping practices within the country’s Muslim community have been a par of the course for two decades in Denmark, but they have a habit of impacting on other communities overlooked by the legislators.
Robert Innes, who as Bishop in Europe is one of the Anglican faith’s most senior clergy figures outside the UK, has expressed grave concerns about one such proposal.
Entitled ‘Lov om prædikener på andre sprog end dansk’, it would require a Danish translation of a foreign-language sermon to be submitted to the government before it is delivered.
Aimed at extremist preachers
The law, which is mainly aimed at stopping extremist preaching, “would constitute a limitation on freedom of expression, which I know is prized in Denmark, as one of the world’s oldest democracies”, wrote Innes in an open letter to the Danish government in late January, entreating it to “pause to reflect on the potential implications of such proposals”.
The proposal would particularly hit those who only use notes to give a sermon, Innes argued, and with the high quota of idiom and nuance involved, translation would prove to be pretty expensive as well.
Its purpose, according to the explanation of the bill, “is to create greater openness about the preaching of religious preachers in Denmark when they preach in languages other than Danish”.
Skilled translators needed
While the legislators may have their eyes on a bigger picture, they are overlooking the difficulties this will pose, contends Revd Smitha Prasadam, the chaplain of St Albans Church in Churchillparken, the home of the Anglican faith in Copenhagen.
“We are blessed with a large international congregation at St Alban’s Church – a third of whom are Danish. In theory, it would be possible to approach any one of them to translate,” she told CPH POST.
“But how would nuance, meaning and emphasis be carried? There is a degree of sophistication that would demand more professional skill, which would then carry time and financial implications.”
Pain for those known to improvise
Furthermore, Revd Prasadam seldomly writes her sermons down.
“Sometimes I write out the whole script, other times headlines or bullet points only,” she said.
“Sometimes I preach off the cuff as prompted by the Holy Spirit – and in response to the people before me and their engagement with what I am preaching. I can accordingly change delivery by cutting or adapting the material, moving from the pulpit or chancel into the nave, and even making it more dialogical by entering into conversation.”
Consider how you were received!
Revd Prasadam is concerned that Denmark could set a dangerous precedent that could be adopted by other European countries – and it is particularly ironic to note that it is Denmark considering such legislation.
“As a child I grew up in a prestigious theological college served by Danish missionaries,” she recalled.
“Had a similar law been introduced in 19th century India, I regret not (m)any Danes would have fulfilled their mission to make Christ known there.”
It is unclear when Parliament will consider the bill. Reports in January suggested late February, but it would appear to have been postponed – most probably due to coronavirus matters.