Paradise by photographer and artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. (Karin Rosvall/ St Paul’s Church)
The Church of Sweden has decided to remove an LGBT-inclusive altarpiece after realising that some of the imagery could be interpreted as anti-trans.
St Paul’s church in Malmö unveiled the altarpiece, the artwork behind an altar, on the first day of advent (December 1) to create “greater inclusion and identification in the Church”.
Titled ‘Paradise’, the painting shows same-sex couples wearing fig leaves in the Garden of Eden and was created by the lesbian artist Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.
However, it also shows a trans woman in a tree holding a snake, and the church received criticism for associating trans people with the serpent, which is evil in the Bible.
The church said in a statement: “The fact that there are two gay couples in the artwork is completely uncontroversial.
“But there is a snake, which traditionally stands for evil, and that it also turns into a trans person means it could be interpreted that a trans person is evil or the devil.
“The Church of Sweden certainly cannot stand for that.”
It added that because there could be “so many different interpretations” it had made the decision to either completely remove the artwork or move it out of the main church room.
Church pastor Father Svensson said: “We have listened to the criticism that has emerged. And on closer analysis of the altarpiece I have decided to let it get another final placement other than in the church room as it has too many unanswered questions.”
He added: “I would like to emphasise that this has nothing to do with where Church of Sweden stands on the LGBTQ issues, which we work tirelessly on.”
The statement said that the church was currently planning for its participation in June’s Pride festival, and that it will continue to work on LGBT+ issues.
Artist Ohlson Wallin said in a statement to Queerty that she was working on a new piece “without a snake” to give to the church.
However, she was sceptical about the reasoning behind removing the altarpiece. She said: “Sweden like a lot of other countries in the world have a lot of strong, right-wing opinions about art.
“I think they blamed the snake as the reason to take the altarpiece down. I think they don’t want LGBT pictures inside the holy church room.”