Contact NCC News Service: 212-870-2228  |  E-mail news@ncccusa.org    |  Most Recent Stories   |  NCC Home

Krister Stendahl, 86

New York, April 16, 2008 – Krister Stendahl, a tireless ecumenist who was dean and a member of the faculty of Harvard Divinity School and a former bishop of Stockholm, Sweden, died Yesterday in Boston. He was 86.

Harvard Divinity School immediately issued a statement expressing "immense sadness" and "immense thankfulness for a singular life wonderfully well lived."

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said Stendahl was a leading definer of ecumenism and how churches should relate to other faiths.

"He was certainly a practitioner of the 'golden rule of ecumenism,' " Kinnamon said. "He taught us to try to 'understand others, even as you hope to be understood by them.' "

In an interview in the Spring 2007 issue of Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Stendahl advised Christians to listen carefully and honestly to one another. "Let the other define herself," he said. "Don't think you know the other without listening'. Compare equal to equal (not 'my' positive qualities to the negative ones of the other); and find beauty in the other so as to develop 'holy envy.' "

Stendahl applied those principles in the 1970s when he chaired the World Council of Churches' Consultation on the Church and the Jewish People, a commission that prepared the way for much important interfaith work of the last 30 years.

At the time of his death, Stendahl was Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Harvard. He  had been affiliated with the University since 1954.

Harvard's news report of Stendahl's death said that "through his biblical scholarship, teaching, interfaith work, and church and academic leadership, exerted the kind of profound influence on other people's lives that transcends a single institution or country."

In his native Sweden, Stendahl was Bishop of Stockholm from 1984 to 1988, leading a reform effort on issues such as women's ordination, gay and lesbian rights, and the relationship of church and state. In the early 1990s, he was the first Myra and Robert Kraft and Jacob Hiatt Distinguished Professor of Christian Studies at Brandeis University, where he helped inaugurate a program designed to enhance shared values among students of many religious backgrounds.

As dean at Harvard Divinity School, he quickly expanded the ethnic diversity of the school and was a firm supporter of women in ministry. Women from other seminaries in Boston flocked to his homiletics lectures to hone their preaching styles. According to an obituary in the New York Times, appreciative women seminarians referred to him affectionately as "Sister Krister."

As a scholar, Stendahl shed new light on the writings of the Apostle Paul, pointing out that the Pauline epistles were brilliant treatises on Jewish law and the meaning of sin. Garry Wills, in his 2006 book “What Paul Meant,” said Stendahl helped transport readers “back into the Spirit-haunted, God-driven world of Paul in the heady first charismatic days of Jesus’ revelation.”

Krister Stendahl is survived by his wife, Brita; his sons, John and Daniel; his daughter, Anna Langenfeld; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in Harvard's Memorial Church Friday, May 16, at 3 p.m.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228, NCCnews@ncccusa.org


 

 

Return to NCC Home Page