Noted ecumenist Krister Stendahl dies at 86

April 16, 2008

Krister Stendahl, a visionary of inclusive Christianity and a proponent of stronger Christian-Jewish relations, died Tuesday, April 15, at the age of 86 in Boston, Harvard Divinity School announced.

Stendahl, who served as the school's dean from 1968 to 1979, had been in failing health. He was credited with expanding the diversity of the school, especially among women and African-Americans.

Stendahl was the first chaplain of Harvard Divinity School in the late 1980s and became a professor of Christian Studies at Brandeis University, a Jewish-sponsored school in Waltham, Massachusetts, in the 1990s.

A native of Stockholm, Sweden, he was ordained in the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden in 1944. He went on to serve as bishop of Stockholm in the mid-1980s and led reform efforts on women's ordination and gay rights. He was among the religious leaders who officiated at the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop in the United States.

After retiring from his Brandeis post, Stendahl and his wife, Brita, worked on efforts to build Christian-Jewish relations, including fostering visits by American scholars to the Holy Land. He also served as co-director of a religious pluralism center at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem in 1994.

David Hartman, co-director of the institute, said there is a "profound void" created by Stendahl's death.

"The passing of Krister Stendahl is a sad moment for all human beings who celebrate diversity and appreciate the significance and dignity of the other," Hartman said in a statement.