Finnish bishop and politician on trial for LGBT statesmen …… | News and reports


Some Finnish Lutheran leaders, their families and a few politicians gathered in a tent in August 2021 for the elevation of Juhana Pohjola to the rank of Bishop of the Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission of Finland (ELMDF).

The web protected them from the summer sun, but as they celebrated Pohjola’s investiture, they feared facing a different kind of heat. Pohjola, 49, and one of his guests, politician Päivi Räsänen, 62, are facing criminal changes. According to the country’s top prosecutor, the two people are accused of violating the equality and dignity of LGBT people.

Although Finland has legal protections for freedom of expression and the free exercise of religion, Attorney General Raija Toiviainen says the actions of Räsänen and Pohjola constitute incitement to a crime against a minority group: hate speech.

According to the prosecutor, Räsänen has fueled intolerance and contempt for LGBT people on three occasions: in comments she made on a nationwide talk show on Finnish public radio; in a 2019 tweet where she quoted Romans 1: 24-27 to criticize the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) – one of Finland’s two national churches – for its affiliation with the Helsinki pride; and in a 23-page booklet that Räsänen wrote titled Male and female, he created them.

Pohjola is accused of publishing the libretto by Räsänen, which opposes same-sex marriage, pits LGBT identities against the Christian notion of what it means to be human and describes same-sex attraction as a sin by nature and possibly the result of a “negative developmental disorder. It was published in 2004 by the Luther Foundation Finland, the legal entity behind the ELMDF.

The bishop is not too worried for himself, but he is worried about the long-term impact if the courts find that Räsänen’s quotation from the Romans and the publication of a book on the Bible and sexuality are considered incitement to crime.

“I am not so afraid of the outcome of the trial,” he told CT, “but the strong signal he is giving to many: shut up. I fear self-censorship and intimidation.

The trial, which is due to open on January 24, has aroused strong emotions in Finland. More … than 70% of Finns support same-sex marriage, which has been legal in the country since 2017, and many see upholding the dignity of LGBT people as the crucial civil rights issue of the day.

This is even true in the state church, which does not allow same-sex marriages. About two-thirds of Finland’s 5.5 million people belong to ELCF, and according to a recent study to study, 54 percent of them agree that “the church should also marry same-sex couples.”

Despite the ELCF’s position on marriage, a small group of pastors split from the national church in the early 2000s, in part because of the growing acceptance of LGBT people, as well as other issues. such as the ordination of women. These churches then organized themselves under the name ELMDF, which became a separate body in 2013.

“I confess the dignity, worth and human rights given by God to those who identify as homosexual but at the same time qualify homosexual acts as sins and inconsistent with the created order and the will of God as they are are found in the Bible, ”said Pohjola. “We are all called to live according to the good order of creation. According to the Christian point of view, sex life is meant to be limited to marriage between a man and a woman. “

Räsänen has always expressed views consistent with the ELMDF’s position on same-sex marriage, primarily that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and that “homosexual acts” are “sin and shame”. As the former chairman of the Finnish Christian Democrats and former Minister of the Interior from 2011 to 2015, Räsänen led the opposition against the passage of a law recognizing same-sex marriage in Finland.

She knew this position was unpopular with many, but Räsänen was shocked to learn that she was facing criminal charges.

“To be criminally charged for expressing my deep beliefs in a country that has such deep roots in freedom of expression and religion seems unreal to me,” she told CT. “I don’t think I would have defamed in any way gay people whose human dignity and rights I have constantly told to respect and defend.

The case also gained international attention, generating strong support for Pohjola and Räsänen’s right to freedom of expression and religion.

The Lutheran Council International (ILC), the worldwide association of confessional Lutherans, issued a declaration in June entitled “A protest and a call for freedom of religious expression in Finland”. Fearing that the case could be appealed and ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, the CDI opposed the “unfair treatment” of Pohjola and Räsänen and warned that the case portended a slippery slope that could lead to the restriction of other fundamental rights, religious and otherwise.

“Faith must remain free,” the statement said. “Indeed, if the government oversteps its limits and encroaches on religious freedom and religious discourse, what other rights must it take away? “

A recent opening letter addressed to the Finnish prosecutor and signed by more than 227,000 supporters, further asserts that “punishing individuals such as Räsänen sets a very dangerous precedent, apart from the fact that it puts an end to an honest and open public dialogue” and ” indeed makes following Jesus a criminal act. “

Pohjola also sees this as a matter of faith. “For me, it’s not primarily a legal issue,” he said. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake.”

Theologians affiliated with the ELCF have mostly resisted the argument that the prosecution focuses on theology and the state deciding that certain theological ideas are unacceptable in Finland. Niko Huttunen, for example, a theologian at ELCF’s Church Research Center, said that it really is about whether LGBT people are sufficiently protected against intolerance in Finland.

Huttunen believes that Räsänen’s reading of the Bible is “hermeneutically naïve,” and he wonders how educated Christian leaders in the ELMDF, like Pohjola, can uncritically accept a politician’s interpretation of the Scriptures.

But he hastens to add: “My aim is not to say how Räsänen should or should not read the Bible. Räsänen is being prosecuted for inciting hatred towards homosexuals, one of the minorities considered to be in need of special protection under Finnish law.

According to a press release from the Attorney General’s office, Räsänen’s statements are more than offensive; they endanger people and are “likely to provoke intolerance, contempt and hatred towards homosexuals”. Thus, the prosecutor concluded, Räsänen’s statements “violate the equality and dignity of homosexuals and thus transcend freedom of expression and religion”.

Sakris Kupila, chairman of Finnish LGBT rights group Seta, said the January trial is primarily important as a kind of test case.

While Kupila believes Finland has seen a lot of progress in protecting minorities in recent years, the lawsuit of a politician and bishop will show how far the country has really come.

“We want the justice system to do its job in peace,” Kupila said. “It has been compromised by the international campaign.”

According to Kupila, international news about the case has often been steeped in false statements and filled with “homophobic and hostile” messages. He said the pressure could convince other prosecutors in the future that protecting the dignity of LGBT people is not worth it, and they will decide not to enforce the law.

Some Lutherans in Finland who stick to traditional Christian teachings on homosexuality are nonetheless uncomfortable with the international campaign to defend Räsänen and Pohjola.

Samuli Siikavirta, the 36-year-old pastor of an ELMDF congregation founded by Pohjola in Helsinki, said many conservative Christians felt this.

“It is an opposition to the freedom to be a Christian and to teach according to the holy scriptures,” he said. “However, it makes me a little uncomfortable to say that we are being persecuted.”

Siikavirta said the real challenge for Christians in the ELMDF and other conservative traditions will not be punishable by fines or even possible jail time. The real challenge will be figuring out how to teach Christianity to a culture that finds it so strange.

“It is very clear from this case that people are far removed from Christian terminology,” he said. “We don’t try to conform the law to our beliefs, but now even basic Christian language seems a lot more obnoxious than it would be if people understood the context.”

Christians will have to become much more adept at communicating.

“The church has a gift to give to the world,” he said, “but we can’t assume that people will understand it. “


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