Päivi Räsänen is a Finnish politician currently under police investigation for an alleged homophobic hate crime.
The Christian Democrat member of the Finnish Parliament and former Interior Minister is the subject of a probe over social media posts in June that criticised the involvement of her Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ECLF), in Helsinki LGBT Pride events.
“How does the foundation of the church’s teachings, the Bible, fit with elevating sin and shame as reasons for pride?”, Räsänen posted.
Her posts were accompanied by screenshots of the New Testament text of Romans 1:24-27, which Räsänen believes describe homosexual acts as “sinful”, “shameful” and “unnatural”.
Here we examine some of her claims in that interview.
Freedom of religion is in principle strongly guaranteed and protected both in our Constitution and in the International Human Right Treaties. In practice, a major threat for the freedom of religion is that we don’t use this right.
The Constitution of Finland indeed sets out that “everyone has the freedom of religion and conscience”:
“Freedom of religion and conscience entails the right to profess and practice a religion, the right to express one’s convictions and the right to be a member of or decline to be a member of a religious community.
“No one is under the obligation, against his or her conscience, to participate in the practice of a religion”.
However, there are limits. The Constitution of Finland also says:
“No one shall, without an acceptable reason, be treated differently from other persons on the ground of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, health, disability or other reason that concerns his or her person”.
Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights sets out well the limits to freedom of religion:
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
“2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
European Court of Human Rights case law has set a number of principles to guide the application of Article 9, including:
- Article 9 protects views that attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; but
- every act which is in some way inspired, motivated or influenced by a belief does not necessarily constitute a “manifestation” of that belief; however
- the existence of a sufficiently close and direct nexus between an act and the underlying belief must be determined on the facts of each case.
Is Räsänen’s homophobia sufficiently cogent, serious, cohesive and important from a Christian point of view so as to attract Article 9 protection?
I’ll consider this point below, but for now I’d like to suggest her anti-gay tweets impact on the “rights and freedoms” of homosexual people, including their right to respect for private and family life, their freedom of assembly and association (in the context of the Gay Pride Parade), and their freedom from discrimination.
Many, especially the young people, are afraid that if you are labelled as a Bible-believing Christian, it will hinder your career and social acceptance.
To be a “Bible-believing Christian” is not necessarily to be homophobic.
One of the best rebuttals I have seen of Biblical-based homophobia – for its elegant simplicity – is this approach by ‘Andy’, a former Southern Baptist Minister and now Pastor in the United Church of Christ.
It’s a two-pronged approach:
“1) The first option is simply to discard the texts the way most Christians disregard biblical references to obvious cultural prejudices from the past. The proscription of homosexual behavior is no more valid than that against jewelry, or mixed fabric, or long hair on men. All these things are condemned in the Bible. Mary Douglas, for example, in her book Purity and Danger, does a good job of relativizing biblical rules along this line.
“2) The second option is to take the texts seriously—especially when dealing with more conservative Christians—by pointing out that the kind of same-sex behaviors that are being condemned in these texts are all relationships involving one person dominating over another, whether it be a pederastic monopoly over boys or some form of sexual slavery.
“Robin Scroggs, in his book New Testament and Homosexuality, has demonstrated through his meticulous research that the kind of loving and mutual relationship between equal partners of the same sex we are fighting for today has no parallel in the culture that generated the New Testament.
“In other words, the texts cannot be used to excoriate contemporary same-sex relationships because the texts don’t speak to consensual relationships. They speak only to inequality. One might even make the case that because the texts condemn domination, they really support—in a sense—gay marriage. To deny rights to those who have mutual love for one another is a form of domination”.
We are living at a time when the effect of Christian culture on society is narrowing. Although many Finns still belong to Christian churches and denominations, the basic teachings of the Christian faith are no longer views of the majority. The breaking of the Christian worldview is visible both in the societal discussions and in the decision making, whether we are thinking of pro-life issues and the protection of life both in the beginning and in the end of life, or views related to marriage. Having a traditional view of marriage has become a politically incorrect view in public discussions.
“The basic teachings of the Christian faith” are hardly limited to “pro-life issues” in the sense Räsänen understands that term: that is, as encompassing only “the protection of life both in the beginning and in the end of life, or views related to marriage”.
Is it really necessary to point out that Christianity is so much more: love for one’s neighbor, for example?
Moreover, although Finnish religious studies expert Jere Kyrrö agreed in an interview with Novena that Finland is becoming increasingly more secular, that doesn’t mean Christian views no longer resonate at all with mainstream Finns.
As Kyrrö put it:
“When looking at the mainstream media presence of the ELCF, it is mainly treated positively, when the speakers represent mainstream, liberal Lutheranism. The media presentation of conservative Christianity is more negative.
“The views of the ELCF are important to many, even though they would disagree”.
My purpose was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed to the leadership of the church. Also, I believe that every person has the right to hear the whole truth of God’s Word, both the Gospel and the Law. Only people who recognize their sins recognize they need Jesus, the propitiation for our sins. Therefore, we also must have the courage to call homosexual relations sinful.
Räsänen says she never meant to “insult” sexual minorities, but later, in this very same interview, she says “questionable themes such as homosexual relations have to do with guilt”.
“Guilt cannot be solved by denying it, but only by confessing it and receiving mercy and the message of forgiveness in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins at the cross”, she explained.
But how can the imputation of “guilt” be anything other than an insult, and affront to the rights and freedoms of homosexuals?
Räsänen also says “my criticism was aimed to [sic] the leadership of the church”. In response to her criticisms of the Church’s affiliation with Pride Week, ECLF Archbishop Tapio Luoma said: “It’s not a question of taking a stance on marriage laws but rather [the idea] that the church’s message is for everyone… and same-sex couples are welcome at all church activities”.
Luoma wrote an open letter to Räsänen to explain that the Church’s affiliation with Pride Week had been a collegial decision.
As opposed to Räsänen’s tweets and later explanations, which seem to have been motivated more by personal piety than by the collective, ecclesial sense inherent to Christianity.
In a statement on its website, the ECLF added that the Pride Week message of openness to all is in full consonance with the Church’s message.
“The foundation of the Church’s existence, the message of grace, love and forgiveness is for everyone. Therefore, the Church welcomes all people”, that message said.
“The church wants to live close to all its people. The theme of the Helsinki Pride partners ‘open to all’ is in harmony with the church’s basic message that grace and love exist for everyone and that there is room for everyone in the church”.
Furthermore, the ECLF recommended that Church members discuss issues around Gay Pride and same-sex marriage “respectfully”, including with people of different opinions.
That’s another Christian mandate – to speak always with love and respect – that it could hardly be said that Räsänen complied with.