On Monday 24 January 2022, the trial against Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola started in the Helsinki District Court. The session lasted more than eight hours and included the reading of the charges, the presentation of the case by the prosecution and defense lawyers, the examination of evidence, and finally the hearing of the defendants, Dr. Räsänen and Rev. Dr. Pohjola. The trial will continue with closing statements on 14 February 2022.
Päivi Räsänen, MP, MD, entered the District Court doors with a Bible in her hand. According to her, this event is the “Bible Tribunals”. State Prosecutor Anu Mantila, LLD, in a lengthy presentation of the case, emphasized that what was being dealt with in the courtroom was not the Bible or its interpretation, or theological issues. What was puzzling, however, was that the Prosecutor herself repeatedly returned to theological questions about the Bible, and challenged the defendants concerning these.
– “Under freedom of religion, if you interpret the Bible in a certain way and publish these opinions, it can be a criminal offense,” Dr Mantila stressed.
Päivi Räsänen’s lawyer, Matti Sankamo, LLM, also pointed out that if the court goes on to condemn the Bible, which Päivi Räsänen directly quoted from, then the court would be taking a stand on theology and on biblical interpretation. However, the defense vehemently rejected the idea that the under the pretext of the Bible homosexuals were denigrated and insulted.
– “This is the first criminal case in Finland where the defendant is alleged to have incited against a group of people in a text where s/he explicitly calls out for respect for this minority,” Matti Sankamo argued.
Bishop Juhana Pohjola says he was surprised by the content of the trial and the arguments of the State Prosecutor. He says that if the arguments put forward by the Prosecutor were to be accepted by the court, it would mean an enormous change in freedom of speech and religion.
– “According to the prosecutor, the Bible can be quoted, but you cannot present your opinions of it if the speech is considered discriminatory. In addition, Dr. Mantila interprets speech which is about sin, brokenness and being against the natural law as derogatory and offensive speech. In the end, the Prosecutor rejects the distinction between the nature, the being, of a person and her/his actions. According to Ms Mantila, the following, which she terms the ‘fundamentalist division’, is unacceptable: ‘God loves the sinner but hates the sin.’ Based on these arguments, our freedom of speech and religion is on the line,” Pohjola stresses.
– “The Bible is not a loose collection of quotations, but it must be recognized, proclaimed and applied in a timely manner from pulpits and in publications, both communally and individually. Talking about sin, shame and unnaturalness does not degrade the dignity of human beings, but on the contrary underscores our worthiness as being responsible for our actions and for our broken relationship with God. On the contrary, it would be spiritual discrimination against a person not to preach to her/him the entire message of God’s judgment of sin and Christ’s gracious forgiveness. It is also necessary to distinguish between the worth of a person and the evaluation of her/his actions. It is inalienable for us to say that God loves the sinner, even though He does not approve of sin, which destroys humankind.
Instructional booklet read eagerly
Because of the trial, the pamphlet Male and Female He Created Them [link], put on display in the courtroom, has become very popular. The 2004 edition has long been out of print, but an electronic version has been made available as a downloadable pdf-document, first on the Luther Foundation Finland website and later on that of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland.
The trial also led to a separate news article on the booklet, to make the text more accessible to readers who do not wish to download it separately. Diocesan Secretary Sami Niemi, who acts as editorial secretary for the diocesan website, is surprised by the popularity of the article.
– “The number of downloads is very high, with the Finnish version of the booklet being accessed more than 8,000 times and the English one more than 2,400 times. The booklet’s pdf-document has also been downloaded almost 2,000 times – during the last week. The trial actually brought into the public eye a small and relatively minor portion of our Church’s educational material. My hope is that at least some viewers found the remainder of our teaching materials, such as the 9,000 or so sermon podcasts, or the biblical teachings on our instructional website, luterilainen.net.
This trial has long been the subject of interest in the Christian media abroad. CNE News, CBN, Christian Today, Christianity Today , Evangelical Focus, LCMS Reporter have closely followed the indictment and trial. Concerns about the curtailment of the freedom of religion and expression are also widely shared by various Churches and Christian organizations.
In the wake of the trial, the major mainstream news outlets BBC, Reuters, Euronews, Independent, The Federalist and Daily Wire took up the issue in their newsfeeds.
This case continues to garner support among US Senators.
The International Lutheran Council and many of its member Churches have taken note of the trial and called on their congregations to remember the situation in prayer.
– “We are grateful for the support of our sister Churches and want to thank all intercessors at home as well. The trial is still ongoing, so we ask that Christians in Finland and around the world remember the trial in prayer – in the future as well,” Bishop Juhana Pohjola requests.