I am summoned to Helsinki District Court on 24 January 2022 to answer criminal charges of incitement of a group. I will go before the court together with Päivi Räsänen, MD, (also) Member of Parliament. As editor-in-chief of the Luther Foundation of Finland, I am responsible for the publication of Päivi Räsänen’s 2004 booklet Male and female He created them: Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity, and for its distribution on our website. According to the prosecutor, the article contains derogatory opinions about homosexuals, which fulfill the criteria from the Criminal Code for incitement against an ethnic group, under Chapter 11: War crimes and crimes against humanity, Section 10: Ethnic agitation. Päivi Räsänen is also facing two other charges under the same section of the Criminal Code.
The case is historic and has received a lot of publicity in Finland and abroad. After all, Dr. Räsänen, MP, is a nationally known politician, and, in addition, this is the first time a Lutheran bishop is charged in court with “hate speech”. The culturally sensitive subject of sexual minorities adds a further dimension to the case. On a fundamental level, many see the trial as a search for the limits of the fundamental rights of the freedoms of expression and religion in relation to anti-discrimination and equality legislation. The prosecution set forth its own argumentation in the indictment, which our defense will soon respond to in court. I will not go through the trial in advance. However, I would like to share some thoughts before the date of the trial.
First of all, let me say something about the background of the case. Contrary to what some have suggested, there were no personal motives involving political parties or church politics. The intention was not to write provocatively in the hope of attracting media attention. There was no attempt to promote anyone’s career or gain public visibility. When I asked Päivi Räsänen to write this booklet, the starting point was to state the Christian teaching on the marriage of one man and one woman in a situation where there was an open debate in society regarding the registration of same-sex couples. There were spiritual reasons for this. The aim was to equip Christians to face current issues and to encourage the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland to stand by its confessional basis. If a booklet at the time publicly greeted by total silence suddenly pops up as a red flag on the prosecutor’s desk 15 years after its publication, well, that says more about the changes in society than it does about either the contents of the booklet or its publishers.
Secondly, I would like to say something about the defamatory language mentioned in the indictment. Again, this is not primarily a legal or a reputational issue for me, but a spiritual one. When I am accused of defamatory speech, as a Christian and as a pastor, I stand at all times before a greater court than the Helsinki District Court. God’s Holy Commandments “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” examine my speech and even the thoughts and attitudes of my heart more closely than does secular law. My speech should not harm anyone or anyone’s reputation, but instead I should defend my neighbor, speak well of people and turn everything to their advantage. I sorely confess that I fall short of even these commandments, and I remain entirely dependent on Christ’s forgiveness. Confessing this does not mean I am attempting to escape from societal responsibility. Of course, I believe that freedom of speech as a fundamental right should be understood so broadly that even offensive speech should be tolerated in an open democratic society without the threat of criminal prosecution, because self-engendering censorship is a much more damaging alternative. However, this does not mean that I or anyone else has the right to inappropriate or derogatory speech. Such is simply wrong, and it is bad manners. But a much more serious matter is that I will have to account at the final judgment for every word I have said, as will everyone else. (Matthew 12:36) But as to my social responsibility, we can all judge for ourselves whether the booklet contains offensive and derogatory language about homosexuals. In their assessment the police concluded that the booklet does not contain defamatory and/or abusive language, but that the subject matter itself might offend the reader.
Thirdly, I would like to say something about the very topic the booklet discusses. Here, I represent the shared historical and Christian view, based on natural law and biblical revelation, that there are only two sexes, male and female, which, equal but different, complement each other. Sexual life is intended only for the marriage of a man and a woman, reflecting the simultaneous loving relationship of the persons of the Holy Trinity, at once equal and separate. The gift of marriage is afforded for the protection of the spouses and the children, who need both a father and a mother. Although it may sound offensive, the practice of homosexuality is contrary to the order of creation. Like all other sexual activity outside of marriage, it does not fulfill God’s good order of creation but is a violation of the 6th Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Nonetheless, every man and every woman is equally valuable regardless of how they realize the broken gift of sexuality in a fallen world. This is what I will continue to publicly teach regardless of the court’s decision. After all, in the final analysis this is about the gospel of Christ’s grace.
This booklet deals with the preservation of the institution of marriage that sustains society and culture, and with the defense of the Christian teaching on marriage. In the lengthy avalanche of the sexual revolution, we moved from the LGB acronym to TQ+ some time ago. Personally, I see this entanglement not only as a culture war and a human rights struggle but also as a profoundly spiritual battle between the Christian faith and the neopaganism that proclaims the individual as its own creator. At the same time, we must keep in mind the faces and names of our neighbors, those whose heart-rendering questions are treated in an altogether overly simplified manner, only at the level of institutions and argumentation. How can we speak the truth while looking people in the eye with love?
I would like to say two things concurrently. On the one hand, I want to affirm God’s unconditional love for all those who have experienced discrimination and fear, and who have had to listen to homophobic insults, for example. Our identity and our worth are not determined by the opinions of others, nor by our sexual, or any other, inclinations, but by the fact that we are created in the image of God, which image is renewed by the grace and love of Christ so that we may live in fellowship with Him. And on the other hand, I want to say, recognizing the responsibilities of my pastoral office, that those who knowingly walk beneath the rainbow flag, who themselves pursue said lifestyle or the LGBTQ agenda counter to the order of creation, these are in open rebellion against God. In our time we all must make a choice whether to acknowledge the Creator’s order of creation or our own right to choose, whether to kneel before the cross of Christ or the rainbow flag. Even on this question, we cannot serve two masters.
Fourthly, I want to say something about this process that for me has proceeded from wonder to concern to shock. It all started with a complaint about this booklet, requesting a police investigation on 29 August 2019. Contrary to the extensively reasoned decision of the Detective Chief Inspector, the Prosecutor General of Finland unexpectedly decided on 31 October 2019 to order a preliminary investigation and finally to file charges on 29 April 2021. Now the Helsinki District Court will hear the case on 24 January 2022, and it is possible that the process will take years before a final decision is reached. Regardless of the court’s decision, such a long, time-consuming and resource-monopolizing public process is in itself punitive, especially for Päivi Räsänen, who has carried a much heavier burden than I have. My great concern is what kind of signal of fear and intimidation this indictment broadcasts into society. After all, the greatest threat to the freedom of expression is self-censorship due to fear.
However, even in these events I see the good providence and guidance of God. In Finland, which prides itself on the principles of the rule of law, this case has sparked a budding self-critical discussion regarding the constantly diminishing state of the freedoms of speech and religion. Increasingly, many people are talking in public about hate speech hysteria, the new intolerance, and the mental steps taken backwards, shuffling towards the stale soviet-style Finland. The charges brought against us illustrate the problematic nature of hate speech interpretations that swell up like a hot bun dough in the midst of the cultural upheaval of the Western cancel and woke culture. It is correct and proper to criticize the state of the legal protection of citizens and the lack of clarity of the Finnish law in case a Detective Chief Inspector and the Prosecutor General of Finland disagree over the basic interpretation of incitement offenses. The freedom of expression is exceedingly precious, and it is shared by all. Even though many people disagree with the contents of Päivi Räsänen’s booklet, this cannot be a reason for not defending the freedom of expression of those holding different views.
Many, however, wish to play down the significance of this case and warn against an overblown interpretation, such as—“the persecution has begun and soon the Bibles will be taken away.” I myself do not think that the freedoms of speech and religion have disappeared in our country, but neither did I ever think that I would be in the dock for publishing a booklet. You can still have your say, especially in private and in your own circles, but, how many people will go out of their way publicly, under their own names, and at the risk of losing their own positions, in order to oppose what is proclaimed in society and by the media to be the only correct and good ideas? When intolerant mantras of tolerance and one-sided demands for pluralism are running rampant throughout society, legislation and jurisprudence must be crystal clear in their support for the fundamental pillars of a free society: the freedoms of speech and religion. That is why the handling of our case is also important in terms of setting an international example.
I also want to receive this lawsuit from God’s good hand. After all, it is not something I have chosen and taken as a goal for myself, but, rather, almost twenty years ago I wanted to teach the congregations about the basics of the Christian faith through a series of educational booklets. The mission of patient witnessing and teaching continues.
The noble task all of us face in this age is to speak and act in truth and love, each in his or her own vocation and in our weaknesses, for us to act as the Word of God states and our consciences oblige. I know that we do not have to go through this on the basis of our own strength. The prayers of many around the world are upholding our country, our judicial authorities, and ourselves through this.
I am going to the District Court in Helsinki on Monday 24 January 2022 a bit tense, but with a calm mind and a clear conscience. What can you do when you open the doors of the District Court in good company next to Päivi Räsänen but sigh: I published this. I’m not going to back out. May the Lord guide in everything!
Bishop Juhana Pohjola
Link to the unofficial government translation of the Finnish Criminal Code (pdf):
Chapter 11 – War crimes and crimes against humanity (212/2008)