State Prosecutor Anu Mantila and Regional Prosecutor Maija Päivinen today, 29 April 2022, submitted to the Helsinki Appellate Court an application for further proceedings and an appeal against the acquittal of the Helsinki District Court in the so-called “Bible trial”. The prosecutors demand the annulment of the District Court decision and the conviction of Päivi Räsänen and Juhana Pohjola for incitement against an ethnic group and the imposition of a corporate fine on the Luther Foundation Finland. [Finnish law allows for prosecutors to appeal verdicts of the acquitted.]
The prosecution argues that Päivi Räsänen’s writing Male and female He created them, her tweet about the Pride parade and her discussion on Ruben Stiller’s radio programme constitute incitement against a group of people. Thus far, the police concluded in a preliminary investigation that the booklet does not violate the law, and most recently the District Court came to the same conclusion.
Charges have attracted widespread attention
The charges have attracted national and international attention as they have been assessed to endanger freedom of speech and religion. The legality of the charges has also been questioned. After the District Court’s decision, Yleisradio [Finnish Broadcasting Corporation] published a news item: “Prosecutor placed words into Päivi Räsänen’s mouth she had not said – YLE goes through the false allegations.” In a later YLE news item, State Prosecutor Anu Mantila expressed her dissatisfaction with the verdict, stating it was the prosecutor’s duty to explain the meaning of Päivi Räsänen’s statements, i.e. how the statements should be interpreted objectively: “Prosecutor denies misrepresenting Päivi Räsänen’s statements – slams acquittal and explains differences in interpretation with a horse analogy.”
Bishop Juhana Pohjola comments on the prosecutor’s appeal
– “The prosecutor’s appeal to the Appellate Court was not surprising, even though it is regrettable. The goal is to obtain the Appellate Court interpretation of the law in relation to the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and equality. I am confident that the charges that were unanimously and justifiably overturned by the District Court will also be overturned in further courts.”
– “It is worrisome the prosecution is thus continuing its ideological campaign to deprive Christians of the right to publicly teach the Christian concept of man and of marriage based on natural law and the Bible. Although our booklet [above] emphasizes the indivisible human dignity of every human being based on creation and redemption, the prosecutor claims that our booklet is discriminatory and homophobic because it rejects homosexual acts. According to the prosecutor, it is an affront to human dignity to criticize a person’s homosexual lifestyle as wrong and as a moral choice taken against God’s will. This is an attempt to criminalize Christian sexual teaching and, ultimately, the proclamation of sin – and the gospel of the grace of Christ.”
– “This long and arduous process will continue, but I am sure that the work for freedom of speech and religion will be meaningful and beneficial to all in our society. I also know that we go forward in God’s good hands and according to His plan.”
Bishop Juhana Pohjola’s lawyer Jyrki Anttinen remarked on the prosecutor’s appeal
– “In their appeal, the prosecutors do not really present anything new, but justify their charges with the same evidence and arguments as they had in the District Court. If the Appellate Court grants the right to continue the case, the defendants will be asked to answer the charges, after which we will see, in due course, what kind of evidence the Appellate Court will use to decide the case.”
The Helsinki District Court clearly dismissed all charges of incitement against Päivi Räsänen, myself, and the Luther Foundation Finland. The nearly three-year long process has at least reached an interim conclusion. My mood has been one of relief and gratitude. In Finland this is the first time there has been this type of trial, where deliberation was made of criminal liability for religious communication and teaching. The case has also attracted enormous international attention. In the midst of all the uproar, I stopped to think, what can I be thankful to God for?
I thank the Lord that, despite all my faults and failings, I can still live today as a child of grace.
How great it is to be blessed, declared innocent for the sake of the blood of Christ shed on the cross!
“My soul, praise the Lord, and everything in me, praise His holy name. My soul, praise the Lord, and don’t forget all the good He does.” Psalm 103 (AAT)
Bishop Juhana Pohjola
Helsinki District Court issued a decision on 30 March 2022 at 1:00pm regarding the charges of incitement against a group of people, “hate speech”, brought against Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola. The three-judge panel unanimously delivered a judgment of acquittal and dismissed all charges.
– “The District Court’s decision was to be expected. This is not only a victory for us, but for freedom of speech and religion in Finland and beyond. In seeking to criminalize Christian teachings on sexuality, the prosecution cast a shadow of fear over society. It was important to receive a strong signal from the District Court defending our fundamental rights as citizens and Christians. It was essential we heard from the court that we have not committed a crime of incitement, because we have always denounced defamatory speech. On the contrary, we have taught the concept of humanity and marriage in accord with natural law and the Bible. This is what we have taught and will always preach as a Church, both in private and in public. While I rejoice over this decision, I nonetheless find it problematic that in its deliberations the District Court considered Päivi Räsänen’s booklet “Male and female He created them” to contain offensive speech, even though it does not consider that Räsänen’s writing was denigrative as outlined in the intentions of the Criminal Code,” Pohjola commented on the decision.
Helsinki District Court heard the prosecution’s case against Dr. Räsänen and the Rev. Dr. Pohjola in two hearings, 24 January and 14 February 2022. Bishop Pohjola was charged as editor-in-chief responsible for the publication and distribution of the booklet Räsänen wrote “Male and female He created them”. According to the prosecutor, the pamphlet denigrated and defamed homosexuals. The prosecutor had demanded 60 day-fines for Pohjola and a EUR 10,000 corporate fine for Luther Foundation Finland.
Bishop Pohjola’s lawyer Jyrki Anttinen commented on the District Court’s decision:
– “The case was decided on the basis of an assessment of the evidence, taking into account the background and context of the writing. The booklet was not written to insult or defame, but to defend a religious view of marriage. The District Court held that the quotations were not in themselves disputed, but that they could not, in a broad sense, be interpreted to the detriment of Päivi Räsänen.
The District Court held that passages from the writing could be considered offensive, but were not of such severity as to violate the equality or dignity of homosexuals or to arouse contempt or hatred. Thus, Päivi Räsänen’s writing did not insult homosexuals and Juhana Pohjola was not guilty of criminal conduct. The claim for punishment against the Luther Foundation must also be dismissed.
The rationale in the District Court’s decision must be examined in more detail, but in principle I do not entirely agree with the District Court on the general offensiveness of the passages in the writings in the indictment.”
The Bible trials have received a lot of attention both at home and abroad. There have been many expressions of support, both privately and publicly, throughout the process.
– “I would like to thank all of those who have provided support and encouragement during this long process. There has been a tremendous outpouring of intercession from all around the world. Ultimately, this a spiritual battle and a matter concerning the Gospel of Christ,” continued Pohjola.
The prosecutor has the possibility to appeal the decision to the Appellate Court, so the decision of the District Court is not yet final.
14 February 2022
Today, the “Bible Tribunals” continued in Helsinki District Court. On this second day, the prosecutor and the legal advisors of the defendants, Päivi Räsänen and Juhana Pohjola, gave their closing statements. The length of each closing statement was limited to one hour, so this time the court session was clearly shorter than the first.
Compared to the first day of court, there were fewer representatives of the domestic media, but the foreign media was even larger. In fact, there was live international coverage from the yard of the District Court. Representatives of CitizenGO, an international free speech organization, were also present to demonstrate and report on the trial. Before it started, Pastor Andrew Brunson, and his wife Norine, handed Päivi an international address of support containing 14,341 pledges of prayer support. [link]
Once again, there was a demonstration in front of the District Court, showing support not only for Päivi and Juhana, but also for the broad freedom of speech and religion. Juhana and Päivi both greeted the demonstrators by megaphone, thanking them for their support and encouraging them to continue to promote these freedoms.
Growing concern over freedom of speech and religion
State Prosecutor Anu Mantila delivered the prosecutor’s final arguments. Maija Päivinen, the District Prosecutor, did not speak. After the prosecution’s closing statement, there was a short break in the trial. State Prosecutor Anu Mantila was interviewed during the break by MTV3 news. The prosecutor stressed that she still considers Päivi Räsänen to have violated the law by defaming homosexuals.
Bishop Juhana Pohjola commented briefly on the prosecutor’s closing statement:
– “The prosecutor’s primary idea seems to be that, in public, one’s own understanding of the Bible may not be taught, and that freedom of religion does not give one permission to voice aloud a teaching if it is considered to discriminate against a minority group. Therefore, in line with this view, the biblical teachings on marriage, sexuality, sin and grace could not, according to the prosecution, be preached in public. This is an attack on religious freedom.”
The defense denied the charges and criticized the prosecutor.
After the break, it was the turn of the defense lawyers Matti Sankamo (for Dr. Räsänen) and Jyrki Anttinen (for Bishop Pohjola) to make closing statements.
The defense denied the charges and criticized the prosecution for not presenting grounds for their accusations on the first day of the hearing, but rather concentrating on more general argumentation and biblical-theological deliberation. Since the prosecutors had failed to state the evidence for the charges, that left the defendants with little opportunity to defend themselves against those charges.
In addition, there was also a great difference of opinion as to whether a person’s actions could be separated from their identity. To the prosecution’s arguments that actions and identity cannot be separated, the defense replied that this distinction is an essential part of the Christian concept of humanity and the doctrine of atonement and salvation.
The defense pointed out there was an enormous difference between the specific allegations made by the prosecution in the summons and what was actually said in the booklet, radio show and tweet. Jyrki Anttinen argued as follows:
– “This trial is not about Finnish law versus the defendants’ Bible-based “derogatory viewpoints”, but about the prosecutor’s interpretation of the defendants’ texts. The prosecutors’ ideological-theological framework prevents them from assigning importance to the witness of the booklet and to the defendants’ testimony in court establishing the dignity of every human being and the defendants’ repudiation of denigratory speech against homosexuals. The prosecution’s interpretation seeks to silence and criminalize the teaching of sexual ethics by the defendants and in Christendom. The prosecution’s viewpoint is untenable both before Finnish law and the Word of the Bible.”
The court will issue its decision on 30 March 2022.
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.
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.
The trial against Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, ThD, started today 24 January 2022 at 9:30 am in Helsinki District Court. The case has attracted widespread interest in the Finnish and foreign media.This was reflected in the sizable presence of media representatives when the defendants arrived at the District Court. The Association for the Freedom of Speech and Religion also organized a demonstration of support for Dr. Räsänen and Rev. Dr. Pohjola outside the courthouse.
Maija Päivinen, District Prosecutor, read out the charges against Päivi Räsänen and Juhana Pohjola for incitement against a group of people. According to the prosecutor, Bishop Pohjola, by publishing the booklet Male and Female He Created Them – Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity [link] has made and kept available to the public an opinion that defames homosexuals as a group, because of their sexual orientation. According to the prosecutor, certain statements are discriminatory and exceed the limits of freedom of speech and religion.
In the indictment, Maija Päivinen, District Prosecutor, demanded that certain passages be removed from the publication and that Räsänen be fined a victim surcharge of at least 120 per diems and Pohjola of 60 per diems. In addition, the prosecutor demanded a corporate fine of a minimum of 10,000 euros for the Luther Foundation Finland, because a person belonging to its statutory body or other management, having actual power of decision in the legal person, had been a party to an offence.
Bishop Pohjola denied in court that he had committed the crime of incitement:
– “I am anxious about attending the first trial against me, but I am also happy that the case will finally be heard. We will be able to defend not only the Word of God, but also the right to freedom of expression. Via the freedom of speech, we do not want to offend or oppress anyone, but to tell of the goodness of God and His will.”
In the case against Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, MD, there are two additional points in the summons. These concern a tweet published in June 2019 and a radio discussion aired in December 2019. In her statement of 20 January 2022, she said:
– “I await the court proceedings with a calm mind. I appeal to the Constitution of Finland and to international conventions that guarantee freedom of speech and religion. I will not back off from my conviction based on the Bible and I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion in all necessary courts .”
– “In all the charges, I deny any wrongdoing. My writings and statements under investigation are linked to the Bible’s teachings on marriage, living as a man and a woman, as well as the Apostle Paul’s teaching on homosexual acts. The teachings concerning marriage and sexuality in the Bible arise from love of one’s neighbor, not from hate towards a group of people .”
According to Bishop Pohjola’s representative, Jyrki Anttinen, deputy advocate, the prosecutor took scripture statements out of context. The prosecutor’s assessment is selective and in no way objective. The text of the booklet has not been interpreted with due regard for the principles of freedom of expression and religion protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Finnish Constitution. In the Finnish legal system, ideological and scientific disagreements are not acceptable justifications for restricting freedom of expression.
Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola’s preliminary response stated that Räsänen’s writing is in no way threatening, defamatory or insulting. It does not contain any use of pejorative language. It is worth noting that the Christian concept of man, sin and marriage may offend someone as a matter of fact and belief, but the writing itself does not offend and is not intended to offend or degrade anyone’s dignity.
A demonstration of support for Päivi Räsänen and Juhana Pohjola was held outside Helsinki District Court before the trial. The purpose of the demonstration was to encourage and support Räsänen and Pohjola, who are accused of promoting the Christian marriage ethic, and of defending freedom of speech and religion in Finland. This was organized by the Association for the Freedom of Speech and Religion. According to the police, there were 85 participants. Many people are concerned about the deteriorating situation of freedom of expression and religion in Finland.
Soili Haverinen, ThD candidate, the organiser of the demonstration, wished to extend her gratitude to all those who came to the demonstration and to those who participated from their homes:
-“Concerns about freedom of religion and freedom of expression clearly unite people from very different backgrounds. It is impossible not to take action in the face of this issue. I could very well be on trial myself now, as I too have brought up very similar issues in public. It is important that all Christians now act together on this, even if there are only two people on trial.”
The three judges of the Helsinki District Court are expected to return their verdict in the coming weeks or months.
Päivi Räsänen, MP, Press Releases of 24 January 2022 and 20 January 2022 [link]
Indictment (dated 29 January 2021) [link]
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)
The International Lutheran Council (ILC) invited Bishop Juhana Pohjola for a speaking tour in the USA 9 Nov. – 17 Nov. 2021. The title of the tour was: On Account of Me, You will stand. The background of the tour was the protest and petition published by the ILC last July on behalf of Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, Finland, and the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, because of the criminal charges raised against them. During the tour, the Bishop spoke in Washington, D.C., Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Boston and Westminster. The program also included several meetings and interviews.
In Washington, D.C., Bishop Pohjola visited the headquarters of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization dedicated to defending the freedoms of religion and expression. Accompanying him were ILC representatives the Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, Secretary General, the Rev. Roger James, and Mathew Block, Communications Manager.
In his speeches, Bishop Pohjola highlighted the beginnings of the Evangelical Lutheran Missionary Diocese of Finland—and then the legal proceedings triggered by an educational booklet written by Dr. Päivi Räsänen. The Bishop highlighted how this criminal prosecution in Finland is part of a wider cultural upheaval where issues of identity related to race, gender and sexual orientation form the main moral compass and the grand narrative of our time in the struggle between good and evil. The trend is to narrow down the freedoms of speech and religion via ideologically tinged interpretations of equality. The main focus of his speech was on how Christians, despite opposition, can boldly confess their faith, teach God’s good order of creation, pray for their opponents and live from the gift of the forgiveness of sins.
God, the Creation, the Fall, Atonement and the true Christian life are part of the Church’s teaching throughout history. As a Lutheran bishop, it is my call and duty to adhere to these teachings and to teach them publicly, whatever the cost. The reason is not to fight a culture war but to call people to repentance and through faith in Christ to possess the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In all this, it is not primarily an issue of legal matters but of the Gospel of Christ.
In Fort Wayne, Bishop Pohjola visited the Seminary of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the sister church of the Mission Diocese. He studied at Concordia Theological Seminary from 1997-1998. He met both faculty and students, and preached in the Seminary Chapel. He also visited two Lutheran congregations, St. Paul’s, Fort Wayne, and Advent Lutheran, Indianapolis. The trip then continued to Missouri Synod congregations in Boston and nearby Westminster. There he also met several congregants with Finnish roots.
The speaking tour deepened the Mission Diocese’s ties with its sister church in the United States, raised awareness of the work of the ILC, and highlighted common cultural challenges Christians face in the areas of the freedoms of expression and religion. The warm welcome, encouragement and support demonstrated that we in the Mission Diocese are not alone, but that Finland is remembered by thousands of intercessors.
ILC streamed lecture: https://ilc-online.org/2021/10/18/american-lecture-tour-by-bishop-juhana-pohjola/
CTS Seminary, Chapel, sermon 12 November 2021: https://www.ctsfw.edu/daily-chapel/
Pictures: Mathew Block
Outside Madrid, the Annual Assembly of the Spanish Evangelical Lutheran Church (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Española, IELE) was held on 8-10 October 2021. As does the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), the IELE belongs to the International Lutheran Council (ILC). What made the event extraordinary was the consecration of the first Lutheran bishop in Spanish history. Pastor Jose Luis de Miguel (59) was consecrated Bishop by the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Mission Diocese and his assistants.
In the 16th century during the Reformation, Lutheran teaching also spread to Spain, but the harsh counter-Reformation forced Lutheran Christians to flee. As a result of the missionary work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina and of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, United States, there has been a registered Lutheran Church in Spain since 2004. It currently has four congregations spread throughout Spain and also several mission sites.
Pastor Marcos Berndt, a member of the Isaiah Congregation of the Mission Diocese of Jyväskylä, Finland, has been a missionary in Spain from Argentina since the early days of the IELE.
The Rev. Dr. Arthur A. Just (professor, Fort Wayne, USA), who preached at the ordination Mass and who has often visited Spain on teaching missions, reminded the new Bishop of the historicity of the situation and encouraged him in the work of the Gospel.
We are gathered to ordain the first Lutheran Bishop in Spain in the historic town of El Escorial, the center of the counter-Reformation under King Philip II. A Bishop has been called “the minister of the body and soul”, because Christ, born in the flesh, came to make new what had been broken by sin. By calling people to repentance and to the ownership of the forgiveness of sins through the preaching of the Word and the Holy Communion of the Lord, we show mercy. In the midst of our sickness and distress, we receive the Savior spiritually and corporally. That is why a bishop is a minister of body and soul.
At the close of the Annual Assembly, Bishop Jose Luis de Miguel conducted his first episcopal duty, ordaining Antonio Suarez to the pastoral ministry in the Cartagena region. The festivities continued with the new pastor baptizing a baby girl at the same Mass.
In his greeting, Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Mission Diocese encouraged the representatives of the congregations with the biblical promise that with the gifts of Christ, the fullness of the Church is present even in the smallest of congregations.
The Mission Diocese held its 3-day summer festival on the premises of the Loimaa Evangelical College. This culminated in the solemn consecration of the new Bishop on Sunday 1 August 2021. Bishop Risto Soramies with assisting pastors and bishops consecrated the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola (49) to serve as the new bishop of the Mission Diocese. The huge main tent and the surrounding smaller ones, as there were health and safety measures to be taken into consideration, held over 800 guests. The festive mass itself was celebrated in fine weather despite a very menacing weather forecast.
The brass ensemble, the choir and the singing congregation received the lengthy Procession of the Cross, in which the regional provosts before the bishop elect carried the symbols of the bishop’s office with the current Bishop, the Rev. Risto Soramies, closing up the procession. The Rev. Joel Kerosuo, who was serving his first day as diocesan dean, was an assisting liturgist. Bishop Risto Soramies, on his last day as Bishop of the Mission Diocese, preached the sermon. In his sermon he reminded the attending congregation of the importance of the calling each person had received from God.
The outgoing bishop counselled the bishop elect on how he does not have to invent anything original as the Gospel of Jesus Christ will always suffice, furthermore it will always be timely. The mission of the Bishop is to feed the flock with the Word of God and to make sure that no strange doctrines get in and tear it apart.
“Draw in from the abundance of grace for yourself and for your diocese. Grace increases when it is used. The Word of the forgiveness of sins will never grow old,” Bishop Soramies reminded the bishop elect.
At the onset of the consecration, the Rev. Dr. Samuli Siikavirta, the diocesan notary, read the bishop’s credentials, after which Bishop Risto Soramies asked the attending congregation: “Do you wish to receive Juhana Pohjola as your bishop and take him into your prayers.” The tent was filled with a strong and unwavering answer: “We do.”
The bishop elect was asked about his commitment to the faith of the Church and his readiness to suffer for the salvation of the flock if need be.
As the choir sang a hymn from the Pentecost Season, Juhana Pohjola received the symbols of the episcopal office. Bishop Soramies placed his pectoral on him, Bishop Thor Henrik With and Bishop Bengt Ådahl from the sister dioceses of Norway and Sweden assisted in clothing him in his robe, President Matthew Harrison of the Missouri Synod handed the crosier to him, and after the prayer of consecration Bishop Hanss Jensons of the Latvian Lutheran Church set the mitre on the new Bishop’s head.
The two pastors from the Mission Diocese to participate in the laying on of hands were the Rev. Mika Tervakangas, the youngest and the Rev. Sakari Korpinen the oldest pastor in the service of the Diocese.
With the Bible verse of Jesus “Care for my sheep” Bishop emeritus Soramies sent the freshly elected Bishop upon his mission. As the newly consecrated Bishop turned to face his congregation, the tent was filled with the resounding, joyous continuation of the hymn “Now we thank the good Lord…”
The first duty of the new Bishop was to serve the congregation with the gift of Holy Communion. The door of heaven was open to all to come and partake of Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins.
The divine service ended with a touching moment when Bishop Risto who had been shepherding the Mission Diocese for the past eight years laid down his crosier, kneeling in prayer. While he still continues to serve congregations, the responsibility of care for the Diocese remained at the Lord’s altar. Bishop Juhana Pohjola then took his place at the rear of the Recession of the Cross.
The consecratory service of the new bishop can be viewed from the YouTube-channel of the Diocese or directly from the link beneath.
Photos: Kari Puustinen