Paivi Rasanen is a Finnish physician and mother of five children. She served as chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party in Finland from 2004 to 2015. From 2011 to 2015, she served as Finland’s interior minister. On February 14, St. Valentine’s Day, she was tried at Helsinki District Court for incitement against a minority group. Her crimes? In 2004, she authored a pamphlet entitled “Male and Female He Created Them.” The pamphlet was written in response to a request that Dr. Rasanen, an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church, explain the Lutheran teaching on sexuality from her perspective as a politician, doctor, and Christian. In her pamphlet, she wrote that homosexuality is, “a disorder of psycho-sexual development.” Today, Dr. Rasanen describes the pamphlet as outdated in light of further research and legislation on the question over the intervening years. Yet, she believes that the text ought to be available as a testimony to the conversation on the matter back in the day. As well, in 2019, Dr. Rasanen posted a tweet critical of her church’s leadership sponsoring an LGBT pride event.
The Prosecutor General who charged Dr. Rasanen claimed her statements were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.” Dr. Rasanen’s defense team argued that the 1976 Handside v. United Kingdom case decided by the European Court of Human Rights ruled that freedom of expression protected statements that, “offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population.”
Dr. Rasanen has charged the prosecution with making false accusations about her, including that she had said in the past that “homosexual people are inferior to other people, or that God has not even created homosexual people.” Dr. Rasanen denies saying such a thing, insisting that, “My conviction is that all people are equal. God has created all people, and homosexual people are as precious, as valuable as everyone else.” During the trial, the prosecution declared that the Bible cannot trump Finnish law, and even went so far as to compare the Bible with Mein Kampf.
Also on trial is Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. Bishop Pohjola’s “crime” was publishing Dr. Rasanen’s pamphlet.
Lorcan Price, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said of the trial: “This prosecution for hate speech has turned into a theological trial of what Christian beliefs can and cannot be expressed in Finland. … It is incredible this trial is happening in a modern European country and not in a religious theocracy.” Paul Coleman, the executive director of ADF International, described the trial as “a modern-day Inquisition or heresy trial and the heresy was that Paivi and Bishop Juhana were on trial against the new sexual orthodoxy of the day.”
So, here we are. We have finally arrived at the day in the West when simply stating Christian doctrine is considered a crime. Finland is not a Communist dictatorship. Finland is not an Islamic theocracy. Finland is a Western democracy that purports to protect freedom of speech and religion, where nearly two-thirds of its population of 5.5 million belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Yet, two persons of some societal substance (a former government official and a bishop – these are not your average Jane and Joe) are being tried for stating teachings that have been part and parcel of Christian moral orthodoxy since the earliest decades of Christianity, when St. Paul was writing letters to the churches he had founded.
Dr. Rasanen is very confident of being acquitted. But it’s far from a sure thing. What if she and the bishop are convicted? It could mean for them substantial fines and even jail time. What will it mean for all Christians in Europe who embrace orthodox faith and morals? Will it be illegal to read certain passages from the New Testament in public, even in church? Will it be illegal to write books or commentaries on Scripture that adhere to orthodox moral teaching on sexuality? Will certain topics be off-limits for preachers during service? How will a conviction influence the status of Christians and Christian moral teaching in other European countries, or even other Western democracies, including the United States?
Dr. Rasanen has described the fact that her and Bishop Pohjola’s case got so far as a trial as dangerous. She’s right, of course. The danger is that Christians in the West will no longer be free to teach, write, or preach on topics the state has determined are forbidden. This could and likely will stretch far beyond the morality of homosexual acts. It will almost certainly be stretched to include other moral teachings, such as those on abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, marriage, and education in Christian schools. It may also be stretched to include faith teachings, such as the divinity of Christ, faith in Christ as the unique Savior who alone can save, and the Church as the instrument of God’s revelation. All those talking heads and pundits who have criticized Christians for exaggerating the threat to religious freedom ought to reconsider their critiques (don’t count on that!).
Yesterday, I posted on attempts by schools and employers to muzzle the free speech of students and employees. Today, we have a story of a state attempting to muzzle the free speech and exercise of religion of its Christian citizens. So far, the courts have mostly sided with individuals and churches who are being harassed by their governments. But if state prosecutors continue pushing submission to state orthodoxy, the day may not be far away when courts and/or legislatures will feel the pressure to get in line and start putting those pesky Christians in their place. If that day should come, how will Christians respond? It’s something to think about. It’s certainly not something to dismiss.
“Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8).
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.