USA – Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana presented Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) with an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Divinity – Honoris Causa) during the seminary’s 2022 Graduation Service on May 20, 2022.
In presenting the award, the seminary honoured Bishop Pohjola “for his faithful service as a pastor, dean, and bishop in the ELMDF; for his faithful confession and teaching of the Holy Scriptures as confessed by the Lutheran Church; for his calm and bold witness in the face of government persecution and pressure; and for his generous friendship with other confessional Lutherans across the world, including this seminary.”
Bishop Pohjola’s relationship with the seminary goes back twenty-five years, when he was a student at the school. He received his Master of Sacred Theology degree from CTSFW in 1998. He further holds a Master of Theology (1997) and an earned Doctorate of Theology (2014) from the University of Helsinki.
Following his studies at CTSFW, Bishop Pohjola returned to Finland. He would play an instrumental role in the founding of the ELMDF in 2013, and served the church as its Diocesan Dean from that time until 2021, when he was elected Bishop of the ELMDF.
The seminary also highlighted Bishop Pohjola’s faithfulness in the midst of government pressure Finland, saying that “Bishop Pohjola has become known internationally in recent years for standing firm on the Scriptures in the face of public persecution and government persecution.” In 2021, the Prosecutor General of Finland charged Bishop Pohjola and a Member of Parliament, Dr. Päivi Räsänen, with hate crimes for the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. The case drew widespread international concern from those concerned about the erosion of religious freedom in Finland. The two were acquitted on all charges in March 2022, but the Prosecutor General has since filed an appeal of the ruling. The appeal process is expected to last years and could ultimately end up before the European Court of Human Rights.
Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and professor emeritus at CTSFW, praised the seminary’s decision to award Bishop Pohjola an honorary doctorate. “Bishop Pohjola’s courageous and articulate witness in the face of unjust persecution is an inspiration to the whole seminary community, to the 55 churches of the ILC, and to faithful Christians across the world,” he said. “His graceful response not only addresses the issues of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but his response extolls the beauty of God’s creation as male and female and the proclamation of repentance, forgiveness, and grace in Jesus Christ.”
In addition to receiving the honorary doctorate, Bishop Pohjola served as the commencement speaker at the seminary’s Graduation Service. In his remarks he encouraged the graduates to focus on Christ’s accomplishments and not our own. “You are called to serve with words and loving deeds, bring the life-giving and life-changing reality in Christ Jesus,” he said. “And there’s nothing better, more meaningful, and more joyful in our short lives than to be in His use”
“It’s all about Him,” he continued. “His grace. His cleansing blood. His words of forgiveness. His struggles. And His good plans for you and His Church.”