Posts tagged:

Bishop Juhana Pohjola

Christmas and the Poverty of Christ

“Holy Night” by Fritz von Uhde, 1911.

by Juhana Pohjola

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9

St. Paul, in this single verse, lifts up for us a Christmas sermon on one aspect of our Lord Jesus Christ’s calling: His poverty. The Apostle reminds us of Christ Jesus’ lowliness. What did the maiden Mary from the village of Nazareth sing? “He has looked on the humble estate of His servant” (Luke 1:48). What sign did the angels give to the shepherds? “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). And where are His possessions and earthly goods if the ”Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58)? Truly, by humility and poverty is the birth of the King of Kings framed!

Poverty does not mean only a lack of material wellbeing; it also implies a certain powerlessness. How could this poor baby and family protect themselves against the wrath of the mighty king Herod and his army? Where could they look for help if they could not depend on their family and relatives but must instead escape alone to the foreign land of Egypt? Truly, by hostility, oppression, and refuge is the birth of the Prince of Peace surrounded.

Inset: Mary and the baby Jesus.

When we see, during Christmas time, the beautiful decorations and depictions of the Nativity and the Holy Family, we must keep both eyes open. If, on the one hand, we face financial problems, insecurity, loneliness, and oppression, we are reminded that our Lord has also experienced poverty in all its forms. We need not despair because He understands what we are going through, and He promises to abide with us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And again: “For He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper” (Psalm 72:12).

If, on the other hand, if we have been blessed with material abundance, earthly goods, and spiritual resources, we should in thankfulness enjoy them but also share them in mercy and mission, remembering the words of St. Paul: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever’” (2 Corinthians 9:8-10).

The Apostle Paul, however, reveals an even deeper meaning to the poverty of our Lord. This poverty also includes a lowliness and humbleness in the way in which He has appeared to us. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The Eternal Son of God—divine in glory and power—hid Himself in the weakness and fragility of a baby boy. The Triune God reveals Himself in the poverty of human flesh. To seek and find a gracious God, then, we do not look to high heavenly places and spiritual realms; instead, we look to the lowly and earthly—to the human flesh of Christ Jesus. St. Paul emphasizes that the Lord became poor for our sake. We humans can encounter the divine in Him. We, though unholy, can touch the Holy One in Him. We mortals can embrace the Eternal in Him. This is why Martin Luther was bold enough to say: “I do not know of any God except Him who was made flesh, nor do I want to have another. And there is no other God who could save us, besides the God Incarnate.”

“Christ on the Cross” by the Francken Family, c. 1630.

In truth, the poverty of the Lord is greater even than His willingness to come in the humility of human flesh. For He took upon Himself not only the poverty of our earthly and bodily needs, but also our deepest poverty—namely, our spiritual bankruptcy, our transgressions, and our lack of righteousness before God. So it is that the Apostle in the same epistle also preaches a paschal sermon in a single verse: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The manger and the cross, Christmas night and Good Friday are united in one divine plan—one act of salvation. For your sake, the Rich became poor. For your sake, the Sinless was made sin. He took all your poverty and all your sin upon Himself. Why? So that you, though poor, would become rich. So that you, though a sinner, would be forgiven and declared righteous, clean, and holy in the sight of God. All of the poverty of your life becomes His and all the richness of His grace and love becomes yours. What a blessed exchange of Christmas gifts!

We have seen during this year great devastation and enormous human tragedy. We face a world with poverty and famine, war and natural disasters, oppression and persecution of Christians. We have in many ways entered into an era of greater uncertainties. But in the midst of these trials we can cling to a greater reality and divine certainty, which all Christendom celebrates: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

We call people in their poverty of their lives to gather at the life-giving altars of our churches, in which we encounter the Incarnate God of the manger—the Crucified and Risen Lord, who declares to you: This is My body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins!

Who of us can truly be poor when through Christ we have all the riches of heaven? Who of us is truly powerless and helpless when the Mighty Saviour abides with us? Who of us, though dying and decaying mortals, could despair when we have life and salvation in Him?

What a joyful calling it is to sing, preach, and celebrate this good news in the many homes and sanctuaries of member churches of the International Lutheran Council, in numerous languages and on all five continents. Rejoice! For our sake the Lord Jesus Christ became poor that we would become rich in Him!


Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola is Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

The ILC’s 2022 World Conference in brief

Participants at the International Lutheran Council’s 2022 World Conference pose with the seminary community during a visit to Neema Lutheran College in Matongo, Kenya. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

KENYA – The 27th (12th) World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) took place September 13-16, 2022 in Kisumu, Kenya, during which time the council elected a new chairman: Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF).

A New Chairman for the ILC

Bishop Juhana Pohjola presents during the ILC’s 2022 World Conference.

Bishop Pohjola was acclaimed as the ILC’s new chairman without opposition. Bishop Pohjola was catapulted to worldwide media attention in 2021 after Finland’s Prosecutor General charged him and a Finnish M.P., Dr. Päivi Räsänen, with hate crimes for the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. While the two were subsequently acquitted in early 2022, Finland’s Prosecutor General has since appealed, meaning the case is not yet over.

Chairman Pohjola succeeds Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Bishop Voigt, who announced earlier in the World Conference that he would not be standing for reelection, served as ILC Chairman for twelve years from 2010-2022. Prior to that, he served the ILC as Vice Chairman and as Europe Region representative, for a total of 15 years of uninterrupted service on the board.

Elected to serve as ILC Secretary during the 2022 World Conference was Bishop John Donkoh of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana. Acclaimed to serve as World Region representatives were: Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya) for Africa; President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Lutheran Church in the Philippines) for Asia; Chairman George Samiec (Evangelical Lutheran Church of England) for Europe; President Alceu Alton Figur (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay) for Latin America; and President Timothy Teuscher (Lutheran Church–Canada) for North America.

The International Lutheran Council’s Board of Directors for the new triennium. Left to right: Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Kenya); President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Philippines); Chairman George Samiec (United Kingdom); Bishop John Donkoh (Ghana); Past President Robert Bugbee (Canada); Bishop Juhana Pohjola (Finland); President Timothy Teuscher (Canada); ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill; President Alceu Alton Figur (Paraguay); and President Matthew Harrison (USA). LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

The ILC’s board of directors also includes two other members who are appointed under other criteria. Past President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) remain on the board in this capacity.

ILC welcomes new members

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and General Secretary Timothy Quill welcome the newest members of the ILC. Left to right: Chairman Voigt, Archbishop Jānis Vanags of Latvia, President Limberth Fernandez Coronado of Bolivia, Pastor Patricio Mora Reyes of Panama, and General Secretary Quill.

The conference brought together church leaders representing 55 church bodies from around the world, including members and guests. Reflecting the ILC’s continued growth, the 2022 World Conference voted to accept two church bodies as full members and one as an associate member. The conference also formally welcomed ten new observer members accepted into the ILC since the last world conference.

The Christian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bolivia (previously accepted as an Associate Member in 2001) was welcomed as a full member. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (accepted as an observer in early 2022) was also accepted as a full member. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Panama, meanwhile, was newly accepted as an associate member.

Observer membership in the ILC can be granted by the Board of Directors without needing to wait until a world conference. In total, the board has accepted ten new observer members—all from Africa—since the last World Conference in 2018: the Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burundi; the Lutheran Church in Africa – Burundi Synod; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Congo; the Evangelical Lutheran Conference and Ministerium of Kenya; the Lutheran Church in Africa – Côte d’Ivoire; the Confessional Lutheran Church – Malawi Synod; the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Congregation in Rwanda; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan and Sudan. The Lake Tanganyika Diocese and the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania make up the remaining two new observer members (accepted as “recognized organizations”).

Welcoming new observer members accepted into the ILC since the 2018 World Conference.

Liturgy and Ecumenical Relations

The theme for the ILC’s 2022 World Conference was “Liturgy and Culture: How Worship Shapes our Life Together and Why We Do What We Do.” Serving as essayists were Bishop Juhana Pohjola of Finland; Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki (Fort Wayne, USA); and Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov (Novosibirsk, Russia), with an additional presentation by Bishop Juan Pablo Lanterna of Chile.

Based on these presentations and ensuing discussion, the conference ultimately adopted a summary Statement on Liturgy and Culture. It further decided unanimously to produce a statement rejecting virtual communion.

Among other business, the World Conference also received a report on the results of the ILC’s recent ecumenical discussions with the Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The Final Report on those discussions was published in 2021, and found significant convergences between the two traditions in a number of areas.

In light of this report, and taking into account the written recommendation of Cardinal Kurt Koch of the PCPCU and ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, the ILC World Conference adopted a resolution calling for continued ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic Church in the leadup to the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 2030.

Additional news on the ILC’s 2022 World Conference can be found here.


2022 World Conference: Bishop Pohjola elected as ILC Chairman

Bishop Juhana Pohjola addresses the conference after being elected the ILC’s new chairman.

KENYA – During the afternoon of September 14, 2022, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held elections for its board of directors, during which time the ILC acclaimed Bishop Juhana Pohjola without opposition as its new chairman.

In remarks after the decision, Chairman Elect Pohjola expressed thanks to the assembly as well as his prayer that the Holy Spirit would work through him despite his weakness. He further gave thanks for the example of Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, his predecessor in office, who announced earlier in the conference that he would not stand for reelection.

“I know that I have big shoes to fill because Bishop Voigt has been such an example,” Chairman Elect Pohjola said. “If I can imitate him in even some respects, I will be happy to do so.”

“Dear brothers, pray for me and for the ILC,” the Chairman Elect continued. “I look forward to working with you all very much.”

Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola has been Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) since 2021. He previously served as the ELMDF’s Diocesan Dean from 2013 until his election, and before that as dean of the Luther Foundation Finland from 2000-2001 and 2012 until his election. He has served as a pastor in Helsinki and as a visiting scholar at Canada’s Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario. He holds a Master of Theology from the University of Helsinki (1997), a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (1998), and a Doctor of Theology from the University of Helsinki (2014). He was further awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne) in 2022 in part “for his calm and bold witness in the face of government persecution and pressure.”

Bishop Pohjola was catapulted to worldwide media attention in 2021 after Finland’s Prosecutor General charged him and a Finnish M.P., Dr. Päivi Räsänen, with hate crimes for the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. In response, the ILC issued “A Protest and Call” signed by the leaders of Lutheran church bodies around the world, expressing deep concern over Finland’s infringement on the freedoms of religion and speech. Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen were subsequently acquitted in early 2022 by a panel of judges who found they had committed no crimes, but Finland’s Prosecutor General has since appealed, meaning the case is not over.

Bishop Pohjola succeeds Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, who has headed Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church since 2006. He was elected to serve the ILC as Europe Region representative in 2007 and 2009, following which he was named Vice Chairman. When the Chairman’s seat became vacant in 2010 between World Conferences, he was automatically advanced to become interim Chairman. The 2012 World Conference elected him to continue serving as Chairman, and he was subsequently reelected to the position again in 2015 and 2018. In total, he served 12 years as ILC Chairman and 15 years in total on the board.

After Bishop Voigt announced he would not stand for reelection, attendees gave him a standing round of applause in gratitude for his long and faithful service.

Secretary and World Region Representatives

The ILC Board of Directors for the new triennium: LCP President Antonio del Rio Reyes (Asia); IELP President Alceu Alton Figur (Latin America); LCC President Timothy Teuscher (North America); ELCG Bishop John Shadrack Donkoh (ILC Secretary); ELCE Chairman George Samiec (Europe); ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola (ILC Chairman); LCMS President Matthew Harrison (Founding Member); ELCK Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo (Africa); LCC Past President Robert Bugbee (Member-at-Large); and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill (ILC General Secretary).

The September 14 afternoon session of the ILC’s 2022 World Conference also saw the election of Bishop John Shadrack Donkoh of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG) to serve as Secretary of the ILC. Bishop Donkoh has been head of the ELCG since 2018. He succeeds President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB), who had served in the role since 2004.  The assembly recognized President van Hattem for his years of service with a round of applause.

During the afternoon, the ILC also acclaimed world region representatives to the board of directors for the new triennium. Serving as representative for Africa is Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK). Asia will be represented by President Antonio del Rio Reyes of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP). The European representative is Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). Latin America will be represented by President Alceu Alton Figur of the Lutheran Church of Paraguay. And North America will be represented by President Timothy Teuscher of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC).

The ILC’s board of directors also includes two other members who are appointed under other criteria. Past President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) remain on the board in this capacity.

An installation service for the new triennium’s Board of Directors will take place on the conference’s final date.

Other business

Following the elections, President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) reported on the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, which is a joint project of the LCMS, Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), and the ILC.

Regional meetings followed, after which four World Region reports were given. LCP President Reyes gave the report from Asia. ELCE Chairman Samiec reported on Europe. Finally, LCC President Teuscher, accompanied by LCMS President Harrison, reported on the North America region.

The conference then heard a brief report on Concordia Israel from Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church in Norway and Iceland. Following this, Rev. Roger James, the ILC’s Assistant to the General Secretary, then addressed the conference as well.

The day closed with a service of Vespers. President Geraldo Schüler of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) preached on the theology of the cross, tying in to the commemoration of Holy Cross Day, while conference chaplain Rev. Charles Froh served as liturgist.


ILC Prepares for 2022 World Conference

KENYA -The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is preparing for its forthcoming 27th World Conference, which will take place in Kisumu, Kenya from September 13-16, 2022. During that time, leaders of confessional Lutheran church bodies across the globe will gather to worship together, to study Scripture, and to consider their mutual proclamation to the world of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Liturgy and Culture: How Worship Shapes Our Life Together and Why We Do What We Do.”

The Liturgy serves and shapes the missionary task of the Church,” conference material explains. “It is in its very nature mission work in which people are brought out of one culture and integrated into another. The Liturgy teaches within the context of prayer. It shapes faith and life. It serves the common confession and fosters unity.”

“The ‘worship wars’ of recent generations continue,” the workbook explains, “while the Church is also experiencing an escalation in the more lethal ‘cultural wars.’ Churches are denied freedom of speech and access to the public square. Conference speakers will address a variety of topics in which liturgical theology and practice and church life are being challenged by external influences.”

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola

Serving as keynote speaker for the 2022 World Conference is Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). Bishop Pohjola’s address is entitled: “Church and Culture: The Devastating Effects of the Progressive Socio-Political Ideology and Cultural Trends on the Church, with Special Attention to Recent Events in Finland.”

The conference will feature three other presentations on the subject of liturgy and culture given by: Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov, Rector of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia; Rev. Dr. Joseph Tom Omolo, Principal of Neema Lutheran College in Matongo, Kenya; and Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (USA).

During the conference, the ILC will hold elections, hear reports, and conduct other business. Participants will also visit sites affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK), the host church for this year’s conference, where they will learn about the ELCK’s works of mercy and human care as well as theological education, among other activities.


Finnish bishop receives honorary doctorate

Bishop Juhana Pohjola is introduced before receiving an honorary doctorate from Concordia Theological Seminary.

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 is congratulated by CTSFW President Lawrence Rast upon receiving an honorary doctorate.

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.”

Bishop Juhana Pohjola addresses the gathering following his reception of the honorary doctorate.

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.”


Christianity on Trial: Finnish bishop and politician acquitted on all charges

Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen speak before trial proceedings on February 14, 2022. (Photo: ELMDF).

FINLAND – On March 30, 2022, the District Court of Helsinki acquitted Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen on all charges. The two had been charged with hate crimes for articulating historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.

“This is not only a victory for us but for freedom of speech and religion in Finland and beyond,” said Bishop Pohjola in a statement after the ruling. “In seeking to criminalize Christian teaching 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.”

“I would like to thank all of those who have provided support and encouragement during this long process,” Bishop Pohjola continued. “There has been a tremendous outpouring of intercession from all around the world. Ultimately, this is a spiritual battle and a matter concerning the Gospel of Christ.”

The trial and its implications for religious freedom in Finland drew worldwide attention. Dr. Räsänen had been charged for authoring a 2004 booklet which discusses the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality, in the context of the then-ongoing debate in Finland on the legalization of same-sex marriage. Bishop Pohjola was charged for his role as publisher. Dr. Räsänen also faced two other charges for public statements on sexuality, including for a tweet in which she included a photograph of a Bible verse.

The court proceedings drew particular concern, as the prosecution focused on examining the defendants doctrinal beliefs—a “conflation of juridical and theological argumentation,” in Bishop Pohjola’s words, which seemed worryingly out of place in a civil court.

In a unanimous decision, the three judge-panel of the District Court of Helsinki ruled that Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola be acquitted on all charges, declaring that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” It further ordered the state to pay the legal costs of the defence.

The Prosecutor General, who decided to press charges despite an initial investigation by Helsinki police which determined no laws had been broken, had been seeking steep fines against Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola. The prosecution had asked the court to fine Dr. Räsänen the maximum criminal victim compensation possible—equivalent to 120 days of personal income. Bishop Pohjola faced the possibility of a fine equivalent to 60 days of personal income. The ELMDF’s legal entity, meanwhile, was threatened with a corporate fine of €10,000 for publishing the booklet.

The court’s decision to acquit was welcomed by the International Lutheran Council (ILC), which has covered the situation in Finland extensively. “There is a dangerous movement in western societies today to impose a progressive secular religion on others, at the expense of freedom of speech and religion,” said ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill. “This new orthodoxy seeks to stamp out all opposition, including those who uphold the traditional view of human sexuality, which is supported by both Holy Scripture and natural law. The proponents of the new orthodoxy may find today’s ruling a jarring speed bump to their agenda but not, I fear, a stop sign.”

“Thank God for the Helsinki District Court, which still respects the principles of freedom of speech and action, and responded with a unanimous, clear decision to acquit on all charges,” Dr. Quill continued. “And thank God for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, who have given a bold and graceful witness to both God’s Law and the saving proclamation of the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. They are faithful examples to Christians the world over.”

After the prosecution brought charges against Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen in 2021, the ILC issued a public protest signed by the ecclesiastical leaders of 45 confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide. It further sponsored a lecture tour by Bishop Pohjola to draw attention to the case and its implications for freedom of religion and freedom of expression. The ELMDF is a member of the ILC.

While the decision to acquit has been welcomed by many, the case is not necessarily over; the prosecution still has the opportunity to appeal the decision to Helsinki’s Court of Appeal.


Livestream: Bishop Pohjola lecture on religious freedom


ONLINE – Unable to attend Bishop Juhana Pohjola’s American lecture tour in person? You can also watch online!

Bishop Pohjola’s lecture in Fort Wayne, Indiana on Saturday, November 13, 2021 will be broadcast live online at 9:30 a.m. (EST). The event will also feature a service of matins.

Simply visit the International Lutheran Council’s Facebook page here, or return to this webpage on Saturday, November 13 to watch the event live.


New Bishop Consecrated for Finnish Lutherans

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola and those who participated in his consecration.

FINLAND – Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola was consecrated as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) on August 1, 2021 at the conclusion of the church’s three-day summer festival in Loimaa.

Bishop Pohjola, who formerly served the ELMDF as Diocesan Dean, was elected to serve as bishop earlier this year. Rev. Dr. Risto Soramies, outgoing bishop of the ELMDF, preached for the service and led the consecration of his successor. Bishop Soramies reminded Bishop Elect Pohjola to remember the words of Jesus: “Take care of My sheep” (John 21:16).

Bishop Risto Soramies questions Bishop Elect Pohjola.

Also participating in the consecration were Bishop Thor Henrik With (Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway), Bishop Bengt Ådahl (Mission Province in Sweden), President Matthew Harrison (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), and Bishop Hanns Jensons (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia). As the choir sang, Bishop Soramies placed the pectoral cross on Dr. Pohjola, Bishops With and Adahl assisted him into his robe, President Harrison presented him with the crosier, and—following the prayer of consecration—Bishop Jensons placed the mitre upon his head.

Bishop Matti Väisänen (the former bishop of Luther Foundation, the ELMDF’s predecessor organization) and two ELMDF pastors also participated in the consecration service.

Additional information on the consecration of Bishop Pohjola can be read at the ELMDF’s website here.

Bishop Pohjola’s consecration comes at a challenging time: he faces criminal charges for his role in publishing a 2004 document which articulates the historic Christian understanding of human sexuality. The International Lutheran Council (ILC), joined by the heads of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide, has condemned the decision of Finland’s Prosecutor General to charge Dr. Pohjola and the booklet’s author.

ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill was present for the ELMDF’s summer festival and Dr. Pohjola’s consecration, bringing greetings and encouragement on behalf of Lutherans across the globe. As part of his involvement, he sat down for an interview with Studio Krypta, the church’s media channel, to discuss the ILC’s work and its support for Bishop Pohjola in this difficult situation. “When your brother and sister are being persecuted for merely confessing the words of our Lord, the words of Holy Scripture, the church has to say something,” Dr. Quill explained. “Why would we be quiet? That just isn’t an option.”

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola

“It has been overwhelming to receive support and encouragement not only across church boundaries but also from many who are not even Christians,” noted Dr. Pohjola in a speech during the ELMDF’s summer festival. “The continuity of the Church does not only include faith in Christ; it also involves battles and suffering. That is why Martin Luther, our great mentor, adopted the bearing of the Holy Cross as the seventh mark of the Church.”

“I am not standing here before you trying to gather sacrificial points for my victimhood,” he continued. “I am not at all in danger. Even if I should be sentenced by the court, we will manage just fine. First, my anxiety is that many of the people who are struggling with questions of, for example, same-sex attraction will feel that there is no room for them in our congregations. My concern is that those people who disagree with us may think that Christians are filled with hate, that Christians do not believe that all humans are of equal worth. Second, I share an anxiety that fear and self-censorship may fill even the hearts of Christians. Finally, I feel anxious that our fatherland will become more ideologically narrow-minded.”

Dr. Pohjola continued: “It is our calling to speak the truth in love in all peace, to invite people to be partakers of grace, to pray for everyone, and without any bitterness endure in patience whatever resistance may come our way. Amidst all of this, I claim this hope and prayer that the Apostle Paul, who was filled with joy, wrote about while in prison: ‘I want you to know, brothers, that whatever has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel’ (Philippians 1:12). Lord, use all of this to the glory of Your Name!”


Signup for ILC Updates