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Bishop Juhana Pohjola

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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