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Juhana Pohjola

Closing statements heard in trial against Finnish Bishop and MP

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

FINLAND – Proceedings in the trial against Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) continued on February 14, with the prosecution and the defense making their closing statements.

“The main idea of the Prosecutor seems to be that the Bible should not be taught in its own right in public, and that freedom of religion does not allow permission to speak out loud if what is said is considered to discriminate against a minority group,” commented Bishop Pohjola following the prosecution’s closing statement. “In this view, biblical teachings on marriage, sexuality, sin, and mercy could not be proclaimed publicly. This is an attack on religious freedom.”

The two are on trial for their articulation of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. Dr. Räsänen is charged for authoring a 2004 booklet entitled “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” and Bishop Pohjola is charged for publishing the work. Dr. Räsänen also faces two other charges, including for criticizing Finland’s national Lutheran church—of which she is a member—for its support of Helsinki Pride in a tweet that included an image of a Bible verse from Romans 1:24-27.

The Prosecutor General has requested that the court impose the maximum criminal victim compensation on Dr. Räsänen, valued at 120 days of personal income. The prosecution requests Bishop Pohjola be directed to provide compensation equivalent to 60 days of personal income. The prosecution has further requested a corporate fine of €10,000 against the ELMDF’s legal entity, the Luther Foundation.

The court will announce its verdict on March 30.

The decision to put the two on trial has led to international outcry, with many calling it an attack on religious freedom. The International Lutheran Council (ILC)—of which the ELMDF is a member—was among those expressing serious concern about the decision to charge Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen and encouraging prayer for them.

The trial began on January 24. In her opening remarks, the Prosecutor General suggested that the trial was in no way about the Bible. But over the course of her presentation, and throughout her argumentation and questioning, she returned repeatedly to discussions of the nature of Scripture, the defendant’s hermeneutics, and the Christian understanding of sin.

Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen (Screenshot: ELMDF)

“I assumed the Prosecutor would not go into this matter of the Bible and theology,” noted Bishop Pohjola in an interview with Studio Krypta (a media program of the ELMDF) following the first court date. “I thought that this would be a cold juridical handling of these matters. In that, I was truly surprised.”

“Although she stated this was not about the Bible or about freedom of religion or opinions,” he continued, “she went quite deeply into theological issues.” The Prosecutor questioned the Bishop on his understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, the status of biblical and civil law, and so forth—a “conflation of juridical and theological argumentation” which seemed remarkable in a civil court. Worse, Bishop Pohjola said, was the Prosecutor’s attempt to link those who accept historic Christian teaching on sexuality with those who would kill or rape in the name of religion.

Regarding the booklet itself, Dr. Räsänen suggested in the same interview with Studio Krypta that the prosecution had to “cherry-pick” pieces here and there, dealing only with “peripheral matters” while ignoring the “central teachings of the booklet” in order to justify the charges. “What I grasped there in the trial, and actually even before it, was what a weak basis they had” to proceed to trial, Dr. Räsänen said. “What the State Prosecutor read out [as charges], what she stated was written in the booklet, was untrue; those statements were not found there—not on the radio program, not in the booklet, nor in the tweet.”

Bishop Pohjola concurred. “I was puzzled when the Prosecutor read out the charges,” he said. The prosecution accused Dr. Räsänen of having called homosexuals pedophiles, saying they arose from genetic error, and even suggesting they were not created by God. The defendants rejected all of the charges as completely false, noting they were directly contradicted in the booklet and other public statements.

Instead, Bishop Pohjola argued, the booklet explains that, while historic Christian teaching considers homosexual acts to be sinful on the basis of Scripture, Christians do not therefore consider homosexuals any different than any other person before God. “All are of equal worth, and all are under sin, and all are under grace,” he explained. “We all have the same position before God. We want to say that homosexuals with these tendencies are welcome in our churches, to live in contact with Christ, and to find their identity—just as each of us should find our identity—as the creation of God, redeemed by Jesus Christ.”

“In the Prosecutor’s mind, these statements are of no importance—not believable,” Bishop Pohjola lamented. “But these are the ‘big picture’—the entire bedrock on which we Christians stand.”

“We denounce all improper and violent and inflammatory speech,” he said simply. “But the basic Christian preaching of the Law and Gospel is not that. ”

While admitting to feeling nervous in the lead-up to the trial, Dr. Räsänen said she “went into court with a calm mind.”

“I went there trusting God,” she explained. “I have felt very strongly, ever since that tweet I wrote, that this matter is in God’s hands and under His guidance. So, this is the path I must take.”

You can watch the entire Studio Krypta interview with Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen below. Be sure to select “English” in the closed-captioning options.

Additional information on the situation in Finland is available from the International Lutheran Council here.

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ILC urges prayer for Finnish Bishop and MP as trial begins

FINLAND – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is urging prayer for Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen as their trial in Finland begins today, January 24, in what has been widely criticized as an infringement on religious freedom. Dr. Pohjola is Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and Dr. Räsänen is a Finnish Member of Parliament.

The two face charges over the 2004 publication of a booklet authored by Dr. Räsänen which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. Bishop Pohjola has been charged as the publisher of the work. Despite an earlier investigation by Helsinki Police which concluded there was nothing illegal about the text, Finland’s Prosecutor General decided to charge the pair with “incitement against a group of people.” In addition, Dr. Räsänen faces several additional charges, including for quoting Scripture in a tweet which criticized her church body for participating in Helsinki Pride.

In 2021, the ILC published a letter signed by the bishops and presidents of dozens of Lutheran church bodies around the world protesting the decision to charge the pair for expressing biblical views on human sexuality. The ILC also sponsored an American tour on religious freedom in which Bishop Pohjola explains the situation taking place in Finland more clearly.

Please keep Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola in prayer throughout the trial:

Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Your only begotten Son to stand before Pilate to bear witness to the truth; He sent out His twelve with the promise that they will stand before governors and kings for Your sake, and bear witness before them, for the Gospel must be proclaimed to all nations. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon Finnish Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, that they might continue to proclaim Your Word with courage and clarity as they stand before the Finnish civil court; that Your divine law might convict those who persecute them and that Your Holy Gospel and Spirit would turn their hearts to repentance and true faith; through Jesus Christ, You Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

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A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland

A Global Lutheran Response to the Unjust Prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola and Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen


June 29, 2021
 – The bishops and presidents of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide are joining the International Lutheran Council (ILC) in issuing “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland.” The letter—signed by 48 ecclesiastical leaders representing 45 Lutheran church bodies and associations across the globe—condemns the ongoing criminal prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and Finnish M.P. Päivi Räsänen for expressing biblical views on human sexuality.

Bishop Elect Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen have been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with incitement against a group of people as a result of the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. “The actions of the Finnish State in prosecuting Christians for holding to the clear teaching of the very words of Jesus regarding marriage and sex (Matthew 19:4-6) are egregious,” the Lutheran leaders write in their letter. “And this particularly so since the accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.”

“We Lutherans make this strong confession along with Drs. Pohjola and Räsänen,” the letter continues. “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish State risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

The signatories write that they “condemn the unjustifiable criminal prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen M.P. for their public expressions of faith” and “call on the Finnish authorities to immediately discontinue their efforts to punish Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, to cease the prosecution of persons for the public expression of their faith, and to recommit to protecting the freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland.”

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Signatories of the letter (which is available in English, Spanish, and Finnish) include not only leaders of the ILC and its member churches, but also several Lutheran church bodies unaffiliated with the ILC, including church bodies associated with the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.

Copies of the letter have been sent to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Finland, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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Download the full document here in English, Spanish, and Finnish.

 

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