FINLAND – Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Finnish Member of Parliament, have been acquitted on all charges in a unanimous decision by the Helsinki Court of Appeals. The two had been charged with hate crimes for their expression of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.
“For me, this has been not only a legal but also a spiritual battle,” Bishop Pohjola said. “It is important for our church to be able to teach publicly what we understand to be the Word of God, the created order, and natural law. I have a calling as a Christian, as a pastor, to guard the faith and to teach it publicly—and then to carry the cross. Carrying the cross is the price we pay in this age to be witnesses for Christ.”
“We were united all the time with Dr. Räsänen,” Bishop Pohjola continued. “There was no discussion that we step back but instead wholeheartedly stand together for the Word of God, for the Gospel of Christ.”
The charges stemmed from a 2004 booklet written by Dr. Räsänen and published by Bishop Pohjola which articulates the historic Christian understanding of sexuality. Dr. Räsänen was also charged for two other statements, one of which was a tweet with an image of a Bible verse. The decision to prosecute the prominent Finnish politician and a Lutheran cleric drew widespread international concern over the state of religious freedom and free speech in Finland.
“While I celebrate this victory wholeheartedly, I’m also saddened at the thought of the enormous state resources expended over the last four years to prosecute us for nothing more than the peaceful expression of our Christian faith,” said Dr. Räsänen. “The basic human right to free speech remains under serious threat in Finland and around the world. No one should be punished for peacefully expressing their beliefs, and we are grateful that the court has upheld this core freedom.”
“There have been some difficult moments,” Dr. Räsänen continued, reflecting on the toll more than four years of investigation and prosecution have taken. But, she said, “I decided that whatever comes—whatever the consequences will be—I will not give up. Because I felt that this is not only my opinion, it is the Word of God.”
Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen initially faced trial in 2022, during which time the Prosecutor General repeatedly questioned their religious beliefs about Scripture, hermeneutics, and sin. A panel of three judges ultimately ruled that they be acquitted on all charges, stating that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” But the prosecution appealed, leading to hearings at the Helsinki Court of Appeals from August 31 to September 1, 2023.
The decision from the Helsinki Court of Appeals to uphold the district court’s decision may not be the end of the story either. The prosecution has indicated it may seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court of Finland.
“We give thanks to God for the news that Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen have been acquitted,” said Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “Lutherans across the globe have watched the unfolding situation with grave concern since authorities first began investigating the pair in 2019. We are grateful for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen’s bold witness to Christ in the face of government pressure. May God continue to bless and strengthen them as they wait to see whether the prosecution will again appeal the decision to a higher court.”
The International Lutheran Council has expressed strong support for Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen throughout the past four years as they endured investigation and trial. That support was notably seen in a 2021 public letter from the ILC signed by the leaders of 45 Lutheran church bodies from around the world. Representatives to the ILC’s 2022 World Conference in Kenya made another show of support for Bishop Pohjola when they elected him to serve as the new Chairman of the ILC.
The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and grounded in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.