Lutheran bishops from around the world have issued a statement condemning the criminal prosecution of Päivi Räsänen, a Christian politician who is facing six years in prison for sharing her biblical beliefs on sexuality and marriage, and Finnish Bishop-elect Juhana Pohjola, who distributed a pamphlet written by Räsänen.
“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,” says the statement issued by the International Lutheran Council and joined by the bishops and presidents of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide.
Räsänen, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, could face up to six years in prison after being charged with three counts of ethnic agitation related to statements she made expressing her beliefs about human sexuality and marriage.
A longstanding member of the Finnish Parliament, Räsänen publicly voiced her opinion on marriage in a 2004 booklet on sexual ethics, describing marriage as between one man and one woman. She also expressed her views on a 2019 radio show and tweeted church leadership on the matter.
Pohjola, the bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, has also been charged with one count of ethnic agitation for publishing Räsänen’s booklet.
“… The accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community,” says the letter, titled “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland.”
“We Lutherans make this strong confession along with Drs. Pohjola and Räsänen,” it 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?”
Prosecutors determined that Räsänen’s previous statements disparage and discriminate against LGBT individuals and foment intolerance and defamation. The mother of five maintains that her expressions are “legal and should not be censored.”
“I cannot accept that voicing my religious beliefs could mean imprisonment,” said Räsänen in a statement previously issued by ADF International, which is representing her. “I do not consider myself guilty of threatening, slandering or insulting anyone. My statements were all based on the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexuality.”
She added, “I will not back down from my views. I will not be intimidated into hiding my faith. The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets.”
In May, law professors and scholars called on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to pressure the State Department to sanction Finland’s prosecutor general for prosecuting Räsänen and Pohjola.
In an open letter published by Real Clear Politics, professors from Ivy League institutions like Harvard University, Yale University and Princeton University argued that the prosecution of the politician for her remarks could “compel Finland’s clergy and lay religious believers to choose between prison and abandoning teachings of their various faiths.”
Räsänen is no stranger to controversy as she has become known as a prominent Finnish defender of traditional Christian views on marriage, euthanasia and abortion.
As Evangelical Focus noted earlier, Räsänen’s views are often more conservative than those in the ECLF leadership.