The Persecution Of Päivi Räsänen
Päivi Räsänen is a member of the Finnish Parliament from the Christian Democratic Party, and a practicing Lutheran. She is also facing hate speech investigations for having questioned publicly her own church leaders’ decision to affirm LGBT pride. Now, the Finnish police have expanded the investigation to consider charges against her over a 2004 pamphlet she wrote defending the Lutheran Church’s traditional teaching about marriage (which entails denying that same-sex marriage is a real marriage). It’s worth noting that Räsänen wrote that pamphlet seven years before LGBT was added to the national hate-speech law as a protected class. She was investigated once before for the pamphlet, and cleared — but now she’s going to undergo another interrogation.
Here’s a screenshot of the tweet (with a translation) that started it all. I’ve cut off the entire image; it’s simply verses from the Bible that back up Räsänen’s claim. “Kirkko” is Finnish for “the Church” — in this case, the Finnish Lutheran church, in which Räsänen’s husband is a pastor:
Räsänen agreed to answer my questions via e-mail. Below is our interview:
ROD DREHER: You were interrogated for four hours by the police for things you have written about Christianity and homosexuality. What did they want to know?
PÄIVI RÄSÄNEN: There are two separate police investigations, although they both have to do with freedom of religion and free speech. In both cases, the criminal offense I am suspected of is agitation against an ethnic group.
The background of the first case is this: I was shocked when I heard that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, which I am a member of, announced its official affiliation to Helsinki LGBT Pride 2019. In June, I decided to write a tweet where I asked that how can the church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?
The police started a criminal investigation about this tweet in August. I was then summoned to a police interrogation that was conducted November 1 at the Pasila Police Station, Helsinki. I was interrogated for almost four hours concerning this tweet. The police asked me if I agree to remove the tweet within two weeks. I answered no. I was asked about the contents of the Letter to the Romans and what I meant by saying that practicing homosexuality is a sin and a shame. I answered that all of us are sinners, but the sinfulness of practicing homosexuality is nowadays denied.
The other police investigation has to do with a pamphlet I wrote 15 years ago. The investigation started in August this year. I have not yet been summoned to the interrogation concerning the pamphlet, but I have understood that it is likely to take place in December. The content of the pamphlet is quite the same as my tweet’s.
The pamphlet is a publication of Suomen Luther-säätiö [The Lutheran Foundation Finland] from 2004. It takes a stand on ecclesiastical policy, social policy, sexuality and marriage from a Christian perspective. It is noteworthy that previously, in October, the police already concluded that there was no need for an investigation, as there was no reason to believe that a crime had been committed.
The Prosecutor General, who was requested to re-evaluate this matter, reached a different conclusion than the police. According to the Prosecutor General, there is reason to believe that because of the defamation of homosexuals by the violation of their human dignity, I am guilty of incitement to hatred against a group.
According to the Criminal Code of our country:
Criminal Code, Section 10: Agitation against an ethnic group
“A person who makes available to the public or otherwise spreads among the public or keeps available for the public information, an expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted on the basis of its race, skin colour, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability or a comparable basis, shall be sentenced for ethnic agitation to a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years”.
By the way, this section in our legislation came into force just in 2011, that is seven years after writing the pamphlet.
According to the information I have received, these police investigations will lead to consideration of charges, which will result probably in a prosecution.
It is impossible for me to think that the classical Christian views and the doctrine of the majority of denominations would become illegal. The question here is about the core of Christian faith; how a person gets saved into unity with God and into everlasting life though the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus. Therefore, it is crucial to also talk about the nature of sin.
RD: Is it effectively against the law in Finland to speak about basic Christian beliefs concerning homosexuality?
PR: The law does not prohibit this, and it is legal to speak and preach about what the Bible teaches. Freedom of religion is strongly guaranteed both in our Constitution and in the International Human Rights Treaties. However, more and more so, it seems to be that expressing opinions relating to, for example, marriage belonging between one man and one woman, or the sinfulness of homosexual acts, is politically incorrect, subject to silencing, and frowned upon. My case is a precedent. The Bible is a totally legal book and our church’s doctrinal foundation, according to our law.
Our Church Act states that “All doctrine must be examined and evaluated according to God’s Holy Word.” When our Parliament was discussing the Church Act this autumn, I read aloud the exact same verses from the Letter to the Romans that I cited in my tweet that led to the police investigation. I did this because I thought it was necessary for the parliamentarians to pay attention to the fact that although there were some minor changes proposed to the Church Act, most of the Act stayed the same. The Act still prescribes that the Lutheran Church confesses the Bible-based Christian faith.
This means that the Parliament has not only allowed the Church to confess its faith in its doctrine and action, it prescribes it to do so. The General Synod is the highest decision-making body of the Church. The General Synod makes key decisions relating to the Church’s doctrine and ministry. It has an important legislative function, drafting and presenting Church law for approval or rejection by the Finnish Parliament.
The Christian view of man is currently attacked, whether we think of questions relating to sexuality and gender, protection of life, or concepts such as man or woman, boy or girl. This is sad, as the foundation of the Finnish legislation and civilization lie in Christianity. In these questions we are at the core of unalienable truths. God created man in His own image – therefore human life is sacred and worthy of protection from the beginning to the end and meant to bring glory to God. Our legislation may change, but the laws of nature do not change, nor does the Word of God. As a Christian, I believe it is always the right time to speak about the truths of the Word of God.
I have emphasized that my purpose was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed to the leadership of the church. As a Christian, I think that if someone expresses an opinion that is against my faith or my conscience, it does not mean that I have been threatened, defamed or insulted the way the Criminal Code means it. As we are living in a democratic country, we must be able to disagree and express our disagreement. We have to be able to cope with speech that we feel insults our feelings. Many questions are so debatable and contradictory that we have to have the possibility of discussing. Otherwise the development is towards a totalitarian system, with only one correct view.
RD: What do the Finnish people think about this? Do they favor the government’s position, and if so, why?
PR: My tweet created a huge uproar and the police investigations have got a lot of attention. The current government of Finland is not involved with my cases in any way. The criminal complaints done against me have been done by Finnish citizens. The criminal investigations are conducted by the police. The judiciary, which is a completely separate body from the government, interprets and applies the law in Finland.
I am surprised that the investigations continue on these cases that have deeply to do with freedom of religion and free speech. I do not see I would have committed a crime, as I believe that many Finns still consider for example marriage as a contract between a man and a woman. The problem is that many of the conservative-minded people are silent about these issues, whereas the advocacy groups of sexual minorities are very aggressive and well organized, and have strongly affected the development of the church, the media and people’s minds. The media’s viewpoint is biased, and it tends continually to give more space and voice to liberal perspectives regarding these issues.
I have to say that I have had amazingly much support from Christians, both from Finland and from abroad, so there seems to be a lot of understanding towards the values I present.
It nevertheless seems that Finnish people are quite divided regarding these issues that have deeply to do with values, and the majority expresses quite liberal thoughts. Out current government is also liberal and the government has announced that an act on the legal recognition of gender based on self-determination will be enacted and the requirement of infertility will be removed from the act. This means that a person’s gender could be changed simply by one’s own application, based on the person’s experience of representing the other gender. I must say that as a medical doctor, Christian and parliamentarian, this kind of policy developments are bad and must not take place.
RD: Do you foresee persecution coming for Finland’s Christians?
PR: If expressing Bible-based views will become more intolerable and considered to have the constituent elements of agitation against an ethnic group, then spreading the Bible or offering access to it should logically be criminalized. Already at the moment it seems that especially the young people are afraid that if you are labelled as a Bible-believing Christian, it will hinder your career and social acceptance. In my opinion, it is specifically Christianity that is being attacked and will be attacked even more aggressively in the future. We are clearly living in a time when the core of the Christianity is being questioned.
A major threat for the freedom of religion is that we don’t exercise this right. These police investigations raise concerns about limiting our basic freedoms that have been guaranteed to all of us, also MPs, in our Constitution and International Human Right Treaties. We have to know our rights and use them!
I hope these criminal investigations won’t lead to self-censorship among Christians. I am worried that the police investigations might have a chilling effect among Christians. It seems that many Christians in my country are now hiding and going to the closet now that the LGBT community has come out to the public. I am concerned that in the future Christians will have a higher threshold at citing the Bible or presenting teachings based on the Bible. The more we keep silent about these controversial topical themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion gets.
RD: In the US, gay rights advocates years ago spoke of the necessity of “tolerance.” But we have found that once they gain power, many of them are extremely intolerant. I was just in Russia for 10 days. It is incredible to watch the faces of ordinary Russians when I tell them how far LGBT activism has gone in the US (for example, Drag Queen Story Hour, and Christians losing their jobs and businesses for opposing LGBT claims). What is happening in the West?
PR: I believe that ultimately the purpose of these attacks is to eliminate the Word of God and discard the Law of God. It is very problematic that expressing Christian beliefs is often seen as insulting in the West. For example, marriage between a man and a woman has become a concept that is understood as restrictive, even threatening. Concepts such as man and woman, father and mother, are dearly loved concepts, and as old as the history of humanity. The attempt to break down the gender system based on two different genders hurts especially children. It is unfortunate how uncritically the ideology of sexual diversity and LGBT activism has been supported and endorsed even by churches.
I believe that every person has the right to hear the whole truth of God’s Word, both the Gospel and the Law. Only people who recognize their sins need Jesus, the propitiation for our sins. We must have the courage to speak about the dangerous effects of LGBT activism. Debatable themes such as immoral sexual relations have to do with guilt. Guilt cannot be solved by denying it, but only by confessing it and receiving mercy and the message of forgiveness in Jesus’ sacrifice. It is impossible to think that classical Christian doctrine would become illegal in the West.
RD: What is coming next in your case?
PR: After the police have finished the criminal investigations, the police will send their decision to the Prosecutor General, who will decide on whether to raise charges or not. Depending on the decision of the Prosecutor General, the cases will be handled by district court. The court either disapproves or approves the charges. It is possible to apply to the higher courts if the defendant disagrees with the court’s decision.
Irrespective of the outcome of the criminal investigations, I am going to use my freedom of religion, which is strongly guaranteed both in our Constitution and in the International Human Right Treaties, and publicly speak about the teachings of God’s Holy Word in the future. I encourage others to do the same. We must not be intimidated. If the Prosecutor General raises charges against me, it is likely that this will be a process of several years.
In all this I have a completely calm mind. “…in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11)
Here is a link to Päivi Räsänen’s website in English,with contact information. What’s happening to her in Finland is not merely about Finland. It’s about all of us. Remember her words: “The more we keep silent about these controversial topical themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion gets.” Silence means collaboration in your own eventual persecution. Notice too that the hostility to this Christian woman is also coming from within her own church, because she stands up for what the church claims to believe. She’s a prophet.
By the way, CBN News interviewed her a couple of weeks ago. Here’s that piece. Watch it and think about how it is that this slight, soft-spoken Finnish woman — a doctor and mother of five — has more courage than many, many of us American Christians: