By Stacey Egger
MILWAUKEE — On Tuesday, Aug. 1, at the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, a medical doctor and longstanding member of the Finnish Parliament, addressed the convention, recounting their experience being prosecuted in the Finnish courts for confessing biblical truth.
Räsänen described how in 2019, after the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland came out with official support of a Pride event, she posted a Tweet sharing text from Romans and questioning the leaders of the national church body for contradicting the testimony of Scripture.
“I was concerned this would undermine people’s trust in God’s Word and it would lead Christians astray, especially young Christians. The issue … would not be only of marriage or gender, but rather the matter of eternal salvation,” said Räsänen.
Since then, Räsänen has been at the center of investigation and litigation — first being targeted for the Twitter post, then for a 2004 pamphlet she wrote titled Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity. She and Pohjola, who published the pamphlet, faced charges of incitement against a minority, with a penalty of up to two years in prison.
Pohjola said, “The irony is that we are accused of discrimination, but what is the title of the booklet? Male and Female He Created Them. The idea that everyone possesses an inherent worth has its origins … in the creation narrative of the Bible. Every human being is the image of God. This is the basis for every person being equal and sharing inherent dignity, no matter what their sexual life might be.”
During a year and a half of investigations and 13 hours of police interrogation, Räsänen was asked repeatedly to recant her views.
“I said to them, ‘I stand behind these teachings of the Bible, whatever the consequences will be. I will not apologize [for] what the apostle Paul has stated.’”
The prosecutor general openly challenged Räsänen’s right to believe the testimony of Scripture.
“[She stated that] ‘if Mrs. Räsänen is convicted, that doesn’t mean that Bibles should be removed from libraries. You can still refer to the Bible … because there is nothing to forbid discussion of these historical texts. But what is essential is whether you agree with it,’” recounted Räsänen.
“The Gospel is at stake,” said Pohjola. “Dr. Räsänen writes in the pamphlet, ‘The Church is guilty of discrimination against homosexuals if they are not allowed to hear the full truth of the Word of God, which includes both the Law and the Gospel.’ In our broken sexuality, we all need to hear the Law and the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. We are called to share the wonderful news that we have our true identity as baptized children of God.”
In March 2022, the Helsinki District Court finally acquitted Pohjola and Räsänen of all charges. The decision was appealed, however, and they now await proceedings in the Court of Appeals.
Räsänen said she knows God is working through this process. Yet she fears that, even though she and Pohjola have seen victory in the court, the process has narrowed freedom of speech in her country by causing “self-censorship,” since Christians are more afraid than ever to speak. She urged the convention not to give in to this fear.
“If we do not now use our right to speak, the space we have for using our rights will eventually become even narrower. The more we keep silent about the teachings of the Bible on the painful issues of our time, the more powerful is the rejection of God’s Word,” she said.
“Dear friends,” said Pohjola, “fear is the first enemy in this fight, and silencing the truth [is] the first casualty. Why should we be fearful? What should we be afraid of? ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom. 8:31). So let us boldly and joyfully, in love and truth, keep on confessing Christ crucified.”
2023 LCMS convention — A conversation with Bishop Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen
The Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish Parliament, discuss religious persecution in Finland.View video
Posted Aug. 3, 2023
2023 LCMS Convention
Under the theme “We Preach Christ Crucified,” the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod met July 28–Aug. 3, 2023, at the Baird Center in Milwaukee.
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