Overview:

Although Finland is fundamentally secular, as is neighboring Scandinavia, faith traditions there still try to dictate sexual mores.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Two court cases about faith and sexuality have been dubiously characterized as “shocking” and “a ‘canary in the coalmine’ for freedom of speech throughout the Western world,” according to human rights lawyer Paul Coleman of the conservative, religion-promoting Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADFI).

Though the ADFI’s characterization may sound a bit overwrought (and is), it’s, unfortunately, the mainstream view of many Western conservatives and Christians. The organization bills itself on its website as “the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, marriage and family, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.”

Clearly, if this booklet is condemned as criminal … it augurs a traumatic and convulsive future not only in Finland, but the entire West.

conservAtive population research institute news release

The Finnish cases consider whether demonizing gays and same-sex marriage is a hate crime if committed by people who believe in a purported biblical condemnation of homosexuality.

Finnish pol and bishop condemn homosexuality

The conjoined Finnish court cases involve a social media post by Parliament member and former Interior minister (2011-2015) Päivi Räsänen, a medical doctor, which outlines an anti-homosexuality pamphlet she wrote in 2004, and Juhana Pohjola, the Lutheran Bishop who published the treatise under the auspices of Luther Foundation Finland.

Räsänen and Pohjola have been formally charged with “hate crimes” by Finland’s prosecutor general. Their trial opened on Feb. 14, and a ruling by the court is scheduled this month (March 2022). Each defendant faces a fine of 13,000 Euros or a maximum two-year prison sentence.

The religious right is understandably worried.

“Clearly, if this booklet is condemned as criminal, and its author and publisher are sentenced to prison as a consequence, it augurs a traumatic and convulsive future not only in Finland, but the entire West,” the arch-conservative, overpopulation-denying Population Research Institute (PRI) warned in a news release.

ADFI’s Coleman contends that the cases are “a watershed for the persecution of Christianity in the West” due to purportedly overzealous expansion of the breadth of Western hate-crime laws:

I would characterize the day as a modern-day Inquisition or heresy trial,” Coleman said in a phone interview after the trial’s first day, as reported by The Federalist. “And the heresy was that Päivi and Bishop Juhana were on trial against the new sexual orthodoxy of the day.”

As if human sexuality were akin to religious orthodoxy.

On the other hand, public attitudes toward sexuality and gender have regularly swung back and forth according to social trends over millennia. Classical Greeks and Romans, for example, not only approved of and encouraged romantic liaisons between older men and boys under certain rules but viewed the practice as ennobling. However, Christian religious views on sexuality have been locked in place from the beginning.

Western societies warm to LGBTQ preferences

Today, though LGBTQ activity is condemned in many cultures, in the West it has been gaining more and more general acceptance in the past several decades. For instance, in the United States, same-sex marriage has been constitutionally protected since 2015, whereas during most of the republic’s history, as for centuries elsewhere in the West, Bible-based Christian revulsion toward homo-eroticism outlawed the practice and severely persecuted its proponents.

The question of the moment in Finland is whether it’s legally or morally appropriate in the 21st century to blame and shame homosexuals and other LGBTQ citizens for their victimless lifestyles—in other words, whether hate is as culturally appropriate toward gays as for, say, thieves and murderers.

Conservatives view criminalizing of their faith-based denunciation of and discrimination against LGBTQ people as tantamount to persecuting Christians. In a piece for the conservative American Spectator ezine, George Neumayr cautioned:

“‘According to the nation’s top prosecutor, the two people are accused of violating the equality and dignity of LGBT people,’ reports Christianity Today. Simply quoting the Bible’s condemnation of sexual immorality is now sufficient to qualify as a ‘hate crime’ in Finland. What Christianity has always taught—hate the sin, but love the sinner—is no longer permissible in the eyes of Finnish authorities. They say that Pohjola and Räsänen are guilty of ‘ethnic agitation’ — an absurdly vague charge they would never dream of applying to members of any other religion besides Christianit …  Should they prevail against Räsänen and Pohjola, the practice of Christianity will have become officially criminal in Finland.

Räsänen, 62, said her 13 hours under police interrogation felt like “Soviet times.”

What’s immoral in one culture is normal in another

In fact, it is appropriate to condemn the ancient Bible’s condemnation of “sexual immorality” in a modern context if culture has evolved beyond scriptural proscriptions. After all, one culture’s “immorality” often is another’s normal behavior. The French, for instance, have a more liberal and accepting view of adultery than other Western nations.

Finland’s prosecutor general, in charging Räsänen and Pohjola, said their social media statements and promotion of the pamphlet were an “affront to the equality and dignity of homosexuals” and were “likely to provoke contempt, intolerance, and even hatred towards homosexuals.”

 When he was charged, Pohjola said, “according to the Bible and the Christian conception of man, homosexual relations are against the will of God, and marriage is intended only between a man and a woman.”

Räsänen, who is the mother of five, arrived at the courtroom for her trial carrying a Bible.

“I hope it will be clear today that I do not wish to offend any group of people, but that it is about saving people for eternal life,” she told reporters.

For starters, it is neither a global consensus view nor a provable assumption that an “eternal life” even exists to “save people for.”

Different worldviews separate believers and seculars

The disconnect between religious true-believers and secular people is their divergent worldviews. The former wishfully believe that a divine omnipotence purposefully orchestrates the instant-by-instant lives of all human beings, and that the Bible provides the infallible roadmap for how everyone should live. The latter follow practical personal and social guidelines in the real world based on Enlightenment humanist ideas—including the essential value that hate-mongering is immoral.

Räsänen and Pohjola believe in the moot idea that they can hate LGBTQ behavior but still “love” LGBTQ people while at the same time persecuting and condemning them.

This historical derision of LGBTQ persons is curious considering their continuous cultural commonality now and through the ages. In the contemporary world, for instance, studies show that such people are more or less evenly distributed in every society, indicating that alternative preference is not an aberration.

Indeed, homosexuality was finally removed as a mental disorder from the American Psychiatric Association’s influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in 1987, characterizing it instead as a trait within the normal range of human sexual identity and expression.

A 2015 Psychology Today article tracked homosexuality’s evolution in American culture and the DSM:

“First published in 1968, DSM-II (the second edition of the American classifcation of mental disorders) listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. In this, the DSM followed in a long tradition in medicine and psychiatry, which in the 19th century appropriated homosexuality from the Church and, in an élan of enlightenment, promoted it from sin to mental disorder.”

So, once again, religion is embedded where it shouldn’t be.

And this problem remains in Finland, as elsewhere in the world, where ancient books informed by fantasy worlds have long been unjustly allowed to prescribe for everyone what is “natural” in the real one—and to proscribe any deviations.

Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...