Bishop Pohjola fights spiritual battle in Finnish courtroom

30-08-2023

Northern Europe

Evert van Vlastuin, CNE.news

Bishop Pohjola (left) with Päivi Räsänen (right). Photo Matti Korhonen

Juhana Pohjola is defending himself. But in doing so, he is also defending his opponents’ freedom to express themselves on marriage and sexuality. That is why he goes with confidence to the Court of Appeal on Thursday and Friday. “Ultimately, this case is about who God is,” he says.

Twenty years ago, in 2003, Bishop Pohjola (pronounced Póhjola) began publishing brochures on Biblical themes. “A catechetical series on theological topics,” he says in a video interview with CNE.news.

He asked Mrs. Räsänen to write about marriage and (homo)sexuality. Räsänen was known as a Christian medical doctor and, since 1995, a Member of Parliament for the Christian Democratic Party KD. There was plenty of political debate about opening marriage to homosexuals. The bishop felt it necessary to equip the new generation to defend traditional marriage. Räsänen was cut out for that, Pohjola knew.

Deviation

A year later, the brochure was there: “Man and woman He created them”. In it, Räsänen deals with the ethical aspects of homosexuality as well as medical, and psychological aspects. Her starting point was that God intended sexuality for the marriage of a man and a woman.

But Räsänen also incorporated insights from psychological textbooks she had kept from her student days in the 1980s. These reflected the view that homosexuality is a deviation which need not be permanent. She also warned that homosexuality should not be presented to young people as normal, as this could tempt adults to experiment with minors.

Boxes

No one knows how useful the brochure was. The amendment to the marriage law was made, and the boxes filled with booklets in the closet fell into oblivion.

In the summer of 2019, suddenly, everything changed. Mrs Räsänen asked the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on Twitter and Facebook whether supporting Pride was appropriate, given the church’s (official) teachings. She posted a picture of Romans 1 verse 24-27, where Paul describes intimate contact between men as “shameful”.

The police charged the MP with hate speech and launched an investigation. Initially, the case seemed to bleed to death, but eventually, prosecution ensued. It also involved Pohjola, he says from Helsinki. “I was editor of this series, which contained hate speech according to the prosecution. So, for that reason, I am also being prosecuted.”

Last year, you were acquitted of all charges. To what extent do you expect a different approach from the prosecutor in this appeal?

“Broadly speaking, I expect a repetition of the same arguments. The court did acknowledge in the verdict that this brochure could contain offensive language. The prosecutor will point out that it actually does and that this is also an offence, not just offensive language.”

If this court’s ruling is not satisfying, what other options are available?

“Both sides can appeal to the Supreme Court in Finland. And if we were to lose there, we can go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

What do you personally expect: Will this end up in Strasbourg?

“It certainly could. Of course, the higher the case goes, the stronger its precedent will be. This exceptional case crosses the line between fundamental freedom of expression and discrimination. It could also have quite an impact at the European level. Hence also the great international interest.”

Guilty

Pohjola believes he and Räsänen have “a strong case”. “Even if we have to go to the Supreme Court or Strasbourg, we are in God’s good hand, and I pray that this will serve His good intentions in Finland. We are ready to go all the way because it does not matter to us whether we have to pay fines or are found guilty.

However, Christians and even our opponents’ fundamental freedoms are at stake. Freedom of speech is a basic right for every citizen in a civilised democratic country.”

Räsänen’s brochure defends the classical Christian view of marriage and sexuality. Today, many Christians today see room for homosexual partnerships. To what extent is your position outdated?

“Well, God is not outdated, nor is the creation order. Marriage remains an institution of one man and one woman. For children to have a mother as well as a father is also not outdated. Therefore, in our view, this case is also about what is a woman and man, what the created order is, and its design. Ultimately, it is about who God is.

Therefore, this is an attack on the basic beliefs of our Christian faith. This is a spiritual battle.

The classic Christian understanding of sexuality is that it takes place within the marriage of one man and one woman. It has always been so and will always remain so. At the same time, of course, we respect every person, whatever their orientation or sexual life. But a Christian follows the natural order, including in the doctrine of marriage. There is no other option.”

As a bishop, you are used to being in the driver’s seat. In this trial, most of the attention goes to Mrs. Räsänen. What is it like to be somewhat in the shade?

“Well, I am very grateful to God for Mrs. Räsänen. She is a courageous and humble Lutheran woman. She bears witness to the love and mercy of Christ Jesus that we all need. I am proud to stand beside her.”

How are you looking forward to the sessions on Thursday and Friday?

“The case puts a strain on me and my family. It also brings a lot of extra work. But I also know that thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people, are praying for us.

Furthermore, we are not alone there in our own wisdom and strength. We pray that we give a good testimony and may stand firm in our faith. And that this trial can serve the good cause of our country and also Europe in general.”

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