November 12th, 2010
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is the state church of that nation and enjoys strong emotional connection to the people. But while about 80% of Finns are members of the church, the country is predominantly secular and church membership is mostly ritualistic rather than a reflection of attendance or devotion. Christmas service is popular and well attended; a Sunday in July, not so much.
So in some ways the ELCF has to walk a careful path, more spiritual adviser to the nation than spiritual voice of the people. And the church’s relationship with the people can be strained when the values of the population differ from long-held religious assumptions.
One area of difficulty is over issues of homosexuality. While Finnish society is generally accepting of gay people, some within the church lag behind. Unlike their sister Church of Sweden, which has celebrate same-sex weddings for the past year, ELCF has taken the position of nominally supporting gay persons but holding that same-sex acts were sinful.
This discrepancy has just come into focus. For a long time the church’s teaching has had a low profile. As is the case with many national churches, the ELCF seeks to allow for a wide diversity of belief. Many bishops and others within the church hierarchy were supportive of gay people and while there was a conflict, the ELCF was not seen as institutionally anti-gay.
That all changed in October. On Tuesday, the 12th, a televised panel discussion addressed the legalization of same-sex marriage (Finland has recognized Domestic Partnerships since 2002 and is discussing whether to convert to full marriage equality) among other gay-related issues. Among the panelists were a religious politician, Christian Democratic Party chairwoman PÃ¤ivÃ¤ RÃ¤sÃ¤nen, and the conservative Bishop of Tampere, Matti Repo. RÃ¤sÃ¤nen and Repo stated their opposition to marriage equality by appealing to the authority and the positions of the church.
The response was immediate.
The church allows for on-line resignation of membership, and the cancellations began while the program was still airing. By Friday 7,400 had rejected the church and the number grew to 18,000 by that Sunday. Over the next two weeks more and more Finns expressed their discontent with the church’s position on gay people and as many as 41,000 Finns resigned in protest, a huge number in a country with a population of about 5.4 million.
This caused a national discussion and shook up the church. But rather than take a position of moral indignation, the head of the ELCF, Archbishop Kari MÃ¤kinen welcomed the shake-up. He found the resignations to be a reasonable response to the church’s positions and called on his church to make bold change. (hs.fi)
“I expect the delegates of the Synod to make an unambiguous decision that will support and encourage homosexual people and same-sex couples who have registered their civil union”, said MÃ¤kinen.
The Archbishop warned the delegates not to focus only on policies or conceptual nuances. Such behaviour would only give a message that the church is remaining silent.
Lay members also responded. Those seeking to represent their parish to the national body were overwhelmingly in agreement (ice news)
A candidate test was carried out this week on the Church homepage in order to vet applicants for the upcoming elections. The survey, which enables voters to choose a suitable runner for their parish, jammed after opening on Monday due to unexpected demand.
In the online examination, 72 percent of respondents said they were in support of the Church holding prayer vigils for same sex couples. A further 48 percent said they were also in favour of blessing gay couples and gay marriage.
And today the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland announced a change in its response to gay parishioners. By an overwhelming vote of the ministers and bishops, the church welcomed and offered recognition to same-sex couples. (AFP)
After years of debate, Finland’s state church took a step towards accepting gay relationships with an announcement Friday it would create a “prayer moment” for registered partnerships.
“The proposal offers a positive opportunity to minister to church members who are sexual minorities,” the General Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s highest administrative body, said in a statement.
This prayer (which will be carefully drafted) is not the same as a blessing of the union, per se, nor will it be a sacrament of the church. But it is the church’s sanction of same-sex relationships and a step in the direction of full inclusion.
And, in context of the national discussion over marriage equality, it is a statement that shifts the equation.
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Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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