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Church of Finland votes to welcome DPs after Finns leave in protest of anti-gay rhetoric

Timothy Kincaid

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 Päivä Räsänen, and the conservative Bishop of Tampere, Matti Repo. Räsänen 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 Mäkinen 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 Mäkinen.

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.

Comments

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Victor
November 12th, 2010 | LINK

How I wish I could be Finnish.

Soren456
November 12th, 2010 | LINK

I hate to be a churl, but why must a “prayer moment” (even one “carefully drafted”) be set aside for us? Separate but equal, more or less?

I don’t know Lutheran liturgy, especially the Finnish, but if there’s already a special prayer for the married, why not “carefully draft” a rewrite of IT, so as to include all who fall within it?

Yes, it’s a step: a tiresome half-step which will remain the rule for a very long time. And if these resignation numbers are accurate, they suggest that Finns are wanting more than half-steps; maybe if these 41,000 were actual pledging members, the result would be different.

hb
November 12th, 2010 | LINK

I may be wrong – frequently am – but I think this is not so much a half-step as something rather huge. For a church to respond that quickly in a positive direction, well, I don’t see the Catholic church doing it, do you?

Ben in Oakland
November 13th, 2010 | LINK

Nothing like losing 41000 donations to remind a church of ambrose Bierce’s definiton of morality…

convenience.

k.f.
November 13th, 2010 | LINK

this church is still an opponent of gay equality, not its friend.

the message of the voting was not that now prayers are allowed (there were already priests who did this before), but that blessings are still _forbidden_. even now it is still depending on the goodwill of the priest if he agrees to the prayer or if he denies even this minimal gesture. in fact, nothing has changed in the situation.

the finnish church gives blessings to pets and supermarkets, but explicitly denies them to loving couples – i don’t see why this is “good news”.

this church is not more than one little step up the dark cellar stairs – while the rest of the society is already chatting in the living room.

darkmoonman
November 13th, 2010 | LINK

Sad that we’ll never see a protest of equal magnitude within the USA. Too many NAALT’s (Not All Are Like That, who sit by and do nothing while the extremists bellow).

Pete
November 13th, 2010 | LINK

This is neither a change nor a step forward. This is a clear NO to change and a clear YES to discriminiation.

Licking boots for a small piece of dry bread while all the others are having cake? Sorry, i have an aesthetical problem with this.

The only good news here is that so many Finns are finally leaving this medieval institution.

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