Protesting the Protest

The International Lutheran Council, representing conservative (“confessional”) Lutheran churches around the world, has today issued a “Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland”: a statement in support of Dr Päivi Räsänen and Rev Dr Juhana Pohjola and their 2004 pamphlet on same-gender relationships (see previous posts 1 | 2).

The church body of which I am a member, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), is listed as a signatory to this statement.

The ILC statement is framed as supporting “freedom of expression” and “freedom of religion”. However, it goes far beyond merely stating that Drs Räsänen and Pohjola ought to be able to make the 2004 pamphlet available without facing prosecution. Instead, the ILC statement amounts to an unqualified endorsement of the contents of the pamphlet itself, which it presents:

  • as offering nothing more than a summary of teachings shared by “the vast majority of Christians” and as reflecting “the clear teaching of the very words of Jesus himself”; and 
  • as affirming “the divinely given dignity, value and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community”, in a manner that would lead any “people of goodwill”, even outside the church, to recognise that it ought to constitute legally protected speech.

In fact, I believe that many Christians, let alone “people of goodwill”, would be surprised and dismayed if they were to read the 2004 document and see what it actually asserts: that being LGBTQ is a “sexually anomalous emotional life” and a “development disorder” comparable to an “inclination to criminality”; that LGBTQ people and relationships should not be depicted on TV, lest that lead to “confusion” and “experimentation” among children and young people; that conversion therapy for LGBTQ people should be supported; that allowing LGBTQ marriage will lead to increased sexual abuse of children; that even stable and committed LGBTQ relationships are harmful to the couples themselves and those close to them; that tolerating LGBTQ relationships in society undermines “marital morality” among straight couples; and so on. (See my previous posts, linked above, for further details.)

Far from giving an accurate presentation of the 2004 document’s contents, the only direct quotation from the document in the ILC statement is the following: 

According to the Christian concept of humanity, everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is equal and of equal value.

It strains credulity to regard that as representative of the document’s contents. Similarly, in view of the assertions summarised above, I cannot see how the ILC’s claim that Dr Pohjola and Dr Räsänen “clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community” is borne out by the document.

If the ILC were intent on putting forward an honest argument for freedom of expression, they could have acknowledged that the document contains all these assertions and more, repudiated them as false and offensive, but argued that making such assertions should not lead to prosecution. Instead, the ILC statement is likely to leave both Christians and “people of goodwill” with the misleading impression that mainstream Christian teachings are the object of these prosecutions.

To make matters worse, in the section headed “Other International Organizations”, the first item is from the “Alliance Defending Freedom” (ADF), an organisation which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. As the SPLC site sets out, the ADF has supported the criminalisation of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults, defended the state-sanctioned sterilisation of trans people, and claimed that there is a “homosexual agenda” to undermine “the family”, Christianity and even the American nation itself. Such are the organisations which “confessional Lutheranism” finds itself endorsing as it embraces a “culture war” agenda.

The ELCE’s chairman has claimed that the ELCE’s support was only in respect of the statement as a defence of “freedom of expression”. However, no such qualification appears in the ELCE’s subscription to the statement. Objectively speaking, the ELCE has endorsed the ILC statement without qualification; and, as outlined above, this amounts to an unqualified endorsement of the 2004 pamphlet’s contents.

It saddens and distresses me that the church of which I am currently a member has officially associated itself with this statement and with the 2004 pamphlet, a document which goes far beyond presenting “mainstream” conservative teachings on sexuality and can, in my view, be fairly described as anti-LGBTQ hate speech.

Are Finnish Lutherans “defaming” LGBTQ people?

File:Kitinoja church Seinajoki Finland.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Kitinoja church, Seinajoki, Finland. Photo by Kotivalo (CC BY-SA 3.0)

CW: homophobia

My previous post discussed a 2004 pamphlet published by conservative Lutherans in Finland, whose content has led to charges being brought against the pamphlet’s author, Dr Päivi Räsänen (a member of Finland’s parliament) and Rev Dr Juhana Pohjola, Dean and Bishop Elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (a conservative breakaway from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland).

Prosecutors accuse the pamphlet of “threatening, defaming or insulting” LGBTQ people. Defenders of the pamphlet and of Drs Räsänen and Pohjola portray it as doing nothing more than “articulating historic [by which they mean non-LGBTQ-affirming] Christian teaching on human sexuality”.

My post was quite long (as it quoted the pamphlet at some length), so I thought it would be useful to summarise the key points at which the pamphlet goes far beyond merely “articulating historic Christian teaching on human sexuality”. As detailed in my previous post, the pamphlet’s assertions include:

  • Telling children about the existence of same-sex relationships may turn them gay.
  • Allowing same-sex marriage may turn people gay.
  • Treating same-sex relationships as equal to opposite-sex relationships may encourage sexual abuse of boys by adult men.
  • Children who’ve been sexually abused are more likely to turn out gay.
  • Conversion therapy works and is a good thing.
  • LGBTQ people should be encouraged to feel guilty, and laws that may reduce feelings of guilt among LGBTQ people (such as allowing them to register their relationships legally) are therefore bad.
  • LGBTQ people have lots of casual sex, which is bad.
  • But it’s also bad to encourage LGBTQ people to have stable, committed relationships.
  • LGBTQ relationships hurt the people involved and “perhaps” those close to them, too.
  • Lesbian couples (and single women) shouldn’t be given fertility treatment.
  • Homosexuality (sic) is a developmental disorder, like alcoholism or criminality.
  • Allowing LGBTQ people and relationships to flourish undermines marital morality among straight couples.

I repeat: whatever people’s views on “historic Christian teaching on human sexuality”, they need to be very clear that, when they defend this particular document, they are defending the propositions set out above – all of which, to my mind, are very clearly “threatening, defaming or insulting” LGBTQ people. I hope and pray that any Lutheran church bodies minded to give official support to Drs Räsänen and Pohjola would bear that in mind, and think again.

“Our great composer, Jean Sibelius”

BBC Radio 3 played Jean Sibelius’s piece Andante Festivo this morning; a piece so lovely that it stopped me in my tracks as I got ready for work.  Sadly, Radio 3 suffered “technical difficulties” which meant the piece cut out after a couple of minutes.

The presenter, Clemency Burton-Hill, commented that “it wasn’t even the 1939 recording” – which of course prompted me to hunt out the 1939 recording, now embedded at the top of this post. 

This recording features Sibelius himself conducting, and was made for a Finnish radio broadcast in honour of the New York World’s Fair. The recording is poignant for several reasons. First, it is the only recording of Jean Sibelius conducting his own music. Second, for the announcer’s tragic optimism in the introduction:

Today we write a new page, we hope, in the history of man’s noble achievements, which will shine through the years to come as the beacon of light which marks the beginning of a new era, a period in which the nations of the world will be banded together in the inspiring cause of amity, better international understanding and peace: the ideal to which the great exposition in New York is dedicated.

The date on which those hopeful words about a future of international amity and peace were broadcast? 1 January 1939. Within a year, not only had the Second World War broken out, but Finland itself had been invaded by the Soviet Union.

On a happier note, I found the audible pride in the announcer’s next words deeply moving:

At the beginning of our programme, I have the pleasure to introduce to you our great composer, Jean Sibelius.

“Our great composer”. It’s the complete lack of any cynicism that is so appealing – that, and the sense that Sibelius is “their” great composer not as a possession to be guarded, but as a gift to be shared with the world, for the cause of “amity, understanding and peace”.

Enough, though! Just listen to the music. Glorious.