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.

Simple Bible religion?

Finnish landscape (public domain image)

CW: homophobia.

The International Lutheran Council has issued a full-throated statement in support of Juhana Pohjola, Bishop Elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Dr. Päivi Räsänen, a Finnish MP, who have been “charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General over the publication of a 2004 booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality.”

This has also been widely reported, particularly in conservative Christian media outlets. After, if you can’t even “articulate historic Christian teaching on human sexuality” without the cops breaking down your door, what future for religious freedom?

Well, let’s have a look at the booklet in question, which has been helpfully translated into English, to see how it “articulates historic” (by which they mean conservative) “Christian teaching on human sexuality”. Because if that’s all it’s doing, then this will surely be of concern even for those who take a different view on what the church should be teaching.

The first line of attack taken by Dr Räsänen is that social acceptance of same-sex relationships (for example, through allowing same-sex marriage or registered partnerships) turns children gay:

“I consider it entirely possible that homosexuality can increase when it is legislatively favoured by equating it with heterosexual marriage.” (p.8)

“When they watch homosexual weddings on TV, even small children understand that in adulthood it is possible to marry people of the opposite or the same sex. The above may increase confusion especially among preteens…” (pp.8f.)

“According to the study, the earlier a young person has homosexual experiences, the harder it is to get rid of this inclination.” (p.9)

This also allows Dr Räsänen to throw in the standard slur linking LGBTQ acceptance to paedophilia:

“If this shallow sexual value basis is coupled with the message that society finds it equally desirable to have people in due time marry either the opposite sex or the same sex, this clearly encourages early homosexual experimentation as well. This in turn opens up the venue for sexual abuse in which adult men find it easier to have sexual contacts with underage boys.” (p.9)

This emphasis on social factors doesn’t mean that Dr Räsänen thinks that being LGBTQ is a choice. After all:

“A sexually anomalous emotional life is infrequently a deliberate state, chosen or caused by the people themselves. … [A]mong children who have been sexually abused, the risk of developing homosexuality is higher than among the general population.” (p.10)

Dr Räsänen supports conversion therapy as the most desirable option for leading people back “toward a normative heterosexual emotional life”:

“A change in sexual orientation is also possible. A considerable number of lesbians have previously lived in heterosexual relationships. … If inclinations can change from heterosexuality to homosexuality, why could it not change in the opposite direction as well? The reintegration of the sexual identity toward a normative heterosexual emotional life is possible when people themselves are motivated and willing to be treated.” (pp.10f.)

“Many homosexuals have found support and encouragement in sexual identity reintegration through pastoral counselling and therapy.” (p.11)

Dr Räsänen also has some thoughts to share with us on what leads people to become lesbian or gay:

“The concept of erotic love means that people sexualise what is foreign to their own identity, ‘other than me’. Early on, the development of homosexuals often exhibits a strangeness to their own sex, whereupon they seek to find the mystery of the gender that seems strange to them in another person of the same sex.” (p.11)

She is also concerned that legislation in support of same-sex relationships could have the dire consequence of stopping LGBTQ people from feeling guilty:

“The objective of the Act on Registered Partnerships is to affect societal attitudes so that homosexual orientation would be acknowledged, in its fulfilment of sexuality, as equal to heterosexuality. In this manner, there is an attempt to remove the environmentally caused attitudes of guilt as well as the guilt linked to homosexual relationships themselves.” (p.12)

Turning to the nature of same-sex relationships, Dr Räsänen asserts that most gay people are just into casual sex – and don’t let’s go thinking that this is anything to do with the historic marginalisation of gay people:

“The most common patterns in the homosexual community are casual sex and changing partnerships. It can be claimed that this is a consequence of the discrimination against homosexuals long prevalent in Western culture. I personally see that this also proves something about the brokenness of homosexuals.” (p.12)

And, while casual gay sex is bad, this doesn’t mean that promoting stable and committed gay sex is good:

“The registration of homosexual relationships has been pursued with the thought of the stability of partnerships: It would be better to encourage homosexuals to commit themselves to relationships. A good goal has been pursued for the wrong matter. Commitment is an important thing in human life, but practising homosexuality, even in a stable registered partnership, is also harmful to the person involved, to the partner, and perhaps to people close to them.” (p.13)

We also have to think of the children when it comes to adoption by same-sex couples, or providing fertility treatment for lesbian couples (or single straight women, while we’re on the subject):

“For lesbian couples or for single women, infertility is not a disease, but a natural condition. To allow medical assistance for infertility in these situations is not justified.” (p.14)

Dr Räsänen clearly thinks that “homosexuality” is mostly due to social causes. But if a genetic element were to be found, that wouldn’t let gay people off the hook either:

“We do know that [homosexuality] is a disorder of psycho-sexual development. On the one hand, underlying alcoholism there has been found genetic susceptibility, harmful environmental factors and behavioural patterns; on the other hand, the inclination to criminality has a connection to attention deficit disorders. Should criminality be allowed if a person has a compelling inclination towards it? Then, if homosexuality is a developmental disorder, people are not to be encouraged to practise it.” (p.18)

The church needs to be free to express its disapproval of same-sex relationships, not only in its teaching, but in its ability to dismiss LGBTQ employees (Dr Räsänen makes no distinction here between ordained clergy and employees in any other role within church organisations):

“The Church is in great peril where it is tempted to demonstrate its approval of homosexual relationships. Blessing same-sex relationships or allowing its employees to practise homosexuality would already be a clear signal that the Church accepts these relationships.” (p.20)

Because we have to remember that condoning LGBTQ relationships doesn’t just cause LGBTQ people to get up to stuff we don’t like, but also causes the straights to go off the rails, too:

“The deterioration of marital morality is essentially related to the increase and spread of sexual anomalies. (p.24)

Finally, Dr Räsänen returns to her theme of homosexuality as a “sexual anomaly” and “development disorder” that needs to be “healed”.

[S]exual anomalies do not include the gift of creation, but are developmental disorders that can also be healed. ‘Life contrary to anatomy is unnatural.’” (p.24)

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: this is a repellent document, which unquestionably goes far beyond merely “articulating historic Christian teaching on human sexuality”. Apparently the charges against Dr Räsänen accuse her of “threatening, defaming or insulting” LGBTQ people. Whether it does so to an extent which breaks Finnish law, I’m not in a position to assess. But to my mind, “threatening, defaming and insulting” is an accurate summary of much of the document’s contents. It is dismaying to see an international Lutheran body give such unqualified support to it, and I hope that any other Lutheran churches inclined to endorse this booklet will think twice before doing so – even if they still wish to express concerns over the nature of prosecutions such as these.