Finland’s Interior Minister has sparked an uproar by sharply criticizing the country’s liberal abortion laws. In a July 6 speech to a Lutheran missions gathering in Kankaanpää in southwestern Finland, Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen lamented that animals have more protection in Finland than unborn human babies.
Citing Acts 5:29, she also noted that one may face situations “… where we must weigh our actions, whether we are ready to go against public opinion, peer pressure and even law if these contradict the Word of God.” The archbishop and two bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (CoF) wasted no time in declaring that she does not speak for that Church.
In her speech, Mrs. Räsänen noted that Finnish law provides that animals being slaughtered must be killed painlessly, but that Finnish politicians will not even discuss the pain that fetuses can feel during abortion. Räsänen, a medical doctor, says that a fetus at the age at which Finland allows abortion is not a piece of tissue without emotion, but an individual who can feel pain.
Räsänen, who is also national chairman of the Christian Democrat Party (Kristillisdemokraatit), further declared that healthcare workers should have the right to refuse to participate in abortions and euthanasia. She complained that Finland and Sweden are the only two countries in Western Europe in which healthcare workers do not have the right to refuse to assist in an abortion on grounds of personal conscience.
In a newspaper interview, Räsänen conceded that a majority of Finns no longer believe in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and that the faithful are increasingly obliged to row against the stream. The Interior Minister expressed her concern about the favorable attitudes in Finland toward abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.
CoF Archbishop Kari Mäkinen emphasized that Räsänen was not expressing the CoF’s viewpoint. Mäkinen tweeted, “One may agree with her or be of a different opinion, but her views should not be confused with the Church’s position. No more than the opinion of any other church member you might meet on the street.”
CoF Bishop Björn Vikström found her statement that sometimes one must put the Bible above civil law “especially problematic” in view of her position as a government minister. Her Interior Ministry’s responsibilities include church affairs. Vikström was particularly critical of Räsänen ’s assertion that sometimes one should obey the Bible rather than civil law.
Regarding the right of healthcare workers to abstain from participating in abortions and euthanasia, a right supported by the Council of Europe and the Finnish doctors’ federation, Vikström again distanced himself saying, “We must agree on the rules of the game and legislation before one can act.”
CoF’s Bishop of Turku, Kaarlo Kalliala, also distanced himself somewhat from Räsänen , saying that although she has a right to her personal opinion, he would “not necessarily have expressed himself in the same way.”
In a July 12 letter to the Finnish paper HBL (Huvudstadsbladet), Räsänen clarified her position, writing, “In my own case, as a doctor, I have had to consider the relationship between abortion law and my own convictions. However, one can avoid performing an abortion, and, with this the closure of a small human life, by resigning from his post.”
“Nor,” Räsänen continued, “… have I called for breaking the law, but instead sought to bring about a change in the law which would allow a conscience protection for health care professionals so that they would not be forced to abort a pregnancy.”
Räsänen’s remarks produced a wave of criticism in the strongly pro-abortion country, even from within her own party. Two formal legal complaints have been filed with the Justice Chancellery. More than a thousand Finns a day have quit the CoF since Räsänen’s speech, compared to an average in recent years of about one hundred per day. Atheists have been mounting a concerted effort for some time to persuade church members to quit, including a website that offers online dis-membering. On the other hand, approximately 40 adults enrolled in the church on a single day this past week, roughly four times the normal rate.
In a July 13 Facebook post, conservative Lutheran Pastor Halvar Sandell noted that many of those who quit the CoF in response to Räsänen ’s speech perceived that she expressed the genuine Christian position. “These persons felt they must quit the church,” he said, “but many were members only because of social custom and had never actually encountered the Christian gospel.”
“If someone comes with the actual Christian creed,” wrote Sandell, “hysteria results in some quarters …. Many people put no value on clergy and church workers; but they are happy that there are so many liberal priests who think as they themselves do.”
“When testimony such as Räsänen’s arises,” Sandell continued, “the resistance to the gospel is channeled. But the positions Räsänen has urged on the community are not specifically Christian doctrines. Rather, they conform to the natural law, which can be grasped and understood even by those who are outside the explicit Christian confession.”
The CoF bishops are not the only churchly voice in Finland. The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland was recently formed by Lutherans who reject the CoF leadership’s abandonment of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Its predecessor organization planted some 27 new congregations across Finland since the Year 2000, and it has more inquiries than it has pastors available. The Mission Diocese considers itself a non-territorial diocese in the Church of Finland “following the faith and tradition, to which the CoF still officially holds.” CoF bishops reject ELMD’s claim to be a non-territorial diocese, however, and have threatened to defrock any CoF pastors who assist the ELMD.
Sources (in Swedish-language Finnish newspapers):
LifeNews Note: Dr. Barnekov operates Scandinavia House in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which assists Scandinavian students studying at Concordia Theological Seminary (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) and closely monitors religious developments in Scandinavia.