In Finland on 24th January 2002 a landmark legal trial of a prominent Christian politician began, charged over her public expression of Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. This is also relevant to Australia where anti-conversion laws now take effect in Victoria, and as the religious discrimination bill enters its birth or death throes.
Scandinavia is widely considered to be the gold standard for social policy and is often thought to be the home of a transferrable kind of gospel – good news for a society that is unable to find a way of salvation from conflicting values and beliefs. The Australian Institute publication Nordic Edge in 2021 captures the hope: ‘The Nordic Edge explores policies adopted by Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland and the exciting possibilities they provide to overcome Australia’s seemingly intractable problems’.
To go back to Finland, Christian politician and former Minister for the Interior, Paivi Rasanen began facing trial over her publicly expressed views of sexuality and marriage from as far back as 2004. On trial with Ms Paivi Rasanen is Lutheran Bishop Rev. Juhana Pohjola, both facing charges of ‘agitation against gay people’ under the ‘war crimes and crimes against humanity’ section of Finland’s criminal code. The charges carry potential prison sentences of two years.
At the heart of the charges are 1) a pamphlet published in 2004 in which Rasanen (a medical doctor) stated her belief that homosexuality was a psychosexual developmental disorder; 2) a radio interview in 2019 in which she made comments that speculated about the genetic factors influencing homosexuality; and 3) a 2019 Twitter post of Romans 1:24-27 challenging her church denomination over its decision to become an official partner of the 2019 Helsinki LGBT Pride event. Pohjola is being tried for publishing and endorsing her comments.
BBC World, Reuters, and Christianity Today are providing some news coverage. I recently posted an article on Facebook about this trial, and made a tongue in cheek comment about progressive idealists in Australia who consider the Scandinavian nations to be a kind of Valhalla. In Norse pagan belief, Valhalla is the great feasting hall of Odin in Asgard. Pagan Vikings of whatever era long to be received into this hall when life was over. It is a kind of paradise where the warriors fight and train all day, then feast and drink all night. Those killed in battle during the day would be healed overnight and take up the fight again in the morning.
All this was in anticipation of Ragnarök – the great final battle between the giants and the gods. The warriors who have been training in Valhalla will fight alongside Odin and the gods, and as I understand the story, the gods are expected to lose the battle but die like heroes.
I am struck by the broad similarities between the ancient Valhalla myth and the modern Social Utopia myth: a place of fighting where gluttony and drunkenness heal all wounds; a bloody and ruthless place where the people celebrate and embrace their ultimate obliteration. Europe became a very different place when the last of the Scandinavian kingdoms embraced the gospel in the twelfth century. Scandinavia seems to be in the process of turning back from the gospel to embrace a modern version of Valhalla. What becomes of a civilisation that purges grace and redemption from the collective psyche and replaces those principles with legalism and the suppression of dissent?
As our Western society strains to follow the lead of the Nordic nations, Western Christians would do well to follow the lead of Rev. Juhana Pohjola. In the pressure cooker of his homeland Pohjola exudes a gentleness, grace and gravity that comes from absolute confidence in God. He speaks of fighting in the courts, fighting in the media, fighting in the public square, and standing for what God has revealed to be good and true. In the same breath, he speaks of his love for his native Finland, and his pride in its rule of law as the best in the world.
Pohjola is a man of both confidence and concern. He is concerned not for himself but for the church and for the gospel. He worries about how the church and the gospel will be seen if he is convicted as a criminal. He wrestles with the irony of being tried for discrimination because he refuses to exclude LGBT people from the faithful preaching of God’s Word. He is concerned for Paivi Rasanen who has been pilloried by all levels of Finnish society, and he is concerned for the social good.
Juhana Pohjola calmly warns other Western nations that this persecution is certainly coming and we need to wake up and consider how we will face it when it comes. Not surprisingly, Puhola would have us look to the example of Jesus, to the apostles, and to Christians through history who have weathered persecution for not recanting the gospel.
In an address to an international Lutheran conference, Puhola reminded the Christians present that as followers of Jesus and His way, we must be prepared to be called morally evil because of our refusal to submit to the demands and expectations of our post-Christian culture. And we must not stop speaking.
Our good and loving God has given us the task of living in a time when love is confused with hate, and good is confused with evil. So, we do well to pray. We do well to cling to Jesus. We do well to consider the example of Rasanen and Pohjola, preparing to face hatred and hostility without fear and with faith, hope, and love. The sure and living hope we have through the death and resurrection of Jesus cannot be compared to any utopian vision of man. Let’s hold on to that hope with the one hand and hold out the other to the people around us without fear or discrimination: making known God’s free offer of redemption and grace to those who hope in Jesus.
– Damien Carson, Presbyterian minister in South Australia