Christians must be ready to pay the price for their beliefs, says Finnish bishop facing trial for sexuality views

Rev Dr Juhana Pohjola

Rev Dr Juhana Pohjola, the Evangelical Lutheran Bishop in Finland, is facing trial in January for expressing traditional Christian teaching on human sexuality.

In April, Finland's Prosecutor General charged him and the Christian Democrat MP Dr Päivi Räsänen with "incitement against a group of people" over the 2004 publication of a booklet which described sex outside of heterosexual marriage, including homosexual practice, as sinful.

Dr Räsänen was charged as the author of the booklet, while Bishop Pohjola was charged as the publisher.

Dr Pohjola is Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), a position to which he was elected earlier year.

He was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the State Church, in 1999, but increasing pressure in that body against orthodox Lutherans led to the formation of the ELMDF in 2013. In response, the State Church defrocked him in 2014. Today the ELMDF has more than 45 congregations and mission sites throughout Finland.

Christian Today spoke to Dr Pohjola about his upcoming trial and the international concern about religious freedom which his prosecution has prompted.

CT: You published your booklet on human sexuality in 2004. Why are you being prosecuted now?

JP: Because the booklet is still on our Church's webpage and I refused to take it off our webpage when I was asked in the police interrogation. So we keep on spreading the teaching.

CT: Your case has caused deep concern in the US with a group of scholars and several Congressmen calling on the American government to consider sanctions against Finland. How is the international support for you impacting on the media and the general public in Finland, to your knowledge?

JP: In Finland few people are using the word 'persecution' in our case. For media it is impossible to accept that somebody in Finland could be persecuted because Finland is a free modern country which is known for its rule of law.

The international support we have received is either overlooked by mainstream media in Finland or seen as alarmist.

CT: What effect do you think your prosecution is having and will have on religious freedom in Finland?

JP: The judgment is important due to the precedent that it sets for future free speech cases.

However, I´m more worried about the signal sent already than about the outcome of our case. Many are afraid to speak publicly against the culturally dominant LGBTQ narrative. Self-censorship is already evident. This is detrimental to freedom of speech and religion in the long run.

CT: It has been widely reported that you and Dr Räsänen could face jail. What is likely to happen to you if you are found guilty?

JP: The maximum penalty is two years in prison. However, in our case it is very likely to be fines if we are found guilty.

CT: What are the legal avenues open to you if you are found guilty after your first trial?

JP: We would take the case to national appeal courts and if needed, we will proceed even to the European Court of Human Rights.

CT: What is your message to Christians in other Western democracies where politically correct legislation is increasingly restricting the freedom to express counter-cultural biblical teaching?

JP: We have nothing to be afraid of when we fear God more than men. In truth and in love we are called to confess Christ Jesus and publicly teach the faith of the Church. We should pray like the apostles that we "continue to speak your word with all boldness!" (Acts 4:29).

We have to be ready to pay whatever the price is and be labelled by media as intolerant and lawless. We must defend our basic rights and use the freedom of expression we still have.

Although we feel the cultural pressure and intimidation, our main focus as Christians is not to wage cultural war but to share the grace, life and hope we have in Christ Jesus.