(CP) Finnish lawmaker Päivi Räsänen, prosecuted for voicing her traditional Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality, believes that a "heavy hatred for Christian values" in Western society will cause many Christians to censor themselves for social acceptance.
The former interior minister who has served in Finnish Parliament for nearly three decades was one of several global political figures to speak at the annual International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., this week.
The event aims to increase "the public awareness and political strength for the international religious freedom movement. The summit is led by former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who led similar events at the State Department headquarters during the Trump administration.
In March, Räsänen was cleared of hate speech charges for repeatedly asserting her belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But her legal battle continues as the prosecution has appealed the ruling to a higher court.
She spoke with The Christian Post ahead of her participation in a panel discussion at the summit focused on religious freedom in the Western Hemisphere Thursday.
As she faced a possibility of up to six years imprisonment, the 62-year-old politician attributed her prosecution to Finland becoming a "post-Christian world" where "Christian values are, in fact, a minority."
"The change has been so fast that it is difficult to understand what is happening," She said.
As the wife of a Lutheran pastor and former chair of Finnish Christian Democrats, Räsänen believes Christian values are "targeted" in criminal court as part of the "breaking of the virtue and the challenging of Christian values" that is now "very visible in our societies."
In Räsänen's case, she faced hate speech charges over a book she wrote 18 years ago titled Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity and a 2019 tweet taking issue with the Finnish Lutheran Church's promotion of LGBT "pride month." She faced a third charge for comments she made on a radio show about homosexuality.
Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland was charged with hate speech for publishing Räsänen's book.
Räsänen insists that she has no ill will toward homosexuals and suggested that those accusing her of practicing hate speech are the ones dabbling in hatred.
"We all are sinners and we need Jesus. But now, I think there is a heavy hatred against Christian values in our society," Räsänen said. "If you speak about gender issues — that there are two genders or that marriage belongs to one woman and one man — it arouses hatred against you in our society."
Räsänen told CP that she "never thought" she would face prosecution for expressing support for "classical Christian doctrines about marriage and sexuality" as she openly discussed her "Christian values" and beliefs about "marriage and sanctity of human life" throughout her time in Parliament.
"Nothing has changed in my faith and in my conviction, but suddenly I was like a criminal because of this hate," she said.
"The world has changed," she concluded. "I think that my conviction has not changed but the world has changed very [quickly] in Finland and I think that also in other Western countries, post-Christian countries."
Describing the cultural shift as "very alarming," Räsänen believes Christians must "wake up to see what is going on" because her experience proves that "it is more and more difficult" for Christians to express their faith publicly.
"I'm afraid that this leads to some kind of self-censorship. If you are labeled a conservative Christian, it would hinder your career or your social acceptance," she stated. "So, these kinds of problems are very topical in Finnish society."
Although she "hoped that the prosecutor would have been satisfied with the acquittal," she sees her case moving to a higher court as an opportunity "to get a precedent and to get a more heavy guideline for possible further similar cases in Finland and also in Europe."
She praised her acquittal of hate crime charges by a Helsinki District Court as "a victory for me." Still, She said a "possible victory from Appeal Court and especially from Supreme Court" is an "even bigger victory for freedom of speech ... and freedom of religion" because it would create "legal guidance for other cases."
"I think that this is all in God's hands, and I believe in His guidance that there is some meaning that this process continues," she added.
Räsänen said the ordeal and her platform with the Finnish media provided an opportunity to "hold up the biblical values in public and also testify about Jesus" and give people "the answer to the problem of sin that Jesus has died for all people and that this is the way to salvation."
Although Finland has a Constitution that "guarantees the freedom of speech and freedom of religion," Räsänen is concerned that "the influence of LGBT ideology is very strong in Finnish society and some kind of woke culture is creating cancel culture in our society and it is narrowing those freedoms."
Räsänen lamented, "we have now some kind of totalitarian, ideological totalitarianism." She cited efforts to convince social media companies to censor "hate speech" in the Finnish Parliament and the European Union as examples of this ideology's emergence.
Räsänen hopes that her remarks at the IRF Summit will "encourage people to use their rights and speak openly,"
"At first, when the trial in January started, [the] prosecutor said that this will not be about [the] Bible," Räsänen recalled. "She started to ask questions about [the] Bible, about theological issues, she even cited some verses from the Old Testament, and she wanted to show that there is a lot of hate speech in [the] Bible."
Räsänen maintained that the prosecutor classified the Christian doctrine of "love the sinner, hate the sin" as "insulting and defaming" because "according to her, you cannot make a distinction between the person's identity and his actions, so if you condemn the act, you also condemn the human being and regard him inferior."
She pushed back on this analysis, classifying the idea of "loving the sinner" and "hating the sin" as "the core of Christianity and the message of the Bible."
"If this is denied, if this kind of speech and teaching is denied, then also the core of Christianity is dead," she said.