Finnish Bishop & Politician Face Trial for Condemning Homosexuality (Intl Christian Herald 01.05.22)

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According to Christianity Today, Some Finnish Lutheran leaders, their families, and a few politicians gathered under a tent in August 2021 for the elevation of Juhana Pohjola to bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). The canvas protected them from the summer sun, but as they celebrated Pohjola’s investiture, they worried about facing a different kind of heat. Pohjola, 49, and one of his guests, politician Päivi Räsänen, 62, are facing criminal changes. According to the nation’s top prosecutor, the two people are accused of violating the equality and dignity of LGBT people. Though Finland has legal protections for free speech and the free exercise of religion, Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen says Räsänen and Pohjola’s actions are criminal incitement against a minority group—hate speech. According to the prosecutor, Räsänen has fueled intolerance and contempt of LGBT people three times: in comments she made on a nationally syndicated talk show on Finnish state-supported radio; in a 2019 tweet where she quoted Romans 1:24–27 to criticize the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF)—one of Finland’s two national churches—for its affiliation with Helsinki Pride; and in a 23-page booklet that Räsänen wrote titled Male and Female He Created Them. Pohjola is being charged for publishing Räsänen’s booklet, which argues against same-sex marriage, contrasts LGBT identities with the Christian notion of what it means to be human, and describes same-sex attraction as being inherently sinful and possibly the result of a “negative developmental disorder.” It was released in 2004 by Luther Foundation Finland, the legal entity behind the ELMDF. The bishop is not too worried for himself, but he does worry about the long-term impact if the courts rule that Räsänen’s quoting Romans and publishing a book about the Bible and sexuality are considered criminal incitement. “I do not so much fear the outcome of the court case,” he told CT, “but the strong signal it gives to many: to be silent. I fear self-censorship and intimidation.” The trial, due to begin on January 24, has stirred strong feelings in Finland. More than 70 percent of Finns support same-sex marriage, which has been legal in the country since 2017, and many see defending the dignity of LGBT people as the critical civil rights issue of the day. This is even true in the state church, which does not allow same-sex marriages. Around two-thirds of Finland’s 5.5 million inhabitants belong to the ELCF, and according to a recent study, 54 percent of them agree that “the church should also marry couples of the same sex.” Despite the ELCF’s position on marriage, a small group of pastors broke away from the national church in the early 2000s, in part because of the growing acceptance of LGBT people, as well as other issues such as the ordination of women. These churches later organized as the ELMDF, which became a separate body in 2013. “I confess the God given dignity, value and human rights of those who identify themselves as homosexuals but at the same time call homosexual acts sinful and in discordance with the created order and the will of God as found in the Bible,” Pohjola said. “We are all called to live according the good order of creation. According to the Christian view sexual life is meant to be in the confines of marriage between one man and one woman.” Räsänen has consistently voiced opinions in keeping with the ELMDF’s position on same-sex marriage, principally that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and that “homosexual acts” are “sin and shame.” As former chairperson of Finland’s Christian Democrats and former Minister of the Interior from 2011 to 2015, Räsänen led the opposition against the passage of a law recognizing same-sex marriage in Finland. She knew that position was unpopular with many, but Räsänen was shocked to find out she was facing criminal charges. “Being criminally charged for voicing my deeply held beliefs in a country that has such deep roots in freedom of speech and religion feels unreal,” she told CT. “I do not see I would have in any way defamed homosexuals whose human dignity and human rights I have constantly said to respect and defend.”

According to Religion News Service, The remains of Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Anglican archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, were interred early Sunday during a private family service at the city’s Anglican cathedral. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba laid a small box containing Tutu’s remains to rest in the floor in front of the high altar at St George’s Cathedral. Tutu’s widow, children and other family members attended the 30-minute service. Makgoba suggested that to honor the late Nobel laureate, Cape Town’s airport should be renamed Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu International Airport. He called on all South Africans to “turn a new page” and commit to “the radical, revolutionary change” that Tutu advocated. “Let us live as simply as he lived, exemplified by his pine coffin with rope handles,” Makgoba said in his homily. “Let those of us who have resources pull in our belts, that others can eat enough to fill their stomachs. Let us reorder our society to end inequality and create equal opportunities for all.” The box with Tutu’s remains were placed under a memorial stone inscribed with the words: Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Oct. 1931 – Dec. 2021, Archbishop of Cape Town 1986 – 1996.

According to Baptist Press, This year, the Baptist Theological Institute (ITB), in Bucharest, Romania, celebrated 100 years of existence and partnership with Southern Baptists. From vision-casting to sending personnel, Southern Baptists have walked alongside Romanian Baptists. The plot of land the institute sits on and the buildings that house it were purchased with Southern Baptist money, some of which was raised by members of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) who sold eggs collected on Sunday mornings. That small fundraiser resulted in hundreds of men and women trained and hundreds of churches planted around the world through alumni of ITB. “From the beginning, Southern Baptists came alongside our Romanian Baptist leaders to make training our pastors and church leaders a priority. We thank you and are grateful,” said Daniel Maris, ITB president. In 1920 Baptist leaders from Europe and the U.S. met in London to formulate a plan to support Baptist work across the continent. The Foreign Mission Board (FMB, now the International Mission Board, IMB) agreed to partner with Romanian Baptists. During this meeting, E. Y. Mullins, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, met leaders from Romania. He encouraged them to set up a training school for preachers and church workers. Romanian leaders began a small seminary outside Bucharest the following year. Providentially, Ioan Socaciu, a Romanian who had studied at SBTS, returned home just in time to become the first president. Everett Gill, the FMB’s representative for Europe, came to assess the seminary and realized the need for a permanent location for the school. He bought the current seminary property with Southern Baptist funds, including money raised by the WMU. The seminary asked for a full-time worker to come alongside them. In 1923 the first FMB missionaries arrived in Romania. FMB had to pull missionaries out of Romania during WWII and the years of Soviet rule, but they continued to visit until they could move back in 1989 when communism fell. During the Soviet era, property all around the school was confiscated, leveled and repurposed for the regime, but because the seminary was owned by Americans, the communists couldn’t claim it. God’s providence kept the seminary and its handful of students safe. After the revolution, the student body quickly increased to over 100 in residential and distance programs. Professors with PhDs were sent by IMB to walk alongside Romanian leaders, helping them develop their faculty and theology. They also helped the seminary get full accreditation, both as a seminary and as a Baptist college within the University of Bucharest. This latter accomplishment illustrates the positive changes in the reputation of Baptists in post-communist Romania. The Baptist college offers three degrees as a double major alongside Baptist theology: social work, foreign languages and Romanian literature.

According to Religion News Service, The head of Lebanon’s largest Christian party said on Sunday that a 15-year-old alliance with the country’s powerful Shiite group Hezbollah was no longer working and must evolve. The televised speech by Gebran Bassil, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement, signaled an unprecedented level of frustration with Hezbollah and suggested the 2006 alliance credited with helping maintain peace in the small country was in jeopardy. Bassil’s comments come amid a devastating economic crisis and also ahead of critical parliamentary elections in which his party is expecting tough competition. Undoing the alliance with Hezbollah would cost him more votes in the May elections. But Bassil, a former foreign minister, said the alliance is costing him credibility with supporters. Bassil is also the son-in-law of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun. He has positioned himself as a reformer and is believed to have ambitions to run for president himself. Bassil pinned his frustration on Hezbollah’s other ally, the powerful Shiite Amal Movement, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. He said in recent months Hezbollah has backed Berri’s Amal at the expense of their own alliance. “We reached an understanding with Hezbollah (in 2006) not with Amal,” Bassil said in an hour-long speech. “When we discover that the one making decisions in (this alliance) is Amal, it is our right to reconsider.” Hezbollah and its allies control most seats in parliament and are the main backers of the government that took office in September. But the government and parliament have been paralyzed as political disagreements deepened and as Lebanon faces an unprecedented economic crisis unraveling since 2019.

According to the Daily Mail, Violence against women is insulting to God, Pope Francis said in his New Year’s message yesterday. Francis, 85, called for ‘greater efforts to promote mothers and to protect women’ as he celebrated a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the day the Roman Catholic Church marks both the solemnity of Holy Mary Mother of God as well as its annual World Day of Peace. The pope has ardently spoken out against domestic violence since the pandemic began, last month telling a woman who had been beaten by her ex-husband that men who commit such acts engage in something that is ‘almost satanic’ during an Italian television programme. He said in his homily: ‘And since mothers bestow life, and women keep the world (together), let us all make greater efforts to promote mothers and to protect women. ‘How much violence is directed against women! Enough! ‘To hurt a woman is to insult God, who from a woman took on our humanity.’

Europe has seen a deadly resurgence of violence against women since the pandemic began.In closing, remember, God loves you. He always has and He always will. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If you don’t know Jesus as your Saviour, today is a good day to get to know Him. Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead for you. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Thanks so much for listening and may God bless your day!