Court Decides Whether Quoting the Bible Is a Crime

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Two Christians stood trial on Monday for publicly expressing the “extreme Christian thinking” that homosexuality and sex outside of a monogamous and heterosexual marriage are sins.[1] Incredibly, their crime occurred seven years before LGBT was added to the national hate-speech law as a protected class.[2] Nevertheless, former Finnish interior minister and medical doctor Paivi Rasanen and her publisher, Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola, are charged with agitation against an ethnic group.[3]

Incredibly, Christianity is the state religion of Finland, yet a Finnish court is now deciding whether quoting the Bible is a crime. Not surprisingly, the case has been characterized by human rights lawyer Paul Colman as “a modern-day Inquisition or heresy trial.”[4] The BBC adds, “The case is being seen as a test of whether personal religious beliefs can justify controversial language.”[5]

According to a 2011 update to the Finnish criminal code, “A person who makes available to the public or otherwise spreads among the public or keeps available for the public information, an expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted on the basis of its … sexual orientation … shall be sentenced for ethnic agitation to a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years.”[6] However, the public information in question was published in 2004. It is a 24-page pamphlet that “takes a stand on ecclesiastical policy, social policy, sexuality and marriage from a Christian perspective.”[7] Moreover, the obscure pamphlet was almost forgotten until an activist took note of it 15 years later in 2019.[8][9]

Additionally, Paivi Rasanen is charged with calling homosexuality a “genetic degeneration” during a 2019 Finnish public radio broadcast and a “shame and sin” in a tweet.[10] According to Rasanen, “I was shocked when I heard that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, which I am a member of, announced its official affiliation to Helsinki LGBT Pride 2019. In June, I decided to write a tweet where I asked that [sic] how can the church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?”[11] This tweet was accompanied by a photograph of a Bible opened to Romans 1:24–25.

According to the prosecuting attorney, “Interpreting the Bible in a certain way and publishing one’s own opinions with reference to them may be a crime if they offend an individual or a group of people.”[12] However, Rasanen maintains that her comments were directed toward her church leadership and were not meant as a slander or insult against any sexual minority. She notes, “The prosecutor says that I see homosexuals as inferior. However, I never said that. In my book, I wrote that homosexuals are just as valuable as other people. We are all created in the image of God. At the same time, we are also sinners. In Romans 1, the Bible clearly states that homosexual acts are a matter of sin and shame. And that the Biblical marriage is one between one man and one woman.”[13] Similarly, she told reporters outside the court on Monday, “The saving gospel of Jesus Christ has been given to us in the Bible. The cross of Christ shows the greatest love for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.”[14]

It is difficult to believe that anyone could be tried for such views in a country that not only claims to guarantee freedom of speech and religion but also espouses Christianity as its state religion. Nevertheless, such a case has always been the inevitable fruit of an increasingly tolerant church paired with Finland’s ambiguously worded hate speech legislation. Moreover, if convicted, this lawsuit in Finland will establish a new precedent in Western countries, making the quoting of the Bible a criminal offense.[15]

Undoubtedly, most Finnish citizens did not expect that their government would seek to imprison a former politician for tweeting a picture of Bible verses when they supported their country’s hate crime legislation. Nevertheless, this is where they find themselves only a decade later. Considering that the United States, along with nearly every other Western country has passed similar hate crime legislation—often called sexual orientation and gender identity laws—Finland should serve as a warning to us in America. This is a watershed moment and “an important marker for whether Western governments’ persecution of citizens for their speech and beliefs increases.”[16]

I can’t help but recall what I wrote in my book, Laid Bare: Uncovering the Relationship between Homosexuality and the Gospel. Following the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, I cautioned:

Georgetown Law Professor Chai Feldblum said, “Protecting one group’s identity liberty may, at times, require that we burden other’s belief liberties.”[17] As Christians, we should expect that the window of opportunity to openly speak into the issue of homosexuality from a Biblical perspective will begin closing in the near future. If anything, this should motivate us to educate ourselves on this subject, to share with our loved ones, and to be an influence within our communities while we still have religious liberty. All-the-while, we ought to be gearing up for persecution.

… As Christians, we should anticipate that our voice in society will become increasingly unacceptable. In the opinion of many, our time for deliberation and debate over the issue of same-sex marriage—and with it, homosexuality in general—ended on June 26, 2015. It is now expected that we will get on board with the “majority” and accept their arguments as valid. As such, we should be determining today where we will personally draw the line. The ruling on June 26, 2015 will influence school curriculum, employment policies, health care, public events, and many other areas of everyday life. Knowing that things are not likely to get any easier, we should determine today how we will respond when we are faced with choosing between our moral convictions and our job, our moral convictions and our child’s education, our moral convictions and … (fill in the blank). [emphasis added]

The citizens of Finland were granted 8 years before Christians were told their voice is no longer acceptable. (This case began in 2019.) How long will we have in America? Already 6 years have passed since Obergefell v. Hodges. How have we used this time? Have we settled our questions on the matter and formed firm personal convictions? Have we educated our families and churches according to the teachings of the Bible? Have we determined how much we are willing to sacrifice in order to preserve God’s truth on this matter?

Our time is running out. We do not know how long we have before America mirrors Finland. Let’s stop wasting what time may remain. Let’s prepare today to stand firm through the difficulty that inevitably lies ahead. And like Rasanen, let’s steel our convictions and prepare our minds to be able to capitalize upon the ministry opportunities that may arise if we should face censorship and persecution for declaring the truth of God’s Word on matters like homosexuality.

 

*Note: This trial will conclude on February 14, 2022. The court’s decision is expected to be released between two and four weeks later. Pray for Paivi Rasanen and Juhana Pohjola.

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Timothy Zebell

As a former missionary to Asia for twelve years and the author of several books, Timothy is passionate about helping people understand the relevancy of God's Word in today's world. His goals are to help Christians discern truth from error, empower Christians to speak into cultural matters with relevancy, and to help Christians capitalize on the opportunities that these matters provide for sharing the truth about God and His gospel message.
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1. Evangelical Focus. “Päivi Räsänen Trial: Prosecutor Says Words of Christian Politician Harm LGBT Youth, Expression of Certain Bible Interpretations Should Be Limited.” Evangelical Focus – Europe, January 24, 2022, 4:05 p.m., CET. https://evangelicalfocus.com/europe/15168/paivi-rasanen-trial-prosecutor-says-words-of-christian-politician-harm-lgbt-youth-says-certain-bible-interpretations-should-be-limited.

2. Dreher, Rod. “The Persecuation of Päivi Räsänen.” American Conservative, November 15, 2019, 11:24 a.m. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-persecution-of-paivi-rasanen/.

3. Dreher.

4. Pullmann, Joy. “Finnish Government Puts Christianity on Trial, Calls the Bible ‘Hate Speech.’” Federalist, January 25, 2022. https://thefederalist.com/2022/01/25/finnish-government-puts-christianity-on-trial-calls-the-bible-hate-speech/.

5. “Paivi Rasanen: Finnish MP in Bible Hate Speech Trial.” BBC, January 24, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60111140.

6. Dreher, “The Persecuation of Päivi Räsänen.”

7. Dreher.

8. “Liveblog (closed): Trial against Christian MP Päivi Räsänen Will Resume in February.” Christian Network Europe News, January 24, 2022. https://cne.news/artikel/577-liveblog-closed-trial-against-christian-mp-pavi-rasanen-will-resume-in-february.

9. Marjokorpi, Santeri (@santtuma). 2022. “Sankamo: Pamfletti jäi aika pian pois käytöstä ja jäi pölyttymään Räsäsen kellariin, kunnes aktivisminomainen henkilö teki siitä tutkintapyynnön.” Twitter, January 24, 2022, 4:43 a.m. https://twitter.com/santtuma/status/1485548910068355074.

10. Kauranen, Anne and Essi Lehto. “Christian MP Goes on Trial in Finland for Calling Homosexuality a Disorder.” Europe. Reuters, January 24, 2022, 7:31 a.m., EST. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/christian-mp-goes-trial-finland-calling-homosexuality-disorder-2022-01-24/.

11. Dreher, “The Persecuation of Päivi Räsänen.”

12. Evangelical Focus, “Päivi Räsänen Trial: Prosecutor Says Words of Christian Politician Harm LGBT Youth, Expression of Certain Bible Interpretations Should Be Limited.”

13. “Räsänen Prosecuted for Tweet: Keep Testifying Your Faith.” Christian Network Europe News, January 21, 2022. https://cne.news/artikel/569-rasanen-prosecuted-for-tweet-keep-testifying-your-faith.

14. Pullmann, “Finnish Government Puts Christianity on Trial, Calls the Bible ‘Hate Speech.’”

15. Pullmann, Joy. “Christians Stand Trial in Finland Today for Affirming Men and Women Are Different.” Federalist, January 24, 2022. https://thefederalist.com/2022/01/24/christians-stand-trial-in-finland-today-for-affirming-men-and-women-are-different/.

16. Pullmann, “Finnish Government Puts Christianity on Trial, Calls the Bible ‘Hate Speech.’”

17. Brown, Michael. A Queer Thing Happened to America, 502. Concord: EqualTime Books, 2011.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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