Many Parish Candidates Approve Gay Relationships

From YLE:s News in English:
The majority of candidates for the upcoming parish elections of the Evangelical Lutheran Church [of Finland] approve of same-sex relationships.
In a candidate test that opened on Monday on the Church homepage, 72 percent of respondents support Church prayer vigils for same sex couples, while 48 percent of the candidates support gay marriage and blessing same-sex relationships. A total of 7,800 candidates were quizzed on the matter. The web-based candidate test, which helps voters find a suitable candidate, jammed on opening due to a large numbers of hits.
Following recent media discussion on homosexuality, interest in the upcoming parish elections is forecast to be exceptionally high. The elections will be held in three weeks' time, while advance voting commences next week.

PR catastrophe for the ELCF

These last couple of weeks have been tumultuous for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
It started on Tuesday, October 12, when the national broadcasting company aired a long discussion about homosexuality. The discussion leaders had chosen participants that were more extreme than not, probably in to achieve a colourful discussion. Among the participants were the Christian Democrats' parti chair, Päivi Räsänen (by profession a physicist, but now an MP), bishop Mikko Repo of Tampere and pastor Leena Huovinen, who has performed blessings of lesbian couples. Especially Räsänen's views - standard conservative stuff: homosexuality is against the Bible, marriage is for one man and one woman, homosexuals can be healed, and all that croc - sparked an unheard-of reaction among the viewers.
A website that helps people leave the Church (and that I'm not going to link to!) usually has about 140 customers per day. Even during the programme the numbers began to spike, and in the days following the website had up to 8,000 customers per day. Tens of thousands of people (out of some four million members) have left the ELCF during the weeks following the programme, and all sorts of wild opinions and rumours florished.
Naturally, the leading figures of the Church should have been much quicker to react, but that is, of course, easy to say in hindsight. As it was, it took nearly a week for the Archbishop and the other bishops to issue statements, and by then it was rather too late to limit the damages. Of course, the General Synod will debate the issues in mid-November, so it might have been difficult for the bishops to anticipate its decision, in case they'd have to retract. Half of the bishops (the left half, I suppose) would like to see blessings of homosexual couples. These are the same bishops that some conservatives would like to boycott, as I noted earlier - archbishop Kari Mäkinen, Irja Askola (Helsinki), Mikko Heikka (Espoo), Wille Riekkinen (Kuopio) and my own bishop Björn Vikström (Porvoo).
Räsänen's colleagues in the medical profession have issued statements distancing themselves from her ideas of the causes and treatment of homosexuals. On the other hand, the Christian Democratic Party reports rising numbers of new members. But then, so do the populistic True Finns.

On the same note, a new survey shows that 64% of Finns are for and 20% against the blessing of homosexual couples. 49% are for a gender-neutral marriage, while 36% are against. 44% are for gay marriages in church, with 39% against. Compared to a similar survey in April, the yea's have increased.

Homophobic Attacks in Oulu, Finland

Finland's national broadcasting company YLE published the following in its News in English yesterday, 20.10.10:

A series of homophobic attacks have been reported in the northern Finnish city of Oulu, according to the University of Oulu’s student body. Its chair, Ilari Nisula, says the attacks have taken place near a night club frequented, in particular, by gays and lesbians.
”Customers have been subject to verbal abuse, provocations and physical attacks,” Nisula adds.
Police in Oulu remain reticent on the matter. Local police commissioner Risto Viippola denies any reports of such incidents. However the university student body says at least one attack has been reported to the authorities.
The student body has issued a statement calling for an atmosphere of tolerance and community spirit.
It adds that recent discussions have caused a dividing line to be drawn between mainstream society and minorities. People in the city of Oulu should be able to live without confronting discrimination and intolerance, the statement concluded.
The student body has demanded the University of Oulu work in cooperation with local police and NGO’s to promote an atmosphere of tolerance and security.

A tear gas attack against the Helsinki Pride gay festival in Helsinki in July inspired many Finns to actively support rights for members of sexual minorities. The country's leading gay rights organisation, SETA, reported a surge in membership in response to acts of homophobia. Many leading politicians condemned the attack.

Church of Estonia defrocks gay pastor

Pastor Heino Nurk (b. 1958) of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC) was ordained in 1983, while Estonia still was a part of the Soviet Union. At first, he worked in a few parishes in Estonia, but after a few years he specialised in hospital counselling and worked and studied both in Estonia and in the USA. Lately, he has been teaching pastoral care. He is also a founding member of a Christian gay organisation that was started earlier this year.
On October 5, 2010, pastor Nurk was defrocked by the EELC. The reasons given were that he has been found guilty of an indecent act and of teaching heresy. Apparently Nurk himself hasn't been heard during this process, which strikes me as odd. This decision has been much publicised in Estonia.
Estonian society is, as a rule, rather homophobic. What's more, the EELC and the other Baltic Lutheran (and other) churches are in general more conservative than their Nordic counterparts. If, as seems to be the case, Nurk was defrocked because he is (openly) gay and because he teaches that it's OK for a Christian to be gay, it is sad. This is a decision that even the ELCF in Finland would not have made, not to mention the Church of Sweden. But in Estonia they did make it.
I hope that Heino Nurk and other Estonian Christians in his situation will have it easier in the future. I also hope that the road to this future will not be too hard to travel. But I have my doubts.
Õpetaja Heino Nurk E.E.L.K. Seabrooki koguduse hooldaja õpetajaks (Vaba Eesti Sõna / EELK Uudised 8.2.01)
Kirikuvalitsus tagandas vaimuliku ametist Geikristlaste Kogu asutajaliikme (Geikristlaste Kogu 8.10.10)
Heino Nurk: Meie kogudustes on alati olnud geikristlasi (Geikristlaste Kogu 11.10.10)
Heino Nurk tagandati vaimuliku ametist (Eesti Kirik 12.10.10)
Tagandatud hingekarjane: "Peapiiskop teadis juba aastate eest, et olen homo!" (Õhtuleht 12.10.10)
Eesti Evangeelse Luterliku Kiriku konsistoorium: vaimulik ei saa avalikult olla gei (Valgamaalane 12.10.10)
Viron kirkko erotti homopapin (Kotimaa24 12.10.10)
Soome kirikuõpetaja Karl af Hällström väljendab nördimust geipastori tagandamise pärast Eestis (Geikristlaste Kogu 13.10.10)
Pastor sparkad från Estniska kyrkan ( 17.10.10)
News from the East (OCICBW... 19.10.10)
HBT-vänlig präst avsatt (Kyrkans Tidning 20.10.10)
Homosexuell präst avsatt - och öppet brev till Dagen (Karin Långström Vinge 20.10.10)
Republished on UK Gay News 18.10.10.

Church and State in Finland

I do not allow anonymity on my blogs, since those who are legitimate should have no problem in showing their face (or at least, their pseudonyms). Neither do I, for that matter, allow disrespectful comments. All of these will remain unpublished.
An anonymous commentator asked me a respectful question. Since it is anonymous, I won't publish it, but it might nevertheless be interesting to my readers, so I lift it up here.
Is the Church of Finland still established by law? If so, are you planning to become independent?
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) is not a State Church, the definition of which is that the state rules in the Church's internal affairs (as in Denmark). That relationship was severed in Finland through the Church Law of 1869, which separated Church and State as well as Parish and County. The direct answer to the first question is thus "no", and the second question is moot.
That said, it must be noted that some 80% of the population of Finland belongs to the ELCF. Therefore, it is in the interest of both Church and State to maintain a good working relationship. The Church provides some services to the State and vice versa, and these services are payed for.
As examples I might mention that the Church maintains registers of its members (in cooperation with the magistrates) and can issue certain official documents. The Church also owns almost all cemetaries in the country (most at a financial loss) and allows everyone, regardless of creed, to be buried there. You must, however, be dead first.
An example in the other direction is the so-called church tax. It is not really a tax at all, but the membership fee of the Church. It is collected by the taxation authorities at the same time as state and municipal tax, and the Church pays for this service. There are other potential methods for collecting the membership fee, e.g. to bill all members, but that would be less efficient and probably far more expensive.
But no, the ELCF hasn't been a State Church for almost a century and a half. This system is called a People's Church - although some members of the Free Churches refuse to see the difference. Which is no hair off my back.

The benefits of privatization

An interesting example of the "benefits" of privatization:
Since the family hadn't payed the fee of 75$ that would have entitled them to the services of the Fire Department, the fire fighters stood by and let their house burn down.
The Young Turks have their say - and, man, do I agree!
Only in America - I hope...
Thanks to Ellie!

Conservatives boycott ELCF bishops

I noted earlier that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland consecrated its first woman bishop, Irja Askola in Helsinki, on 12 September, 2010, and that some sister churches abroad boycotted the event.
Now, five of the ten ELCF bishops are being boycotted by groups within and without the ELCF for being too liberal. These are, in addition to Askola, archbishop Kari Mäkinen, Mikko Heikka (Espoo), Wille Riekkinen (Kuopio) and my own bishop Björn Vikström (Porvoo). The groups honoring these bishops are the neopietist revival movement Kansanlähetys (the People's Mission) and some Free Churches, including the Pentecostals.
This boycott seems to be mainly a Finnish-speaking affair. The Swedish-speaking Free Churches in Porvoo aren't keen on an actual boycott, even if they, too, have misgivings about the Bishops' support for a so-called "homosexual lifestyle". But (they say) they have a good relationship with bishop Björn, who has been invited to speak at some of their conferences.
That's all well and good. I do, however, feel that the Pentecostal Filadelfia Church is behaving rather hypocritically in this matter. Let me explain.
A few years back, I was responsible for the ecumenical relationships of my congregation. We had monthly meetings, the Free Church pastors and I, and our relationship was warm and cordial. We arranged common events and preached in each other's services. The system was that I would preach at one of the Free Churches (Pentecostal, Methodist, Adventist, Mission Church and, at times, the Salvation Army) twice a year, and they would reciprocate. In March that year, the Pentecostal pastor preached a fine sermon in one of our services, and I was supposed to preach in Filadelfia in May. A couple of weeks before my sermon was due, the Pentecostal pastor called to tell me that it was off. Despite the pastor's efforts, the Elders of Filadelfia had decided that I was too controversial to preach at their church; that if I did so, someone might think that they, too, were in favour of "the homosexual lifestyle".
This came as a shock, and the whole ecumenical cooperation, that thus far had worked so well in Porvoo, was shattered. Since they rejected me as the Lutheran representative, they rejected the Lutheran Church, too, and we had no choice but to withdraw for a couple of years. Now, we have sent another representative, but the relationship is not the same.
Not all of the Free Churches had the same hostile attitude, I hasten to add. The Methodists and the Adventists would have liked to continue their cooperation with us, but I was (we were) so dejected by the blow we had recieved that it seemed impossible for us to continue at that point.
Of course, Filadelfia have a right to their opinions, as do we. Of course, they don't have to agree with us, as we don't with them. But ecumenism is not about agreeing, but about working together in spite of our differences. And Filadelfia refused.
Now, they're singing a different tune about how important it is that the Churches discuss with each other. Hypocrites! Do you think our memory is that short? What is done cannot be undone, but wouldn't at least an apology be in order?
Konservativa grupper vill bojkotta finska biskopar (Kyrkans Tidning 27.9.10)
"Alla har rätt att föra fram sin åsikt" (Kyrkpressen 27.9.10)
Frikyrkorna sväljer inte vigsel av samkönade par (Borgåbladet 28.9.10)