FINLAND – The prosecution of Finnish Member of Parliament, Dr. Päivi Räsänen, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) are not yet at an end. On January 12, the prosecution announced that it would appeal the decision exonerating the pair to Finland’s Supreme Court.
The two were charged in 2021 with hate speech for their articulation of historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. Charges centre around a 2004 booklet authored by Dr. Räsänen, as well as comments made by her during a radio interview and a tweet (which included a picture of a Bible verse). Bishop Pohjola was charged as the publisher of the 2004 booklet.
The decision to prosecute the pair has drawn widespread concern internationally over the state of freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland. The two were initially brought to trial at the Helsinki District Court in 2022, with the prosecution repeatedly questioning them on matters of faith and doctrine. They were eventually acquitted unanimously by a panel of three judges, who declared that “it is not the role of the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” The prosecution appealed that decision to the Helsinki Court of Appeals. In November 2023, that court also acquitted the pair unanimously on all charges.
Now Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen must wait to hear whether the Supreme Court will accept the case. In the meantime, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) is calling for continued prayer for the Finnish politician and bishop. “I encourage Christians around the world to continue to remember Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen in prayer,” said Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, General Secretary of the ILC. “They have already endured years of fear and uncertainty as a result of this unjust prosecution. May God give them courage to continue their faithful witness to Christ and His Word, and may He give them comfort in the midst of ongoing persecution.”
The ILC has strongly advocated on behalf of Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola over the past several years as they faced investigation and trial. That support includes a 2021 public letter of support for the two signed by the leaders of 45 Lutheran church bodies from around the world. The ILC’s 2022 World Conference in Kenya made a similar show of support when church leaders elected Bishop Pohjola to serve as Chairman of the ILC.
The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and grounded in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.