Church of Finland – the gay issue
Posted by Fr Mark on August 7, 2009
Majority of Finns in favour of blessing same-sex partnerships in church
From the Helsinki Times, 14.08.08:
Finns are becoming increasingly more open-minded about same-sex marriages within a church, according to a poll by the daily Aamulehti. About half of all participants believed registered same-sex couples should also have the right to be blessed in a church.
Five years ago only every third Finn felt this way.
Civil unions were legalised in Finland in March 2002. However, same-sex couples still can neither get married in a church, nor adopt children together.
And this, on the Finnish Church and homosexuality, from the Arcus Finland website:
Gays and lesbians in Finnish society and churches
Open gay and lesbian life and culture has been possible in Finland since 1971 when homosexual acts became legal. Homosexuality was, however, classified as an illness until 1981 when the sickness label was deleted. The same sex couples have been recognized since 2002 when the partnership law came into force. In the near future there will be a discussion in the parliament of the adoptions inside the gay and lesbian families. It is obvious that the trend in society is towards equality.
The attitude of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, to which about 85% of the people belong, has been rather negative towards any social improvements of the position of sexual minorities, at least such improvements which would mean their recognition. The Church, however, has not been powerful enough to prevent them. On the other hand, inside the Church there have always been people who have had positive attitude towards gays and lesbians. For instance the two former archbishops were such.
In the last few years the Church has began to reconsider its attitude towards gays and lesbians. Especially the new partnership law has become a big challenge to it. Although the Finnish Church is not a state church, it has close links to the state. If the state finds the Church to break the human rights of some people, it may or even has to take away the general social functions which it has given to the Church in society. Also inside the Church the pressure to reconsider the teaching and practices has increased. A great delight for gays and lesbians was that one of the bishops, the bishop of Kuopio diocese, began to defend the same sex partnerships despite furious reactions of some conservative Christians. Later also some other bishops have joined the defenders of the partnerships. Also hundreds of other people in the Church have began to promote the rights of sexual minorities. Some years ago they grounded an ecumenical movement called Yhteys (Finnish word for Communion; www.yhteys.org) which gets together those who hope the churches to revise their attitudes towards gays, lesbians and various trans-people. In a couple of years Yhteys has become a strong and active solidarity network, and it has a lot of co-operation with the Finnish Christian gay and lesbian groups which also have become rather active in the last few years.
The most important Christian gay and lesbian groups in Finland are Malkus and Arcus. Both of them have their meetings regularly in Helsinki. Malkus (www.heseta.fi/malkus) organizes rainbow masses, meetings, camps and other spiritual and social activities for gays and lesbians. It belongs to the national gay and lesbian organisation called SETA (www.seta.fi). Arcus is an ecumenical group especially for those who have professional links to churches and who are interested in church politics. The strategy of Arcus is to function moderately but firmly, and on a wide front from making theoretical theology to organizing negotiations and giving personal support. Arcus has achieved quite good contacts to church leaders in Finland, but in future its purpose is to create more links to the local parishes.
Thanks to all these happenings and efforts, the discussion in the Church concerning homosexuality has increased dramatically, and the attitude of the Church has, little by little, began to change. In autumn 2003 a committee of the Synod of the Church accepted, after an intense discussion, a paper in which it was, for the first time, admitted that there are two opinions in the Church concerning homosexuality. This acknowledgement lays foundation of improvements of our position. The Synod in November 2003 did not accept the initiative of making forms of a blessing ceremony, but neither did it accept the initiative in forbidding those who have registered their partnership to work in the Church. Instead, it asked the bishops to prepare a theological-juridical analysis of the consequences of the partnership law in the Church, which is welcome. Many gays and lesbians hope and believe that the Church will, by analyzing its own theology, take a different stand on homosexuality. This would not mean renouncing the faith and the saving doctrine of the Church but only giving up outdated interpretations of love for one’s neighbor and of common good. De facto we already have blessings of the homes of gay and lesbian couples and also blessings of the partnerships. Many gays and lesbians approciate even this slow development, but there are also a lot of those who have been so disappointed with the Church that they have left it.
In the other national and historical church of Finland, the Finnish Orthodox Church, to which 1 % of the population belongs, the situation of gays and lesbians is a little different. On the official level, open discussion on homosexuality has hardly began, but on the private and practical level, homosexuality is much more understood than in the Lutheran Church. There is a danger that the price of such an acceptance is that homosexuality remains in privacy, and may officially be considered an undesirable weakness.
In Free Churches and other minor Christian communities (in Finland even the Roman Catholic Church is such) the attitudes towards homosexuality seem to be strictly condemnatory, and many gays and lesbians have left those groups or have been expelled from them. It seems that in some Pentecostal-type of communities gays and lesbians are tolerated if they fight against their temptations in an ex-gay group.
So far we have had only very few publicly open Christian gays or lesbians in Finland. Especially the gays and lesbians who work or are in other ways active in the local parishes have kept their identity more or less secret because of the fear of rejection. They become more open when the attitudes change, but, on the other hand, the attitudes change when they become more open. It is very important that also the conservative people in the churches get to know Christian homosexuals. Then people who belong to the sexual minorities are not any more only a theoretical problem for them, but living human beings whom they cannot consider enemies of faith