Bishop wants immigrants to become decision-makers
Mikko Heikka, Bishop of the Lutheran Diocese of Espoo, emphasises the active role that the church has in the training and education of immigrants.
Bishop Heikka notes that the task of the church is to actively support the integration of immigrants and their entry into society as full-fledged participants.
The Bishop notes that the Church is the world’s oldest global community. Its message has been universal from the very beginning, and intended for all nations. The early church sought to gather people of different ethnic backgrounds under the same roof.
“The message of Jesus obliges all people to respect people. Human value is indisputable regardless of what a person’s background is.”
The church has not always succeeded in promoting this message. Church leaders concede, however, that discriminating against people goes against the teachings of the church and the will of God.
“For the church and its members, opposing racism is therefore a serious issue”, Heikka charges.
Bishop Heikka himself has served as chairman of the Lutheran Church working group on refugee activities in the 1990s, when the church first began to support refugees.
Since then, the church has amassed a good deal of experience in work with immigrants. There are plenty of activities for immigrants in congregations.
“Today’s challenge is to get the knowledge and skills that immigrants have as part of the basic activities of congregations, and to see them as full-fledged participants.”
In conflicts that arise between Finnish society and immigrants, the church is a provider of sanctuary.
The task is part of a guidebook Kirkko turvapaikkana (“The Church as Asylum”). Offering asylum for refugees and immigrants has been implemented since the days of the first Christians. The church can offer sanctuary as an extreme measure when all other means have already been used.
“The church nevertheless emphasises open cooperation with officials, and hopes for open public discussion on the position of asylum seekers, and the resources required by the officials”, Heikka points out.
The bishop feels that there is structural racism in Finland. Decision-makers generally represent the population at large, and there are very few representatives of ethnic groups as legislators and civil servants.
“Racism that appears in structures in Finland is often not deliberate. ‘It just never occurred to me’ is an expression that one often hears when asking a civil servant why he or she has not considered the point of view of the immigrant."
Building a culturally and socially tolerant Finland requires the knowhow of the “new Finns”, Heikka says.
“It is necessary to get immigrants into political decision-making. This principle also applies to the legislation and decision-making of the church itself.”
This year’s annual “Common Responsibility” fund-raising drive sparked racist debate on the Internet, because one of the goals is to find jobs for immigrants. Bishop Heikka was not surprised at the feedback.
“Our society is becoming multicultural, and big changes always raise big emotions. The feedback shows that it is important to hold discussions and to give different points of view the possibility to confront each other.”
Heikka notes that of the 2,300 items of feedback that came to the website of the fundraising drive, most were in favour of employing the immigrants. Ten per cent of the feedback has been racist.
“Racism arises out of a fear of that which is different. It will not go away by ordering that it must. Nobody can be ordered to be tolerant. People’s fear always need to be respected, as there is always a reason for it. Laughing at fear only strengthens the negative attitudes.”
“The positive change is advanced by not romanticising multiculturalism. It is a challenging and difficult phenomenon, which nevertheless contains great possibilities. Multiculturalism is a way to guarantee the road to education, humanity, and social cohesion."
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland