Complaints of gay discrimination in Lutheran Church
Sakari Häkkinen calls situation “intolerable”
Openly homosexual members the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church are complaining of widespread discrimination at the congregation level.
“The situation is rather shocking from the point of view of sexual minorities. They might fear for their jobs and their future. Someone working for the church may not advance in his or her career as well as the others. The suffering extends to family and friends”, says Sakari Häkkinen, Dean at the Kuopio Diocese.
Häkkinen is also the chairman of Yhteys (“Communion”), an organisation that promotes the cause of Christians who are members of sexual minorities.
The organisation has about 600 official members, a third of whom are employed by the Lutheran Church.
In February the bishops of the church squeezed together a compromise resolution on the position of homosexuals as workers of the church, and on the issue of prayers for those in a same-sex civil union.
Finland’s 12 Lutheran bishops took a cautious line. At the Bishops’ Conference in February they decided to propose a resolution to the Synod that meets in May that would authorise prayers for couples in same-sex unions. However, they recommended against instituting any formula for a church blessing. This angered the members of Yhteys.
Now, a couple of weeks before the Synod, some of them reiterated in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat that there is a counterforce to intolerance within the church.
“Fear that the traditional concept of marriage might be in danger is behind the confrontation. But this minority cannot pose a threat to the way that the large majority lives. In the preparation of the statement of the Bishops’ Conference, there was no attempt to even listen to representatives of the minorities”, says Pastor Juha Malmisalo who specialises in societal work at the Helsinki Parishes.
He is one of about 130 ministers who have signed the equality declaration of Yhteys.
How does it feel when pleasing the conservative wing is seen as more important than love of one’s neighbour and human rights?
“For many of them the church is the most important thing in their lives. Then it is that community which rejects them. For Those of us who witness this treatment, it is embarrassing and something to be ashamed of”, Häkkinen says.
Häkkinen and Malmisalo say that many of those who actively attend church want to interpret the Bible in a way that it condemns homosexuality. That is why the bishops are under heavy pressure to please them.
Häkkinen says that some bishops have refused to ordain gay theologians. Häkkinen has collected accounts by rejected applicants.
How can a bishop, who exercises the highest authority in the Lutheran Church, feel that he has the right to ask questions that violate the constitution, and Finnish legislation on equality?
“It tells of power. A bishop has a tremendous amount of power in ordaining people. There might be caution about what the conservatives would say if he ordains someone in a civil union. Some of his own homophobia might also be involved”, Häkkinen says.
The secretary of the Bishops’ Conference, Jari Jolkonen points out that the Finnish constitution allows religious communities to choose their own leaders.
“If rumours are spread about confidential discussions, the question arises if someone has broken confidence. Under church regulations, congregations have the right to expect that a minister is in a Christian marriage”, Jolkkonen says.
After the statement that came out in February, frustration with the snail-paced progress in the matter strained feelings within Yhteys and among people close to it. Now there is nervous anticipation of what might happen at the Synod.
“The bishops speak beautiful things about love, but it only goes halfway, and they are not ready to show any of that love toward minorities. If decisions are left halfway, or if the Synod decides to ban even holding prayers [for same-sex couples], quite a few people will leave the church”, Häkkinen predicts.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Lutheran bishops take cautious stance on same-sex couples (11.2.2010)
Kari Mäkinen elected Lutheran Archbishop in narrow vote (12.3.2010)
Polarised Lutheran Church seeks new referee between reformists and conservatives (14.2.2010)