Record numbers of Finns resign from church after gay rights panel discussion on TV
A record number of Finns seceded from the Evangelical Lutheran Church on Wednesday.
People carried out their mass exodus from the state church via an online service, the standard procedure used these days.
By late yesterday afternoon, 1,200 people had resigned from the church. According to the eroakirkosta.fi website, which facilitates the seceding from the church, yesterday’s total number of people to make their exit was 2,633. This was not merely around 1,500 more than the previous daily high, but greater than the total number in the entire month of July.
The previous record of 1,049 individuals parting ways with the state church in the space of one day was from the last day of 2008.
Information Officer Heikki Orsila from eroakirkosta.fi suspected that the statistical spike resulted from the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE’s current affairs programme Ajankohtainen Kakkonen, aired on Tuesday night.
The show entitled Homoilta (Gay Night) was a panel discussion dealing with gay rights issues, including the question of the rights of same-sex couples to marry in church.
The programme’s discussion panel included for example Christian Democrat MP Päivi Räsänen, who has been fiercely critical of same-sex marriages and was a principal opponent in the Parliamentary debate on internal adoption rights for registered same-sex couples, and the Bishop of Tampere Matti Repo.
More than half of Tuesday’s 372 resignations were sent while the programme was running.
According to Orsila, around 90 per cent of all the resignations from the church now happen through the Internet.
The eroakirkosta.fi site also noted that women have normally made up roughly 44% of church-leavers, but that this share rose on Wednesday to 48%, and that those announcing their departure were also older than the norm.
Whilst roughly eight out of ten Finns belong to the state church, actual attendance at services is at a much lower level, and many remain inside the church - something that also involves an obligation to pay an annual parish council tax - largely to be able to get married in church.
Numbers have been declining steadily as the society becomes increasingly secularised.
However, often the cause is a fundamental difference of opinion on a hot-button issue such as gay rights or the ordination of women (some members have left to join branches of Lutheranism that still oppose this - see link from August concerning a "renegade bishop").
Previously in HS International Edition:
Gay rights organisation praises enlightened voices from Lutheran Church (23.8.2010)
Proposal for gender-neutral marriages puts future of church weddings in doubt (2.8.2010)
Finnish MPs disagree on registered couples´ adoption rights (27.11.2008)
Complaints of gay discrimination in Lutheran Church (12.4.2010)
Lutheran Church removes renegade bishop (12.8.2010)
Record number of Finns quit Lutheran Church in 2007 (3.1.2008)
Helsinki residents´ eagerness to leave Lutheran Church above national average (6.3.2006)
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Wikipedia)
Eroakirkosta (in Finnish and Swedish only)