Up to 18,000 leave Lutheran Church over statements on gay current affairs programme
Christian Democrat Räsänen does not regret anti-gay statements, Archbishop insists Church is pluralistic
Archbishop Kari Mäkinen
The Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran Church has seen an unprecedented exodus of members. The outflow was sparked by a televised debate programme on Network 2 of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) on Tuesday evening last week.
The flood was seen as a reaction to comments by some church representatives on the programme, which dealt with issues such as the right of homosexuals to adopt children and the establishment of gender-neutral marriage.
By Friday evening more than 7,400 Finns had cancelled their membership in Finland’s largest denomination through a website set up for the purpose. The trend continued during the weekend, and by Sunday evening the figure had reached 18,000. It is estimated that Lutheran Parishes are set to lose annual church tax revenues worth about EUR 2 million from the exodus.
Reasons given by those cutting their ties with the church included accusations that the church is intolerant, conservative, and has a negative attitude toward gays.
“The final straw on the YLE gay evening was the view expressed by the church on the right to marriage by gays. I do not want to support such a narrow-minded institution with my membership”, one apostate declared.
Archbishop Kari Mäkinen issued a statement on Friday saying that he did not understand why people are leaving the church because of issues related to homosexuality.
“I understand that many are expecting that the church would more clearly show that it accepts homosexuality”, Mäkinen stated.
He said that the church is more pluralistic than it is seen to be in various heated discussions.
“Now would be precisely the time to hold debate on homosexuality, respecting others and listening to them”, Mäkinen said.
On Friday Mäkinen did not want to comment on the matter to Helsingin Sanomat. In February, in the runup to his election to his post at the head of the church, he said that he supports offering ecclesiastical blessings to same-sex couples.
Taking part in the programme were Christian Democratic Party chairwoman Päivä Räsänen and the Bishop of Tampere, Matti Repo.
“I was especially offended by the opinions of Räsänen and Repo. I cannot in any way comprehend such discrimination”, said one former church member.
On Friday Räsänen would not accept responsibility for causing the exodus from the church.
“Perhaps people in the national church have not known the church’s views on these matters”, Räsänen said.
She also said that the resignations came as a surprise to her.
“I have been honest. I told what I think as a rank-and-file Christian, and I continue to feel that way. The Bible is a base and a foundation for me.”
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)
Record numbers of Finns resign from church after gay rights panel discussion on TV (14.10.2010)
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 residentś eagerness to leave Lutheran Church above national average (6.3.2006)