Former Finnish Minister of the Interior and member of the parliament, Päivi Räsänen could be sentenced to two years in prison for Tweeting and criticising her church for sponsoring an LGBT pride event. The unedited full interview follows.
- Can you please tell the readers in a few words who are you, a few words about your upbringing, why you choose to be a politician, and what are those things that you cherish the most?
I have been a Member of the Parliament of Finland since 1995 and belong to the Christian Democratic Parliamentary Group. From 2004 to 2015, I was the chairwoman of the Finnish Christian Democrats. From June 2011 to May 2015, I was the Minister of the Interior of Finland. I am married to a pastor, and we have five grown-up children and six lovely grandchildren. I am also a member of the city council and a member of the church council.
The Christian faith is at the core of my whole life and work. I believe that every human being is created in the image of God,and therefore, human value is always absolute. This is the starting point for politics. Back in the 1990s, when I was working as a medical doctor, the ethical questions I came across aroused my interest in politics. Important issues for me are the protection of life from the beginning to the end, the well-being of families, and high-quality health services. Getting health care professionals a statutory right to refuse to conduct abortions or to give statements related to abortion due to personal conviction have been my priorities during my career as an MP.
- On June 17th in 2019, you tweeted how your church might sponsor an LGBT pride event, which led to the charges. What were your motives theologically speaking/ how you view the world?
I was shocked when I heard that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, which I am a member of, announced its official affiliation to Helsinki LGBT Pride 2019.
I decided to write a tweet where I asked how could the church’s doctrinal foundation—the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of something the Bible calls shameful and sinful? With this, I meant practising homosexuality. The purpose of my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church.
It is unfortunate how uncritically the ideology of LGBT activism has been endorsed even by churches. These activists aim to silence those voices that defend the system of two biological sexes and marriage as a union between man and wife. The attempt to break down the gender system based on two different genders hurts, especially children. I have constantly said to respect and defend the human dignity and human rights of homosexuals and other minority groups. The Bible’s teaching is, however, very clear in the teaching that marriage is a union between man and wife and that practising homosexuality is against God’s will.
- How did the church respond, what were the initial responses from the public?
Some leading figures from different Christian organisations, a group of priests and pastors and some of my colleagues from the parliament have shown their strong support. Parliamentarians from different parties have spoken about the importance of defending free speech. Throughout my parliamentarian career, I have received much criticism and support. During these criminal investigations, I have received thousands of encouraging messages and contacts. However, it seems that the young Christians in our country are afraid that if you are labelled as a Bible-believing Christian, it will hinder your career and social acceptance. It is a pity that the Church is so silent about these issues, although the Parliament of Finland has unanimously approved the Church Law, according to which our national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, confesses the Christian faith which is based on the Bible.
- Is it common in Finland, that the prosecutors press charges against those (including MPs), who do not share the mainstream liberal idea and/or question it? Were there any previous precedents before this?
No, there has not been any similar cases so deeply related to the freedom of speech and religion before. My case is definitely a precedent. Ultimately, the three charges brought against me have to do with whether it is still allowed in Finland to express your conviction that is based on the traditional teaching of the Bible.
- In the United States of America, the first amendment was specifically created to ensure the freedom of expression of religion. Are there any constitutional means to ensure one’s religious/ expression of belief in Finland right now?
Yes, there is. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are fundamental rights recorded in the Finnish constitution. Moreover, it is a human right as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Isn’t your case a grim example of how the cancel culture tries legislative ways to silence people with different beliefs? Where does this lead in your opinion?
The rise of “cancel culture”, the idea of publicly defaming and thrusting a person who holds certain beliefs out of social media or professional circles, is a threat to any free society that claims to be tolerant and equal. Regardless of where we live, we need to be alert and active regarding our rights as Christian citizens. This indictment definitely shows that Christians have to use their rights and speak according to their faith. Otherwise, the space for Christianity will become even smaller.
- How did the public react to the fact that by tweeting someone could possibly be sentenced to two years in prison?
My tweet created a huge uproar and the police investigations have got a lot of attention. The media’s viewpoint is very biased, and it tends continually to give more space and voice to liberal perspectives. Finnish people are divided regarding issues that have deeply to do with values and the majority expresses quite liberal thoughts. The problem is that many of the conservative-minded people are silent about these issues, whereas the advocacy groups of sexual minorities are very aggressive and well organised and have strongly affected the development of the church, the media and people’s minds.
There is a difficulty here greater than a sentence of a fine or imprisonment. The problem would be a possible demand for censorship: an order to remove my social media postings or a ban on the publication of the pamphlet. This might open up an avenue leading to further publication bans and modern book burnings.
- If the judges find you guilty, what kind of example would that give to the world (by suppressing freedom of speech and also the fact that the Christian world view (on which whole Europe was based upon) would be legally punishable)?
If expressing Bible-based views will become more intolerable and considered to have the constituent elements of agitation against an ethnic group, also spreading the Bible or offering access to it should logically be criminalized. Already at the moment, it seems that especially the young people are afraid that if you are labelled as a Bible-believing Christian, it will hinder your career and social acceptance. In my opinion, it is specifically Christianity that is being attacked and will be attacked even more aggressively in the future. We are clearly living in a time when the core of Christianity is being questioned. A major threat to the freedom of religion is that we don’t use this correctly.
It is actually impossible for me to think that the classical Christian views and the doctrine of the majority of denominations would become illegal. The question here is about the core of the Christian faith; how a person gets saved into unity with God and into everlasting life through the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus.
- What should be done to maintain healthy conversations on subjects like these without the fear of legal persecution?
These foundational rights are threatened when people stop using them. Free speech facilitates debate, the consideration of diverse perspectives, and the negotiation necessary for decisions in a democracy. It is important to remember that there is no universally agreed definition of ‘hate speech.’ If hate speech was in our legislation, there would be a great risk that it limited our freedom of religion and free speech. We must be able to disagree and cope with speech that insults our feelings. Many questions are so debatable and contradictory that we have to have the possibility of discussing. Otherwise, the development is towards a totalitarian system, with only one correct view.
I want to encourage all to use their right to free speech and speak according to their conscience.
Democracy entails an inclusive political system in which all groups can participate and all voices are heard. Regardless of the final outcome of this case, I intend to use my rights. Everyone should be free to express their deeply held beliefs about important issues without fear of censorship or criminal sanction.
This is especially important for Christians, who are called to promote Jesus.