Some in the news media in Finland are calling it “the Bible trial.” The woman at the center of the case, a longtime member of Finland’s Parliament and a devout Christian named Päivi Räsänen, would agree wholeheartedly. Räsänen, a medical doctor by training and mother of five, faces criminal charges for sharing her Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality in a 2019 social media post, a 2004 booklet she co-wrote, and a 2019 radio interview.
Her case, she told Decision, is ultimately about the Bible itself. She has been charged along with Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who published the 2004 pamphlet, with three crimes under the Finnish Criminal Code’s “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity,” including “agitation against a minority.”
And with similar “agitation” laws in numerous European countries being used to curb speech against minorities based on race, sexuality, religion and other categories, her case could have ramifications across Europe.
Räsänen has served in Parliament since 1995. She first came under fire after posting that 2019 tweet in which she challenged the leadership of her Lutheran denomination for sponsoring the Helsinki Pride parade. In the tweet, she attached a photo with text from Romans 1. When prosecutors discovered that Räsänen had written a pamphlet in 2004 on marriage and sexuality titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” and had upheld the Biblical view of marriage and sex during a radio broadcast, they used it as evidence against her and a criminal investigation ensued.
Authorities interrogated Räsänen for a total of 13 hours about her interpretation of Scripture and her beliefs on what would be considered historic, orthodox Bible doctrines. Finland’s prosecutor general eventually charged her, along with Pohjola, for what amounts to criminal hate speech.
The latest turn in the case came Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in an appeals court, where the state prosecutor challenged a district court’s acquittal in March 2022 of Räsänen and Pohjola for speaking and writing about their Biblical views.
Räsänen calls the prosecutor general’s insistence on appealing her acquittal “stubborn.”
While Finland’s democratic government—at least on paper—supports rights of conscience and opposes religious discrimination, the prosecution seems unmoved. Specifically, the case could determine if historic Scriptural teachings about the nature of male and female, and sex within the bounds of a marriage between one man and one woman, will be allowed in the public square.
“When the prosecutor general of Finland was nominated to her office, she said then that her main aim is to fight against ‘hate speech,’” says Räsänen, “and I think that she wanted to take this case as high as possible and as far as possible—to have some kind of precedent.
“I think that it is also a very ideologically based way to show this is a kind of warning sign to Christians about what can happen if you speak. It’s been drawn out for four years.”
Still, her home church body has been supportive, she says, as have many from Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic and Orthodox backgrounds in Finland. On the other hand, “the archbishop of my church has said that he is happy about my investigation and this trial, that it is good that they are charging me.”
Räsänen, who considers her involvement in politics a God-ordained calling, says her faith has been stretched, but she has not lacked spiritual strength, encouragement or a sense of God’s sovereignty over her very public case.
She was unnerved in 2019 when she was brought to the police for interrogation, but once the questioning began, “enormous joy” came over her in being questioned about her faith and being able to explain the redeeming message of the Bible and the person and work of Jesus Christ to investigators.
“I had the Bible on the table, and the police were asking me theological questions like ‘What do you mean by the word sin?’ ‘What is the main message of the Book of Romans?’ ‘What about its first chapter?’ ‘What about these verses from Genesis?’ and so on. And so it was about the Bible.”
She added, “I would say that the prosecutor general has targeted the core message of the Bible. The law and Gospel and the concept of sin have been in the center of this judicial process.”
Räsänen says she is hopeful because of what she calls small “revival movements” within local churches and especially among lay people. While the secular culture seemingly becomes more stridently opposed to God, the radiance of a faithful remnant in the churches gets brighter.
Räsänen is asking other Christians to pray—that she would be vindicated in the appellate court when a decision is announced, which is expected in late November, as well as for safety and well-being for her husband, a Lutheran minister, her grown children and 10 grandchildren.
“My case will be a precedent. If I win the case, it will have ramifications in other European countries,” Räsänen says. “If I lose the case, it will also have consequences for other European countries, because the LGBT advocates are very active, and they have good networks across the borders. So they are also waiting for the results of this case.” ©2023 BGEA
Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images