Mrs Räsänen was not asking for her defence to be based on the Bible; she was asking for the freedom to quote the Bible and to defend biblical principles. It was the State who was seeking to prevent her from doing so. Bear in mind that Mrs Räsänen was a senior politician, having been Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015. This case was not a random one, but one designed to intimidate and send out a signal that the new secular morality must not be challenged.
There is good news this week from Finland. The Finnish Christian MP, Päivi Räsänen, together with a Lutheran bishop, Juhana Pohjola, have been found not guilty of hate speech charges, while the prosecution has been ordered to pay 60,000 EUR in charges. That is the good news and to be warmly welcomed.
The bad news is that the case was brought in the first place. This was despite the police saying there was no criminal case to answer. This trial was a political trial brought for ideological reasons and there are important lessons for the Church throughout the West to learn from this case.
Mrs Räsänen was accused of making derogatory comments on three occasions including in a 2019 tweet, opposing the Lutheran Church’s participation in the Finnish Pride week, and using Bible verses to argue her position.
The state prosecutor had argued that using the word “sin” could be “derogatory” and “harmful”. This is an astonishing argument. Using the word ‘sin’ could be derogatory for any group. Is the prosecutor really saying that the State should ban sin – or rather speaking about sin?
Being accused of sin can be upsetting. I recall one man who was furious at me for suggesting that his racism against Pakistani people was a sin; and another at a public meeting who was so furious that I was speaking of sin in general that he got up and started shouting and threatening me!
Yet sin is essential to the teaching of the Scriptures. It is the message of Jesus that he came to save sinners from their sin and plenty of people found that message offensive enough – they crucified him for it!
The notion of ‘harm’ is an interesting one. It is a word that is often used, and rarely defined. Harm comes on a spectrum. All of us would agree that killing someone is a ‘harmful’ act – but is challenging someone’s beliefs, philosophies or lifestyles really harmful? Who gets to determine what is harm at that end of the spectrum? In reality, it means that those in power can use the idea of ‘harm’ to blame, shame and control those with whom they disagree.