Today in Finland, lawyers for Member of Parliament Paivi Rasanen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola will make their final arguments defending the two against “hate crimes” charges for publicly expressing their Christian beliefs. While intended to suppress Christianity and criminalize the Bible, with ramifications for the entire West, the prosecution has also created opportunities to proclaim Christian theology all over the world, Rasanen told The Federalist in an exclusive interview last week.
“I was happy to have the possibility to also tell the gospel—the solution to the problem of sin—in front of the court and in front of the media,” she said. Speaking about the first day of her trial, which occurred in January, Rasanen said, “When so many people were praying for the day, God also answered the prayers. It was quite a hard day, but I thought it was a privilege to stand for the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion and stand for the truth of the Bible.”
Rasanen and Pohjola are being prosecuted for stating basic Christian beliefs about sex and marriage. One of the three charges against Rasanen is for tweeting a picture of a Bible verse at Finland’s state church to criticize its cosponsorship of a homosexual parade.
“This is a very serious issue, because for Christians the Bible is the word of God, and there is no Christianity if you are not allowed to agree with the Bible,” Rasanen said.
The court will issue its verdict within the next month. If convicted, Rasanen and Pohjola face fines or up to two years in prison. The Federalist interviewed Pohjola, the bishop of non-state Lutheran churches in Finland, in the United States in November.
“Two years ago, I would never have believed that this would happen in Finland,” Rasanen said.
Worldwide Support and Attention
Political and religious leaders and laypeople across the world have expressed solidarity with Rasanen and Pojhola, putting their names in public prayers, holding rallies at Finnish embassies throughout the world, and issuing public letters of support.
“Over the past three years, M.P. Rasanen and Bishop Pohjola have handled their persecution with bravery, grace, and mercy. All Christians ought to stand together in defense of Biblical truth and against the attacks of this fallen world, because if the leftists succeed at this in Finland, it won’t be long until they try it elsewhere — including here,” said U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, in a statement to The Federalist.
Roy and several other U.S. members of Congress asked the U.S. government to take diplomatic actions against Finland if it convicts the Christians for expressing their beliefs. U.S. Sens. Mike Braun, Josh Hawley, James Inhofe, James Lankford, and Marco Rubio urged international human rights watchdogs to monitor the case, saying it “could open the door for prosecution of other devout Christians, Muslims, Jews and adherents of other faiths for publicly stating their religious beliefs.”
Christianity, a Hate Crime
It was Rasanen tweeting Bible verses in June 2019 that brought her under government scrutiny. The tweet prompted the head prosecutor’s office in Finland to sift through Rasanen’s two-decade public career.
This unearthed a radio debate she participated in in 2019 and a booklet on Christian theology of sex she wrote and Pohjola published in 2004—before Finland’s “hate crimes” law existed. The booklet, entitled “Male and Female He Created Them,” explains the Christian teaching that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman for life.
Most European countries and many U.S. states and cities have laws similar to the Finnish law enabling this case, also known as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws. These are typically so vague they give prosecutors the opportunity to selectively target a huge range of especially political and religious speech, human rights lawyer Paul Coleman, who works for Alliance Defending Freedom International and is assisting in this case, told The Federalist in earlier interviews.
“Which of us would be prepared, hand over heart, to say, ‘You can go over everything I’ve said for 20 years, there’s not anything I’ve ever said you can’t use against me’? No one can withstand that,” he said. “That is a natural outflow from these laws.”
Coleman also pointed out this case could be a watershed for the persecution of Christianity in the West, due to its distinctly theological nature and how far it has stretched the interpretation of hate crimes laws that exist in most Western countries.
“I would characterize the day as a modern-day Inquisition or heresy trial,” Coleman said in a phone interview from Helsinki last month after the trial’s first day. “And the heresy was that Paivi and Bishop Juhana were on trial against the new sexual orthodoxy of the day.”
These laws also enable legal harassment of Christians. In the United States, for example, florists, photographers, and bakers have been put out of business and hauled into court in an effort to force them to participate in gay relationship celebrations. Colorado baker Jack Phillips even won his case narrowly at the U.S. Supreme Court and he’s still in court with repeated cases against him that U.S. courts have refused to thoroughly rebuke.
Christianity Itself On Trial
Rasanen noted police interrogated her three times about her religious beliefs, for a total of 13 hours of interrogations up to six hours long at a time. What made this especially “bizarre,” she noted, was that Rasanen served for four years as minister of the interior, a position of elected oversight over Finland’s police: “I had heard something like this happen in Soviet Union or Belarus, but not in Finland.”
She says she told the police she would not recant her Christianity and that it is not a crime in Finland, which is officially a Christian nation with a state church, to be a Christian.
“The police also asked three times in each interrogation if I agreed to leave these teachings, in writing,” Rasanen said. No, she replied: “I stand behind the Bible, whatever the consequences are. For Christians, the Bible is the word of God, and we must have the possibility of agreeing with it.”
The deeply theological nature of this case has been clear throughout, Rasanen said, putting courts in a “very odd situation” of litigating permissible religious views inside a constitutional democracy that claims to guarantee the freedoms of speech and religion.
Unlike Pagans, Christians Believe In Redemption
The prosecutor also charged Rasanen falsely, she said, with believing that homosexuals are not created by God.
“According to her [the prosecutor], you cannot make a distinction between a person’s identity and his or her actions,” Rasanen said. “So she said if you condemn the act, you also condemn the human being and say they are inferior.”
On the contrary, Christians believe that all humans are sinners and have equally ineffable value to God. They believe humans’ worth can absolutely be separated from their actions. Otherwise, humans stand forever condemned for everything they’ve ever done wrong.
Christianity teaches that God is willing to forgive all sins. All that’s required is to confess those sins. This also means Christians consider homosexuals and transsexuals as they do everyone: equally precious, forgiven, welcomed, and loved by God.
“God has created all human beings as his own image and we all have equal value and we all are also sinners,” Rasanen explained. “And when we speak about sin, it is something about God and man, and it doesn’t mean that I think someone is inferior to me.”
Faith Brings Both Courage and Joy
Hearing about her case, Rasanen noted, can intimidate people into silencing their ideas. But she thinks it should instead inspire people to study and boldly proclaim what they believe is true.
“I pray that we Christians would wake up to trust upon the Bible, to study it, and to tell openly about the teachings of the Bible and especially testify about our savior, Jesus, openly,” she said. “And I am so grateful that I have got many, many chances in our TV and radio and newspapers in Finland, in secular media, to tell the good message of the Bible.”
This prosecution has in fact backfired by amplifying Christian teachings and making them a hot topic for public discussion, she said. Because of her case, Finnish media have widely discussed Bible verses and Christian theology in surprising detail, Rasanen said.
“Now it is not time to be silent,” Rasanen said. “Because the more we are silent, the narrower becomes the space for these freedoms.”
A Living Saint and Female Hero
Rasanen says her family of five grown children and nine grandchildren have encouraged and emboldened her throughout this three-year ordeal. Her children send text messages with Bible verses, saying, “Mom, you have to stand firm and do not give up!” she said.
Amid this winter’s trial, she and her husband last week welcomed twin grandchildren, with another grandchild expected very close to the time the three-judge panel decides Rasanen’s case.
If she weren’t a symbol of the faith most despised by the world’s principalities, Rasanen would be an international symbol of peak female accomplishment. A medical doctor, pastor’s wife, multilingual member of Parliament, author, public speaker, and four-year minister of her country’s interior who has also successfully raised five loving children in a strong marriage epitomizes womanly achievement. If she didn’t champion orthodox Christian beliefs, Rasanen would be the kind of woman put on the cover of magazines and given her own TV talk show.
Yet the attempts to silence and antagonize have also elevated her worldwide, in addition to making Rasanen stronger: in her faith, family life, and public witness as a living saint.
“I get, every day, letters from people who tell that they are encouraged [by] this case, to read the Bible and to trust upon it. And also I’m happy that I have got many letters, many messages from gay people, from homosexual people, who have told that they have found Christ and who have started to study [the] Bible,” she said. “So I’m grateful. I think that God is working.”