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  • June 2017: Asylum seekers

The war in Syria and political disturbances in Iraq caused an influx of asylum seekers to Finland in 2015. According to the Finnish Immigration Service, 32.476 people came to Finland in 2015 (as compared to 5.657 in 2016 or 3.651 in 2014). This caused a lot of public outcry and worry; some citizens demanded a stricter border control, and the turning back of asylum seekers. The hardening of people´s attitudes could be seen in newspaper articles and in social media. The Church responded by reminding that the Evangelic Lutheran Church of Finland is not meant for Finnish people only (Archbishop Mäkinen), but intends to help and support every person regardless of their religion or nationality. Most bishops and priests took the same attitude. As a protest, some Finns withdrew from the Church. Taking a positive stand on every person´s human rights has also resulted in hate speech and hate mail directed at some high profile clergymen and –women e.g. the bishop of Helsinki, Irja Askola. There has been some debate over whether the Church and the government take different views in this case. The bishops and the Minister of the Interior Paula Risikko met on November 2016 to discuss mutual worries, and came to an understanding about the need to secure the rights and well-being of everybody in Finland.

  • June 2017: Same-sex marriage

In Finland, the new law on the registered partnerships of same-sex couples came into force in 2002. The General Synod was thereafter presented with two initiatives; one of them stated that those living in registered partnership should not be allowed to work in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The other one proposed that same-sex partners could have their registered partnership blessed by the Church. Both initiatives were rejected. A working group was established and both the Bishops´ Conference and General Synod considered the new situation. They came to a compromise according to which the pastors can pray for and with those who have registered their partnership. However, the event should not be compared to a wedding, and it should not comprise elements belonging to a wedding such as exchange of vows and rings.

The much debated law on same-sex marriages was passed in parliament in March 2017. The Church in Finland has now to decide how to proceed if some of the priests were to defy the decisions of the General Synod of the Church, because some priests are prepared to marry same-sex couples even though it is not permitted in the Church Service Book. The Bishops´ Conference commissioned a study in spring 2017 on the alternatives of the Church when in the future secular legislation can be opposed to the Church´s dogma. It is doubtful whether any new decisions about this dilemma will be reached in the near future.

D 30 June 2017    ATommi Heino

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