Into the Deep Podcast: Facing Jail for Posting Bible Verse (Päivi Räsänen)
08/10/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Jeff King interviews Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish Parliament for more than 25 years, about her experience facing religious persecution. A Bible verse posted to her personal Facebook page has led to a legal battle that has lasted more than two years. She is facing up to six years in prison for three different “crimes.”
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Jeff King: Welcome to Into the Deep today. This is a fascinating story. I have as a Päivi Räsänen, she is a Finnish MP. And this is a fascinating case, you’re going to see this kind of case happening more on the West. You’re going to see it happen here, in the States. We’re going to get into everything. But Päivi, two years ago, put out a tweet saying basically, how could the Finnish Lutheran Church support Gay Pride day? And that started a firestorm where the General Prosecutor, who had an ax to grind, said, “You’re going to be prosecuted for that as well as for these other things you’ve said.” And we’re going to break this whole thing down. Päivi, welcome today. Welcome to Into the Deep and thanks for making the time.
Päivi Räsänen: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Jeff King: Okay. First of all, you are an MP in the Finnish Parliament, is that correct?
Päivi Räsänen: Yes. Yes. In fact, I have been seen since 1995, 26 years, a member of the Finnish Parliament.
Jeff King: So you know your way around, I would think. This is a fascinating case. Let’s first of all lay out the groundwork. In Finland, and if I go too fast on everything, I know English is not your first language. If I go too fast, you hold up and say stop slower please. No problem.
Päivi Räsänen: Thank you.
Jeff King: Okay. Let’s lay out context and groundwork. Finland has a constitution. It guarantees religious freedom. It guarantees freedom of thought, expression.
Päivi Räsänen: Yes.
Jeff King: Okay. That’s the background. This is a typical Western democracy where either we have these freedoms or we don’t. Two years ago you put out a tweet, and tell me if I’m wrong, but basically the Lutheran Church there was saluting the Gay Pride event.
Päivi Räsänen: Yes.
Jeff King: You came out and you showed a picture of the Scripture and said, “How can you be the church and you are going against scripture and lifting up that which is sin?” Is that a fair characterization of what happened?
Päivi Räsänen: Yes, exactly. Yes. Yes. I published in my social media accounts in Twitter, in Facebook and in Instagram the same question. And I added there a photo from the Bible. And it’s raised up a lot of discussion in Finnish society and inside our Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is the main church in Finland. In fact about 70% of Finnish population belong to that church and I’m also a member of that church. And in fact, I’m also a member of a local church council. And this was a very, very topical issue in my local church also, the decision to support the Pride events in my area. But I was very worried and concerned about the situation in my church. And especially, I was concerned about the trust upon the Bible among Christians. And that’s why I thought that, now I have to speak up. I have to try to wake up the people to what the Bible really says about this subject. And the discussion started-
Jeff King: It certainly did.
Päivi Räsänen: Yes. And some citizen made a complaint to the police and accused me against the law about the aggravation against a minority group. In the Finnish criminal code, we have such legislation. And then the police started to investigate that. And then there also came some other complaints about my writings and my speeches. And there were, for example, one pamphlet that I had written and published in 2004, 17 years ago about, it was a church pamphlet about sexuality, about human beings as male and female. And then also one radio debate. The police started to investigate these all. And I was interrogated for many hours in our police station. But one detail is that when the police investigated this pamphlet, this booklet about homosexuals and marriage, the decision of the police was that I have not committed any crime. That what I have been speaking, belongs to the freedom of speech and freedom of reason. But the Prosecutor General of Finland ordered the police to investigate again and to interrogate me.
Jeff King: Let’s pause there. I will sum up and let’s break this apart a little bit. The Finnish Lutheran Church, probably like many old denominations in the U.S., has drifted away from the Bible as an authority, as a final authority, the biblical worldview they’ve left that behind. They probably don’t do a lot of work on the gospel. They’ve drifted away from core Christianity. They stand up and they say, “We salute the homosexuals in Finland and this Gay Pride event and we support you.” You come out and say, “Stop sign, wait a minute, doesn’t the Bible say…” You’re doing this as a private citizen, right? You’re not coming out as an MP? These are in your private social media channels.
Päivi Räsänen: Yes, yes, that’s right.
Jeff King: Yeah. Expressing-
Päivi Räsänen: As a Christian, as a member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. And I’m also a member of the church council.
Jeff King: Yeah. So you’re a church authority. Now, I am sure you are not the only one bringing up these issues, that many people in social media, but lo and behold, for some reason, you are chosen to be made an example of. They could prosecute anybody, but they want to go as high profile as possible. So if we can go after an MP and destroy her publicly, this will set a fine example. I’m going into the background of what typically happens. Then the police get involved and they of course say, the constitution says there’s no crime here, there’s nothing to charge her with. And the Prosecutor says, we’re going to find something, she will be charged and she will be made an example of. And by the way, what is the Prosecutor’s name? Because we’re going to have to call her and see if by chance she’ll get on camera. I doubt it, but let’s try. What is her name?
Päivi Räsänen: Her name is Mrs. Raija Toiviainen.
Jeff King: Well, that’s hard for an American, so you’ll have to text that to me.
Päivi Räsänen: Yes, yes.
Jeff King: Okay. That’s a fine Finnish name, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue of an American. Okay. We definitely want to get her point of view on this. She’s supposed to be upholding the law and the Constitution. She seems like she is thrown the Constitution out and said, this is something I want to pursue because I want to set a social agenda. It surely seems like that. By the way, this is interesting, there’s many parallels in the West, in the U.S. Overseas, we deal with persecution around the world. And we deal with governments that are very against religious freedom. They’re hostile, and they are hostile towards Christians. The government will never come out and say, we don’t like religious freedom.
Jeff King: We don’t like this or that. We don’t like Christians. They will never come out and say that. They’ll twist the law, they’ll create twisted laws, or they will twist the law, or they will ignore the law to come after Christians. Strangely it seems very similar to what’s going on overseas. Here is a prosecutor that should be upholding the Constitution, that’s really her job. Where is the Constitution being violated? She’s acting as a judge. This is not really the role of the Prosecutor, she’s acting as the interpreter or the legislature, and doing it as she wishes. When you said that she also had before she was… Are you elected as the General Prosecutor, are you appointed? Which one is it?
Päivi Räsänen: It was about two years ago. Yes. Or a little bit more. I have to say that I don’t remember the exact year, but she has been a couple of years now in her office. When she started her job, she said that her priority is to fight against hate speech and hate crimes. And perhaps she wants to now make this case as a precedent in the Finnish society, I suppose.
Jeff King: Yeah. This is the problem with hate speech, you can’t have special groups within society that have special rights. Everybody in society needs to be able to criticize each other. People need to be able to criticize the church. Hundreds of years ago we saw what happened when you couldn’t criticize the church. Here it’s the same thing. We’re picking out a special group saying this group can’t be criticized. In a democracy, everybody should have an opinion and can be able to argue and freely voice their differences. And this is life, because this is democracy or else we’re no longer a democracy. And there’s a new theocracy. This is a new theocracy where basically they’re saying, this is our new theology and these rights are above others, including this small group, their rights are above the Constitution. The same thing is happening here in the States. It’s the same problem. And the Constitution will be ignored. And again, many people could have been charged with this crime, but they chose to prosecute an MP. They want a very public example to be made.
Päivi Räsänen: Yes, yes.
Jeff King: Go ahead.
Päivi Räsänen: Yes, I agree. I agree totally that this is just what is happening in Finland now, because I’m not the only one who has been speaking about these things. We have many, many, many similar books and writings and social media updates in our society. So I’m not the only one. And what I have said, it has been… I have to say that it has been a very traditional interpretation of the Bible and what the Christian churches have been teaching about marriage between man and woman and sexuality. And I have always said, for example, that I believe that every human being is created as an image of God. Homosexual people are as precious people as anyone else and they have to be respected and so on.
But what we have seen in our society, the Prosecutor General, when she decided to prosecute me, she announced publicly some false statements about my views. For example, she claimed that I say that homosexual people are inferior to heterosexuals. And that I had said that God has not even created homosexuals. I have never said anything like that. Of course, I believe that God has created all people. I understand that for people that do not know the Bible and do not understand what the Bible teaches, it is difficult to understand the concept of sin. That there is a question about the relationship between man and God. And if we believe in God, as the Bible tells, then it is God who says what is sin and what is not. It is not ourselves who say it. For me this is even a bigger question than only a question of marriage. It is a question of people’s eternal life, because it is also a question about the relationship between God and human beings, because they need to have their sins forgiven.
Jeff King: Yes. Yes.
Päivi Räsänen: And that’s why it is so important for us Christians to tell people what the Bible teaches about God and human being. This has been a very traditional teaching of the Christian Church, what I have said. If I can tell you what is especially concerning, when the police was investigating my pamphlet, that booklet, the police said and I can read-
Jeff King: The pamphlet that you wrote 17 years ago, correct?
Päivi Räsänen: Yes, yes, yes. But in the decision the police noted, I read it, “If, for example, any of the viewpoints content in the Bible would be considered sufficient as such to fulfill the criteria for the crime of ethnic aggravation, then the distribution of the Bible, or rendering it available would in principle be considered a crime of ethnic aggravation and thus punishable.” This is also a question, are we allowed to agree with the Bible? Are we allowed to keep Bibles in public and teach what the Bible tells us? I think this is a very, very deep question of freedom of faith and religion.
Jeff King: Very well said, very well said, because this is where the argument goes. This is when you drill down legally, this is what it gets down to. And the liberal will say, I don’t care what the Bible says. I don’t care about your… They’ll say you’re a hateful person. Those viewpoints, it doesn’t matter if the Bible will say it. And they’re willing to sacrifice the Constitution, the universal human rights that the West is built on, that is willing to be jettisoned and to be destroyed all for the sake of a political payoff really or a new theology. It really goes down to, is there religious freedom, is there freedom of speech?
Päivi Räsänen: Yes.
Jeff King: Is there freedom of expression and thought? You can’t have special rights for one small class? I mean, if the Finnish government said we need to protect Christians, because now they’re being charged with these crimes, what would the view of the liberals be? They would never say, well, Christians should have special rights and special protections. There needs to be one class of protection for everybody. If you allow special protection, it’s going to break, especially in this case, it’s going to negate the Constitution and the freedom of expression and the freedom of thought.
In the U.S. legislation is being pushed and it explicitly says that these rights trump, they rise above the Constitution. This is extremely dangerous. These laws are put forward, and they’re said, this is out of compassion. These laws are out of compassion, out of mercy, but they’re extremely destructive and oftentimes purposefully so. The people proposing these laws, they know the outcomes. The Constitutional lawyers, they know these outcomes, they know the nature of what you’re talking about. This has all been thought through. It’s put around a package of compassion. This is all about compassion and protection, but in the end, it’s about destruction. And it’s about the destruction of what the West hold so dear, and that’s these freedoms of religion, of thought, of expression, of speech, those things can’t coexist. It’s incredibly disturbing, and Finland’s not the only place. Things like this has happened in Canada and Australia. Now legislation is trying to be pushed forward in the United States. And it’s extremely dangerous. What is the church in Finland saying, not the official church? What is the conservative Christian, what are they saying about this? How do they view this?
Yes. I have got a lot of support from Finnish Christians. We have inside our church, our main church, we have many revival movements. We have conservative Christian organizations in Finland. In fact, my husband is also a Lutheran pastor and he is conservative.
Päivi Räsänen: I have got a lot of support from Christians in Finland. In fact, when the announcement of the prosecutor came into public, I got in a very short period, in one day, thousands of messages of people who told that they are praying for me and for my family, and now also from abroad, so I’m very grateful that also the American people are sending some messages to me, but also from Finland. In Finland, we have a big Lutheran Church there. The majority of Finnish people belong, but there are inside the church, which is quite liberal and the bishops of its are mainly quite liberal, but inside the church, we have some revival movements, some Christian organizations and missions. For example, my husband, he is a Lutheran pastor and he is head of a missionary school, missionary college, in Finland. So I feel that I have got a lot of support, and of course this has raised up a lot of concern among Christians, but I think that I am happy and I’m grateful that… I believe that when God wakes up people to pray and to speak about Bible, God has something good in His mind.
And I believe that everything is in God’s hands in this case, and I just hope that I could, in public, that I could give encouragement to Christians. That I will stand for these teachings of Bible and I hope that other Christians also will do the same.
Jeff King: Absolutely. We’d love your courage and when you boil down this case, this is a case of Rome has said we have different gods. We don’t like your gods.
Päivi Räsänen: Yes.
Jeff King: And just like Paul, you are to be punished because you have different gods, so the culture has changed, so even though the law says you’re allowed to have different gods, you are to be punished, and this woman is using the organs of state, the power of the state, in an extra-constitutional manner. She’s coming against you to change the culture and to punish Christians and to bury Christianity. She knows full well what’s going on, so your courage is exemplary and we lift it up and it’s going to be needed here in the States. This is happening in the States, it’s happening everywhere, and the left has to say that religious freedom is part of the fabric of democracy. It’s the core, because religious freedom is more than that. It involves all of these rights we’ve said: religion of speech, of thought, expression, of gathering together.
Päivi Räsänen: Yes.
Jeff King: All of these things are, of all countries, the United States knows, we were founded from people who had been harassed by the Church of England and others, and so they said, we saw our founders had dwelled on these things and said religious freedom, because it encompasses so many other freedoms, it is at the core of the constitution and will remain so.
But many people will throw out the constitution to grind an ax against their own targets, political targets et cetera, and I think the Christians need to wake up.
This isn’t about compassion. This is about hatred. It’s about hatred of Christians and destruction of the faith. So people need to wake up. We can no longer be the frog in the kettle, to use an American phrase. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it?
Päivi Räsänen: Yes, yes, I unders- Yes. We have the similar phrase in Finnish too, yes.
Jeff King: Yes. Well, we’ve been comfortable in this water that’s getting warmer and warmer, and somebody just turned the temperature way up in Finland, so please follow up and give us the name and how to reach the prosecutor, because we definitely need to talk to her and let’s see if we can get her. And find out what’s behind this and if there’s a larger picture we don’t understand.
So, but in the meantime, we must pray for you and we probably want to come back to you and check in with you to see how things are going and see if we can help.
Päivi Räsänen: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Jeff King: God bless you, Päivi.
Päivi Räsänen: Thank you. God bless you.