The recent general election in Finland introduced a change on the political map and atmosphere of the Parliament (Eduskunta). There was and there still are concerns related to the motives and agendas of some members of the Parliament. These concerns are expressed by some native Finns but perhaps more by those who represent either ethnic or sexual minorities in this country. The Government’s Programme includes the following line:
“The Government will encourage open debate about migration policy but will not tolerate racism.”1
Today, 17th June 2015, different media, including Helsingin Sanomat, published an article where a member of Parliament is in a same picture with well-known neo-Nazis and persons who have reportedly committed crimes. Some persons in the picture were involved in the attack against the Gay Pride parade in Helsinki in June 2010 and the so called “Library stabbing in Jyväskylä” in 2013 when far-right activists tried to intrude into an event where a book about the far-right movements in Finland was introduced to the media.
As a priest of a multicultural, inclusive community of Christians, I am concerned how the climate is fast changing and the demonstrations, like the one described by Helsingin Sanomat today, are becoming more and more accepted. I have noticed how racism – racists acts and opinions – are dismissed either as “private thinking” or, “single and separate incidents” which are not representing any organization’s opinions.
This is a problematic path. It is not only the letter of the law which must be followed but also its intention. This should be even more clear for Christians, who are setting Jesus as the pattern of their life and calling; we are called to love one another as Christ has loved us. We cannot allow ourselves to enter into that game in which arguing about the words becomes more important than the intention; then we would have no hope. We need to be able to discuss also about the intention behind the words.
The Anglican Church in Finland is an inclusive community of word and sacrament. As disciples of Christ we are called to love and to seek those who are forgotten and neglected. I am aware that the Church of England herself still has many questions where she needs to find an answer – especially in the field of human sexuality. But our own shortcomings – or as some say, our firm and clear resolutions – should not prevent us from seeking to make the Church a safe and welcoming place for all – not only for the strong.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18).
In our fear of otherness we – in the society but also in the Church – are finding reasons which give us the right to exclude some others out from our company and well-being. It is precisely this hiding behind the rules and regulations which Jesus showed to be problematic while he was discussing with the Pharisees.
The following quotations are from the “Affirming Our Common Humanity” by the House of Bishops of the Church of England:
1. Christians should celebrate the diversity found in the human family. We acknowledge the universal bond that human beings are all made in the image of God, equal in dignity, sharing a common humanity in which God shows no partiality or favouritism. This is the foundation for our pursuit of human flourishing for all, and our relationship with our neighbours, not least those of other faith communities.2
15. Racism and prejudice in regard to ethnicity are sins that have an injurious impact on many others in society and undermine the proclamation and practice of God’s kingdom. Christians should ‘nurture a loathing of the sin of racism’. Such sins are apparent in assumptions concerning those who are perceived as different, expressed in casual humour as much as in decisions about job applicants or participation in public life.
16. Discrimination happens when racism and prejudice become embedded in action and relationships. Christians must consider carefully the question of membership, association with or support of any group where prejudice becomes codified in policies, constitutions or statements in public (the public sphere including, of course, media such as the world wide web). Such groups set themselves up as distinctive moral communities based on erroneous assumptions concerning ethnicity, religion or the spurious constructs of ‘race’.
17. In our society, we are aware of groups making political claims on Christian identity through the rhetoric of nationalism and race. We acknowledge and affirm the Christian heritage of institutions and values within the life of our nation, but that inheritance can never be considered coterminous with the community of faith, or exclusive of those of other communities of faith. The worship of false gods (idolatry) includes the erroneous ascription of eminence and reverence to religious identity or nationality. It is in the compulsion to proclaim the good news that we find redeemed notions of identity and nationhood.
18. Racism and related forms of prejudice are evils that Christians are called to struggle against as they seek the renewal of hearts and minds, as well as the transformation of our society. This is the witness and example we offer, not least to all who would engage in public life, particularly those who seek election in local councils, national or European parliaments. 3
I hope, work and pray that the Anglican Church in Finland can continue to be a place where everyone is welcomed, remembering that we are all made in the image of God. We as a community of different kind of minorities worshipping together can bear witness to the love of Christ which casts out all fear.
Tuomas Mäkipää, Chaplain
1Finland, a land of solutions. Strategic Programme of the Finnish Government p.38 retrieved 17.6.2015 http://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/sipila/government-programme
2Affirming Our Common Humanity – A Theological statement by the House of Bishops, p. 3. Copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2010 retrrieved 17.6.2015 https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2014/06/bnp-and-national-front-incompatible-with-teaching-of-church.aspx
3Affirming Our Common Humanity 2010, p. 5