A Finnish church bishop who's on trial alongside a Finnish politician says Finland has replaced Christianity with a new state religion of "secularism" – a belief system that will block the Bible from being taught in public.
Bishop Juhana Pohjola is accused of hate speech for his biblical views, charged with violating the dignity and equality of the LGBTQ population. He recently said he blames the downfall of Finnish Christianity on the cultural shift that occurred in Western societies more than 50 years ago.
As CBN's Faithwire reported in January, Pohjola, 49, a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), has publicly offered biblical statements about sexuality and also published lawmaker Päivi Räsänen's book Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity.
The ELMDF, a religious body comprised of churches that broke away from Finland's national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, over doctrinal issues, is being held liable for the book, which was published in 2004.
Pohjola is editor-in-chief of publications distributed by the Luther Foundation Finland — the legal group behind ELMDF. He was charged by Finland's Office of the Prosecutor General with creating incitement against a group of people.
The pair's trial began on Jan. 24 and continued into mid-February. The court will issue its decision on March 30, the ELMDF posted on its website.
Pohjola told Fox News that his country has had a long Christian tradition since the Middle Ages, "The Finnish flag has a cross on it – like all Scandinavian countries – as a sign of common Christian heritage," he said. But starting around 1970, there was a shift in the majority of the Lutheran church which led to secularism.
"Cultural and sexual revolution, secularism, rise of individualism and postmodern critique on all structures and concept of truth," the bishop said. "If previously the majority in the established Lutheran church were 'believing and belonging,' it shifted to 'belonging without believing' and is now rapidly moving to 'not belonging and not believing.'"
During final arguments, Pohjola's defense team denied the charges against him. They criticized the prosecution for not presenting grounds for their accusations. Since the prosecutors failed to state the evidence for the charges, that left the defendants with little opportunity to defend themselves against those charges, the diocese's website reported.
Pohjola said, "The prosecutor's primary idea seems to be that, in public, one's own understanding of the Bible may not be taught, and that freedom of religion does not give one permission to voice aloud a teaching if it is considered to discriminate against a minority group. Therefore, in line with this view, the biblical teachings on marriage, sexuality, sin, and grace could not, according to the prosecution, be preached in public. This is an attack on religious freedom."
As Faithwire noted in January, Pohjola told Christianity Today he has deep worries about the implications the court proceedings could have for individuals in Finland.
In particular, the Christian leader is concerned about self-censorship due to fear of prosecution.
"I do not so much fear the outcome of the court case, but the strong signal it gives to many: to be silent," he told the outlet. "I fear self-censorship and intimidation."
Pohjola said he believes in the "God-given dignity, value and human rights of those who identify themselves as homosexuals," but that he also holds to the biblical belief same-sex acts are sinful and not in line with the truth.
As CBN News previously reported, Räsänen, who has been under investigation since 2019, was charged with three counts of hate speech and could face two years in prison. One of the elements that landed her in the crosshairs is a tweet from June 17, 2019, in which she presented Romans 1:24-27, which condemns homosexuality as sinful.
Räsänen told CBN News last year she believes the charges against her will inevitably speak to whether a person in Finland is free to express his or her biblical convictions.
In an op-ed for Fox News last month, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins wrote about Pohjola and Räsänen's trial and what the rapid rise of radical secularism in Western governments could mean for Americans.
"As a politician, Räsänen should have every right to engage in debate on controversial topics without facing criminal charges. And as a Christian minister, Bishop Pohjola should at the very least be free to publish a pamphlet articulating a Biblical worldview without the possibility of jail time – as should all citizens regardless of their vocation or calling in life," Roy and Perkins wrote.
"For years, many have warned that Western governments have been overtaken by radical secularism — guided by a disdain of Christianity — and that the slippery slope would result in people of faith facing trial for living out their beliefs in the public square. In Finland, the slide has stopped; that day has come," the op-ed continued.
Roy and Perkins, however, warned this is not just a Finnish problem for the Finnish people, but should sound an alarm for all Americans.
"The events in Finland should serve as a nine-alarm fire to those who cherish the very political experiment in ordered liberty that enabled America and Western Civilization to flourish. The basic rights of religious freedom and free speech are under attack across the globe. When such blatant attacks are directed at high-profile figures in a Western democracy like Finland, we have a duty to raise the alarm and come to their defense," they wrote.