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Bishops divided over same-sex marriage

A majority of Finland's Evangelical Lutheran bishops want to adhere to church law and not extend marriage in the church to same-sex couples. All, however, are in favour of prayer services to bless same-sex couples.

Finland's Evangelical Lutheran bishops have differing views on same-sex wedding ceremonies taking place within the church. Image: Yle

Finland's Evangelical Lutheran bishops have differing views on same-sex wedding ceremonies taking place within the church.

A late-August bishops' conference established that despite any changes to civil law, marriage in the Evangelical Lutheran Church will not be extended to same-sex couples. However, an Yle survey has found that the personal views held by the bishops vary widely.

Some of the bishops support their conference's policy and stress the church's own law.

"The report issued by the bishops' conference is clear and simple. Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, so even after March [when gender-neutral marriage legislation comes into force], people of the same sex cannot be married in the Lutheran Church," says Seppo Häkkinen, Bishop of the Diocese of Mikkeli.

Oulu's Bishop Samuel Salmi takes the same stance as Bishop Häkkinen.

"As long as society does not decide otherwise, we function as the Church's own parliament, the church synod, has determined," Salmi told Yle.

No theological basis

Matti Repo of the Diocese of Tampere says that he does not see any theological basis for marrying same-sex couples in the church.

"Of course, justifications regarding recognizing people, respecting them and their love can be put forward," points out Repo.

For his part, Bishop Jari Jolkkonen of Kuopio points to the long history the church's current stand.

"Jesus spoke of marriage between a man and a woman, but yet treated each person with compassion and dignity. I have pledged a commitment to this," stated Jolkkonen.

A future option?

In contrast, Archbishop Kari Mäkinen believes that the Lutheran Church should marry same-sex couples, but not starting when the civil gender-neutral law comes into force.

"In the future, yes. The church has to move forward at its own pace and for its own reasons," Mäkinen explains.

Espoo's Bishop Tapio Luoma agrees that the church should marry same-sex couples when the church is ready to do so. According to Luoma, this will require debate and time.

All of the bishops have taken the position that it is possible to hold prayer services to bless same-sex couples.

"I support the traditional Christian concept of marriage and I think that is what we should observe. Prayers on behalf of people of the same sex entering into marriage are something that will surely continue to happen," notes Simo Peura.

Coming closer

Trying to bring people with differing views closer together is something that Turku’s Bishop Kaarlo Kalliala sees as one of the church's tasks.

"It is no secret that there are very strong views on both sides of this issue. It is important to avoid establishing excessively strict procedures or an excessively rigid position too soon. What is needed now is to seek the means to bring these very distantly opposite positions closer to each other," says Kalliala.

Bishop of the Diocese of Helsinki Irja Askola thinks it important to find ways to show acceptance of same-sex couples who enter civil marriages.

"I have trust that the professionalism, creativity and situational awareness of the clergy will allow them, if asked, to attend wedding celebrations and give blessings from God, and to join in the joy that the change in marriage law means to gay and lesbian couples, their friends and families," stresses Askola.

Björn Vikström, Bishop of the Diocese of Porvoo, presented a view that stands out from those of his fellow bishops.

"I think that the church could give up its right to perform marriages and move on to blessing married couples, including same-sex couples," suggest Vikström.