New same-sex marriage laws due to take effect in March have roiled the ranks of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Finland, with the institution now weighing the possibility of giving up the right to marry couples. Earlier this week a synod of bishops agreed to conduct an investigation into the impact of such a move.
Finnish Lutheran Archbishop Kari Mäkinen is a member of the steering group looking at the thorny question. He told Yle’s Aamu-tv morning programme that in his view, there is no reason for the church to give up the right to wed couples.
"Not at least for the reason that marriage laws have changed. If there are other reasons, that’s another matter. But not because of this same-sex marriage law," Mäkinen commented.
"The church is not in this world to consecrate marriages, it is here because of Christ. But from the human perspective, the consecration of marriage is an important thing," he added.
The Archbishop pointed out that relinquishing the practice of performing marriage rites could affect membership in the church.
"We will also try to look at these kinds of things, like what it might mean and what would be consequences of different options," he noted.
An Yle report from August 2015 noted that 8,000 people quit the church after Mäkinen praised Finnish lawmakers’ decision to legalise gay marriage in November 2014.
Church divided over same-sex marriage
New gender-neutral marriage laws will take effect in little over one month. According to a report by the bishops’ synod last autumn, the church decided that preists should not officiate at marriage ceremonies for gay couples or grant blessings for such couples in church.
However priests have been divided on the issue. The Helsinki parish council has already declared that its priests will be allowed to marry gay couples once the law takes effect.
The Archbishop said that the synod’s ruling is based on the understanding that gay couples can formalise their marriages at local registry offices.
"We have no definitive model of what kind of church or priest’s ceremony there will be after that. It means that the situation will be very diverse and varied," he added.
Mäkinen said that he hoped that the issue would not be used to stir up conflict and that it would be possible to avoid the courts. He said that he did not believe that that the church’s long-term future could be built on the basis of sanctions and court processes.
"Now it would be good to understand the existing guidelines. And also [it would be good] not to put personal church politics above anyone’s marriage," he counseled.
"It’s quite possible that in spite of the guidelines, some priests may perform the marriage ceremony and what happens after that would be difficult to predict," Mäkinen remarked.