Evangelical Lutheran archbishop Tapio Luoma responded on Thursday to an open letter from ex-interior minister and former chair of the Christian Democrat party Päivi Räsänen, who criticised the church's official affiliation with Finland's Pride Week, which begins on 24 June.
According to Luoma, the church’s participation in Helsinki Pride -- a celebration of gender and sexual minorities -- is not about the church's position on marriage or marriage laws.
"It’s not a question of taking a stance on marriage laws but rather [the idea] that the church’s message is for everyone... and same-sex couples are welcome at all church activities," Luoma wrote in a letter addressed to Räsänen and published on the website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Finland since 2017.
Church resignations on rise following Räsänen's letter
Räsänen expressed concern about the church’s decision to participate in Pride in her letter.
"The Pride event’s ideological goal is to take pride in the type of relations that are described as being against God’s will. Homosexual relationships, like those relationships outside of marriage, are described in the Bible as sinful and shameful," wrote Räsänen, who threatened to quit the church as result of the church's decision.
After Räsänen’s letter was made public on Wednesday, Eroakirkosta.fi, a Finnish website that offers an electronic service for resigning from Finland's state churches, reportedly saw a rise in people quitting the church. On Wednesday, 350 people terminated their church membership and about 200 people did so before midday Thursday.
"The goal of Pride is to reduce shame"
The Helsinki Pride organisation also addressed the issue on Thursday.
Helsinki Pride board chairperson Juha Kilpiä said the church’s participation in Pride is part of a long continuum, whereby the church is opening its doors to sexual minorities. He said that he was not surprised by Räsänen’s stance.
"There’s room for differing opinions. What is more meaningful is what the parishes say and do. We don’t see any reason why even one person should feel ashamed of their sexual orientation" Kilpiä added.
The Helsinki parish union has participated in Helsinki Pride in previous years. According to Kilpiä, one of the goals of Pride is to reduce people’s sense of shame and increase their self-esteem.
"There are many different voices inside the church and there always will be. People who participate in Pride are those who think marriage is a right that belongs to everyone," said Kilpiä. "We want to provide room for that voice in our community."