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Helsinki Bishop: Church joining Pride symbolically important

Bishop Irja Askola says that the Lutheran church's mettle is being tested in the ongoing discussion surrounding the gender-neutral marriage law and LGBT rights.

Irja Askola
Helsinki Bishop Irja Askola says the church should do more for its LGBT flock. Image: Yle

The Lutheran church is more actively involved than ever in the ongoing Pride Week, a festival celebrating sexual diversity and solidarity with sexual minorities. Churches and Christian communities have held about a dozen events of their own, and Saturday saw a joint three-church tent erected in Kaivopuisto park as part of the Helsinki Pride festivities.

Helsinki Bishop Irja Askola says she is delighted with the progress, and that she feels the church should be involved in social events. Taking part in Pride takes on a symbolic meaning.

"So many people in sexual and gender minorities or their friends and relatives have experienced the shame and fearmongering brought on by the church's attitudes," she says. "In light of that, the symbolic message in church workers joining in with events like this is clear."

Askola says that attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities is still difficult for many in the church, but that the atmosphere is growing more equitable. She has Archbishop Kari Mäkinen to thank for that, she says, but also all LGBT employees and leaders within the Lutheran church who are speaking openly about their own background.

"Prejudice is based on a mask, and when a real person's real story is found behind such a mask it is easier to identify with," Askola says.

Stance towards marriage law unspecified

Attitudes towards the approved gender-neutral marriage law are a topic of constant talk and debate within the Lutheran church. Askola describes the discussion as partly "stormy". When marriage law is extended to everybody, the church has to decide whether to only marry or bless heterosexual couples in the future or not.

One proposed alternative is also for the church to forgo its right to marry couples entirely.

Askola says that the process is likely to drag on. She does not want to comment on the possible outcome.

"We will see how the church reacts. We're starting the discussion, and then the decision-making body will sift through what we discuss. The possibilities are all open."

But she says she wishes for the conversation to be true it has to include more people whom the issue directly affects.

"We will also be gauging the church's ability to deliberate on this and to take strides in issues that raise emotions, conflict with theology and cause difficulties for many," she says. "My hope is that the Lutheran church could be the element that brings real light into the foray."

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