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In Case With Global Implications, Finland Puts Christians On Trial For Their Faith


Reported By Joy Pullmann | NOVEMBER 23, 2021

Read more at https://thefederalist.com/2021/11/23/in-case-with-global-implications-finland-puts-christians-on-trial-for-their-faith/

In Case With Global Implications, Finland Puts Christians On Trial For Their Faith
Photo Image courtesy International Lutheran Council

Meet the man who appears to be the first in the post-Soviet Union West to be brought up on criminal charges for publishing long-held Christian beliefs. Juhana Pohjola wouldn’t be cast to play his own part if Hollywood made a movie about a bishop put on trial for his faith. The Finnish pastor has inherited a place in the church of Martin Luther, but it appears none of Luther’s pugnacity or vitriol. In person, Pohjola, 49, is forthright but unassuming, and gentle. Stereotypically, the Finn is thin and tall. He often pauses while speaking to carefully consider his next words. He listens attentively to others with far less impressive resumes.

In more than two decades as a pastor, Pohjola has ministered to congregations as small as 30. He has spent his life building a network of faithful churches across Finland, many of which started with a few people gathered for prayer, Bible study, hymn-singing—and communion, if they can get a pastor. In an in-person interview with The Federalist, Pohjola urged fellow Christian leaders to be willing to seek out “one lost sheep” instead of crowds and acclaim.

This is the man who appears to be the first in the post-Soviet Union West to be brought up on criminal charges for preaching the Christian message as it has been established for thousands of years. Also charged in the case that goes to trial on January 24 is Pohjola’s fellow Lutheran and a Finnish member of Parliament, Paivi Rasanen. Rasanen’s alleged crimes in a country that claims to guarantee freedom of speech and religion include tweeting a picture of a Bible verse. Potential penalties if they are convicted include fines and up to two years in prison.

Finnish Authorities: The Bible Is Hate Speech

Rasanen and Pohjola are being charged with “hate speech” for respectively writing and publishing a 24-page 2004 booklet that explains basic Christian theology about sex and marriage, which reserves sex exclusively for within marriage, which can only consist of one man and one woman, for life. The Finnish prosecutor claims centuries-old Christian teachings about sex “incite hatred” and violate legal preferences for government-privileged identity groups.

Writer Rod Dreher pointed out the witch hunt nature of this prosecution: “Räsänen wrote that pamphlet seven years before LGBT was added to the national hate-speech law as a protected class. She was investigated once before for the pamphlet, and cleared — but now she’s going to undergo another interrogation.”

Rasanen and Pohjola both have adamantly affirmed “the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.” Christian theology teaches that all human beings are precious, as all are made in God’s image and offered eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In advance of the trial, Rasanen and Pohjola have been interrogated by police for hours about their theology. Pohjola told me in the interrogation police treated Christian beliefs as thought crimes. In a statement, Rasanen noted that the police publicly admitted their interpretation of Finland’s law would make publishing the Bible a hate crime.

“It is impossible for me to think that the classical Christian views and the doctrine of the majority of denominations would become illegal. The question here is about the core of Christian faith; how a person gets saved into unity with God and into everlasting life though the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus. Therefore, it is crucial to also talk about the nature of sin,” Rasanen told Dreher. “As we are living in a democratic country, we must be able to disagree and express our disagreement. We have to be able to cope with speech that we feel insults our feelings. Many questions are so debatable and contradictory that we have to have the possibility of discussing. Otherwise, the development is towards a totalitarian system, with only one correct view.”

Major International Implications

Humans rights lawyer Paul Coleman, who spoke to The Federalist from his Alliance Defending Freedom International office in Vienna, Austria, says Pohjola and Rasanen’s cases are a “canary in the coalmine” for freedom of speech across the West. ADF International is providing legal support for Pohjola and Rasanen’s cases.

“Although all European countries have these hate speech laws, and these hate speech laws are increasingly being used against citizens for things that they say, this is the first time we’ve really seen Christians face criminal prosecution for explaining their biblical views,” Coleman said. “…It’s unprecedented. We’ve not seen attacks on free speech on this level in Europe, and that’s why they are extremely important cases, not just for the people of Finland and Paivi Rasanen and the bishop themselves, but for all of Europe. If this is upheld in one jurisdiction, we will no doubt see it in other jurisdictions as well.”

Such “hate speech” laws exist in every European country and Western countries such as Canada and Australia, and descend from Soviet influence. Coleman called them “sleeper laws,” saying that in other countries “they could be used any time just like they are in Finland. People need to mobilize against these laws and overturn them.”

Legally privileging certain sexual behavior has thus broken western countries’ promises of equality before the law for all citizens, as well as enabling government discrimination against citizens who exercise their free speech and religious liberty, as in the Baronnelle Stutzman and Jack Phillips cases in the United States.

“Establishing standards of identity” also lets government meddle in theological controversies that are none of its business, said the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Shaw, who directs church relations for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and has known Pohjola for decades. Pohjola’s church is an international partner of the LCMS.

From a natural law and historic Western perspective, “the government isn’t supposed to get into people’s brains and tell them what’s right and wrong to believe and say,” Shaw noted in a phone interview. “That’s not their realm. Their realm is in externals, things like protect people in their bodies, go to war when necessary, and punish criminals… This is really what’s at stake [in the Pohjola case]. Government has lost its moorings and doesn’t know its purpose.”

From Part-Time Pastor to Bishop

After theological study in Finland and the United States, Pohjola’s first congregation in Helsinki started with about 30 members, he says. It was only able to support him part-time at first. He remembered his wife accompanying the congregation’s hymn-singing on a piano while their firstborn daughter, a baby at the time, laid on a blanket on the floor nearby.

Finland’s state church began openly disobeying Christian theology concerning sex differences amid the global sexual revolution of the 1960s. So, Christians alienated by the state church’s embrace of anti-Christian cultural demands sought faithful pastors like Pohjola, who are known as “confessional” for adhering to historic Christian confessions. The resulting growth of his tiny congregation gradually led to establishing a seminary, then dozens of mission churches, which grew as the theologically unfaithful state church shrank. In 2013, 25 of these new confessional congregations formed the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Finland. Today, that diocese oversees 45 congregations and missions and is training 64 pastors.

That growth has been accompanied by suffering, including persecution first from Pohjola’s own church.

First Persecuted By His Own Church

In 2009, Pohjola was awarded the theological journal Gottesdienst’s Sabre of Boldness Award, which is granted “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity on behalf of the Holy Church of Christ, while engaged in the confession of His Pure Gospel in the face of hostile forces, and at the greatest personal risk.” The award honored Pohjola, with other faithful Finnish pastors, for standing firm as Finland’s state church sought civil charges against them for refusing to disobey the Bible’s commands that only men be sent to lead spiritual warfare as pastors.

Like Luther before him, Pohjola was expelled by his own church body in 2014 for adhering to God’s word on this matter. The notice of his discharge declared Pohjola was “obviously unfit to be a pastor.” At the time, he responded with grief but also by saying that he must obey God rather than men, lamenting: “Instead of the Church being purged with God’s Word, she is being purged from God’s Word.”

In the interview last week, Pohjola said being defrocked from “his baptismal church” grieves him to this day. On his mother’s side, Pohjola said, his family includes Lutheran pastors in that church going back to the 17th century Reformation. But he could not disobey God’s commands to retain his social status or employment.

Division or Unity? Yes

Pohjola’s separation from Finland’s state church also had the consequence of uniting him and his flock with other confessional Christians across the globe. The International Lutheran Council is a global network of theologically unified churches, and like the confessional churches in Finland, that network is growing.

Mathew Block, the ILC’s communications manager, noted that the heightened contradictions between increasingly unnatural pagan practices and historic Christian teachings are causing a global “confessional realignment.” It’s forcing people to make a real decision about where they stand rather than allowing them to inhabit the increasingly nonexistent, indecisive middle. This is affecting churches all over the world. While it means divisions in some areas, it also is leading to unity in others. For example, despite other important theological differences, all the world’s largest Christian bodies agree with the doctrines for which the Finnish government is persecuting Pohjola. That allows them to speak in chorus to government leaders.

Already many dozens of top religious leaders across the world have formally raised their concerns with Rasanen and Pohjola’s prosecution to the Finnish government and the United Nations. Several U.S. members of Congress have also asked U.S. agencies to take action against Finland for these human rights abuses.

“I encourage Roman Catholic ecclesiastical leaders and all those who care for souls to speak up and join hands and lock arms with us as we talk about the absolute necessity of our historic Christian values of one man, one woman, marriage, and the freedom to be able to believe it, to say it, to publish books about it, and find practical ways through hospitality, education, and other social engagement to make society strong that way,” Shaw said. “All churches—one could even say all religions but in particular the Roman Catholic faith—this reflects their historic commitments as well.”

The Shepherd Faces Wolf Attacks for the Sheep

In August 2021, the international Lutheran church recognized Pohjola’s steadfast leadership amid persecution by supporting his election to bishop of Finland’s confessional diocese. The ILC hosted Pohjola’s November 2021 speaking tour in the United States, and is raising funds across the world to raise awareness of his case.

“Our mission has been that, if the shepherd sees that one sheep is missing, he knows,” Pohjola said of the churches he oversees. He noted that many people coming to faithful Finnish churches are seeking love and connection from a church family as the secular world becomes increasingly isolated and family-less, in no small part because of pagan sexual behavior and beliefs.

“People don’t go to church for social capital now. This is a serious life and they want to be serious with God. So, churches have to build communities that stand on solid Lutheran, biblical doctrine,” Pohjola says.

While he may not share Luther’s temperament, Pohjola’s response to his own persecution by church and civil authorities does mirror Luther’s simplicity four centuries ago: “Here I stand. I can do no other.” He adds a pastoral message to Christians watching governments turn on them today.

“We have to learn from the past, Christians who have suffered under persecution, and be prepared,” Pohjola said. “But it’s not something to be worried about, because Christ remains faithful to His church and wherever he is leading us, He will come with us. He will provide everything that is needed for the future of His Christians and His church.”

You can hear Pohjola talk about his case and its implications during his November visit to the United States here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=413205860293995

And watch a Federalist Radio Hour interview with Pohjola here:

‘Nobody Will Go Back’: Christians Flee Middle East After Fall of Islamic State


Reported by EDWIN MORA |

Iranian Christian worshippers attend the Christmas mass at the Saint Joseph Chaldean-Assyrian Catholic church, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Dec. 25, 2017. Iranian Christians are a minority and recognized by the constitution in the Muslim country and are represented in the parliament. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
 

The number of Christians in the birthplace of their faith, the greater Middle East, continues to plummet months after the Islamic State, which waged a genocidal campaign against Christians, lost its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, Breitbart News learned from various experts, including an archbishop.

“Unfortunately, it can be stated that the Islamic State group’s anti-Christian campaign was very successful in Iraq, and to a certain extent, successful in Syria,” John Hajjar, the co-chair of the American Mideast Coalition for Democracy (AMCD) and co-director of the Middle East Christian Committee (MECHRIC), told Breitbart News.

“I think we have no more hope,”Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, the diocesan legate in America’s capital and ecumenical director for the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church of America, also told Breitbart News, referring to the future of Christianity in its Middle East cradle. “Middle East Christians have no nation that protects them openly.”

The number of Christians in Middle East-North Africa (MENA), as a component of the overall Muslim-majority population, has dropped substantially — from about ten percent in 1900 to between two and four percent now.

There are different estimates for the overall number of Christians that vary from about 12 million in the Middle East alone to about 20 million in MENA, Breitbart News learned from the experts and data from U.S. government and independent sources.

“The future for Christians right now is terrible — a Middle East without Christians. We are going to have churches without Christians as museums for tourists. There will be no Christians left,” the archbishop warned, echoing other analysts who have constantly cautioned that Christianity is on the verge of extinction in the Middle East.

“The number of Christians in the Middle East has already dropped extensively,” he further declared, accusing church leaders of inflating the actual numbers of Christ followers in the region to minimize the fact that Christianity is on the brink of extinction.

The bishop urged U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to do even more to help Middle East Christians.

Contradicting assertions by the Trump administration, the Church leader said, “People are not coming back. I can assure you that nobody will go back.”

The Trump administration has disbursed billions in funding to help victims of ISIS genocide, namely Christians and Yazidis, but the bishop told Breitbart News it is “not enough.”

“Trump is going to be a hero for the Christians in the Middle East if he takes more action,” he said.

Addressing President Trump, Archbishop Aykazian added, “Please help the Christians. They need your help and once you move one of your fingers the entire Arabic world will thank you. If he does such a thing, it is going to change everything. If he doesn’t, they will suffer.”

“The ball is in Trump’s court,” he further said.

In Iraq, which experts say has experienced the most dramatic drop in Christians due to jihadis and Iran-allied groups, Aykazian told Breitbart News that number has decreased from 1.6 million to less than 100,000, marking a drop of more than 90 percent.

“A similar situation is taking place in Syria’s Aleppo where there has also been a drop of more than 90 percent in Christians, from 360,000 to about 25,000 now,” he said, noting, “The church leaders don’t want to say those statements because they fear their followers will be disillusioned.”

ISIS’s genocide campaign targeted religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, primarily Christians and Yazidis, killing tens of thousands of them and taking some hostages as sex slaves.

“They [Christians] realized just how insecure they are,” Nina Shea, a religious freedom expert at the Hudson Institute, told Breitbart News. “Their own governments fail to protect them, and ISIS gained popular support within some neighboring major Sunni areas, like Mosul.”

Archbishop Aykazian said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi “so far has been the best leader in the Middle East for defending Christians.” he said, adding, “The biggest Christian majorities are in Egypt.”

Shea pointed out, “Egypt retains ten million Coptic Christians. That is the only place where I see a certain future for them [Christians].”

“In a generation, Egypt may be the only remaining country with a robust Christian community that traces its roots to the earliest Christian church,” Shea added. “Elsewhere in the Middle East, only remnants of these ancient communities may survive.”

Nevertheless, Shea and the bishop acknowledged that, even in Egypt, Christians are confronting the spread of Sunni extremism and anti-Christian bigotry. The ongoing war against Islamic terrorism continues to kill, wound, and push Christians out of their historical homelands in the greater Middle East, even in Egypt.

“More recently, after the Arab Spring and with the rise of ISIS, tens of thousands of Christians were killed in Iraq and Syria,” Hajjar said. “Close to 1 million Christians in the region have gone into exile.”

“Following multiple terrorist attacks in Egypt against the Copts, many Christian Egyptians also emigrated from their country,” Hajjar continued. “We can estimate that more than 25-30 percent of Christians in the Middle East have been affected by the recent wars and conflicts.”

The experts also attributed the ongoing demise of Christianity in the Middle East to certain governments’ disdain towards followers of Christianity and their refusal to protect them.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reportedly designated Christians as “enemies of the state.” In Iraq, the country that experienced the sharpest drop in the number of Christ followers in recent years, Baghdad-sanctioned Iran-allied Shiite militias have reportedly taken Christian lands and are harassing them.

Referring to the countries that have experienced the largest decline in Christians, Hajjar named Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon. Similar to Hajjar’s list, the bishop said, “Iraq is number one, Lebanon is number two, and Syria is number three.”

The experts conceded that the Trump administration had done more to help Middle East Christians than his predecessor, but they argued that Christians are far from protected and more can be done.

 

Study: Christians Most Persecuted Group In The World


waving flagAuthored by Photo of David Krayden David Krayden / Contributor /  01/07/2017

URL of the original posting site:  http://dailycaller.com/2017/01/07/study-christians-most-persecuted-group-in-the-world/#ixzz4VJEtdRBT

Christian Persecution

Image added by WhatDidYouSay.org

Christians remain the target of more persecution than any other group in the world, according to a new study set to be released in February from the Italian-based Center for Studies on New Religions. These findings are consistent with those of the Clarion Project, an organization that tracks Islamic extremism.  The group’s national security analyst told Fox News that the U.S. government is doing very little to stem this tide of hate.

“U.S. policy has not had a strategy for specifically addressing the persecution of Christians,” said Ryan Mauro.  “For example, very few people are even aware that Iraqi Christians began organizing to defend themselves and needed our help.”

The report outlines the stark data of persecution, finding that 90,000 Christians around the world died for their faith in 2016. One-third of these fatalities were a direct result of Islamic extremists, like ISIS, while other believers perished as a result of the hostile policies of anti-Christian states like North Korea.

A staggering 600 million Christians could not openly practice their faith due to that observance being illegal. Christians in Iraq, for instance, have suffered a steady decline in membership since 2003.  A relatively thriving population of 1.5 million adherents has declined to an estimated 275,000 today.

The Italian study confirms information from 2015 that indicated a growing intolerance towards Christians around the world – especially where extreme Islamic practices flourish – that increasingly manifests itself in acts of violence, including beheadings.persecuted-by-muslims

isis1

Image added by WhatDidYouSay.org

Aid to the Church in Need conducted one such study that also indicated Christianity to be under fire in Africa and Asia, as well as the largely Muslim Middle East.  In Africa, the group found that Islamic terrorists like Nigeria’s Boko Hara were routinely targeting Christians for kidnapping and killing.

In Asia, Christians are attacked as a foreign influence and rejected by religious group who narrowly define what religious beliefs are indigenous to a country.

As Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project told Foxnews.com:  “There are many places on earth where being a Christian is the most dangerous thing you can be.  Those who think of Christianity as a religion of the powerful need to see that in many places it’s a religion of the powerless. And the powerless deserve to be protected.”

coptic-martyrs

Politically Correct Run Amuck


High school track team disqualified for making religious gesture


Posted: http://www.myfoxhouston.com/story/22148067/2013/05/02/high-school-track-team-disqualified-for-making-relious

By Damali Keith, Reporter – bio

Some people are outraged after a high school track team is disqualified from competing in state finals because one runner made a religious gesture. In just a few seconds the boys Columbus High School 4 X 100 relay team went from winning the regional meet, heading to state championships to having it all stripped away. How did the “W” so quickly become “DQ”? Well. when the anchor of the relay team crossed the finish line, he won the race, raised his finger to the sky and that gesture caused the winning regional’s relay team to be disqualified.

SEE VIDEO; http://www.myfoxhouston.com/story/22148067/2013/05/02/high-school-track-team-disqualified-for-making-relious?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=8836633

“It’s a sad deal. I think it’s a travesty. Those kids work hard,” says K.C. Hayes. Hayes’ son Derrick Hayes is the runner who won the race then pointed to God, turning a once in a lifetime opportunity into a huge heartbreak that will likely last his lifetime. “As a team they reached their goal and in an instant it was just gone, over something we think is a non-issue. I guess someone else thinks it is an issue. He just said dad I was pointing at the heavens” says K.C. Hayes.

A judge with the University Interscholastic League or UIL, which enforces the rules for high school athletics, was there at the meet in Kingsville and made the call to disqualify the four member relay team. “For those kids the work they put in, what are we teaching them? Ok you’re going to sacrifice, work hard and do everything it takes and ok it’s just ripped away,” says Hayes.

“It’s a harsh consequence for what some people may deem a small gesture. The rule states no celebratory gestures including raising your arms,” explains Columbus I.S.D. Superintendent Robert O’Connor. According to the UIL the relay team was disqualified for “unsporting conduct”. The UIL also points out, it does not have a rule prohibiting religious expression. “You can do whatever you want to in terms of prayer, kneeling or whatever you want to once you get out of the competition area. You just can’t do it in the competition area. It goes back to the taunting rule. I can’t taunt my opponent,” O’Connor explains.

“It’s not a malicious act. It’s not a taunting act. It’s a ‘we did it’ and he (my son) knows where the source comes from. I know him. He’s not a malicious kid. On the football field he’ll hit you and then help you up,” Hayes says.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says O’Connor. Superintendent O’Connor says since Saturday’s track meet and the disqualification he has received a number of nasty emails. One read ‘Dear sir, you, are an idiot’. O’Connor wants to stress this is not his decision. This is coming from the UIL. In fact, the district protested the disqualification but the UIL is not changing the decision. Please like me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DamaliKeithFOX26?ref=hl and join the conversation on this issue. Follow me on Twitter @DamaliFox26.

(The track meet photos in the video are courtesy The Colorado County Citizen)

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