Youth Movement: Finns Seek Renewal
While recent elections solidify liberal leadership in Finland's state church, young conservative Lutherans are fighting to survive.
Last September, Helsinki's Irja Askola became the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (FELC)'s first female bishop. In March of 2010, Kari Mäkinen defeated his anti-gay-marriage opponent for archbishop by 11 votes out of 1,175.
In October, a televised debate over homosexuality on the national broadcast station spurred 40,000 people to leave the FELC. This past March, Lutheran youth magazine Nuotta created a firestorm by posting a YouTube video of a girl describing her decision to leave a lesbian lifestyle after converting to Christianity.
The video prompted the FELC to recommend that funding be cut from two conservative youth ministries that publish Nuotta, said Timo Keskitalo, chairman of the Evangelical Alliance in Finland. Most Christian organizations are legally separate from the FELC, which comprises 78 percent of Finland's 5.3 million people, but operate under it. Local church councils can cut financial support to such groups and stop hosting their events.
The controversies shocked Finns, said Hannu Nyman, a pastor with Logos Ministries of Finland, which partners with Campus Crusade for Christ. "The division between conservatives and liberals in the church became more evident," he said. "Committed Christians have been taken by surprise at the strong liberal front among [FELC] leadership."
The FELC has taken steps to marginalize conservative youth, Keskitalo said. In late April, the Ministry of Education announced it would remove youth training accreditation from the Finnish Bible Institute, which supported the Nuotta video. Bishops refuse to ordain young ministers who do not support women's ordination, he said.
As a result, a growing number of independent congregations contain young families who are still members of the FELC but do not feel at home in FELC congregations.
"Older generations seem not to dare to see the fundamental changes …. They are hoping that things will turn better," Keskitalo said. "Young people are running out of patience. The church is trying to silence and push out the young believers."
"The church that tries to make itself meaningful by suppressing [the] openly religious, even mystical, side of Christian faith is bound to lose," said Päivi Räsänen, leader of the Christian Democrats party. "[That's] the real reason for declining membership rates."
Though some frustrated Finns, such as Markku Koivisto of the Nokia Missio movement, are forming breakaway denominations, Keskitalo hopes to see renewal within the FELC.
"It is very difficult to surrender the church to those who have stolen the church. It is not easy to let go," he said. "Generations have been building this church sacrificially. Why should we give it up?"
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In 2007 Christianity Today reported on a Finnish minister who was charged with criminal discrimination for refusing to work with a female pastor.
Previous Christianity Today coverage of Lutheran renewal includes:
Facing Lutheranism's Crisis of Authority | Seven theologians call North American Lutheranism back to the Word and the Lutheran confessions. (September 8, 2010)
'It's Not About the Past' | New Anglican and Lutheran groups need to nurture a positive identity. (March 29, 2010)
Norway's Lutherans Apologize to Gypsies | Church asks forgiveness for the injustices and infringements committed against the Romany people. (December 1, 2000)