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Finns quit Church over gay marriage

05 December 2014

By Ed Dutton


Narrowly approved: supporters of same-sex marriage celebrate outside the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki, last Friday

Narrowly approved: supporters of same-sex marriage celebrate outside the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki, last Friday

THOUSANDS of churchpeople resigned their membership of the Finnish Lutheran Church last week in protest at its Archbishop's support for same-sex marriage.

In a vote in the Finnish parliament on 28 November, prompted by a citizens' petition, legislators voted in favour of gay marriage - the last Nordic country to do so.

The Archbishop of Turku & Finland, the Most Revd Kari Mäkinen, Primate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, to which 75 per cent of Finns belong, wrote on Facebook: "I know how much this day means to the rainbow community.

"I rejoice with my whole heart for them and with them. Our concept of marriage needs a fundamental examination. . . I think it's time for reconsideration." His remarks attracted 10,930 Facebook "likes".

But they were opposed by other members of the Church, whose synod elected the Archbishop in 2010 by 593 votes to 582 (for a more conservative candidate); and 41 per cent of whose clergy oppose gay marriage, a recent poll suggests.

The Church of Finland is a membership Church. Members must pay about 1.5 per cent of their salary as "church tax", which is the Church's main source of income. Members are increasingly leaving, aided by the website Divorce the Church.

The day after Archbishop Mäkinen's comments, 2600 people resigned from the Church, up from a daily average of about 200 resignations at this time of year. By Tuesday, more than 17,000 had done so, representing a loss of about €5 million for a Church of which many parishes are already in debt, owing to falling membership.

Kaj Torkulla, of Divorce the Church, explained that there were differences between those who had left the Church since the Archbishop's comments, and those who normally did so: "They are more rural; they are slightly older than the average; and they are more likely to be men."

Oulu, in the north, is regarded as the most conservative diocese. The Bishop of Oulu, the Rt Revd Samuel Salmi, said that the Church would follow "thousands of years of tradition and broad consensus" in conserving the Christian concept of marriage. The Interior Minister and Christian Democrat leader in Finland, Päivi Räsänen, said that she would fight to overturn the legislation.

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