Monday, September 29, 2008

Bless without blessing - the Finnish innovation!

The consistory of the diocese of Espoo, with its bishop Heikka, has issued a resolution concerning blessing of the same-sex "registered relationship", conducted by Provost Liisa Tuovinen (see previous posts). The resolution is, again, surprisingly imaginative in its formulation.

As is known, the Evangelical-Lutheran (or ex-Lutheran!) Church of Finland does not have in its agenda an accepted form for blessing of the same-sex relationships. Therefore a pastor conducting such a blessing could be accused of misconduct in his (usually her) office. On this basis, numerous complaints were filed of Tuovinen, after the media reported her blessing same-sex relationship(s) this summer.

The main ecclesiastical (not Christian) newspaper Kotimaa in Finland reported the resolution by writing:

The consistory decreed that Tuovinen had acted according to the common resolutions of the church. According to consistory, Tuovinen conducted a devotion, and thus did not actually bless the same-sex relationship.

Tuovinen applied the rubric for devotional moment. Consistory stated, that by so doing, she acted in accordance to the church order, which states that everyone is entitled to soul care and prayer.

However, the consistory itself stated in their press release:

Tuovinen has performed her pastoral duties by praying for those who registered their relationship and by blessing them.

So the bottom line is: Tuovinen blessed these two women, yet she did not bless them. All charges discharged.

The question, which begs to be asked is: if she had in fact somehow BLESSED these couples, what would have been the crime? a) Blessing that which God himself does not bless or b) Blessing that, for which there is no official rubric in the ELCF agenda? It seems the b would have been correct, and that is the reason Tuovinen got away with this. There apparently is no theological problem in blessing same-sex relationships. The question is purely on the level of "do we have a suitable ritus for that?"

Blessing has thus been degraded and degenerated into a purely immanent action performed by the church. Personal, living, thinking and speaking God and his will is a total non-issue. No one in the consistory is actually interested about what God thinks about these blessings - or at least that can not be known. Thus it is not important whether one blesses or not - the important thing is whether one does it in the name of the church or not. I'm becoming more and more assured that the pre-reformation Papal hubris is making a good comeback in ELCF. With increasing speed, the church is taking the place which used to be reserved for God.

In a way, I find myself respecting even Provost Tuovinen more than these machiavellian, livid bureaucrats in the consistory. Tuovinen at least believes in what she does. She thinks it vitally important to bless homosexuals. Despite the fact that she is dead wrong, it would still seem that for her, "blessing" still has some meaning in it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conclusion concerning the baptisms

The question about pastors ordained in the Mission Province conducting baptisms was hotly debated earlier this year, as you can read from my previous posts. With the latest statement from the bishops, the matter seems to have reached some kind of a verdict. According to the press release, the baptisms performed by Mission Province pastors are "against the church law and church order. " I can't disagree here, yet I would like to add that the persons issuing such verdicts also continuously break the same law and order by not adhering to the first momentum concerning the confessional basis of Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland.

However, such children are not excluded from church membership if their parents wish to join them into ELCF. The decision will be made by the local senior pastor. This is basically good news, since I think generally these pastors are okay with having even children baptized in this manner in their membership rosters. Bishops did, however, state that a ritual for joining the church should be conducted in these cases. This will leave possibility for mean-spirited pastors to bully parents by consciously choosing female pastor to conduct such ritual.

Bishops also stated that "Luther-foundation should not use children as instruments in church-politics." Such an accusation is hard to bear, albeit I guess it is the only way bishops can save face anymore. By allowing children to be accepted into church membership they can be seen to have given in to Luther-foundation's aggression. With statement like this, Bishops try to portray children as victims and their resolution as a merciful consent for the good of these little ones. The accusation of us using these children as pawns in some political game is low indeed. I am 100% certain that no pastor in Luther-foundation would have felt disappointed if the children would have been accepted into parish membership in the first place, with no publicity or opportunity for political prestige whatsoever.

It is commonly known, that traitor trusts no one, since he suspects all other to be like him. Our bishops are not shepherds, but politicians. Therefore they can not understand our positions, but instead consider us politicians too.

And, as a side-note: Archbishop Jukka Paarma commented also the question about church personnel living in same-sex relationships. According to Paarma, "Legislation allows people to register their relationships and the church does not have any weapons in this matter." Thus the case is concluded: gay and lesbian pastors living together do not pose a problem for the church - or at least this problem can not be addressed in any way. No doubt such question was raised after a Finnish tabloid told in August about two female pastors living together in same-sex relationship. Such cases already exist (that we know of) in four dioceses. The pastoral vow to live an examplary life apparently doesn't stand anymore or - which is more probable - the church has de facto concluded that homosexuality is okay.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pearls from the swine

I haven't updated here for some time because, well, there has not been much to update about. Now, however, three things have come up which could and should be made known to people in blogosphere.

First of all, a blessing of same-sex marriage has - again - taken place in Espoo, one of the cities in Helsinki metropolitan area. Provost Liisa Tuovinen conducted this ritual in 12th of July. I'm not exactly sure how, but soon after the media received information about this and the thing was made public. The Bishop of Espoo Diocese, Mikko Heikka, stated that "if someone raises a complaint, then the consistory will inspect the matter." Notable enough, the bishop was not active enough to start inspection on his own initiative - he wanted to wait for laity to react. This implies that the bishop himself would have been perfectly fine if the whole case was never brought up - an attitude which should not be a surprise for anyone who's been following his blog or columns. Actually, some laity filed a complaint about Heikka himself, on accord that such deliberate inactivity is unacceptable for bishop. Sadly, the jurisdiction in Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland simply does not recognize the possibility of actually punishing a bishop, and as such, the case for Heikka was closed. Tuovinen, however, is being inspected. The consistory postponed handling her case for later. I am pretty certain they will find a way to either minimalize the punishment or - which is more probable - to acquit her totally. It would seem that the consistories nowadays have employed writers and bureaucrats who leave even Machiavelli and Clinton's famous "it all depends on what 'is' is" -phrase in shame.

Blessing of same-sex marriages is not - yet - allowed in ELCF, but according to unofficial sources, they are already a common thing "behind closed doors".

Secondly, a pastor in Borgå Stift (a Swedish-speaking diocese in ELCF) is now being inspected by the police after showing a video from american pro-life site to some teenagers on his confirmation class. The consistory already handled his case, resulting in an official warning, but not actually punishing him in any other way. However, the bishop of Borgå Stift, in his interview, did not fail to remind readers that "the case may also be handled in the criminal court". Not many days after this statement, a report was made to local police authorities which are now inspecting the matter. The person filing the report was however in no way connected to the case. While it is not illegal in any way to oppose abortions, the video in question may be considered harmful for minors. I really can't say, since I haven't seen the video myself. I still have a feeling that had it been an anti-war -flick or a video against women abuse, we would not have heard as much as a whisper about it. As my host, Chris, said this morning: "It appears that teenagers should be allowed to have abortions, but not see, what it looks like."

It should be noted that the video was not shown publicly to the whole class, but only a few individuals who actually asked to see it. None of the parents of these teens have filed a complaint.

Finally, the shiniest pearl comes from the Diocese of Oulu, our northenmost diocese. Rev. Vesa Pöyhtäri is taking flak from his consistory because he consistently has refused to co-work with female clergy in the Divine Service. This has led into suspending him from office, the latest punishment being 6 months suspension.

All through this and similiar cases, a contradiction or at leas a tension between the constitution and the law about sexual discrimination has been discussed. Finnish Constitution states on religious freedom, that no one should be forced to practice religion against his/her consent. The defendees have pleaded, that as long as opposing women's ordination has not been considered heretical in ELCF, they should be protected by this paragraph - i.e. it is not legal to force them to conduct a service against their consciense, since the doctrine of ELCF doesn't consider their position to be a heresy.

I'm not an expert in matters of law, and can't really say whether this argument is sound or not. However, the way consistory of Oulu has replied, is really cracking me up. This is so good, I must actually translate it to you:

"The theological nature of the Divine Service/Mass must be noted. A pastor, when conducting the service, is not doing it in order to practice his religion, but in order to allow the parishioners an opportunity to practice their religion. The sermon or distribution of the sacrament is not "practicing religion" for the pastor. Participating in the singing of the hymns or receiving the Lord's Supper is, although none of these (singing or receiving the sacrament) is strictly necessary for the pastor. Pastor may therefore conduct the Divine Service without practicing his religion at all. [...] Therefore the argument from practicing one's religion can not be used to allow pastor to reject his assigned task."

So what they are saying is: when a pastor preaches or does the liturgy or distributes a sacrament, that is not a religious act for him, and can not be considered practising one's religion. Urgh. These guys have really out-done themselves this time! And these are not just lawyers, most of the people writing this stuff are pastors themselves. I wonder what do they think - if anything! - when doing the service!?

When I was a kid (in the early 90's) I remember how media used a then-new word which would translate as bread-pastor, meaning a pastor who does his job only for money, a pastor who doesn't have real conviction and zeal in his work. These bread-pastors were frowned upon then. It seems that in 10 years, the ideal of a great pastor has changed. Nowadays the best pastors are like bureaucrats and civil servants - wholly objective, official, without any religious enthusiasms which get in the way of their primary job: offering good service to secularized members of the church. Because, in the end, they are the ones that count. They bring the money in.