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.

1 comment:

Ryan Schwarz said...

But it is a natural outgrowth of an established church. Pastors as civil servants, performing a government function -- no different than trash collectors or highway repair crews.