An historic vote passed on Friday that allows same-sex marriage in Finland, but it was the support of that vote from Finland's archbishop that led nearly 12,000 people to resign from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in that country.
Archbishop of Turku and Finland Kari Mäkinen is no stranger to the controversey surrounding same-sex marriage in Finland. In March of 2013, he was the first archbishop to publically support gay marriage, although he backed down to a more moderate stance later on.
"I know how much this day means to the rainbow community, their loved ones and many others," he said on his Facebook page after Friday's ruling. "I rejoice with my whole heart for them and with them. We are in the same situation as our neighboring Nordic Churches: our concept of marriage needs a fundamental examination. Speaking for myself, I think it is time for reconsideration."
This ruling by Finland's parliament on Friday was the last straw for a large chunk of the country's largest established religion who left the denomination through a website called "Leave The Church." Resigning from the church through this website does not automatically remove the members from the Lutheran Church's roster, but instead registers their intent to leave and prevents them from paying the church tax. The total number who go through the proper steps of sending in a letter to the local register office may be much lower, but the message sent through the mass resignations on the site speak volumes to the Finnish church.
Nearly 75 percent of Finns belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church as of late 2013, representing almost 4.1 million people. Although 12,000 people is a tiny fraction of that overall population, this issue not only represents a major hurdle for the church itself, but also for the entire country of FInland.
And the exodus from the church over the same-sex marriage issue isn't cut down political party lines as it would be in the U.S., as both conservative and liberal parishioners chose to leave the church following the decision. The last time this many people left the church at one time was after Christian Democrat Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen made disparaging remarks about gay marriage in 2010. Approximately 9,000 people left at that time.
To offer a bit of damage control over the situation, several bishops are issuing their own statements reinforcing the church's stance against gay marriage, but still calling for unity. "People are disappointed and want to protest," Bishop Vikström said. "As they cannot resign from the state or from the parliament, then at least some of that anger has been focused on the church and on the archbishop's comments."
The Bishop of Espoo, Tapio Luoma, warned that this isn't a sign that gay marriage can now happen in the church, but urged members to be aware of the growing social power. "It's clear that the church will make its own decisions according to its own beliefs," he said. "On the other hand, developments in wider society have affected decision-making before. The Church cannot close itself off."
The Archbishop made a follow-up post on his Facebook page showing his concern over the backlash and the recent wave of resignations. "Some have landed their disappointment with the decision to Parliament, stepping down from the Church," he said, as translated from the original Finnish post. "I very much regret it. Churches and religious communities in the decisions and actions, but the decision to shake up they will solve themselves. So, too, for our Church.
"I have just come from the Nelson Mandela Museum. Mandela dedicated his life to defending human dignity. Today, I wondered, in particular, his words: 'The brave man is not he who is afraid, but he that overcome that fear.'"