20,000+ Finns Resign from Church

After a TV show about homosexuality and the church aired in Finland, people began leaving the church in droves. At the moment, more than 20,000 people have resigned.

On Saturday, some 4,500 members resigned from the church. On Sunday, a further 5,600 had quit, according to figures released by the Finnish-language online service “eroakirkosta.fi”.

Under normal circumstances, resignations total about 400 members over the course of three days.

Is that all it takes? An online form and the acknowledgment that the church is no friend to gay people? How simple… Who knows how many people will leave the church before the number levels off. (And how many of them would’ve left years ago if only they had known how to do it?)

If the Catholic church was brave, they’d make it easy for people to leave the faith. But they make it as hard as possible so they can keep the numbers high, even though many of those people want nothing to do with Catholicism.

Can you imagine a church that functioned like Zappos? “Come visit us and see what we have to offer! If you’re not interested, we’ll pay you to leave and only keep the people who really want to be here.”

It’d be better for the church and the people who don’t want to be there.

(Thanks to everyone for the link!)

  • Steve

    Finland is 80% Protestant. The Catholic Church is totally insignificant there.

    Just like in other Scandinavian countries, the people just don’t take religion that seriously. They take part in the ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals, but they don’t necessarily believe all the stuff. Which makes it so much easier to leave.

  • Pem

    I recall reading about this, apparently, some people choose to stay in the state religion so that they can have a state sanctioned wedding. I’m fuzzy on recalling the details though.

    EDIT: Turns out many of them do stay so that they can get married in the church.
    http://freethinker.co.uk/2010/10/15/finns-desert-church-in-record-numbers-after-watching-gay-marriage-tv-show/

  • Narvi

    Finland’s not a Scandinavian country, so talking about “the other” Scandinavian countries is meaningless.

    But yeah, religion isn’t that important here in the Nordic countries.

  • Steve

    There is an extended definition that includes Finland and Iceland. But let’s just say “Northern Europe” instead. Whatever. No need to quibble over terminology. They are by far the least religious countries in Europe. Interestingly, while having state churches in some cases.

  • Ali

    A great public statement.

    These members have left that particular church, but does it mean that they will only become members of another church? I hope they realize that Christianity/Catholicism opposes homosexuality whether they make a formal annoucement on television or not.

  • JB Tait

    Don’t discount the desire to avoid the tax.

  • http://www.twitter.com/TominousTone Tom J. Lawson

    I read that 59% of the country is atheist, so it just sounds like most Finns are just getting around to filing their walking papers here.

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The “Eh”theist

    It also appears that prior abuse and attacks on GBLT folks might be the foundation that led some to take this step of protest:

    Spate of Homophobic Attacks in Oulu.

    Perhaps christians in North America should be encouraged to protest such intolerance and abuse in similar ways. The pocketbook gets attention. It’s clear from the origianl article Hemant posted that the economic impact of the resignations has woken up a lot of government officials.

  • Maarit

    It’s over 30 000 now.

    That TV show was so painful to watch. The fundamentalist side didn’t even want to listen. They said on national television that it’s not okay for gay people to work in the church, it’s not okay to make straigth couples and gay couples equal, it’s not okay to ruin the holy marriage etc. You know, the usual fundie shit. There was even a grown up daughter of a lesbian couple, who told that she’s straight and never been bullied because of her two moms. And still they kept on telling how gay people can’t raise children.

    The leader of the Christian Democrats Päivi Räsänen told today in the newspaper how hard this has been for her. She said she has been crying, but she’s glad she has her husband and family there to support her.

    Even after that she doesn’t realize what she wants to take away from the gay people. All the things that make our lives worth living. She doesn’t realize how many gay people in Finland have cried because of her heartless opinions.

    Somebody said that in 20 years this whole show is just another funny clip on Youtube. I wanna believe he’s right. If you understand Finnish or know anyone who’s willing to translate the whole 2-hour show, it can be watched on Yle Areena.

    I resigned over six years ago and this is the first time ever I’ve truly regretted it. It would have been so sweet to resign now. :)

  • http://www.meaningwithoutgodproject.blogspot.com Jeffrey A. Myers

    I’d just like to point out that the ‘Northern European’ countries, despite having the highest rates of Atheism in the world, are actually the most peaceful, give the highest percentage of their income to charity, have the lowest rates of crime, and highest levels of personal freedom in the world. In stark contrast, the most religious countries in the world are largely the most oppressive, violent, crime riddled, warlike nations on Earth.

    So much for God or Religion being a necessary precondition for a ‘moral society.’

  • Aleksi

    As an atheist and a Finn I really like it that our “silent” church (with silent I mean the characteristic of the Finnish Lutheran church that it hardly ever participates in the public discussions and tell it’s opinion about the hard topics in fear of making some of it’s members angry and leave) is finally brought up to the public in a major scale such as this particular Tv-show. Now everybody has had the chance to examine their own membership. I hope the future brings more public discussion.

  • Dan

    What was talked about?

    I thought they left in anger because the church gave time to discussing homosexuality rather than just condemning it and moving on.

    Like “How DARE our Church give equal time to homosexuals, as if their side is valid! I’m LEAVING!

    But was it that negative things were said about homosexuals, which wasn’t ever said before, and it offended people enough to leave?

  • Jyri

    The topics discussed in the show were equal marriage law for hetero- and homosexual couples and the right for same-sex couples to adopt from outside the family.

    Currently there are two institutions for legal marriage in Finland, “marriage” for heterosexual couples and “registered relationship” for homosexual couples. The main differences in addition to terminology are the right to adopt and the law on surnames.

    At least here in Southern Finland the vast majority of those who have left the church were stunned by the discriminating arguments presented by the speakers representing or associated with the state church. This is also the picture given by the media.

    Nevertheless, the Christian Democrat party with Päivi Räsänen as their chairman has gained lots of new members after the discussion. I’d guess we’ll soon witness either the separation of church and state or splintering of the state church.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Just imagine if all the Catholics who use birth control left that church.

  • Maakuz

    In my opinion here in Finland the subject of gay marriage has been “tabu” for a long time, at least for Church. Now that this 2-hour conversation aired, it may have finally dawned for many people just how heartless and cold the church and its dogma can be. According to polls, majority of church members are religious only out of habit, so leaving the silly institution may not be such a big thing for many.

  • Maarit

    Yes, negative things were said about homosexuals and that offended people a lot. There were two members of the Finnish parliament on the fundamentalist side. I think that discussion made people think that we elected these people and if these people are ready to deny the human rights of the gays, they might be ready to deny them from some other group too. It could actually happen to me. The church and the Christian religion is not really that important for Finns. Most of the people are members just because they have been baptized at the age of few weeks. Most of the people stay there just because they wanna get married in the church. Finns love their silly traditions and this is just one of them. They don’t really care if God approves their marriage or not.

    The same-sex marriage is going to be one major theme in the upcoming parliamentary elections. A lot of people seem to assume that gay people are demanding the church to marry them, which really is not the case. In order to make this whole fight harder for the same-sex marriage supporters, the church is leading people to believe that they might have to give up the right to marry people if the gender-neutral marriage law passes.

  • Ben Finney

    As documented in an update, CountMeOut have suspended their service because of changes in the Catholic rules which prevent exactly this:

    … November 2009, when the Vatican approved the document “Omnium in Mentem”, removing the dispensations introduced in 1983 and with them all references to formal defection. This came into effect on April 9th 2010.

    You can read a full English-language translation of “Omnium in Mentem” at this link [PDF].

    So, I wish those Finns every success, but I think they’re still counted as Catholics by Rome. It seems to be currently infeasible to purposely get oneself un-counted as Catholic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Regardless of whether or not the Catholic Church still (illegitimately, if you ask me) counts them, this is a beautiful thing. They are making one hell of a strong, powerful statement in doing so too. Especially in such large numbers. Go Finns!

  • Anna

    I would like to see the various churches have to sell off property, then a secular group could buy them up, ditch the ugly dead guy hanging on the wall and use it for weddings and such stuff. That way we can have pretty, traditional places for ceremony without the religion baggage.

  • Fundie Troll

    At the moment, more than 20,000 people have resigned.

    Matthew 13:20-21
    As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

  • Jyri

    The Finnish state church is not actually a part of the Roman Catholic Church but a separate, Evangelic Lutheran (Protestant) institution. There is a branch of the Catholic Church in Finland, but it is much smaller than e.g. the Finnish Eastern Orthodox Church.

    Fundie Troll: That passage of Matthew really sums it up. There seems to be loads of people here in Finland who are ok with all the love and compassion speech of the Bible, but as soon as they are required to persecute fellow citizens and make their love life a tribulation, they resign. Talk about commitment.

  • Hanna

    This is the sort of situation where more “confrontation” is needed. The liberal Christians in the Finnish church have done nothing more than just deny that the fundamentalist views are the church’s views. They haven’t made a stand for gay couples. And worse, even the liberals are only willing to “bless” the gay couples, not marry them in church. That’s not tolerance! I too wish I could resign again…

  • littlejohn

    First of all, Finland most certainly is a Scandinavian country.
    Secondly, are there actually 20,000 people in Finland? I mean, isn’t that pretty much everybody?

  • Arctic Ape

    The Evangelic Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) is a de facto state church whose membership has certain legal and economic consequenses on an individual, like extra taxation. Therefore, it’s only natural that there has been political pressure to make resignation easy.

    Because of the state church history, nearly all Finns used to be members of the ELCF until quite recently, despite low general religiosity. Now it seems that the tradition of nominal Lutheranism is slowly breaking, as about 1 % of the population leaks out of the church every year (79 % are currently still in). This doesn’t necessarily mean decrease in actual religiosity, altough that seems to be happening too. (Most Finns aren’t actually atheists but either apathetic or vaguely religious.)

    The ELCF is trying to retain its comfy status quo by pandering both liberals and conservatives and generally not offending anyone. This isn’t working too well, since both ends are leaking. Whenever some bigot says something stupid in the name of Christianity, blame is cast on ELCF simply because it’s The Church Of The Country. Then the church leadership meakly denounces bigotry, which in turn angers the bigots. However, more liberals are resigning over political issues because they tend to be less religious anyway.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Though not about Finland, I wholeheartedly recommend Society Without God for a look at religion in some of the other Nordic countries. It was one of my favorite books from 2009. Psst, Hemant, I would still love for you to do a book review of this one!

  • Elina

    First of all, Finland most certainly is a Scandinavian country.
    Secondly, are there actually 20,000 people in Finland? I mean, isn’t that pretty much everybody?

    Ha ha ha. Finland’s population is about 5,3 million, circa 78 % of whom are members of the church. The member loss so far has been little over 1 per cent, so the impressive thing is rather the speed at which the numbers rocketed after the show.

    And dear heavens, ELCF is not affiliated with the Catholic Church in any way except through being Christian. Too disgusting to even think about.

    I think a lot of the discussion going on right now is completely irrelevant though. Sure, there are LGBT people who want a princess wedding in a church, but the real issue imo is the (secular) law, which makes a distinction between “marriages” and “registered partnerships” – and the latter sort only came into existence in 2002 (after heavy opposition from the church, what do you expect?). Even though the Lutheran and Orthodox churches do have an official position in the state, marriage as a legal institution is all the same for atheists, Christians, Muslims and Great Prophet Zarquon worshippers, and should not separate gay and straight couples in any way. Religious communities should be forgotten here, no matter how much they may mean to however many people, since how they interpret their holy comic books is not the state’s business.