The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
“Actually, Finland took a few steps to the left”, says Christian journalist Matti Korhonen. “Immigration politics, gender issues/sexuality and climate change are hot topics in society”.
The resounding defeat of the Prime Minister and the good result of the populist Finns Party in Finland’s general election have led analysts to warn about a new step ahead for the ‘European far-right wave’.
But the reality is more complex, the Managing Editor of Finnish Christian magazine Uusi Tie Matti Korhonen told Evangelical Focus.
“Actually, Finland took a few steps to the left”, the journalist says. These were “protest elections”, which polarised voters both on the right and on the left.
Finnish Christians have continued welcoming refugees, and around 3,000 have converted to Christianity.
But evangelical churches have also been vocal about other important isues, such as the transgender debate: “We have warned that it is not easy to go through the process of changing one’s sex, and especially children should be safe from the trans-propaganda”.
Question. Finland is often seen in the rest of Europe as an example of a modern society (in areas such as education, wellbeing, environment, democracy). What is not working well enough so that voters have punished the government party so heavily?
Answer. It is not unusual, that the governing party loses the next elections. This time the loss was exceptionally big. Support of the Center party decreased from 21.1% in 2015 to 13.8% in 2019. It is the worst result in elections for this party in one hundred years. The Government (2015–2019) led by Prime minister Juha Sipilä managed to increase employment rate and economics, but received criticism for the policies of spending cuts (e.g. education) and reducing labour costs.
People feel that the Government was too much on the right, and that the low-waged workers and the unemployed are the victims. These were ‘protest elections’, in which the protest votes went to Finns Party on the one side and to the left-wing parties (Social Democratic Party, Left Alliance) and the Greens on the other side. Actually, Finland took a few steps to the left.
(*Note: The small Finnish “Christian Democratic party”, mostly supported by Christians and people positive to Christianity, got a small increase in votes, but stayed with the same amount of representatives in Parliament: 5).
Q. Most international media define the Finns Party as far-right, populist and nationalist. Is this the image that is also perceived in Finland? How would you describe their growing support?
A. Surely Finns Party is populist and nationalist. But if it is also far-right, that is debated. You must remember that the Party split in two in June 2017, when the party had a new leader, Jussi Halla-aho. As a protest, about half of the party’s MPs formed a new party, Blue Reform. The Government announced that it would not continue to work with the Finns Party anymore, but cooperate with the more moderate Blue Reform instead.
But, what is surprising, the support of the moderate Blue Reform didn’t last, and now they lost the elections so that they did not get any MPs to the parliament. The Finns Party succeeded, but they increased the number of MPs only with one (38 in 2015, 39 in 2019). It is not so much that they have increased their support, but that the other big parties (especially Center) have lost their support.
The reason why the Finns Party is quite popular, I think, is that it is seen to be a strong counter force to the liberal Red-Green coalition. Red-Green coalition and the Finns Party are very opposite on the questions like immigration politics, feminism and climate change, but not in economic policy.
Q. What issues in society are the most important to Finns at the moment? What are the fears and challenges for the future?
A. Of course Finns are most interested in issues considering everyday life like health, work, housing, relationships and raising children. But besides that, I would raise the issues of immigration politics, gender issues/sexuality and climate change as hot topics in society.
Since 2015 Finland has received tens of thousands asylum seekers, mostly from the Muslim world. Some see it primarily as a challenge and threat to peaceful society. Others highlight the duty to help the needy and the possibility for the labour market, and see the cultural pluralism as a positive thing.
Q. Are evangelical churches addressing or responding to any of these issues from a Christian perspective?
A. It is estimated, that in Finland there are around 3000 ex-Muslims, who have converted to Christianity. Many of them are from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.
Finnish evangelical Christians are not only discipling them, but also helping them in everyday life. There are some Christian colleges which offer teaching in Finnish language, Finnish culture and giving Bible lectures. So yes, we are addressing the immigration issue in a very fruitful way.
When comes to gender issues or sexuality, evangelicals have highlighted that there are two sexes, and we shouldn’t recognise officially additional sexes.
In transgender issues, we have warned that it’s not an easy to go through the process of changing one’s sex, and especially children should be safe from the trans-propaganda. We are also worried about freedom to think and speak out that the marriage is for a man and a woman.