Finns desert church in record numbers after watching gay marriage TV show

A RECORD number of Finns quit the Evangelical Lutheran Church this week after seeing negative religious attitudes towards gays in a TV programme. Those who ditched the church carried out their mass exodus via an online service, the standard procedure used nowadays.

According to this report, information Officer Heikki Orsila, of eroakirkosta.fi, which facilitates the secession process, thought that the spike resulted from the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE’s current affairs programme Ajankohtainen Kakkonen, aired on Tuesday.

The show entitled Homoilta (Gay Night) was a panel discussion dealing with gay rights issues, including the question of the rights of same-sex couples to marry in church. The panel included Christian Democrat MP Päivi Räsänen, who has been fiercely critical of same-sex marriages and was a principal opponent in the Parliamentary debate on adoption rights for registered same-sex couples; and the Bishop of Tampere Matti Repo.

More than half of Tuesday’s 372 resignations were sent while the programme was running.

According to the eroakirkosta.fi website, the total number of people to make their exit was 2,633. This was not merely around 1,500 more than the previous daily high, but greater than the total number in the entire month of July.

The previous record of 1,049 individuals parting ways with the state church in the space of one day occurred on the last day of 2008.

According to Orsila, around 90 per cent of all the resignations from the church now happen via the Internet.

The eroakirkosta.fi site also noted that women have normally made up roughly 44 percent of church-leavers, but that this ratio rose on Wednesday to 48 percent, and that those announcing their departure were also older than the norm.

Whilst roughly eight out of ten Finns belong to the state church, actual attendance at services is at a much lower level. Many remain inside the church – something that also involves an obligation to pay an annual parish council tax – largely to be able to get married in church.

Numbers have been declining steadily as the society becomes increasingly secularised. However,  sudden increases in resignations occur when fundamental differences of opinion on hot-button issues, such as gay rights or the ordination of women, arise.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church is now making it impossible for Church members to formally quit.

Earlier this year, the  Church modified its Code of Canon Law to remove all references to the act of formal defection, the process used by those who wish to formally renounce their membership.

This means that Count Me Out, an Irish organisation set up to help disaffected Catholics to formally leave the Church, has had to suspend its services.

Count Me Out said

Despite our requests for clarification, the Church have yet to reach a firm position on how or whether they will continue to accept requests for the annotation of the baptismal register.

The Church in Ireland said in a statement to RTE News:

The Holy See confirmed at the end of August that it was introducing changes to Canon Law and as a result it will no longer be possible to formally defect from the Catholic Church. This will not alter the fact that many people can defect from the Church, and continue to do so, albeit not through a formal process. This is a change that will affect the Church throughout the world. The Archdiocese of Dublin plans to maintain a register to note the expressed desire of those who wish to defect. Details will be communicated to those involved in the process when they are finalised. Last year 229 people formally defected from the Church through the Archdiocese of Dublin. 312 have done so, so far this year.

Hat tip: David B (Catholic report)