Something a bit unusual is going on in Finland.
We have a state church. Two, actually—the Evangelical Lutheran one and the Orthodox one. About 80% of the population are members of the Lutheran one. That makes it something of a Ministry of Ritual rather than your typical religious organization. The main practical implication of that status is taxation—the church's income comes from the church tax, which is deducted automatically from the paychecks of all members, along with income tax. Companies also pay the church tax, even if no Christians are involved with them.
Finnish society is rather secularized. Most Finns have pretty vague ideas about God, probably falling pretty near the apatheist position, if they ever really bother to think about it. They're only church members out of habit and tradition; getting baptized, confirmed, married in church, and buried with Christian ritual is the default option. Finland is also fairly liberal socially; about 20 years behind Sweden, for sure, but the general ethos is pretty permissive.
Now, the church is a good deal more conservative than most of its members. The reason for this is that most nominally Christian Finns just don't care. In particular, they don't care enough to vote in parish elections. Those who do care, are practicing Christians—people who have thought about their beliefs; for whom being Lutheran is something that really matters. Only about half of them are socially liberal. That means that about half the Finnish clergy is socially conservative, with the most conservative ones being positively Paleolithic. The church as an institution is split just about exactly down the middle about issues like gay rights or ordination for women.
Recently, there was a panel discussion on TV. It was called Homo Night. It was a debate ostensibly about gay marriage, which is currently sitting in parliament as proposed legislation. The conservative Christians stole the show. One Päivi Räsänen, the chairperson of the Christian Democrat political party—it's a fringe party, nothing like the German juggernaut with the same name—made it known that homosexuality is un-Biblical, gays can be healed to become heterosexual, and Jesus wants to forgive their sins as long as they stop doing that abominable thing they like to do. Naturally, she added that some of her best friends are gay, and she doesn't have anything against gays at all (as long as they stay celibate and don't shack up together or try to raise any children or stuff).
The upshot was that in the following few days, about 30,000 people have quit the church—about a year's worth in the usual course of things—via a website that makes it easy as one-two-three. That's going to cost the church more than six million euros a year in lost taxes. Small potatoes, perhaps, considering that total revenue last year was about 850 million euros, and they're really flush with cash and have enormous assets in land and buildings. But still.
I've been a bit surprised at that wave of people quitting the church, because there was really nothing new with that Homo Night—everybody knew what the conservatives think, and that Päivi Räsänen has gays on the brain. It'll probably peter out soon enough. However, I think it is indicative of a deeper shift in attitudes, and one that could signal the beginning of the end for the Finnish state church.
Until now, membership has been assumed by default; not being a member is something of a statement. Given the large numbers of very lukewarm members, this position could easily flip. If you're paying a few hundred euros a year to a church that you don't identify with much, and that represents values opposed to those you do identify with, why the hell would you even want to stay a member? That would mean that instead of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions could leave. If I had to take a wild guess, I'd estimate that only maybe 20% of Finns are actual practicing, strongly identifying Lutherans. Now church membership is about 4,000,000. That could easily drop to 1,000,000. That's no longer all that representative.
As a state institution, the church is obliged to follow the general mores of society. It can't stake out a position that's much more conservative (or liberal, either) than public opinion. On the other hand, it can't not take a stand on things like gay rights either. The divide can't be papered over for ever.
I'm not particularly bothered about having a state church as such, if it represents the general social mores. A million-strong but staunchly reactionary church could be a far more problematic element in society than our Ministry of Ritual. I am not a member of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church. However, as long as it retains its status as a state church, its doings are my business too, and I do not approve of the church's kowtowing to its most reactionary elements on gay rights. It is a matter of justice, not some obscure point of theology that can be swept under the rug. Hell, it's far more important than the matter of ordination for women, which is also still a contentious issue.
It will be interesting to see how this will play out. I do have the feeling that some kind of Rubicon has been crossed, and there won't be any going back to the times before Homo Night.
Odd coincidence. I just finished this post yesterday and scheduled it for this morning, and noticed that there's a Twitter meme going on today: "End anti-LGBT bullying: make your profile pic purple and wear purple for #SpiritDay." I don't have anything purple to wear, but I did change my pic. I'm getting really tired of this particular bullshit. Get over it already, homophobes. I did, and it didn't turn me gay.