Do Finnish media avoid spiritual discussion?

Do Finnish media avoid spiritual discussion?

Helsingin Sanomat, the largest newspaper in Finland, wrote in April 2020 that Finnish religious leaders have kept silent during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the Lutheran church is still the most important religion in Finland – with almost 70% of Finns being a member – Helsingin Sanomat was mainly referring to the bishops of the Lutheran Church.[1]

COVID-19 religious news: practicalities of the lockdown
Religious communities did receive extra media coverage during the time of the pandemic. Coronavirus affected religious communities and organizations in many ways. For instance, gathering together being an invaluable part of communal religion, the lockdown in Finland changed the work of churches significantly. Many religious communities started streaming their services – something that most had never done before – and faced financial struggles, as they were not able to collect offerings. These factors resulted in various articles about the popularity of online services,[2] [3] [4] [5] [6] possibilities of layoffs,[7] [8] and other practicalities, like how the lockdown influenced weddings and funerals.[9] [10] [11]

Boring bishops – or biased interviews?
Finnish newspapers mainly covered practical issues caused by the lockdown. However, the question arises why religious leaders in Finland do not seem to be the spiritual leaders of the nation during this time of crisis. It may seem that bishops are not interesting enough to make the headlines of mainstream media. Surely, the Lutheran Church in Finland is not known for being particularly sharp or outspoken in its public expressions. One could also argue, however, that mainstream media do not provide space for theological and spiritual viewpoints when they give exposure to the bishops of the Church. In fact, Helsingin Sanomat did interview Archbishop Tapio Luoma once during the epidemic.[12] Maaseudun tulevaisuus, a key newspaper of rural Finland, also interviewed the archbishop[13] and live streamed him blessing the first spring sowing on a field.[14] The interview with Maaseudun tulevaisuus allowed Luoma to discuss theological viewpoints about the nature of church and what the Bible could offer during times of crisis. In such Christian media outlets, the archbishop discussed the pandemic, stating that the teaching of Christianity implies that sickness is never a punishment from sin, since Jesus has already bared our sins on the cross. Luoma thereby took a stand against those preaching the pandemic to be God’s punishment to humankind or the final plague before the End.[15] On the contrary, Helsingin Sanomat asked the archbishop about common prejudices against the church, reinforcing existing stereotypes.

The reasons behind the lack of spiritual discussion in news media
Helsingin Sanomat did emphasise the role of Pope Francis as a spiritual leader, describing him as relentless in leading the church, giving interviews and streaming a mass from his home daily. Pope Francis has also encouraged priests of the Catholic Church to meet Covid-19 victims in person, even though this means facing personal risk of illness.[16] This does not differ too much from the work of Finnish Lutheran bishops. For example, Teemu Laajasalo, bishop of Helsinki, is very active on social media, where he streams devotions and discussions about societal and spiritual matters. Bishops have also visited several broadcasting and radio channels.[17] It seems that they do take advantage of all opportunities they are given. However, it can be argued that it is not for the bishops to decide how the secular media portrays them. It might be the case that journalists simply do not have the expertise to discuss theological and spiritual matters in depth. Journalists and journalism students in Finland also seem to be relatively homogenous in their liberal world views.[18] This might lead to the aberration that spiritual matters are not important to the majority of Finns, while a majority of Finns is still member of the Lutheran Church.

Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see a secular and liberal newspaper like Helsingin Sanomat to ask for spiritual leadership in a time of crisis. However, as archbishop Luoma put it himself, spiritual leadership is not taken, it is given.[19] No one can lead without having someone in need of a leader.

Pietari Hannikainen

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[1] Poikkeustilassa | Saska Saarikoski ja korona, 41. päivä: ”Jumala antaa anteeksi, mutta luonto ei” – Paavi ei vaikene koronakriisissä
[2] Television jumalanpalvelus takoo katsojaennätyksiä – Kulttuuri | HS.fi
[3] Helsingin Tuomiokirkon jumalanpalvelus näytettiin Youtube-striiminä – piispa Laajasalo puhui koronaeristyksessä kärsiville
[4] Satoja aterioita kotioville, sukulointia videoyhteydellä ja jumalanpalveluksia tyhjille kirkoille – näin pääsiäistä vietettiin poikkeusoloissa
[5] Kirkko | Kirkkokansakin siirtyi etäaikaan: Via Crucis -näytelmä on peruttu, mutta pääsiäistä vietetään netissä
[6] Kirkko | Kirkkokansakin siirtyi etäaikaan: Via Crucis -näytelmä on peruttu, mutta pääsiäistä vietetään netissä
[7] Vaasan seurakuntayhtymän lomautukset koskevat koko henkilökuntaa – osa korvasi lomarahavapailla
[8]Iso osa kirkon järjestöistä on joutunut lomauttamaan henkilökuntaansa
[9] HS: Erilainen suruaika
[10] Koronavirus | ”Miksi Jumala sallii tämän?” – Koronakriisi on pakottanut kirkon työntekijöitä arkunkantajiksi ja, nyt he kertovat, millaista koronan tuoma suru ja ahdistus on kohdata
[11] Rajoitukset | Kokoontumisrajoitukset lieventyvät kesäkuussa: pian voi periaatteessa järjestää kunnon kirkkohäät
[12] Kirkko | Arkkipiispa Tapio Luoma: Tämä poikkeustilanne on ennenkokematon aiempiin verrattuna
[13] Poikkeustila on jokaiselle sosiaalinen kriisi – ”Ymmärrämme nyt, että tarvitsemme toisiamme”
[14] Ohjelma pellolta: Arkkipiispa siunaa kevään kylvön Kaarinassa – Maatalous
[15] Arkkipiispa Tapio Luoma: Pandemia ei ole rangaistus synneistä – Viikon debatti kysyi, mikä on
kristillisen median vastuu koronakeskustelussa
[16] Poikkeustilassa | Saska Saarikoski ja korona, 41. päivä: ”Jumala antaa anteeksi, mutta luonto ei” – Paavi ei vaikene koronakriisissä
[17] Koronavirus – evl.fi
[18] Kyselytutkimus paljasti journalismin opiskelijoiden suosikkipuolueet – tuloksiin sisältyi myös melkoinen yllätys
[19] ”Piispat hukkasivat henkisen johtajuuden” – Onko näin?