Christian Politician Snubs Iceland’s Gay Prime Minister September 12, 2010

Christian Politician Snubs Iceland’s Gay Prime Minister

Some basic background for those of you who don’t follow Icelandic politics:

Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir is the prime minister of Iceland — she’s the world’s first openly gay PM, married to Jónina Leósdóttir, and she and her wife recently visited the Faroe Islands “to try to boost political and cultural ties between the neighbouring territories.”

Jenis av Rana is a member of Parliament and leader of the fundamentalist Christian political party, Midflokkurin.

It seems that there was a state dinner in the Faroe Island capital of Tórshavn.

Av Rana refused to attend, though, because the lesbians were coming.

Mr av Rana, who is also a general practitioner and a preacher, pointed out that his political party is formally opposed to homosexuality.

“Were I to participate in the official dinner, it would be the same as saying that I support a union that is contrary to nature and condemned by the Bible. And that’s something I will not risk under any circumstances,” he said.

Talk about over-reacting… at least some sensible voices are speaking up:

Kaj Leo Johannesen, the Faroese prime minister, condemned the anti-gay outbursts, saying Mr av Rana should be “ashamed of himself”.

Opposition leader Høgni Hoydal, a former deputy prime minister, told The Irish Times in an interview that he too was “ashamed of the MPs’ behaviour”.

Ms Sigurdardóttir and her wife “were representing the whole Icelandic nation” and snubbing them was utterly unacceptable, he said.

Arni Zachariassen, a Christian, wrote a wonderful open letter to the Icelandic leader to let her know he is ashamed of av Rana:

… I want to tell you that I was truly saddened and embarrassed by what Jenis av Rana, leader of Miðflokkurin, did yesterday by declining to take part in an official banquet with you, merely because of your sexuality. Not only is this saddening and embarrassing because Jenis is a Faroese politician and he, even though I did not vote for him, in some way represents me, but also because, like Jenis, I’m a Christian.

It’s saddening for me to see my faith, which I understand to be based on and lived out in love, be used as an excuse for homophobic intolerance. Christianity is the refuge of “the least of these”, those who are hated, marginalised and persecuted. It’s not an elaborate justification of self-righteousness and bigotry that some try to make it. Neither is it a cheap way to acquire political power in order to spread that same self-righteousness and bigotry.

I know that I speak for the majority of Faroese Christians when I say that you are more than welcome to visit our country and if the occasion arose, you and your wife both would be more than welcome to eat at our tables.

Heini Reinert, secretary of the Faroese Atheist Society Gudloysi, appreciates that open letter

This sort of thing also means a lot more when it is coming from other Christians. We atheists always speak out against fundamentalist mentality but it seems moderate Christians are happy to let it grow and grow until it reaches critical mass and explodes. Only then will they speak out. The world needs more Arni Zachariassens speaking out against the Jenis av Ranas.

Reinert adds in an email:

Jenis av Rana later made the claim (article in Danish), to the Danish newspaper Politiken, that he has the people (of the Faroes) on his side.

This spurred a massive counter-reaction and a Facebook-group called “Jenis does not have the people on his side” now has over 4.000 members. Considering that the Faroe Islands are inhabited by only 50.000 people and that the Facebook-group supporting Jenis av Rana has only 97 members as of writing this, the number is quite significant.

Needless to say, it is very important to some of us Faroe Islanders, atheists and moderate Christians alike, that we are not put into the same category as these bigots.

I’m amazed that this is such a big story when, in America, I feel like we see this on such a regular basis — Christian politicians saying awful things about gays/lesbians.

How great it would be if those Christian politicians had little to no support…

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  • Entropist

    This is something I’ve noticed in my own travel outside the US: it isn’t just that there are more non-believers in other developed countries (though there certainly is that)– religious attitudes are also very different from those in the US.

    During my three month stay in New Zealand in 2007, the big controversy at the time was a bill being discussed that essentially would’ve banned the “smacking” (spanking) of children. There were people out protesting against it and some people demonstrating in favor of it.

    I remember following this issue in the local paper in Christchurch and there was a news story on a group of Christians from various churches who were also demonstrating. Naturally, my thought, as a US American was to think, “Well, here come the “It’s-my-gawd-given-right-to-beat-my-kid” crowd. I had to re-read the article because I was totally confused– it turns out these Christians were in FAVOR of the bill.

    I’ve seen other instances of differences between US Christians and others (in developed countries). When more fundamentalist churches do pop up, it is often referred to derisively as “American-style Christianity.”

    New Zealand, by the way, had an MP, the first elected transsexual official in the world IIRC– Georgina Byers. And she was a former prostitute. And wrote a book about it. Could you imagine THAT happening in the US?

  • GentleGiant

    Unfortunately, even over here in the, mostly, enlightened Scandinavia, we still do have people like this. Luckily, these kind of fundamentalists are few and have only small followings.
    Anti-homosexuality (well, gay-bashing (both physical and verbal) to be more to the point), though, is also rife among immigrants, even those who aren’t really faithful Muslims. I blame the male-dominated “macho” culture for that, though.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Would Jenis av Rana refused to attend a state banquet where the foreign head of state was divorced (Reagan or Newt), affiliated with terrorism (Saudi), or a dictator (Korea)? The very selective application of Xtain moral standards……
    Entropist – I have not figured out how & why the most extreme strain of American Xtianity became so closely welded to the fascist strain of the right-wing ideas – pro war, the death penalty, rascism, heck, even spanking!
    I think the Reagan Repubs decision to actively pursue their votes is largely responsible for making the Xtain Right more active & vocal in the past 30 years but not why they are more extreme in their political views then the average Repub was at that time. (Now, of course, the Repubs have drifted farther in that direction due to their influence.)

  • Ása Johannesen

    Thank you for posting on this, Hemant. As a Faroese person and an atheist, it means a lot to me.

    We’re nothing like bible belt America, but our society is still ruled by Christian traditions. Abortion is highly restricted (so women go to Denmark to “sort that out”), alcohol laws are completely outdated and let’s just forget about civil partnership for same sex couples.

    Saying “Hey, at least we’re not the US bible belt” is only a very small comfort to us 😛

  • Jagyr

    I can say two positive things about Mr av Rana from this story:
    1) By providing a mutual target for disgust and derision, he probably helped the PM’s goal of bringing the Faroese people and the Icelanders closer together.
    2) He probably made that banquet more enjoyable by not being there – I certainly wouldn’t want his bigoted ass anywhere near my dinner table.

  • Don Rose

    Sounds good to me. Gays and lesbians are out of the closet, and at the party, and the christians stay home. We all win.

  • Erp

    Don, actually the Christians were there just not the bigoted ones (two declined to attend on that ground).

    I do wonder what would happen in the US if the Icelandic Prime Minister and her wife visited and the White House had a dinner (would they dare to have a dinner?).

    (Officially I don’t think it was a state dinner as (a) that is reserved for heads of state not heads of government and (b) the Faroe Islands are not a state).

  • eek. i have to confess my total ignorance of this nation. thank you for teaching me about it. but i agree with the above: any dinner party free of bigot haterz is better for that.

  • Martin

    Also a Faroese atheist here.
    Have been following your site for quite a while and rather surprised to see my country mentioned.

    Mr. av Rana, has long argued that he has the backing of the public on this matter. Indeed, according to online polls and Facebook pages, the opposite seems to hold true.
    As in the other Scandinavian countries, bigotry of this nature is being ridiculed and resisted.

    The actions and words of simple-minded nutjobs, radicals and charlatans, are seldom transferable to the majority of any society. Mr. av Rana has an agenda and an image to live up to – and saw a possibility to further that agenda. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Steve

    @chicago dyke
    People in Europe don’t think or know much about it either, other than that it appears in football qualifications now and then

  • Ása Johannesen

    Oh, Erp. Don’t rub it in. The non-statehood of the Faroe Islands can get many Faroe Islanders quite wound up 😛

    Martin, so Heini and I aren’t the only Faroese atheists reading this blog? Yay for us. We must be the cool kids.

  • Kristian Sakarisson

    Another Faroese atheist here,
    I think the situation is slightly worse than people dare to think. I live in our second biggest city, Klaksvík, and I kid you not, like half of the people there agree (or semi-agree) with him, they just don’t speak up in fear of being ridiculed for their ignorance. While I believe that the majority of our citizens think what av Rana did was wrong, many people still believe that homosexuality is wrong. They’re just a little more subtle and passive aggressive about their hatred.
    Even though some people might disagree with me, I believe that politically, Jenis av Rana did a good thing (evil and cynical as it is) for his career. People who slightly share his beliefs, will look up to him for speaking up when most of the world disagrees with him. From the perspective of a fundamentalist (who we do have too many of), he is a hero.
    I do hope that I am wrong though…

  • Entropist

    I think the Reagan Repubs decision to actively pursue their votes is largely responsible for making the Xtain Right more active & vocal in the past 30 years but not why they are more extreme in their political views then the average Repub was at that time. (Now, of course, the Repubs have drifted farther in that direction due to their influence.)

    Yes, I do think its a vicious circle that should have never gotten started. The teabaggers are a natural result of the Southern Strategy: a monster of their own making.

  • Erp

    Ása Johannesen,

    Apologies though I think the Welsh and the Scots would sympathize.

    I would guess that Faroe Island do have a head of state, Queen Margrethe, and so could have a state dinner. Or is considering her head of state also dicey?

    BTW am I correct in assuming Jenis av Rana is a Pentecostal and not a Lutheran?

  • Erp, Jenis av Rana neither Pentecostal nor Lutheren but Plymouth Brethren.

    Hemant, thanks for writing about this! 🙂

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Egads! Read Heini’s Wiki link if you want a headache. The Plymouth Brethren is a messy tangle a doctrinal disputes. Now wonder there are over 30 thousand Xtian sects, if one so small can become so fractured.
    Could God not, while He walked the earth in human form not have been a little more explicit about exactly how He wanted to be worshiped? It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble….

  • I must confess I wasn’t able to read that link in its entirety either.

  • Erp

    Oddly enough Aleister Crowley seems to have been raised Plymouth Brethren.

  • Lars Zachariasen

    Yes, I’m no longer a Zachariassen, but that is another story.

    I am proud of what my brethren have done….
    And continue to do.

  • Erp:

    Don, actually the Christians were there just not the bigoted ones (two declined to attend on that ground).

    Another Faroese, but not atheist.. but I fully agree that Jenis av Rana went over the line, and I support the right of homosexuals to appear equally to heterosexuals and transsexuals in real life and in the law. I just want to note that Jenis av Rana was never invited to the dinner, thus his statement was a hypothetical one. One of the two politicians that never came to the dinner was Kári P. Højgaard, on that time president in the small party Sjálvstýrisflokkurin, because they were having a general election, where he was not reelected. The other one was Jørgen Niclasen, because he already had a dinner appointment with some other officials. So it were not “bigoted ones” (as Erp says) who didn’t appear, they are politicians, and they have important stuff to tend to, since the dinner was relatively spontane and non-formal.

  • Ása Johannesen


    I just want to note that Jenis av Rana was never invited to the dinner, thus his statement was a hypothetical one.

    Excuse me??

    May I please ask for your source? This contradicts what Jenis has said in the media as well as the reaction of the person who supposedly invited him (Prime Minister Kaj Leo Johannesen – no relation).

    Erp, don’t worry about it. I don’t really care 😛 I like the queen, but you’ll find lots of people on the Faroes don’t like the fact that she’s the head of state… on the Faroe Islands 🙂

  • A guy from somewhere

    Ása Johannesen ? The queen of denmark is not head of state ? the queen of denmark has no influance in politics at all ?

  • A guy from somewhere, “head of state” is just a generic term for a chief public representative of a state. As such Queen Margrethe II is the current head of state of Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands regardless of her lack of political influence simply by virtue of providing public representation. I think you might be working under the assumption that “head of state” means something entirely different.

  • Eliza

    Goodness, I hope they didn’t serve mackerel at this dinner – sounds like a sore spot right now between the Faroe Islands and Iceland!

  • Tinna

    Icelander here – takk fyri, føroyingar!

  • You’re welcome, Tinna. 🙂

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