Christian churches in Latvia have criticised a new social science school textbook that describes gay and lesbian life as a "normal aspect of sexuality" - reports Jonathan Luxmoore.
"The church isn't alone in its traditional view of the family in Latvia," said Ivars Kubcis, spokesman for the country's Evangelical Lutheran church.
"Our church's attitude to homosexuality is strongly linked to our understanding of Bible teaching and the authority of God's Word; in brief, we regard homosexuality as a sin. At the same time, we welcome different kinds of sinners in our churches, who admit they are sinners."
Kubcis issued the statement to ENInews today as preparations were made to introduce the ninth-grade textbook, which includes favourable treatment of homosexuality, by a leading psychotherapist, Jolanta Cihanovica.
A senior Baptist told ENInews most Latvians agreed with the churches, and said moral and social issues had become an important field of ecumenical cooperation.
"Seven years after we joined the European Union, many feel we are being forced to accept moral and social attitudes out of step with our traditions," said Peteris Eisans, deputy presiding bishop of Latvia's Baptist Union. "In Western Europe, people have grown into this slowly, step by step. Here, it's as if a great fire truck has rolled up, opened its water pump with full force, and made people drink."
Latvia de-criminalised homosexuality in 1992, a year after independence from the Soviet Union, and became the last European Union member-state to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in a 2006 Labour Code amendment.
An early May 2011 protest letter to premier Valdis Dombrovskis, drafted by the Riga-based 'Moral Revolution' foundation, was signed by Latvia's Roman Catholic and Lutheran archbishops, Zbignev Stankevics and Janis Vanags, as well as Baptist and Adventist leaders.
It warned the textbook would spread a "false image of the family" in the Baltic Sea country, where a 2005 constitutional amendment restricted marriage to heterosexual couples.
However, in his reply, Dombrovskis accused protesters of misrepresenting the textbook, adding that it reflected international norms.
An Education and Science Ministry spokesperson, Baiba Berzina, told journalists the work conformed with World Health Organisation recommendations, and said sexual orientation was "something of great interest to 16-year-olds."
In his ENInews statement, Kubcis said the May letter had been co-signed by "many organisations and private persons," adding that all Latvian churches had taken a "strong common stand" on homosexuality and would "continue to bring traditional family-orientated values to the awareness of society."
Bishop Eisans said Latvia's Education and Science Minister had been criticised by gay and lesbian groups for offering to include a "Christian church perspective" in future editions of the textbook.
"We objected to this textbook's positive portrayal of homosexuality as a viable lifestyle choice, and an equal alternative to the heterosexual relationship between men and women," said the Baptist Union leader, whose 6600-member churches has 86 congregations in Latvia.
"The liberal part of our media regularly joins with lobby groups to promote positions like this, and it's only the churches who've provided a vocal force of objection."
The Evangelical Lutheran church makes up a quarter of Latvia's population of 2.3 million, of which a quarter are Roman Catholic and six per cent Russian Orthodox.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]