Estonia

The Situation of the Protestant Church(es) in Estonia

In 2011, Statistics Estonia carried out the Population and Housing Census, which also contained a survey about faith and religion. According to the census, out of 1,3 million residents, only 29,3% (approx 380 000) saw themselves as religious. Out of that 29,3%, more than half (16,1%) described themselves as orthodox and 9,9% as Lutherians. Muslims, Buddhists, other Christian denominations (baptists, pentacostal, free church, catholics, methodists) and smaller religious groups make up the remaining 3,3%. Till 2011, the Lutherians were thought to be the majority in the religious landscape of Estonia, but this was proven wrong by the census. Kevin Kirs, the participant from Estonia, thinks that the main reason why Orthodox Christians make up the majority is because being Orthodox is associated with the Russian identity. Not that every member of the Russian minority in Estonia is patriotic, but nearly all of them call themselves Orthodox, even if they are not weekly worshippers at church. Estonians on the other hand intend to avoid identifing themselves with any religious movement. Kirs nevertheless disagrees with the statement that Estonia is the most atheistic country in Europe. According to him, Estonians are mostly secular but not really atheistic. While some of them are not interested in religion at all, others prefer to mix up elements from different teachings and thus create their own belief. Estonians are more spiritual than religious.
The largest Protestant denomination in Estonia is Lutheranism. While the Russian Orthodox Church is associated with the identity of the Russian minority, the Estonian Evangelical Lutherian Church is the church associated with the identity of the Estonians. The recently elected (2014) archbishop, Urmas Viilmaa, is very active in public communications and has quickly gained an opinion leadership in our society. Thereby, he contributes to a closer association between the church an the national identity. This makes the Estonians identify Estonian Evangelical Lutherian Church as their „national church“, even though there is not a state church in the secular state of Estonia. Kirs considers the seperation between the state and the Church as advantageous for both parties as it refrains from mixing up politically motivated decisions with Church morality and theology. In this context, he cites the Gospel according to Matthew: „So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.“ (Mt 22:21). The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia is not politically represented by one party, even though recently the right-wing party has been trying to be recognised as the representative and the main political supporter of the Church. In reality however, all parties present in the parlament provide support for the Church and other Christian denominations, in one way or the other. Therefore, Kirs hopes that the right-wing party does not become socially acceptable in the Protestant community of Estonia.