"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: The Truth Shall Make You Free

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Truth Shall Make You Free

“The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” —Proverbs 14:15
According to John 18:37-38, Jesus told Pilate that the reason he came into the world was to “bear witness unto the truth.” As the story goes, Pilate replied dismissively with the rhetorical question, “What is truth?” Such evasions aside, truth is simply this: the inescapable reality that is established by a certain framework of indisputable facts. Whether Pilate liked it or not–whether you or your preachers like it or not–there is such a thing as truth, and you cannot exempt yourself from its rules.

If the facts are inconsistent with a claim I am making, then that claim is not true. If the claim is not true, then it is false, and so is every other claim that depends on it. It’s really that simple.
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead
know not any thing, neither have they any more a
reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.”
—Eccl. 9:5

Buyer Beware

If I am trying to sell you a used car, it had better start when you turn the key. My statement that it “runs fine” will be proved false otherwise, and you will have little patience with my excuses. That spectacular failure of my claim to conform with the facts will make you inclined to distrust everything else I try to tell you about the car. There is no way for me to get around this problem. A protest that your “carnal understanding” cannot comprehend the qualities of the car would make me look just plain crazy. So would the assertion that it is only your “wrongful pride” that keeps you from truly considering the qualities of my non-functioning car. Your money would remain in your purse or back pocket, as you move slowly away.

“God shall send them strong delusion, that they
should believe a lie” —2 Thess. 2:11
It is a testament to the power of religion in the human psyche that it can exempt itself from the evidentiary standards of even a used car salesman. The same question you would be a fool for not asking–Is it true?–in the one case is considered downright offensive in the other. When you give the analogy just a little space to play out, you quickly realize how sad the whole spectacle really is: The car does not only fail to start, but by any objective indication seems not to exist at all. The salesman cannot get his story straight about what kind of car it is, claims it is the only car you could ever possibly own, and threatens you with sadistic tortures if you decide not to buy it. And if you walk down the street, you will find hundreds of equally impassioned salespeople selling their own invisible cars, all claiming to have the only one that actually exists.

But This Is Different...

“Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy
stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.”
—1 Tim. 5:23
“In matters of faith and salvation, however, we must set our carnal mind and understanding aside.” So claims an article “The Gospel Is Not Earthly Wisdom,” published in the April 2012 issue of the Voice of Zion newspaper of the Laestadian Lutheran Church (LLC). The images you see throughout this posting are scanned excerpts from the article. Its author cites various well-worn Bible passages to make his warnings against “rational understanding.” The old citations are thrown at the reader one after another, wrapped in such familiarity and piety that one can easily disregard the human hand of the article’s author in selecting them.

But selected they were–from a sprawling, contradictory hodgepodge of all-too-human ancient thought that has been compiled over many centuries, argued about, imperfectly copied and translated, and finally transformed into an object of veneration as God’s Word (§4.3.4). The text itself is seldom read in its full context. Instead, the pious eye hastily glances over the atrocities and outrages, the inconsistencies and failed prophecies, to find familiar passages that will shore up a doctrinal conclusion that was predetermined before the book was ever opened. As with the used car with all its dings and scratches, a sale is most likely if you don’t look too closely at what you’re buying.

“I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh
I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the
church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s
” —Col. 1:24 (NASB, see §7.6)
To expose the illusion, to show the quote-mining subjectivity for what it is, I have added a caption to each scanned excerpt: another passage from the very same book of the Bible that a Laestadian preacher would never find occasion to cite. As you might imagine, this provides only a small example of the selective reading that goes on every Sunday, in every Voice of Zion article, in every discussion about “faith matters.” The Word itself, it turns out, needs quite a bit of earthly wisdom from Laestadian editors to stay on message.

The writers and expounders of scripture protest that what they are selecting and saying is actually what God wants to say. As the article puts it, God “has revealed the mysteries of faith through His Spirit in His kingdom.” It is latter-day Gnosticism, with a privileged few sharing “esoteric knowledge” among themselves. Within the sacred enclave, curious transformations take place in language. Acknowledging the possibility of error is no longer humility but dangerous pride. Childhood is associated not with its natural curiosity and search for knowledge, but a passivity and resignation more suited to those with one foot in the grave. All is done in the service of “God’s kingdom, the pillar and ground of truth” where, in a bitter irony, the very meaning of truth is cast aside. Instead, faith “obscures uncertainty where uncertainty manifestly exists, allowing the unknown, the implausible, and the patently false to achieve primacy over the facts” (Harris 2005, 165).

“[I]t is impossible for those who were once
enlightened . . . if they shall fall away, to renew
them again unto repentance” —Heb. 6:4-6
Never mind why the omnipotent God “who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4) would provide his spiritual guidance to 0.002% of the world’s population within just one of many groups claiming to have the One True path to salvation (§4.2.2). Never mind how that claim of sectarian exclusivity conflicts with the teachings of Martin Luther, whom the group claims as its most prominent spiritual founder (§5.2). Never mind why the Spirit would allow abusive practices to dominate the group’s operations for over a decade (§4.6.4, §4.10.2). No, you are not supposed to give any consideration to these and the literally hundreds of other issues with “the simple doctrine of faith.” The salesman is talking, and he doesn’t want to be interrupted by your impertinent complaint that the engine won’t start.

Further Reading

  • Another article from the April 2012 Voice of Zion describing how the preachers at the LLC’s Winter Services lamented “‘attacks against God’s kingdom,’ questioning the validity of God’s Word in today’s world.”
  • An Examination of the Pearl, free online version with various sections linked with the “§” hyperlinks above. The section on reason (§4.5.4) is relevant to this posting as a whole.
  • Gnosticism entry on Wikipedia.
  • Harris, Sam. 2005. The End of Faith. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.
  • New American Standard Bible. 1995. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.


  1. Excellent article and great analogies.

    Please bring the anonymous feature back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This blog has slowed down considerably since that feature was taken away. Its a scary place to be, as a Laestadian struggling with new questions. They need the protection of anonymity and signing into an account does not feel anonymous. I have posted many times on this blog over the years and found the support I recieved from it invaluable. I know I never would have posted on this blog if I had to sign into an account. I wouldn't have felt protected by the cloak of anonymity. I needed that after years of being taught that I shouln't be reading such a site, much less posting on it. This site is a GREAT resource for those stuggling and those impacted by Laestadianism, but its most helpful when its active and scared people aren't afraid to post. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE bring it back. This site should understand the value of anonymity more than most.

  2. EX FALC says:

    This is one of the best explanations of the laestadian religion I have ever read. I have always felt their were problems with the laestadian way of thinking and this really just sums it up.

  3. Thanks for your articles. I appreciate the time you take to post them here. You bring up great points. People within the LLL churches and subscribing to that belief system need to read these articles.
    I am hopeful that the anonymous feature being brought back will encourage people to post comments. I am pretty sure this is the only venue availble where a person can participate in conversation about Laestadianism, while remaining anonymous. I believe there are many LLL'rs from all factions out there who secretly question (or even disbelieve), but do not dare to voice them and stay in the church. There is too much to lose. The system is set up so that so much of value(family, friends, community, the comfort of inclusion and familiarity) is lost if someone does not tow the line. Most people in the LLL churches only associate with others in their church and leaving would mean starting over. Trying to make new friends and new community is not easy, especially if a person is older. We all want to be included. Those kinds of consequences are very effective at keeping people in. It works well for other "we are the only ones" churches like Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentacostal's, Mormons, and many more. It works just as well for Laestadians.

  4. Eyeswideopen said...

    I heard my entire life that all other churches pick and choose what they read and believe from the Bible and that the LLC is the only church that usues the entire bible. Funny, since the LLC is probably one of the worst offenders when it comes to cherrypicking. I love how this article brings to light some bible verses the LLC would conveniently ignores.
    Take these bible verses:
    Luke 18:9-14
    9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
    13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
    I have heard this parable preached about multiple times. The focus is always on how the tax collector was humble, a good thing to be sure. BUT, I have never heard, in all my years, even a mention that the tax collector (in those times very dishonest men) went home justified...WITHOUT the forgiveness of sins from another believer. It was just between him and God. You don't EVER hear that in the LLC.

  5. This is not about Laestadianism, this is about religion, this is about god. Laestadianism is just a name describing the way you believe in god.

    Religion is the used car salesman, and the car is god. There is a high probability that god does not exist (think fairies).

    God is a tale without proof. A tale no more credible than zeus.

  6. It's nice to see some comments on this blog again. Anonymous comments are important, and have been enabled as long as the spam problem doesn't get out of control.

    Eyeswideopen, you are absolutely right about that irony in the "pick and choose" accusation, as you are about the parable of the text collector. It's one of the "doctrinal land mines" I mention in my book (§4.3.5, here's a direct link to the relevant discussion).

    Anonymous, I agree with you that the issues go well beyond just Laestadianism. But the difficulties have a way of piling up as you narrow your focus. Your footing on the pyramid of intellectual viability gets ever more precarious as as you move from just religion to Christianity, from just Christianity to fundamentalism, from just fundamentalism to Laestadianism, and from just Laestadianism to one branch of it that condemns everybody else–including all other Laestadians–to hell. Especially in Finland where there is a well-entrenched state church to fall back on, it is understandable that some people retreat from the most outrageous claims and settle into a faith that raises less cognitive dissonance. I'm genuinely happy for those who can make it work.

  7. Anonymous, why do you say there is a high probability that God does not exist? Is empirical proof is the only acceptable proof? Is shared reality the only reality? If so, those would be unprovable statements of faith themselves. Agnosticism, it seems to me, is intellectually acceptable as it makes no claims, but those who argue that God does not exist are as perplexing to me as those who insist that their experience of the ineffable is what mine should be. Those of us who reject nonsensical philosophies should should remain humble about our limitations, and stay open to ideas and experiences that are not necessarily sharable or explainable. As Shakespeare said, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

  8. The reason god probably doesn't exist is because the stories about him are simply incredible (as in not credible). If somebody came to you and said Jose walked on water, you would think he was absolutely crazy. That is because we are smart enough to realize when something is fake.

    You don't believe Joseph Smith actually found golden plates from god. You don't believe it because it's crazy.

    But for some reason people believe stories from the bible. And they believe in god. Since the bible is crazy, what proof of god is there?

    god killed 42 children because they called his prophet bald (2 kings 2:23-24). See crazy.

    23. From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.


  9. As a current LLC member I struggle with balancing my wishes to remain in the LLC,(I love the fellowship and and the general sense of unity on most matters, not to mention the peace of conscience when one believes their sins are forgiven) and my own personal feeling that we are NOT the only ones going to heaven (and a couple of other issues. It is true that I would NEVER tell anyone that I read this blog but I do feel there are many who doubt certain teachings in the LLC. All that said, I cling to the passage that 'if I had the faith of a mustard seed I could move mountains'. Right now, I am comforted that God knows how little faith each of us has, and doesn't expect us to understand everything.

  10. One more thing, I was just wondering if all ex Laestadians feel the world would be a better place if there were no LLL organizations? For the most part, while you may disagree with the beliefs, etc. Laestadian people aren't really evil. Perhaps ignorant in some ways, but I for one am thankful for my upbringing, though I have doubted some stuff, hence the reason I am even reading this blog.

  11. TY, thank you for sharing that story from Kings, as I'd never read it before. Wow! I suppose it was meant to teach children respect for elders? Pretty strong tea.

    It seems, however (using EOP's analogy of the used car salesman) what you have rejected is a bad car. A car that smites 42 children. But that does not mean cars do not exist.

    To Anonymous, who asks if all ex-Laestadians feel the world would be a better place without LLL organizations, I can only speak for myself when I say: YES. I feel that way about any organization that demonizes others, teaches blind obedience, hides crime, separates families, and claims infallability.

    However, I don't think Laestadian as individuals are any better or worse than other people.

    I love a lot of them very much.


  12. This was posted on my Facebook wall today. It's a charming example of a parable that uses false language to deliver an intuitive truth.

    "Why We Shout When Angry"


  13. Ty, why do I have to believe all the stories about God written by fallible humans in order to Believe In God? Avowed atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens do/did not be believe in the God of the Old Testament and railed loudly about it. Well, neither do I! That is not the God I believe in! But that does not make me an atheist. God is real to me. SISU

  14. To Anonymous in the LLC:
    I am curious...what would happen if you voiced your concerns or the fact that you read this blog to others in the LLC? Whatever the consequences, do you think that is healthy? I personally think that the consequences inflicted for not towing the line (and most of us know them) are downright abusive. As an organization I think that the LLL churches are unhealthy/abusvie for the same reasons Free mentioned and a few others. They strip away personal individuality and freedom. Everyone must conform and be the same. (Ex: All must enjoy only certain types of music because everything else is not allowed) Outside of Laestadianism people cannot believe that any ADULT is afraid to say they do such things as listen to the radio or watch TV/movies. That kind of fear is abusve. Adults are not allowed to make decisions for themselves about even the most trivial things. Adults are not even allowed to have thier own OPINION about sooo many things. Do I thinkg the people themselves are abusive? I don't think so, they are misguided/brainwashed. I try to remember to "forgive them, for they know not what they do"

  15. Desire'e Anderson4/30/2012 11:12:00 PM

    I am an ex Laestadian and I feel free. I do not need to remain anonymous for any reason because I have shedded from my oh so fearful childhood skin and matured in a way I can not describe. Sometimes my heart goes out for people who are struggling in the LLC because of how socially inept they are with normal people. If you wish to remain anonymous, it is fine. But this is a prime example on how this particular religion is flat out incorrect. Just because other people on this blog can't see who you are, God knows. Is this a relationship between you and God? Or is this religion all about what other people in the shelter think of you? Please consider this, Anonymous. I wish you luck in your inner journey. -Desir'e Anderson, Phoenix AZ

  16. Desire'e Anderson4/30/2012 11:24:00 PM

    (If remaining anonymous is truly a "spam" issue, I get that. But perhaps people are afraid to discuss because of fear.)

  17. Turning ones whole life upside down is not an easy thing. When I ponder what it is I am seeking, I don't really know. And it can be a good life. I know growing up without television and being so sheltered has its blessings. As far as remaining anonymous, I prefer not to have people 'concerned'. I know we have been counseled to avoid these types of blogs since they aren't 'helpful'. But probably there are others reading who have similar questions and choose to say nothing, as I did before the anonymous feature was enabled.

  18. to eyeswideopen,
    I think alot of people just choose to not upset the apple cart because they are fine with their life. Some people will never question, some will question but choose to accept, and some will stay but not believe it and of course some will just leave.

  19. Its like a no win situation. If you leave, you gain freedom to be aligned with your true beliefs, but you lose the community (that is perfectly orchestrated so that for most in the LLL churches it is their ONLY community). If you stay, you keep the community, but are never true to your beliefs. It shouldn't be that way. Its frustrating and sad. No matter what choice someeone makes regarding staying or leaving, it's painful. People are hurt. If a person stays, they hurt themselves by compromising thier own beliefs. If they leave, the people left behind are hurt. Don't even mention the hurt if kids are involved. Then they get it from all sides (= more hurt). Adults on each side and even other kids will say stuff to the kids. Each side trying to instruct the little children what is 'right.' Sad.

  20. Regarding the Parable of the Tax Collector: The LLC (and likely the other LLL organizations) see themselves as comparable to the tax collector who was humble, as they see themselves as a humble bunch. I believe that they are more closely aligned to the Pharisee with all the addional do's/don't (not biblically supported), thinking they're infallable, and loving tradition more than what's actually in the Bible.

  21. This quote by Virginia Woolf came to mind while thinking about the dilemma that many face "To leave, or not to leave, that is the question..." ;)

    "Virginia Woolf wrote, 'Across the broad continent of a woman's life falls the shadow of a sword.' On one side of that sword, she said, there lies convention and tradition and order, where 'all is correct.' But on the other side of that sword, if you're crazy enough to cross it and choose a life that does not follow convention, 'all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course.' Her argument was that the crossing of the shadow of that sword may bring a far more interesting existence to a woman, but you can bet it will also be more perilous."

    PS-I think this quote applies also to men but I'm particularly interested in LLC women because of the sexist gender roles that they have been boxed into. Speaking from my personal experience, I would say that making the decision to leave the LLC was one of the BEST decisions I have made in my life thus far. Being true to myself and my personal beliefs rather than blindly adhereing to an antiquated, inflexible, and false belief system allows me to live with a sense of freedom and a feeling of being connected to all life on this planet rather than a small subset of the population.

    --Sister from Seattle

  22. Desire'e Anderson5/03/2012 01:02:00 AM

    As a former Laestadian, I remember being brainwashed into believing that anyone that wasn't raised in or repented into our church was considered "the world. Then we were taught to always be in constant battle with your logical brain called "the flesh". Then you have the devil on your shoulder tellin you that Barbara Streisand is an awesome vocalist. Or perhaps, you have another singer in mind! (God forebid she plays the drums.) I guess my point is this: if u have already left in your heart, God already knows. You will not fool Him by living dishonestly within your church community. It is that because of our open mindedness, we as ex Laestadians choose to not ride on the black and white rainbow to heaven. Its frustrating when people don't hear us out because we are "the world" and we are out to capture you and place u in the handbag to hell.

  23. Desire'e Anderson5/03/2012 01:21:00 AM

    As a former Laestadian, I remember how we were brainwashed into believing that anyone who wasn't born into or repented within our church was considered "the world." Then there is that logical brain of ours formerly known as "the flesh" that we were taught to always be in constant battle with. Then, there is the devil that sits on shoulders telling people that Barbara Streisand is a great vocalist- you should listen to her talent! (Or perhaps, you have another musician in your mind.) I guess my point is that as former Laestadians, we do not wish to bring the church down. It is frustrating that we see so many people with dark sunglasses on riding the black and white rainbow to heaven. But when we are "the world," no matter what we say-we will always be out there looking for loose LLCers to drop into the inescapable handbag to hell. Open your minds just a half an inch. We are not the big bad wolves afterall. God knows we are all normal people with the same God-given minds.

    1. Desiree... Handbag to hell..? Black and white rainbow...? Where did you get this stuff!?! I am laughing out loud. Thank you for the comic relief!!! -m.d.

  24. Desire'e Anderson5/03/2012 03:30:00 PM

    Sorry for repeat, copied and pasted and had to elaborate!

  25. I chuckled when I read the Virginia Woolf bit -- because it made me think of some dramatic sermons about two edged swords, usually mixed with a little knowing what the sixth or seventh devil was up to at the moment. It was all very dramatic. :-)

  26. It's nice to see familiar names (Hi Cvow and Ex-FALC!) and new ones here (Hello Eyes, Desiree and Sister from Seattle). Thanks for commenting.

  27. While I had a fair number of horrible experiences with the church and the religion, I find it hard to say I would definitely be better off without having had the experience. Good and bad experiences, and difficulties help make us who we are. I reckon my experience with the church has helped me be more tolerant and understanding towards people of different opinions, or ways of life. Yep, its been one hell of a ride.

    If you are still in the church, I'd say just consider what you have to lose versus what you have to gain, from leaving (assuming you are considering it). For me, it was easy, I had limited friendship within the church and hardly any relatives living nearby, and siblings already left. I simply reached a point where I didn't care anymore what my parents thought about it, I had chosen my own well-being over their pleasure at my choices.