"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: 2017

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Lara's Story

Lara's story, cross-posted from this blog: http://religiouschildmaltreatment.com/2013/04/more-than-she-could-bear/.

I happened across this article while doing some late night research. While I am not familiar with this specific Apostolic church tradition, I also grew up in an Apostolic Lutheran Church tradition. I started leaving when I was 19 didn’t completely leave until I was 22, due to trying to live in both worlds and trying to pacify family. To those who wonder why folk don’t leave. Perhaps the #1 reason is because being raised in this means you have NO other contacts/friends/family. If you leave, you are not just leaving a church, you are literally leaving your family and your friends. Everyone. All gone. All at once. Now it may be, that a few may buck the system and remain in a relationship with you, but there’s no way to know that ahead of time.
It’s important to note that the Laestadian’s (forgive my spelling) have split into many different churches. So what was true for one person in one group is not necessarily true for another person in another group. Additionally, even in the specific group I grew up in there are conflicting views and I often hear cries like the one above, that “WE” don’t teach (xyz). All I can say is, **I** was taught.
I wish folk would step back a bit and realize that one person’s experiences may not have anything to do with THEM. Rather than posting and saying, a broad brushing we would never statement, why not say, in the specific group I was raised in, this was not the case. And then perhaps offer that those who attend where this kind of extreme legalism is in place, might find a new church home with you. Then offer them your personal information or at least your church’s information! Yadda yadda. You know, be HELPFUL, instead of trying to make people who have been abused not talk about it. And it is/was spiritual abuse.
Many things were taught non verbally. This also contributes to the indignant cry ‘we never taught’. Yeah. Well. Here’s the thing. If a child grows up knowing they should only be friends with people from the church. They should only marry a ‘true believer’ and true believer is always understood to be ‘in THE church’. And preachers regularly talk about every other church as ‘dead faith churches’, etc and so forth, they don’t HAVE to come right out and say, All other churches are going to hell. It’s implied. The children grow up believing that. And when you leave and are battling cancer and your mother writes you a letter saying she hopes you don’t die before you see the error of your ways (no this wasn’t me)… well…. it’s pretty obvious that everyone not in ‘THE group’ is going to hell. Just as it is implied in OH so many ways that couples should have as many children as they can pop out regardless. From the time I was a small child, it was understood without so many words being said, that as a female it was expected that I would meet a “christian” (i.e. fellow ALC member) husband, get married, and have children. There was no concept of doing anything else. I was taught college was a sin and would lead me ‘astray’. It was understood, I should simply work whatever job supplied enough food and shop for a husband.
This sort of self protectiveness is quite common. Since so many things are taught via custom, non verbally, and through hearing the adults taught when you are a child, it is EASY to deny they were ever taught. And I truly believe the deniers believe it themselves. They are not lying per say, they have most often, deceived themselves. After all, who remembers the conversation they hear as a child playing in the corner while their mother and others “discuss” and “tsk” the waywardness of some person or another who did some seemingly harmless thing and yet clearly it must be a horrible thing or why are they tsking it? But you see, NO ONE will ever talk about it. The child forms their beliefs and forgets the actual conversation that caused the belief. And since the adults were gossiping they will never admit they said what they said. And when their belief is confronted head on, it sounds unpleasant because rarely do their actual beliefs line up with what they KNOW to be true. So they deny it.
This does apply directly to child abuse. I have personal experience with dealing with a family where there was incest among siblings and cousins from young teens to toddlers. Yet not a single soul in the family is willing to discuss this openly and honestly and have instead blamed one of the victims who insisted there needed to be honest, open, discussion. Over the years, more and more putrid details have risen to the surface and it has become more apparent that various adults (at the time the incest was happening) likely know far more than they are admitting, thus their refusal to have an honest discussion. But by golly, they are good people, godly people, forgiven people. I have to ask. HOW can one be forgiven if they ask for forgiveness from someone OTHER than the person who they did the wrong to??? If I punch you in the nose and ask Jim for forgiveness, does this make sense? Their very system of forgiveness is flawed and is being utilized by abusers to hide. Once the person ‘asks forgiveness’ the victim is then told they are to never talk about it again. This is said, EVEN IF the person asked forgiveness from someone else and the victim had no knowledge of it. It is also said if the person asks forgiveness for something completely not relevant. For example, Bob punches Joe in the nose. Bob then asks Joe to forgive him for raising his voice. Joe is then supposed to ‘move on’ from Bob punching him in the nose because Bob ‘had it forgiven’. It is ludicrous and childish and beyond narcissistic. To those who want to say, this doesn’t happen. Sorry it does. I am not the only one who has seen this, experienced this, dealt with this. I could sit and write here all night, with real life examples of similarly nasty things. These things have nothing to do with being “imperfect”. They have to do with blatantly living IN SIN.
People can say, you need to research, but it seems to me, the comments of those who LIVED It ARE research. We are not lying. We are not making this stuff up. Those of us who have left have been through years of emotional damage to do so. We have endured judgement and anger. We have been randomly attacked (verbally) in grocery stores and gas stations. We have had close family pretend to not see us in stores. We have been told by close family we are going to hell. Some have died with our own mother refusing to sit by our side. We have been sat down and ‘set straight’ by those who think they are more loving than those who just outright attack. We have had our faith, our character, our reputations slandered. We have had our children approached in public and told we are liars. We have been called names. If the churches of this tradition are as loving and nice and open and wonderful as so many would claim, then WHY is it a commonly told story that people who leave are treated so horribly?
One last thing. While I was still in the church, I started visiting another church. I hid it because I knew it would NOT be accepted, but I wanted to know because I was watching people I worked with and seeing that they truly believed in God the same as me. I visited another church, while continuing to faithfully attend the ALC church service. This went on for several months. No one was the wiser. And NO ONE treated me any differently. No one had a problem with me. No one questioned anything I said in Bible study type discussions. Until. The fateful day when someone found out. And told someone else. Who confronted me in a restaurant in front of a group. It was a very simple conversation. “I heard you’ve been visiting another church.” “Yep” “I heard it’s a BAPTIST (said like it’s a dirty word) church” “Yep” LOOOOONG pause. “Well you AREN’T going to KEEP going are you???” “Probably”. Silence. The entire group got up as one and left. THAT showed me the lie. The lie that we don’t say others are going to hell. If that’s true, then why did they care? Behavior ALWAYS tattles on your true beliefs folks. It doesn’t matter what you SAY. What matters is what you DO.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Maureen's Story

Photo from wikicommons
Thanks to "Maureen" for sharing her thoughts here. Please leave a note in the comments -- even if you have no advice. Sometimes it helps to know others are listening. 

Hi there,

I am a former ALC member. My parents are still members. Due to my parents' religious beliefs, my childhood was missing so many things other kids experience. Sleepovers, birthday parties, going to movies as a family, going to prom, going to concerts, drinking a first beer together, family movie nights with popcorn, etc. Now, we're all grown up and we lead our own individual lives. We imbibe every now and again, attend mainstream churches, go to movies, go to concerts, and have dinner parties. We do these things with our friends. We do not do these things with our parents. I don't even talk to my parents about these activities. 
"Due to my parents' religious beliefs, my childhood was missing so many things other kids experience."
I guess I am struggling with the relationship with my parents now. I currently have a wide circle of supportive friends (and family members, too). I have been fortunate to have deep friendships. What I've come to realize is that friendship is often built around shared activities. These shared activities might include going to a movie, then getting a drink afterwards and talking about the movie. Those are the things that build deep connections. With my parents however -- so many things are off-limits for talking, or doing. Thus, the ability to build a deep relationship is stunted. And that makes me enormously sad. I'm not sad for myself. I have friends and deep connections. I am sad for my parents. They seem lonely and they don't know their kids. Why even have kids if you don't get to benefit from an adult relationship with them someday? But, they're too closed-minded to open up to experiences where they could have a deeper connection with their children. It's a one-sided relationship where I talk about things they like to talk about and we do things they like to do. They don't really engage in my personal interests. They're offended by many of my opinions, so I keep them to myself. 
"I wish I could be one of those people who hangs out with their mom or dad . . . "
Providence has provided me with surrogate parents who mentored me through my late teens, 20's and 30's. But, I know my parents are hurt by my giving, in a sense, their paternal/maternal role to others. I don't actually want to do that. I crave a meaningful relationship with my parents. I wish I could be one of those people who hangs out with their mom or dad laughing, connecting, and sharing life. 

I feel like this community might be a good place to start a discussion about healing relationships and managing guilt. I feel guilty that I'm not close to my parents, yet I realize it's not my fault. Now that they're aging, the broken relationship is more visible than when they were young and healthy. It all just makes me so so so sad and I don't know how to cope with all this sadness. I've kind of just accepted that this is just a burden that I have to carry.

"It all just makes me so so so sad and I don't know how to cope with all this sadness."

This is from Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy:

To honor our parents means to be thankful for for their existence and to respect their actual role as givers of life in the sequence of human existence. Of course in order to honor them in this way we need to be thankful for our own existence too. But we also will usually need to have pity on them. For, even if they are good people, it is almost always true that they have been quite wrong in many respects, and possibly still are.
Commonly those who have experienced great antagonism with their parents are only able to be thankful for their existence and honor them, as they deeply need to, after the parents have grown old. Then it is possible to pity them, to have mercy on them. And that opens the door to honoring them. With a certain sadness, perhaps, but also with joy and peace at least. One of the greatest gifts of The Kingdom Among Us is the healing of the parent-child relation, “turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6).
"How do you manage the sadness?"
I find that passage helpful, but I don't have peace. How do other people who grew up in Laestadian-based religions manage the sadness of the broken relationships? What about managing these uncomfortable emotions once parents have died? Has anyone had success in creating a meaningful relationship with their parents or family? 

Thank you,

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Grave Robbing to Reconciliation

"Perhaps the best discovery made on the trip, namely 2 sacks full of Lapp skulls and bones." -- Lars Levi Laestadius
The quote is from an excerpt (translated from Swedish) of a remarkable White Paper published by the Church of Sweden, available in print (at no cost) and excerpted online, where it can be copied and pasted into Google Translate. Titled "The Historical Relationships between the Swedish Church and the Sámi: A Scientific Anthology," the paper is the result of a project begun in 2012 whose purpose was to "deepen the knowledge of historical relations between the Church and the Sámi." It serves as a public confession of abuse, and the Church calls it is a necessary first step toward reconciliation.

A direct line can be drawn between the grave-robbing of the 19th century and the race biology of the 20th century to the horrors of the Holocaust. When the Swedish Institute for Racial Biology was founded in Uppsala in 1922, it was the first of its kind in the world, and its painstaking research methodology was admired by, and became a model for, Nazi Germany. (Learn more in this excellent documentary.)

Excerpt from "The Historical Relationships between the Swedish Church and the Sámi: A Scientific Anthology":
Priests and other representatives of the Church of Sweden took part in robberies and excavations and contributed to the collection of Sámi human remains for cranial and racial research.
This research has in itself contributed to the notions of the Sámi as a primitive and lower standing people and enabled discrimination, marginalization and oppression of Sámi in Sweden.
Priests participated in the robbery of Sámi graves
During the 19th and early 1900's, Sámi tombs were plundered in a comprehensive search for skulls and skeletal parts, including the service of racial biology. Priests and other representatives of the Swedish Church participated. Today, Sámi demands that human remains be returned.
The grave robberies were sometimes held secretly during the night and using bribes. There was, of course, a resistance among Sámi against what happened, which those responsible showed little respect for.
The most famous example is Lars Levi Læstadius (1800-1861), church leader in Karesuando and Pajala parishes and founder of the Lapponian revival movement. There are several examples of how he participated in the robbery of Sámi tombs, for example as a guide and local expert in the French La Recherche expedition (1838-1840). Læstadius himself writes in an unsigned newspaper article about what the expedition found: "Perhaps the best discovery made on the trip, namely 2 sacks full of Lapp skulls and bones."

Friday, November 03, 2017

A Sweet Story, a Familiar Tune

A friend posted this sweet story about the love of friends. The hymn will be a familiar one to many of you.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

One of Us

I strongly recommend "One of Us," a documentary (now streaming on Netflix) that follows three people who have left their ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. No longer "one of us" to their family and friends, each person has a distinct story, a unique trajectory out of their former lives. You'll recognize the same themes we've encountered in Laestadianism -- ultra-Orthodox Lutheranism, if you will.

In a magazine interview here, one of the men in the documentary explains his former faith:

"Does it withhold a broad education from their children in order to keep the children narrow-minded and uneducated? Yes. Does it vilify the outside world in order to keep its members from joining it? Definitely. Does it have a fear and/or doomsday element to it? Of course. Is there ex-communication for those who dare to leave? Oh yeah."

"For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us. I believed that all goyim are murderers, rapists, degenerates and dirty second-class citizens. Of course, they/we aren’t but I was taught that in order to make the secular lifestyle less appealing. I was told horrible things would happen to me in this world and the 'next world' if I leave. I was told I would end up a criminal or drug addict. Many members of my family refuse to speak to me to this day."

The Laestadian version of "One of Us" has yet to be made, but a proposal is in the works, and if you are interested in supporting it, let me know.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Insights from a Cult Recovery Counselor

Interesting insights about recovery from high-control groups. 

"There's this dichotomy I've noticed with people who are raised in cults: they are made to feel that they are better than the rest of the world, they live in a higher sphere, they are closer to God, they are the chosen ones . . . but at the same time within the group, they feel very low, so they're higher than the rest of the world but they're knocked down with the group . . .  and you never quite know how to meet the world face to face . . . (that) you're not less than, you just are a part of the world with everybody else."

Friday, September 22, 2017

Critical Thinking 101: No True Scotsman Fallacy

The introduction of the term is attributed to British philosopher Antony Flew. In his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking, he wrote:[3]
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion, but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says: "No true Scotsman would do such a thing." 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Leila's Story, Part Two

This is Part Two of Leila’s Story, a guest post. (For Part One, go here.)

In college, I blossomed. I created friendships with people from all walks of life, and debated subjects I had never been able to before. I began to attend regular therapy and am slowly healing from the emotional scars I carried around and hid for so long. While I felt guilt over causing my mother pain (a year later my father left the church, and my parents separated), I determined my own happiness was more important than going home. 

I began modeling, a huge boost to my self-esteem. I knew at last that my non-Scandinavian features did not make me any less attractive. 

I happened to fall in love with the most amazing man which was and remains the deepest, most genuine feeling I have ever experienced.

Two years ago, I graduated with a Masters in Economics (at the top of my class!). After graduation, my boyfriend and I moved to Portland, where I built a new relationship with my family. My mother may never accept my decision to leave the church, but I love her deeply, and — if her faith makes her happy, that is all I care about. I simply do not discuss religion with her.

This fall, I will start law school, and prepare for a field that is frowned upon in the OALC but which my peers and professors consider a good match for me, with my skills in rational-thinking and problem-solving. The adventures ahead excite me.

I feel free. The constant fear of hell has been lifted. 

Personally, I am no longer religious by any definition, but turn my beliefs towards science and the search for solid evidence before forming a decision. I believe in the need to continually educate oneself on the current world; the urge to gain knowledge is a very important part of personal growth and belief. However, I do not want to portray a message of hatred or bitterness towards the OALC community. Many are amazing, loving individuals, and I fully believe everyone should be able to practice whatever faith brings them satisfaction. My personal experience does not speak to all members. 

While my choice to leave was a painful and heartbreaking journey, it was the best decision I've ever made. I gained self-confidence, genuine friendships, and constant positive reminders from a community of people who are open to the idea that anything they hold as truth can change, given new information. I encourage anyone who feels trapped or has experienced any form of abuse to reach out to people on this blog, or anywhere in life. I am always open to talk if anyone were to want.

To those who remain the church, know that my decision to leave is concrete. I will never return. If you want to say I have "lost my faith" or how sad you are for me, you are more than welcome to; your opinions do not bother me anymore. The OALC is by all definitions a cult, and those who deny sexual abuse exists (and is covered up) are lying. I fear for their children. The denial is also extremely offensive to anyone, anywhere, who has experienced abuse. Aside from the moral aspects, abusers are dangerous and not reporting them is illegal. 

What happened to the person who abused me? He died without ever being required to atone for what he did.

With my law degree, I hope to bring sexual offenders to justice and make more people aware of the pervasiveness of covered-up sexual abuse. No child should experience the isolation and helplessness I did! 

Without books, I may not have survived this far. I am glad I did, and I am glad I can share my story, and remind people that everyone is important. You matter, you are beautiful in any form, and help is out there, so never give up. 

Thank you for reading. Feel free to talk to me in the comments section.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Leila's Story, Part One

(Free says: This is the first half of a guest post. If you'd like to tell your story, use the form at the bottom of the page or send me an email. Thanks!)

Dear Free,

I just discovered your blog while aimlessly researching the OALC online. Thank you for this site, and for letting me tell my story, as even my friends cannot understand how I grew up. You can call me Leila (not my real name). 

I was born into an extremely proper OALC family in Washington State. My mother's mother and my father were not raised as members of the church; they joined as adults, and I am not primarily Scandinavian like most of the OALC. As a result of my Native American and Spanish ancestry, I do not look like the people I grew up around, and was often made fun of by my "Christian" friends -- who would say in a joking manner that I would never find a husband because of my dark hair. I always laughed it off but deep down, it planted a sense of being unattractive, and I struggled with my looks. 

I attended church every Sunday and was exposed only to those of similar faith, except in public settings such as school. From a very young age I was reserved, and preferred books to the company of others. I learned to read before kindergarten. While I was considered nerdy and weird, my friends accepted me because of my faith. As long as I can remember, I felt “different,” however, and questioned almost everything presented to me, but the fear of going to hell caused extreme guilt, and I became increasingly cut off from others. 

At age 13, I was sexually abused by an older male relative. I reported the incident to my mother, who took me to talk to a preacher. Of course, I trusted the adults around me as I had never known anything else. I was told by this church leader that the abuser had "asked for forgiveness," and I should find it in myself to forgive him. The subject was not brought up again — by my mother or the preacher. 

When the abuse recurred, I went to my mother again, and we went to the preacher, and I got the same advice — this pattern repeated itself again and again until I stopped talking about it altogether. 

The abuse and my increasing sense of alienation caused extreme depression to take hold. I devoted all of my energy to school and maintained a 4.0 GPA while isolating myself further and further from those around me. My depression deepened. Finally, the preachers advised me to see a therapist to "find it in your heart to forgive the abuser, for we all sin and all sin is created equal.” They believed my symptoms were the result of a guilty conscience.

After my first therapy session, I reported to my mother that the therapist recommended legal action and a reconsideration of my faith. Shocked, my mother called the therapist and said she had no right to speak poorly to a young, "mentally unstable" girl about her faith in God. She moved me to another therapist, and another after that, but they all had similar, unsatisfactory advice. 

When therapy “failed,” I was told to seek help from a medical doctor. My mother and a preacher accompanied me to the doctor visit, explaining my symptoms (without mentioning the abuse) and asked for me to be medicated. At age 14, I was prescribed high doses of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and antipsychotics.

This preacher was married to a retired nurse, a lifelong member of the OALC (some of you will recognize her by that description alone). After hearing of my depression, she "diagnosed" me with severe clinical depression, severe anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. I was told to turn my faith to God, and he would guide me through my “trial" of mental instability.

An important thing to add at this point is that my school work never faltered. I found comfort in my studies, and always enjoyed learning new things. Numerous teachers expressed their amazement at my mathematical and reading abilities. When they recommended I skip ahead a grade to be sufficiently challenged, my mother said no, on account of "mental instability." 

This so-called treatment continued for four years until I graduated high school and turned 18. By this point I had self-researched my alleged medical conditions -- and firmly believed myself to be sane! Shortly after graduating, I scheduled an appointment with a well-known Seattle psychiatrist and explained the entire situation. He offered to see me free of charge. Without telling anyone in my family or church, I drove the three hours north to Seattle to meet with him; we sat and talked for almost six hours. At the end of our session, he called my doctor, and expressed his concerns about my numerous medications, stating I showed no clinical diagnosis for any of my supposed conditions. 

I began the process of secretly weaning myself off of all medication. 

A year after high school, I applied in secret to an amazing university in California, which accepted me -- with a full scholarship on account of my high SAT scores and GPA. In most families, this would be a cause for celebration. When I gave the news to my mother, however, she suggested I talk with a preacher. I called a different one (not the nurse’s husband), and he said with absolute conviction that I should "stay close to home" and "remain close to your faith" to avoid the "dangers of the world" -- combined with my "mental conditions." Neither my mother nor anyone else was aware I had stopped taking medication.

I didn’t follow that preacher’s advice. 

While my mother cried, I packed all I could into my car and drove to California.

My new life had begun.

(To be continued.)

Thank you to anyone who reads this — feel free to leave comments or questions.


Monday, August 07, 2017

The Long Arms of Gällivare

Command Central for Firstborn/West Laestadian/Esikoiset/OALC
With news of widespread famine in East Africa, the calving of a giant ice shelf in Antarctica, and extreme weather after the globe's hottest year on record, the news of religious squabbling amongst a tiny portion of vast humanity is easy to dismiss. Unless you're affected by it, of course. 

Families are being wrenched apart, children alienated from their parents, loved ones shunned, the psychologically vulnerable isolated from critical support, for what, exactly? 

I will write more about Gällivare in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, my Finnish penpal (who will remain anonymous) has generously allowed me to post his correspondence below.  

Since the 1980s I have been observing the development from a distance — I guess much like yourself — which means my knowledge is uncertain and mostly based on second-hand accounts. Caveat lector.

As you know, a small group of Swedish Firstborn elders has adopted a role as a "spiritual central bureau" of the movement. While I do not know their number, or whether there have been splits among them, I am told that the Firstborn group in Sweden is in decline generally. There are fewer and fewer young people, some have left the movement, many moved out, etc. So it seems that this “core group of elders” in Sweden governs a flock whose great majority is abroad, in Finland and America.

One of the main stumbling blocks in the dispute in Finland (fermenting over perhaps 25 years) is the doctrine of this spiritual leadership in Swedish Lapland, considered the cradle of the movement. This same question has been a key element in the entire history of disputes and splits in the movement. The hassle started after the death of Laestadius in the 1860s, and in fact, the disputes in America played an important role in the splits that ravaged the movement in Sweden and Finland too, between 1880-1900, and later. 

There are very interesting historical records of early kingpins in the first decades of the Laestadian movement in America, e.g., Korteniemi, Roanpaa, Takkinen, and Heideman, of the traveling missionaries, and correspondence between Lapland and United States. Juhani Raattamaa (1811-1899), the companion of Laestadius, his main apprentice, and next in the line of authority, worked hard to maintain unity, peace, and tolerance. Already by 1900, however, disputes had fractured the movement.

In Finland there was a growing faction in the congregation who saw the “Overseer Board” as a questionable and unhealthy configuration. They grew in number and discontent when the spiritual tone of the elders changed following the death of the well-known and influential preacher Gunnar Jönsson (1905-1982), who was a broadminded, wise person with a vision that challenged some of the old, fixed, idiosyncratic ways of thinking. There was a gradual backlash and shift toward a strict, “anti-modernist” doctrine, in search of an old, untarnished Christianity with distinct separation from the normal average “worldly” life.

These elders have been the prime agents in fomenting the split in Finland from the Lutheran Church. Their advice was appreciated by many of the preachers and followers in Finland, and resulted in their setting up their own sacramental practices of communion, baptism, marriage ceremony, etc. in 2016-17.

The famous June meetings in the city of Lahti were organised in two separate locations this year (crowds about 4000 and 900 respectively).  http://www.sakramentit.fi/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/20170626_ESS_Juhannusseuroista.pdf

The American OALC structure, with small local congregations independent of the Lutheran State Church, has become – or so it seems — the idealized model.

I have heard that in Norway, splits of a similar nature to Finland’s have occurred in recent decades as well. I think it would be increasingly important and interesting to track the stories of people in Sweden (and Norway) who have been through similar experiences, and personal histories of distancing from or leaving the insider circles.
What makes these phenomena perhaps less interesting, however, is the fact that such disputes, quarrels, mutiny, and oppression of “wrong opinions” seems to be a prevalent feature among ALL groups within Christian religion (Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Adventist, Pentecostal movements …. to name a few). 

I  imagine that Jesus would be sad, furious, and frustrated to come and see the havoc.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Laestadius in a Top Hat

"The Minister Laestadius preaching" by François Auguste Biard, a member of the 1838 French research expedition on which Laestadius served as an expert on local botany and Sámi mythology. 

Since going online back in the Dark Ages of dial-up internet, I've made a hobby of searching for posts about Laestadianism, but I had never seen, or even heard about, this painting until reading an article by Anne Heith (professor at Umeå University, one of my favorite researchers) that popped up in my inbox. Turns out the painting wasn't acquired by the museum until 2002, so I'm only 15 years behind the ball.

I've excerpted Heith's article below, but follow the link to enjoy the entire thing; she is readable by us nonacademics (unlike many of her peers) and always interesting. Create a free account at Academia.edu to follow her there.

From Situatedness and Diversity: Representations of Lars Levi Laestadius and Laestadianism:
Today, Biard’s painting belongs to Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø, where it is displayed with other more or less exotified images of the Sámi and the northern landscape. In the painting, Lars Levi Laestadius wears a top hat of the kind worn by the higher social classes at the time the painting was made. However, it is unlikely that Laestadius would have worn a hat like that when preaching to the Sámi and Finnish-speaking people in traditional Sámi land. It is well known that Laestadius lived in great simplicity, condemning worldliness, using vernacular language in his preaching, which was seen as vulgar by the social elite. For example, Laestadius frequently used expressions like ‘the devil’s piss’ for alcohol (Heith 2009: 342–361).4 Described with terminology from postcolonial and indigenous studies, Biard’s painting presents an outsider’s view (Smith 2008: 60; Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin 2007: 154–158) of Laestadius, the Sámi and the northern landscape.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Some Cages Don't Have Bars

A guest post by a friend:

I learned tonight a cousin, near my own age, was found dead, evidently of an overdose. I saw him only once in the past thirty years; our lives diverged long ago. I know few details about his life except this: that while I was wrestling with single parenthood, disability, and a return to university, he was wrestling with a severe drug addiction that no one would talk about, much less deal with, in our Laestadian (Old Apostolic Lutheran) family.

Why the silence?

Why the negligence?

Monday, July 03, 2017

What Age is Too Young for Marriage?

The Elders of the Firstborn (OALC) have arrived from Gällivare and are crossing the United States from east to west, holding meetings -- morning and evening -- throughout July and August.

According to a member of an online support group, new rules regarding "Christian" weddings were recently shared, including:
  1. No engagement rings. 
  2. The engaged couple must wait until married to sit together in church.
  3. Wedding rings must be simple bands.
  4. No wedding dresses (preferably a skirt that can be worn again).
  5. The skirt should not be so long that it touches the floor.
  6. The bridal party will not walk up or down aisle. 
  7. The bride and groom will walk down the aisle only after they are married.
  8. No food at wedding receptions.
This illustrates a practical function of the Elders' meetings: to reinforce visual markers of faithfulness (faithfulness to the preachers, not the gospel) so members appear separate from "the world." (An equally important function is to retain members through intermarriage. Out-marrying is taboo, so these large gatherings are opportunities to meet non-relatives. Youth are encouraged to travel out of state to attend).

Suggested addition to the rules:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Seeking Help as a Laestadian

In Norway, Sami victims of violence seek help less often than non-Sami. No surprise, as this also holds in native communities in North America.

But in addition to the disempowering effects of colonization, Laestadianism is mentioned as a cause in this article.
"Laestadianism's influence on Sami culture and society also plays a part in strengthening the attitude that it is the victim who must bear the shame and guilt for the violence, not the offender."
"The tabooing of sex and body, the silence concerning everything private, and the idea that issues are solved within the family. We find such ideas everywhere in Norway, but there are indications that these taboos are stronger within Laestadian and Sami communities." 
"The view on women in Sami communities is often colored by Laestadianism: women should remain silent in gatherings and sexuality is not discussed."
Sound familiar? What can be done?

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Helena's Story

"What if you were told that reason and questioning can take your faith away? Contraception is a sin, homosexuality is a sin, wearing makeup is a sin, or even having a TV is a sin?"
In this Culture Chat with Mimi Chan podcast, Mimi talks to Helena (one of the bravest people I know, and a dear friend) about leaving Laestadianism, and healing from sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse.

A few quotes:
Control through fear:
"They have a belief that you can lose your faith in an instant. There is a solid amount of fear built in. I remember as a kid feeling scared, what would happen if I lost my faith and then I died, what would happen to me?"

On the need for integrity as the final straw:
"If you don't say anything, you're saying something. And if you do say something, you're going to have to go against your belief system unless your beliefs are in lockstep with theirs." 

On shunning:
"If you were in the church and you're gone, now you're not just a worldly person, you're an evil worker. You're treated with less respect than people who have never been part of the religion."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Child Rapist Sentenced to Life

While not mentioned in the article, this serial rapist was raised in the Laestadian faith, whose doctrine of forgiveness has been discussed many times before on this site and many others.

I hesitated to write this, knowing the victim and his family must be eager to move on, but readers of this blog will know why silence only serves abusers. I salute this boy and his family for pressing charges and protecting other children. I hope they inspire others to do the same.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Swinging Laestadians

I enjoyed this recent post by Mauri Kinnunen about a 1937 article in the Chicago Daily Tribune, in which joiking is compared to swing music, and cocktails prove disappointing to some Laestadians. It may be a stretch to compare joik to swing, but both are characterized by energy and improvisation.

Go read the article, then come back and enjoy these clips.

Instrumental "cocktail swing" recorded in Sweden in the same year as the article, 1937:

Marie Boine inhabits this spine-tingling "Goaskinviellja / Eagle Brother" at the Oslo Opera House in 2009:

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Right to Dance

A reader writes:
My cousin's wife shared this link. She is a folkdancer. This is a parish in Helsinki who took part of this campaign and they challenged every parish in Finland. This is an example of how dancing belongs to everyone, everyone can dance in some way regardless of physical abilities, and everyone has the right to dance. You can see the priests, some of them female, are dancing in this video!

Do you dance?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day, and I have been reflecting on the many ways in which we have more freedom, equality, safety, representation, and self-determination than our foremothers, and more than many of our sisters in religious states. These freedoms are always at risk of being curtailed or limited. Progress is not linear.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Tough love

This was posted on a friend's Facebook page.

What do you think of the dad's "tough love"?

Sunday, February 05, 2017

You Are Not Alone

The following discussion is excerpted from the Extoots group on Facebook. I thought it might help others, and asked permission to post it here with names removed.


My husband and I are both trying to figure out what we truly want and need in life. For a while now we have both felt an urge to leave the church and find out what else God has to offer us . . . we are both scared of fully leaving and being shunned by our families and friends. If anyone has some advice or support to share, it would be so welcomed! 


You need too do what's best for you, you'll always be judged by someone. Let your inner rebel come out and really not care what others think. Don't let fear stop you!! You'll probably have some relief after.
Shunning is painful, and many of us lost friends and even parents and siblings after we left. But even more painful is spending one's brief time here on Earth accumulating self-loathing and regret for wasted opportunities, for a life not lived, for love not given. Sending you lots of strength as you navigate these waters.
It is truly hard and scary to leave. Just follow your heart. I prayed many nights before I finally left for good. Through many new experiences I found out that there was so much more to my relationship with God than the (church) teachings. I've never felt more at peace or closer to God than I do now. I was shunned by many of my family and the church members. As time went on my family became more accepting and some found the strength to leave also. Good luck with everything you decide to do, and know that we all are here for support
When you start living for yourself and not worry about what other think, you will be free, free indeed.
The day I turned 18 I moved out of the house. Mainly because I did not want to partake in going to church anymore. My parent knew that, and we did not talk for a few months. Never once though did I stop being myself, and my parents have now decided that they would like to have a relationship with me. It took time for them to get to this point though. I am lucky that they decided they with to have a relationship with me even if I chose something different than what they have taught me. There is hope for you as well. In all honesty going though this all some days are extremely hard! But I now got to a point where I don't care what others think and just do what makes me happy. It a blessing. Wish you the best. If you ever need any other support feel free to reach out to me. I recently went through this myself. There is always hope.
Praying you will find that peace with God . . . In His Word, you will find contradictions to what you hear in (the church).
Blessings on your new journey to freedom and real life!! 
Leaving the church and deciding to be your own person takes immense amounts of personal effort. I have suggestions and they may sound extreme. But honestly if you want to change your life . . . you have to do something life changing, right? So my suggestions are:
  1. Take a vacation or a job with your partner away from the isolated community for a few years. Go outside your comfort zone. 
  2. When you get to this new environment. Learn, if you haven't yet a few skills that allow you to tap into your inner most self. That core that is so sacred and peaceful that no trauma can ever touch. I suggest meditation, yoga, and spending lots of time in nature.
  3. Tapping into the inner self will bring an immense amount of wisdom, and desire to express yourself. Learn skills of creativity like painting and dancing or poetry and drama to share that beautiful content you hold in you with the world.
  4. This sort of experience, if you make it this far will draw people to you. No longer will you search for relationships that are meaningful, people will find you and want to spend time with you to develop themselves. 
  5. You will begin to be reminded of old relationships as new ones are forming and old guilt will develop. That's ego. Continue the course.
  6. See the connection between (the church) and the little peaceful place in you. See the good in it . . . even after all it's trauma see the good, be grateful for the experience. But never go back.
  7. Take time to cultivate a faith that builds on what's inside you rather than what's outside of you. These are purely my suggestions. Do either what you will. I have so much empathy for you. Breathe easy homie.
Leaving is tough. I was the first person to leave in my family and didn't know anyone else who had left before me very well. My family reacted very badly and we went through a time of deep mourning. But time heals. Eventually all (except one) of the relationships I was afraid I may be shunned from accepted who I am . . . I’m planning to go to the conference for second generation former members this year! Feel free to reach out to me! http://www.icsahome.com/events/workshopsgas
My family has left the church (other than father) and I have to say while it's difficult, it was the best thing we ever did. My siblings are happy and excel in sports and school and my mom is remarried and happy. PM me if you ever need someone to talk to!!
Praying for you. You've got us . . . We won't shun you. Moving far away works but it's not for everyone.
Always find what feels right for you - what makes your heart happy and your soul sing. It'll be hard, there's no doubt about it, but you get to choose and I promise it's worth it. I'm here if you need anything.
Know that we are always here for support!
One thing that was difficult for me was to accept "unbelievers." After being taught all my life how sinful they were and self-righteous etc., it took time to realize they're no different from me.
I wish you all the best as you navigate these next steps.
The most important thing to remember is that aside from all of the legalistic issues the church has... they did teach you that your salvation lies only in Jesus Christ, and what you will find that might surprise you is that there are very many dear, dear devout Christians away from the church--what they would call "in the world." They have separated themselves from the rest of the Church of Christ, which is very sad, but there IS a church out there--and many good churches . . . God be with you!
Everyone who searches for God/Jesus with a sincere heart finds Him. It's a promise...
Deuteronomy 4:29 (NIV) 29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Leaving two years ago was the best thing I have ever done for myself and my children. It truly wasn't easy dealing with the back lash, and feeling so incredibly lonely for quite some time, but time and working with a great counselor has helped immensity. My family has since decided to love me and I now choose to see them again. I now have friendships outside of the "church setting" and it's really great knowing we don't just hang out because we go the same church. Besides having more love and compassion for everyone in this world, my relationship with my husband has grown to a new level after leaving.
I also am enjoying watching my children grow up free to see all the beauty this world and all the humans have to offer.  I am fully enjoying my "new life"
Having support while going through it really helps. If you need anything, feel free to reach out. You are not alone.
Readers, if you have advice, or a question of your own, please share in the comment section. Thanks!