"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Notable Extoots: Sara Ranta-Rönnlund

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Notable Extoots: Sara Ranta-Rönnlund

Sara Ranta-Rönnlund ©Norrbottens-Kuriren. Fotograf okänd.
I'm fairly certain that when the first crop of Laestadian babies reached marrying age, they looked around, had a think, and all the nonconformers voted with their feet. They emigrated, if not to a new country, to a new community. They left for school and neglected to return. They took temporary jobs that turned permanent, vacations that lasted years and then forever. They left in anger, in joy, in pain, in doubt, in love, in pieces, intact. They waited, procrastinated, debated, heeded bad advice. They took a spouse, a child, a parent, a heresy, a harem. They left shame behind or brought it along, vanished, made the news, made mistakes, made bail, made good.

A few made history.

I'll call them Notable Extoots. Encountering them in my reading, I felt compelled to share a few with you. I think you'll relate, even to those who lived generations and continents apart.

Sara Ranta-Rönnlund, Swedish Sámi Author, 1903 - 1979

Born to a wealthy Talma Sámi reindeer herding family near Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, Sara Ranta-Rönnlund (shortened to Ranta for this profile) had only sporadic schooling, partly because of the Swedish policy restricting Sámi education, and partly because her mother wanted her home, to help with sewing. Ranta's family spoke Sámi, and she taught herself to read and write Swedish. She also knew Tornedalen Finnish (Meankieli), the majority language of the area and of Laestadian services.

Ranta's parents were devout Western (Firstborn/OALC) Laestadians, and her grandfather often hosted Laestadian meetings. In spite of this, and her godparents being "three great Laestadian preachers," she reported that even at a young age, she found the religion intolerant and restrictive. Ranta was critical of the double standards of the preachers and their power over people.

She married at 23 and lived eleven years in the villages of Nilivaara and Dokkas. Ranta's daughter Eileen's memoir revealed that Ranta was abused by her first husband who "made her young life a hell." After her marriage was annulled, Ranta remarried in 1947 and settled in Gällivare. Of her nine children, two died in infancy. Her second husband died in 1953, after which Ranta moved with Eileen to Uppsala, where two sons attended school.

Ranta supported herself first at a bakery job and then as a cleaning woman, working 17-hour days for many years. While cleaning at Uppsala University's Finno-Ugric Department, she met a professor who persuaded her to write and publish her stories. Ranta made her debut at age 68 with the memoir Nådevalpar (1971) which means "grace puppies," a term Laestadius used for new converts. It comes from his Karesuando 1849 farewell sermon (p. 108):
"May the merciful Lord Jesus give us His grace so that all puppy dogs of grace might be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from His table, and that they would not fight amongst themselves. First: How the puppy dogs sit under the table and watch for fragments. Disgraceful dogs, especially the large hounds of Jiehtanas (namely the big dogs of the evil spirit) that are accustomed to stealing and to licking human blood, do not wait until fragments fall from the table. They leap upon the table and grab the lump of butter and swallow it as if it were nothing. You cannot take it out of the dog's stomach if he has already swallowed it. Such large hounds of Jiehtanas which have lapped broth out of the kettle wherein the devil has boiled human flesh, as well as the stray dogs which eat mice and drink flowing devils’s dung, do not wait for fragments but steal the food out of the hands of people, and if the parent is not with his children, these disgraceful dogs snatch the food away from the children's hands. Therefore, the Savior has said to the woman of Canaan: "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it unto the dogs."
In close succession she published two more memoirs, Njal (1972) and Njoalpas söner (1973). Before her death came a fourth book, Sist i Rajden (1978), about her transition from nomad to settler.

In the following excerpts from Laestadius and Laestadianism in the Contested Field of Cultural Heritage, A Study of Contemporary Sámi and Tornedalian Texts, Ann Heith describes Ranta's attitude toward Laestadianism in her second book, Njal:
(A) Laestadian preacher who also is a representative of the poor relief board is described as a hard-hearted man who will rather save the taxpayers’ money than spend it on a poor, sick old woman: “– Money should not be spent on people like that. No taxpayers’ money will be spent on such people. It is better that they die as quickly as possible.” 
In Ranta-Rönnlund’s reminiscences, the preachers forbade children and young people to read newspapers, and their parents encouraged them to go to prayer meetings and read the preachings of Laestadius. 
Heith contrasts this criticism to the praise in her third book:
The last book, Sist i rajden, includes a positive evaluation of the role of Laestadius in improving living conditions among the Sámi and Finnish speaking population of Norrbotten: When you think back upon how Lars Levi Laestadius in a couple of decades managed to transform Finnish and Lapp-speaking Norrbotten from a true Sodom into one of the most decent parts of the long realm of Sweden, you have to admit that it was a fantastic achievement.
However, this assessment is immediately followed by a section attempting to rationalise the reasons for the success of Laestadianism. This section, with its focus on the role of ideas of sin, contributes to reinforce the predominantly negative depiction of Laestadianism in the previous books. Ranta-Rönnlund’s analysis proposes that Laestadius himself, as well as preachers after him, consciously preached about sin, damnation and the possibility of forgiveness in order to control and manipulate their followers. 
In this context she elaborates upon the preachers’ ever-increasing lists of sins related to novelties such as bicycles and radios, dress, behaviour and so on. 
Heith concludes that Ranta presents Laestadianism as primarily negative, and:
"hostile to modernity, patriarchal and conservative. In this context, the dissemination of ideas of sin is seen as a strategy that preachers used in order to preserve their power.
Ranta's criticism of the "search for sin" is sadly familiar.
 "In my youth I became more and more captured by the calmer way in which God’s words were preached in the Swedish Lutheran National Church. I often felt depressed by Laestadianism’s search for sin, by the blunt behaviour of the preachers towards the weak and the poor and also by the irrational condemnation of flowers, bicycles, handkerchiefs and other things that really belong to practical everyday life."
(One has to marvel that flowers, bicycles, and handkerchiefs were once forbidden. Hope lives that change is still possible in the OALC. Perhaps elderly women could be given a pass on the no-pants silliness, and allowed to wear in public what old men get to wear: pants. Elastic waists make geriatric dressing and toileting easier and safer than struggling with pantyhose and skirts. Maybe I should send a geriatric care guide to the Gentlemen of Gällivare?)

I hope you enjoyed reading about Sara Ranta-Rönnlund. Did any of her experiences or ideas resonate with you?

If you know a Notable you'd like featured, send me a line at extoots@gmail.com or leave a note in the comments. Thanks!


  1. While some of the forbidden things have come to be accepted, it has been my observation that they have been replaced by other, more restrictive things, by each new crop of preachers. It seems new sins and evils are discovered every day in the Laestadian Pandora's Box!

  2. I remember my belly aching, battle axe Laestadian grandmother who originally believed curtains were a sin, refrigerators were a sin, telephones were a sin etc... Then once they became more acceptable she changed her tune and finally got them herself. In the meantime she made her children's life into hell with her demonizing them for their sinful desires. The old biddy used to come to our house screeching at my mother that she was not spiritual enough & leave my mother in emotional shambles and us children crying. Not once did she offer to help out caring for her grandchildren. Ranta said she, "...often felt depressed by Laestadianism’s search for sin, by the blunt behaviour of the preachers towards the weak and the poor and also by the irrational condemnation of flowers, bicycles, handkerchiefs and other things that really belong to practical everyday life." It is essentially the same nowadays. First the internet was a sin but then the Finn construction owners realized that their business could not survive unless they were advertsing their business on the net. Presto!!! All of a sudden use of the internet for business purposes was okay. As I said before, anything that Laestadians like or which is convenient for the lives or is something that their friends do is okay. But anything that they do not like or not needed by them personally or is done by some one they do not like is labeled a sin.
    The more they say they have changed, the more they have stayed the same.
    Old AP

    1. So you noticed that too huh? I have noticed in my youth those who criticized believers with fine clothing as vain and those with large, comfortable homes as "house proud." Like they were more spiritual in their poverty or modesty, somehow.

      Funny but some of those same people upon gaining more materially have certainly cast their humble roots aside. And their parents seem very proud of thei wealth. Oh well.

    2. Punahilkka, The sheer amount of hypocricy became nauseating to me. The former struggling carpenter who formerly rebuked others of 'worldliness' suddenly struck it rich and then came the fancy home with bronzed bathroom fixtures and chandeliers. Suddenly the same person changed their tune & they were quoted saying saying that what mattered was what was 'in their hearts' and those school sports were now okay as long as one was not 'carried away' with it. Oh and that radio? Well now it was okay as long as one listened only to the news and traffic reports to avoid delays while heading to the construction project. How about those 'devils horns' in the church...aka microphones? Well they became okay on a one time basis for the soft spoken guest speaker as no one could hear him and then later on some one realized that 1/2 of the old folks could not even hear the regular speaker so all of a sudden microphones were grudgingly accepted. How about an organ in the church? Well you can have one in your house but not in the church blah, blah, blah....and do not eat sugary foods either according to the book, 'Sugar Blues' which was all the rage in the 1970's. I suppose I could list 20 pages of hypocricy and double-mindedness if I really wanted to but then again it would only confirm what most Laestadians have grudgingly learned to live with all of their lives. It then should come as no surprise that as a former member I now notice that so many current members seem to have a rather flat affect. Old AP

  3. Over the years I (Old AP) has asked himself if 'SCRUPULOSITY' is the real root cause of so much of Laestadian based guilt? Read the following article and decide for yourself:
    What is Scrupulosity?
    A form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involving religious or moral
    obsessions. Scrupulous individuals are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine.
    What are the symptoms of scrupulosity? Common obsessions seen in scrupulosity include excessive concerns about:
    • Blasphemy
    • Having committed a sin
    • Behaving morally
    • Purity
    • Going to hell
    • Death
    • A loss of impulse control
    Besides excessive worry about religious and moral issues, scrupulosity sufferers engage
    in mental or behavioral compulsions.
    Behavioral compulsions could include:
    • Excessive trips to confession
    • Repeatedly seeking reassurance from religious leaders and loved ones
    • Repeated cleansing and purifying rituals
    • Acts of self-sacrifice
    • Avoiding situations (for example, religious services) in which they believe a religious or moral error would be especially likely or cause something bad to happen
    Mental compulsions could include:
    • Excessive praying (sometimes with an emphasis on the prayer needing to be
    • Repeatedly imagining sacred images or phrases
    • Repeating passages from sacred scriptures in one’s head
    • Making pacts with God
    How can scrupulosity be distinguished from normal religious practice?
    Unlike normal religious practice, scrupulous behavior usually exceeds or disregards religious law and may focus excessively on one trivial area of religious practice while other, more important areas may be completely ignored. The behavior of scrupulous individuals is typically inconsistent with that of the rest of the faith community.
    How common is scrupulosity?
    Unfortunately this is not yet known.
    Is scrupulosity more common among people of a particular faith?
    Scrupulosity is an equal opportunity disorder. It can affect individuals from a variety of different faith traditions. Although more research is needed to truly answer this question, there is currently no evidence to link scrupulosity to a specific religion.
    Are people with scrupulosity more or less religious than others?
    OCD makes it harder to practice one’s faith. However, there is no evidence that the moral or religious character of scrupulosity sufferers is any different from that of other people. Many notable religious leaders have struggled with this condition, including St. Ignatius Loyola, Martin Luther, St. Alphonsus Liguori, John Bunyan, and St. Veronica Giullani.
    What causes scrupulosity?
    The exact cause of scrupulosity is not known. Like other forms of OCD, scrupulosity may be the result of several factors including genetic and environmental influences.
    Can scrupulosity be treated?
    Scrupulosity responds to the same treatments as those used with other forms of OCD. Cognitive behavior therapy featuring a procedure called “exposure and response prevention” is the primary psychological treatment for scrupulosity. A certain kind of medicines called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) is the primary drug treatment for OCD. Treatment for scrupulosity may also include consultation from leaders of the patient’s faith tradition. Are other members of a person’s faith community ever involved in therapy for scrupulosity? Yes, sometimes. It depends on the preferences and needs of the individual. There are a couple of ways in which religious leaders, family members, or friends from the individual’s faith community can be helpful. They may be asked to help clarify a religious institution’s stance on a particular issue relevant to the scrupulosity sufferer. The therapist may also ask them to learn new ways to help support the patient’s recovery
    process. Author: C. Alec Pollard is a Professor of Family and Community Medicine and the Director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute.

  4. While doing genealogy research I noticed that the majority of my Finnish foreparents had lived in the same small agrarian Ostrobothnian townships for upwards of 500 years according to the church records. All of them apparantly were torpparlaiset farmers. The records show that over time a fairly large number of them ended up marrying distant cousins, they all lived blue collar farming lives, they never seemed to travel, they all were baptized into the state church, they all had large families and nothing ever seemed to change with them from one generation to the next.
    Then when 'American fever' struck a number of them bailed out and came to the US and Canada. The majority of Finns have since assimilated into American life with the exception of the Laestadians. So it got me to thinking, most of the Laestadians I know exchanged torpparlaiset farming for work in the construction industry or some other blue collar employment, my informal notes show that over time a fairly large number have ended up marrying distant cousins, their families all live blue collar lives, they never seem to have much interest in travelling outside of their church circles, they all were baptized into the Laestadian church, they all seem to have large families and nothing ever really changes with them from one generation to the next. It finally dawned on me that modern day Laestadians have pretty much have held onto a rigid 500-year old lifestyle pattern and mentality that has not really changed despite the trans-oceanic geographical move.
    While this might seem okay I realized that this rigid and fixed mindset has permeated Laestadian religious views also. In other words no one seems to have an inclination to question aloud whether the fundamental tenants of the Laestadian views of faith are really Biblical or not. Hence the rigid views on church exclusivity, confession and absolution, pet sin preaching, hell and damnation etc... never really change. My guess is that by and large Laestadians needs to stay within their 500 year comfort zone. Old AP

  5. I was just discussing issues related to this with one of my sisters recently. (With one sister, I can discuss things openly and agree to disagree -- but we have dialogue. With the other sister, I have learned to never allow a conversation to turn to religion.)

    I asked about how these "new sins" are being identified, since she grew up in the same place I did, and school sports and other things were always accepted (except by a couple of families). She kind of sadly said that these new sins are being dictated by the "elders" in Sweden. This seems to me to be nothing more than someone with no standing or authority in a community to try exert power over people in a church. That's called bullying. Of course, they are also building their flock with the encouragement for teenage marriages, dozens of kids, and the fable that their worldly poverty -- including not being able to afford to put kids into schools is somehow righteous. Instead, they should work hard (and they certainly do that) and delight in that poverty.