After I left the Laestadian Lutheran Church (LLC), I came into feel and know that there was such a thing as a personal relationship with God, writes ”Finally Free” in her story at the former Laestadians’ forum Postlaestadianrevival. She describes her personal emotions and experiences which she had to met after leaving the church where she had been a member ever since her childhood and where her parents, family and friends still continues to stay.
It is interesting to notice how alike experiences people seem to meet in their leaving processes related to any branch of Laestadian revival movement, or any other fundamentalist and strict group. It is nearly unbelievable that even the details e.g. the inequality of social interplay and structures in the local congre-gation, experiences of shunning and being intimidated are precisely similar in Finland and in the US. Also aloof parent-child relationships and tendency to leave home very young in early adulthood in the Laestadian families are identified on both sides of the Atlantic.
Countless stories have demonstrated that leaving the Laestadian faith and congregation is a difficult and traumatic experience. It means often that you have to rebuild yourself and to recognise your inner self and identity totally again. Unfortunately, you will often get disowned from the family. In addition to the spiritual and mental difficulties some people have even lost also their job in case they worked for a company owned by Laestadians.
The exit is best done if you are well prepared (N.B. look at the steps!) and with a support system outside of the church, as here ”Finally Free” has told on her survival. There have been many such exits where e.g. a young family or a single person has left the church, found connection with other ex-laestadians and got new and safe direction with peer support in the life.
The LLC is one of the eight branches of Laestadian revival movement in America. It is a sister organisation of SRK (Suomen rauhanyhdistysten keskusyhdistys ry.) in Finland. They are, as in Finland called, Conservative Laestadian organisations with many dozens of local congregations.
* * *
I never fit in with the ”cool” kids… I tried very hard to fit in from about ages 12-15, but realized that I’d never fit in. I found a few friends that also didn’t fit in, and found friends from school that were not in the LLC. The first time I ”dropped out” was at age 16. My parents caught me sneaking out to a party, and I told them that I didn’t believe. Oh, and they also found my stash of ”bad” cd’s..but I managed to get them back .
A few months after that, I ”repented”, but only because it was too hard to live at home with my family as an ”unbeliever”. My parents didn’t trust me because of it, so I just faked it.
I knew that once I graduated high school and could move out, that I would leave the LLC behind for good.
It was the rules that got me. I didn’t understand why it was wrong to watch TV/movies, wear make up, listen to ”wordly” music..etc. I didn’t think about what they believed, but didn’t know any other way since that was all I’d ever been taught.
When I turned 18, I moved out from my parents, and in with a friend. It was hard. I didn’t have a very good relationship with my family, and even though I didn’t move far, we barely saw eachother, and didn’t talk much. It was so awkward whenever I was visiting my family. I partied alot, and tried not to think about anything to do with religion.
I met a wonderful man a few months after I moved out. About a year later, when we were planning our wedding, we started the marriage prep. course that was required by the minister marrying us. He was so kind, and accepting! Of course he didn’t like that we were living together, but he didn’t judge us for it. He treated us the same as he would treat anyone else.
It was very eye opening to hear him explain the different parts of the Bible we were studying. I had never heard it explained like that! That was when I realized that there is so much more out here than what the LLC teaches.
I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a personal relationship with God. When the minister talked about our personal walks with God, he was probably surprised when I said I had no idea what he was talking about!
Since then I have learned alot from reading posts on this site , and the extoots site , and also of reading the Bible. My husband and I have not found a church that we attend regularly, but I know that God has not forgotten about me just because I am not a Laestadian.
I used to wish that I would’ve been raised in a non-Laestadian family. I thought that it would have been so much easier. Now, I am happy for what I have been through. It made me who I am today, and leaving has made me a stronger person.
Now, my relationship with my parents and siblings is pretty good. (Having a child helped!) We visit there, and they even come to our house, and its not awkward anymore.
Author: ”Finally Free” (at the forum Postlaestadianrevival).
* * *
Laestadian Lutheran Church, one of the 19 branches in the Laestadian revival movement
The Laestadian Lutheran Church is a Christian revival movement, one of the 19 Laestadian groups. There exist eight Laestadian branches nowadays in North America where this in Swedish Lapland born revival movement arrived with Finnish immigrants. The total amount of all Laestadians in North America is approximately 29 000–32 000. The number of Laestadians worldwide is estimated to be between 144,000 and 219,000, most of them in Finland (80,000 – 110,000).
LLC is working in the US and Canada. From 1973, after one of the many disagreements and conflicts among the Laestadians, the organisation was name the Association of American Laestadian Congregations (AALC), before the association changed its name in 1994 to Laestadian Lutheran Church. As of 2009, the church has 29 member congregations in the United States and Canada, with highest concentrations of members in Minnesota, Washington, Arizona, Michigan in the United States and in Saskatchewan, Canada. LCC has 68 preachers, nearly all of them lay preachers.
The Church teaches that it is a sin to watch movies, listen to rhythmic music, dance, wear makeup, and partake in other activities that are considered worldly. Very crucial elements in the Laestadian dogmatics are norms regarding sexuality. The birth control, pre-marital sex and same-sex relationships are forbidden. The Laestadian revival movement is split between several different branches whose attitudes towards birth control, television, music, and other “worldly” issues vary to some extent.
In general, Laestadians attach a high value to family life and work, but are often less concerned about education. The movement is strongly dominated by men, and women are not allowed to preach nor having equal opportunities to become a supervisor in the congregation. There are many bans or “sins” which are controlling especially the behavior and life of women. Women are idolised only as mothers. The argument to the ban of birth control is that children are regarded as a gift from God.
In the past time the Laestadian women married as very young, and some do still today. However, this is going to change because of the higher education of women (at least in Finland). Many laestadian women do not get married even after they turn 30 because they realise that they would have to get into the role of motherhood immediately. They don’t want to abandon their careers and yet, they don’t wish to leave the Church either, because their friends and family belong to it.
However, their chances to find a partner are usually gone because there in the congregation are not anymore left suitable men left. It is not allowed marrying outside of the Laestadian community (endogamy). As a result of this exclusive norm there are unusual big amount of women living as involuntary singles.
The important aspect about the community and beliefs that binds them together is that the Laestadian believer needs some other Laestadian one to forgive the sins. Based on their ”Doctrine of the Keys,” they believe that (LLC-)Laestadians only have the power to forgive sins and that without hearing the ”word of reconciliation” in the preaching of the LLC church or by way of personal absolution by some Laestadian person a sinner cannot be forgiven and saved. Most of the other Laestadian branches teach the exactly same belief.
In Northern Europe, the association’s sister organizations of LLC are the Conservative Laestadians’ Central Association of the Finnish Associations of Peace (Suomen rauhanyhdistysten keskusyhdistys) in Finland, the Sveriges fridsföreningarnas centralorganisation in Sweden, and the Estonian Lutheran Association of Peace (Eesti Luterlik Rahuühendus).
* * *
Please be free to give your comments here or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laestadian-ism – political theology and civil religion: a blog of researchers focusing on Laestadianism, politics and society.
How to Leave the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church (Useful guidelines for everyone who consider to leave Conservative Laestadian community, too. The model has been a starting point in planning those steps in Finnish.)
Kuka ja mikä minä oikeasti olen? (Dr. Saara Tuomaala on identity etc., in Finnish)
Etniset vanhoillislestadiolaiset (The Ethnic Laestadians: a concept and definitions, in Finnish)
Sami Ojala: Uuras Saarnivaara Pohjois-Amerikan lestadiolaisuuden historiankirjoittajana. Pro gradu -tutkielman esittely.
Valmisteilla väitöstutkimus Pohjois-Amerikan lestadiolaisuudesta 1880–1920-luvuilla. Päivämies 13.9.2014.