Keskellä Rauhanyhdistyksen seurasalia seisoo jättimäinen virtahepo. Ihmisiä tulee sisään oven täydeltä. Jätettyään takkinsa naulakkoon ja asettuvat penkkiin. Virtahepo kääntyilee siellä edessä ja mulkoilee väkeä. Mutta kaikki penkeissään ovat kuin eivät näkisi tilanteessa mitään outoa. Kuin … Lue koko artikkeli…
– Never give up to think critically about every ideology. Know that you are worth it.- Anonymous.
A Finnish young woman wrote touching description about her current life situation considering how to deal with the dilemma she is facing with the Laestadian beliefs which her family and friends are believing.
”I’m a 17-year-old female high school student in Finland. When it comes to religion, I’d say that out of all the young finnish people most are atheists (myself included).
However, I was born to a very strict and raging religion called … Read more – Lue koko artikkeli…
Vanhoillislestadiolaisen yhteisön jättäminen merkitsee käytännössä koko entisen elämän hylkäämistä. Nimi poistetaan puhelinluettelosta. – Kirjailija Hanna Pylväinen.
Näin toteaa palkittu amerikkalainen esikoiskirjailija Hanna Pylväinen. Pylväinen kasvoi Detroitin esikaupunkialueella vanhoillislestadiolaisessa suurperheessä. Nyt hän on kiitetty esikoiskirjailija, Lue koko artikkeli…
A Conservative Laestadian Kari, a man in his thirties, says that he is deeply hurt how the Laestadianist ban of contraceptives is seen generally as a problem only for women. – Outsiders see the men even as tyrants who oppress their wives. Most fathers are victims just like the mothers, says Kari, a father of five. However, Laestadian women self often doesn’t accept birth control although suffering of the whole family and health dangers would be absolutely obvious. It seems that people does’nt know that there does not exist any biblical nor Christian position against contraception.
The Conservative Laestadians’ (Laestadian Lutheran Church’s) teachings ban Lue koko artikkeli…
The women rights have got a important step forward, when the Finland’s First Conservative Laestadian Female Priest, Mrs. Mari Leppänen, was secretly ordained as priest in 2012, in order to start her work in Lieto parish, near to Turku. Listen here the detalis of the issues in English (information on womens’ rights and bans in the Conservative Laestadian movement in general, too).
Also Mrs. Rebekka Naatus, a journalist, divorced Laestadian woman is making waves by speaking out against the treatment of women with the movement to which she belongs.
Rebekka Naatus, the PR and information officer of Evangelical Lutheran parishes in Oulu, has published an article about these questions in an anthology Iloisen talon kellareissa (”In the Cellars of a Merry House”, not translated in English). She has been interviewed in media on the womens’ situation in the biggest revival movement in the country, Conservative Laestadianism. Are their bodies really their own, or has the religious community colonised them to reproduction where no anyone is allowed to refuse?
The focus is in the problems following from the very tight and strict community of the religious or rather ”ethnic” group. The community has a strong power in the individual’s everyday life and in the choice of personal lifestyle. …Read more…
Rovasti Olavi Voittonen, SRK:n puheenjohtaja, on antanut julkisuuteen lausunnon televisiokiellosta. Hän toteaa että vanhoillis-lestadiolaiset ovat ”lasten suojelemiseksi kieltäytyneet tv:stä kotien piirissä”.
– Opetusvälineenä se palvelee esimerkiksi koululaitoksessa, Voittonen perustelee Kotimaa24:ssä.
Mitä tämä nyt siis tarkoittaa? ”Opetusvälineenä se palvelee”? Tietenkin television kauta voidaan välittää opetusohjelmia. Itsestäänselvää. Mutta mikä on vanhoillislestadiolaisuuden kanta uskovaisen television hankkimiseen ja sen ohjelmien seuraamiseen normaalista tv-vastaanottimesta?
Tarkoittaako Voittonen, että uskovaisen ei tarvitse ”kieltäytyä televisiosta” silloin, jos on lapseton, tai jos hänen lapsensa ovat jo aikuisia? Lue koko artikkeli…
Childless aunts especially spoiled the big family with treasures in Christmas, say The Hannukselas about their Christmas in the past when their children were still young and at home. ”We have fourteen children, and we are happy.” says Eira. ”Every child is received with joy, says her husband Matti. The Conservative Laestadians do not allow any birth control because they believe that it is wrong to prevent the God to create new human beings to be born and live on the earth. Any sort of birth control is taught to be a sin. However, ”we don’t have any rules”, says their daughter Sanna, mother for 14 children. Lue koko artikkeli…
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.
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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).
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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).
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Please be free to give your comments here or by e-mail: email@example.com.
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.
This posting discusses the experience of growing up in an extremely religious, closed community and later leaving to join the outside world. We’ll first discuss the Laestadian experience, and next draw attention to some resources from the experiences of some other groups.
This is intended to describe the ”typical” experience of leaving, but since we know there is no such thing as one typical experience. There are as many personal experiences and stories as individual persons. Please forgive us if our description doesn’t match your experience.
However, one of our foundings is that problems we meet in the process of leaving laestadian community are universal and known by many others who leave any religious compulsory community (or such one non-religious). – Please be free to give your comment here, or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be brave enough to decide
Often you have considered it seriously for years what to do, to stay or to leave. You have experienced that it’s also difficult to stay but be opposed to some the doctrine and rules. Maybe you have tried to leave – and you came back. This yo yo phenomenon is familiar for us indeed. It shows how full of self-contradictory emotions, difficult aspects and stressing feelings the situation is. The loss of community can be very painful.
Whenever we leave a religion we give up the benefits that are promised to us by the doctrine of the Laestadian faith. Most of us will sooner or later replace it with benefits from some other belief system – or give up the benefit entirely. I suppose that it is more unlikely to totally loose the belief in the existense of a god than still continue to trust in God’s protection in the individual’s life. However, I don’t have any evidence on this.
We get from our growing and childhood in the Conservative Laestadian community is a sense of belonging and comfort as we are amongst familiar people who understand and know us.
Leaving the faith creates anxiety and fear because we by definition give up this comfort and feeling to belong into the group. In addition to this, leaving a religion is doubly scary because we give up the benefits, the benefits that are promised to us by that particular doctrine: eternal salvation, eternal life after the dead…with our relatives and friends, as well.
Thus, it is not surprising that this is a difficult transition to make.
You are uncomfortable and insecure because you have 18 years of never learning how to pursue hobbies, other than those approved by the church. People wonder how you can be this old and never have gone to a movie or danced or applied mascara. It is strange, but wonderful, exiting and interesting at the same time.
Exclusion as a church doctrine is one detail which is hurting hard you personally and in a very concrete way. They will share their private greeting with each other: ”God’s Peace!” This greeting will not be shared with you anymore, if you do not attend their church. When you are together attending a family party they will say it to all of the community members present in the room, but not to you, if you are among them in the same room. Some of them would not even acknowledge your existence and avoid to be near you.
It happens, that one of your small cousins would say ” Gods Peace” to you, and then you will see that his mother pull him aside in front of you and tell him what he did wrong. Your name to all of your laestadian relatives is the unbeliever. Be prepared into becoming stigmatized and despiced.
Just the exclusion was one of the reasons why many of us left.
A life as my true self
Growing up in the Laestadian community, you feel a deep sense of warm belonging. (The sense of community and need for belonging seems to be very hot and wanted in our life.) There are strict rules, and these rules clearly delineate how you should live your life. You know exactly what is good and what is bad and strive to make your life conform to the rules, at least publicly.
You are thaught that the outside world is filled with atheists and dead faith churches. These people are on a lower plane of value because they are not part of the community. They, even the most honourable of them, are going to hell. You feel as if the community is a refuge from a cold outside world, filled with ravening wolves. The people who make up the outside world are not diverse and not individuals; instead they are an undistinguishable mass of people ”in the world.”
There are many community mechanisms to keep you in the group.
The fear of those worldly wolves is drilled into your head from childhood. You fear losing your sense of community and belonging. You know that if you leave, you will be tarred as a rebellious sinner who wants to pursue just money, pleasure and easy, frivolous way of life instead of remain faithful to God and be satisfied with His grace.
Despite these incentives to remain, you decide to leave. Perhaps, the central tenets of the community no longer seem true. If the community is based on a lie, it becomes empty to you. Or maybe you are driven out from being constantly repressed in how you choose to dress, or your friend, a significant other.
Regardless of why you leave, the outside world appears to be a place where you can best live as your true self. Upon leaving, you feel the sudden loss of community.
As a typical Laestadian, the community was your world. You likely didn’t take part in outside social groups such as sports or student groups, and your friends were all from the church. Now, the community is gone.
In addition to losing the community, you lose the rules. No longer do you have a clear roadmap that tells you how to be holy and how to live your life. You must create this roadmap on your own. To decide what to follow you should know yourself – but you probably have not yet met your real authentic self… it is still coming, you just have to find and create yourself from the beginning again.
You often feel resentment at having missed out on the many things you learn others did in their childhoods. You are suddenly eighteen or more years behind in learning the rules of how to behave in the wider world. You may find another church to attend or perhaps you just swear off religion entirely. You may like to concentrate yourself in everyday life and forget all the damned spiritual stories.
On the positive side, you learn the world has some decent people, and is not made up entirely of ravening wolves, as you were taught.
Nonetheless, the outside world often cannot understand your experience. Although they offer sympathy and express amazement when they hear your story, they cannot understand what you feel.
Some even go so far as to question why you ever left, thinking you simply succumbed to outside peer pressure to conform and denied your unique cultural heritage.
How they meet you…
Since you have left the Laestadian community, you will live your life like banished, judged in the ostracism related with your previous social life.
When you meet your family, you will meet cruelty and you try to understand it in your mind: What did I do to deserve to be treated so poorly, all I wanted was to belong, to have a family, but it hurts… I was not wanted, it is a surprise to them that I still have morals, and that I’m not pregnant out of wedlock and that I’m not addicted to drugs. But don’t you believers know, I’m a equal person too… All I ever wanted was to belong to a family…
You have to create an attitude, a mindset and get practical tools how you can protect yourself to get hurted and wounded by your family and the closest people. You have to find ways to avoid hard emotional injuries and damages when you meet them.
Thousands of similar and even worse experiences…
The Internet has provided ways to share experiences and help for people who would like to leave their strict religious movement. There are available personal stories, discussion forums for peer-help groups and sources to support to survive in the leaving process. It is good to know that there are many others out there like you.We mention here some of the most useful sources. Please let us know when you know more.
Learning to live free blog (OALC)
Hakomaja: information archive and discussion forum (in Finnish)
Steps to get rid of Conservative Laestadian movement: Askeleet irti SRK-Lestadiolaisuudesta (in Finnish).
Laestadians are not the only ones to go through the feelings of leaving. Another group to experience these feelings are e.g. people who left the strict, closed form of Judaism known as Hasidism .
Like in the Laestadian community, there is also a strong sense of community in the Hasid community, but there is also fighting for power and factionalism.
Also the groups of the Amish and Mennonnites has similar doctrines and rules as laestadians, some even crueler ones. The process of leaving tose communities is prevalent.
When the Amish leave, they often experience social ostracism as bad or even worse than what some former Laestadians experience; e.g. Saloma’s blog.
Being authentic – You’ll survive and see the wide world
From the experiences of the former Hasid, Amish, or others, former Laestadians can realize their experiences are not unique and are often easier than the experiences of many from other similar groups. Former Laestadians are usually able to earn a living in the wider world and can eventually re-define themselves as successful and free, even if worldly.
By reading those experiences you will learn that while others may not have had identical experiences, many people (especially racial and sexual minorities) have also experienced being a ”stranger in a strange land.”
You find that your understanding and empathy for the dispossessed makes you a trusted friend and natural advocate.
Having found the courage to leave, very little can frighten you, least of all the social opprobrium of others. You are confident and able to connect easily with people regardless of socio-economic barriers. You have a high regard for reason, honesty, compassion, and inclusion, and attempt to model these values in your relationships. Your intellectual and spiritual curiosity never allows you to stagnate. You find life rich and exciting.
While sometimes you are nostalgic for the close-knit community you left, you find incomparable satisfaction in being authentic, and in being a citizen of the world.
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Authors: the extraordinary fine text and background info by Rhyming Blue, modified and completed by an ad hoc group of ex laestadians – Our warmest thanks to you, Rhyming Blue, and the beautiful blog Learning To Live Free!
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Please be free to give your comments here or by e-mail: email@example.com.
Anonymous: I left the Conservative Laestadian movement
Edward Dutton: Conservative Laestadians in Oulu
Leanne Waldal: How does “sweetie” become shunned? (On ostracism after leaving Leastadian church; also interesting comments)
Anonymous: Vanhoillislestadiolaisuudesta irtaantumisen tunteet (Emotions within leaving Conservative Laestadianism, written by a young man who left the community in 2009; in Finnish)
How to Leave the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church (Useful guidelines for people who consoder to leave Conservative Laestadian community, too. This model has been a starting point in planning those steps in Finnish.)
Nuoret jättävät vanhoillislestadiolaisuuden – suuri syntyvyys ei kasvata jäsenmäärää (The young generation leaves Conservative Laestadianism – number of members doesn’t grow despite the high birth rate; in Finnish)
NYT-liitteessä: Miltä tuntuu luopua uskosta? (An interview in NYT Magazine: How did you feel to leave the religious community, in Finnish)
Amartya Sen: Identity and Violence (a review of The Guardian)
Syntinen ja sairas: Äiti tyttärelle: “Kun lapsi kieltää uskon, se on pahempi kuin lapsen kuolema.” (Mother to her daughter: ”When you leave it is worse than you were dead”, in Finnish)
Vanhoillislestadiolaisuus ja Jehovan todistajat: eniten hengellistä väkivaltaa (A research on religious violence, in Finnish)
The Laestadian Lutheran Church, the sister organisation of the Conservative Laestadian community in Finland (SRK ry.)
is a conservative Lutheran revival movement which was started in the middle of the 19th century and is named after the Swedish-Sami botanist and preacher Lars Levi Laestadius. The doctrine is characterised by Pietistic and Moravian influences. The term ”Laestadian” is used as an umbrella to refer to all churches and groups with a clear succession of belief from his teachings. Different groups follow his ideas in various degrees, and they have created more or less strict lifestyle rules (what is considered a sin). The number of Laestadians worldwide is estimated to be between 144 000 and 219 000 (Wikipedia).
Laestadians are the largest revival movement in the Nordic countries. The biggest groups live in Finland with about 130 000 members. In Sweden they are thought to number 10,000 – mostly found in the north of the country around the Torne Valley. Laestadian movement has churches and congregations also in the US and Canada.
The deeply conservative faith broke into three branches – The Firstborn Laestadianism, Reawakening, and Conservative Laestadianism – in the beginning of the 20th century. The groups are shattered again in the 20 Century, in Finland and other countries, and today is counted 19 Laestadian groups but about 15 groups still active. Some Laestadian groups, e.g. the Conservative Laestadian congregation in Finland (SRK ry.) consider themselves the one, true Christian church, and preach that all other Christian churches (including other branches of the Laestadian tradition) are not true Christians.
Conservative Laestadianism in Finland is the biggest Laestadian group. It is also the biggest revival movement inside of the Church of Finland, with about 100 000 members.
In fact, it is quite strange that the Conservative Laestadian revival movement works inside of the Lutheran church, for it’s excluding attitude towards the other memebers of the national Christian church. The priest who get their earnings at work for the curch of Finland would not say this openly in the sunday worship in the church that the other members in the congragation are not true Christians to be saved. But afterwards they teach this when they preach in the Laestadians’s meetings at local ”Rauhanyhdistys” house.
Conservative Laestadians’ central management is The Central Committee of Conservative Laestadian Congregations (SRK ry.) leading 188 local “associations of peace”. The local congregations have over 34 000 members. It is not compulsary to formally join the association.
The community will grow rapidly in the next decades in case that people will stay in the Laestadian faith. Today there are over 50 000 children and young people (under 18 years) growing in the Conservative Laestadian families in Finland. As the movement is so big today, it has remarkable power and influence not only in the church but also at the political, public administrative, religional and cultural level in Finland, and also in the national media. Especially in the northern Finlad are towns where there everyone who’s anyone is a Laestadian. The future will show how the active young Conservative Laestadian’s generation will act and influence in the society and in the national church.
Laestadians are taught to consider a sin television, cinema and movies, dance, rhythmic music, performing arts such as concerts, theatre and opera, also alcohol, hair dye, make-up, ear rings, birth control, premarital sex, divorce and homosexual relationships, and many other sins (list of sins in Finnish). Especially in the Conservative Laestadianism the believers have to follow those lifestyle rules, or ”providential advice”, or “congregation’s advice” as they modestly call them, decided by the preachers and the Central Committee of the SRK (those rules doesn’t include the Bible nor the Lutheran Catechism).
Laestadian asceticism is distinguished from many other fundamentalist Christians in that just few of the norms are officially ”proscribed” openly, banned by any official decision. Actually, in Finland justa bans of birth control, television, singing in choir , working as performing musician and concerts are results of the official decisions of the management of the Conservative Laestadian revival movement. (The Central Committee of Conservative Laestadian Congregations).
Rather, Laestadians do control eachothers themselves, they are on the look out for eachothers, and they employ a reinforcing system of social feedback to encourage abstention of the banned behaviour. The ultimate threat is ostracisism, i.e. segregation, exclusion from fellowship in the common congregation. The board of the congregations maintains this social control in keeping with the beliefs of the church.
Leaving the strict confines of Conservative Laestadianism can be a shock.
A young woman who has abandoned her faith speaks of confusion at what happens next.
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I can remember exactly how I felt on that day. The weather was very beautiful in Helsinki. I walked on the sunny street with my head held high, and smiled at people walking by. I felt incomprehensible joy.
I grew up in a Conservative Laestadian family in North Ostrobothnia (Finland). Our everyday lives did not actually differ much from those of our non-Laestadian neighbours, except that we had no television, we did not run our lawn mowers in Sunday, and on Sundays we attended services with the other Laestadians of the village.
Contrary to what some other children said, I never took hell very seriously. However, I did feel that losing the faith would be very sad. On the other hand, there were many advantages to living as a person with faith, the biggest of which was that you got to go to heaven.
The third and most important way to protect the faith was not use one’s own sense of reason. We were told that reason can take our faith away. If one’s reason or experiences conflict with faith, one needed to become humble and to see the blessings of the common line of the congregation.
I tried to clarify to myself what the Laestadian way of life was based on. Other practices, such as total abstinence from alcohol, had emerged in the late 19th century. Negative views toward television and popular music, for instance, had come up in the 1950s and 1960s. The linkage of these practices with God, faith, and morality began to feel inconceivable to me. I wanted to distinguish between cultural habits and faith.
As I did not want to leave the Laestadian community, I committed to observing practices that I felt were without foundation.
It was emphasised at services that it is not about rules, but rather the fact that a Laestadian wants to operate in a certain way. I recall how I preferred to speak about desires, rather than rules. I was pained to read newspaper articles about things that Laestadians “were not allowed to do”. The question was about what I wanted to do or to choose!
I knew already at the age of 13 that I did not want to be the mother of a big family. It was not until I was over the age of 20 that I said out loud that I cannot stand the idea of a big family. My friends answered that “you can’t know in advance what it will be like”.
Some felt that faith is that people are encouraged to push their reason aside in big matters. For me rejecting reason would have been an abandonment of my own psyche.
At the age of 25 I decided to leave the community. it was the most honest and most sustainable solution.
I will never forget those moments. I remember the expressions on the people’s faces, the silence, the first words.
Leaving a religious movement is often described as a liberation from stressful rules. That is certainly the case to some degree. I was liberated from representing people other than myself. I was able to go to an Alko to buy a bottle of rum for a cake, and I didn’t have to explain to other Laestadians why I was doing it.
Instead of liberation I mainly experienced confusion. When nobody was defining my limits on my behalf, then where are those limits, and do they exist at all. This phase included some comical excesses.
In many situations I felt like an outsider. Maria, one of the main characters of Kielletty hedelmä, orders her first drink in a bar, saying “Two … something with alcohol in it”. The scene is as if it were straight from my life. I still have to concentrate in a bar to remember what kinds of drinks actually exist.
I have many Laestadian friends who have thought the same thoughts that I did, but who do not want to leave the community. For some of them, the mystery of the faith is important, and for others, it is the sense of community. Some, for their part, say that they are there out of force of habit, or because they do not want to disappoint their parents. These are all understandable reasons.
Kielletty hedelmä depicts the unravelling of a world picture focussing on duality. Maria urges Raakel to drink alcohol, saying “you have to understand what all of this is”.
Recognising the ordinary was a relief for me. The Laestadian world was not inherently good, and the rest of the world was not inherently evil. It was also not the case that the Laestadian world would have been insignificant, and that life outside would have been exciting to the point of intoxication.
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