Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thinking About

The news that the SRK in Finland is (finally) confessing its culpability in widespread child sexual abuse gives hope that American Laestadian churches will do the same. It may take a strong Laestadian like Dr. Johanna Hurtig to ask the tough questions and refuse to be rebuffed.

A Laestadian and child welfare advocate, Dr. Hurtig was involved in bringing the abuse issues to light. Her perspective is nuanced and in my experience, accurate. As someone who was molested as a child, I know there are many factors that lead to abuse in the church, including a strong emphasis on obedience (children are unable to develop personal boundaries), misognyny (females are responsible for male sexual acts, and female honor is secondary to male honor), and the practice of repentance, in which the victim is required to simply forgive, and the perpetrator is given a blank slate. But there are other factors, too.

When asked "Do you feel that there are characteristics in the movement that can lead to abuse?" this was Dr. Hurtig's response (read the entire interview here):

“I am only starting to ponder the reasons. The experiences of the victims bring out distortions of forgiveness, and the fatigue of large families. Children can sometimes find it hard to get enough attention from adults, and to become conscious of their rights when they grow up in a large group. Exhausted parents are not always capable of sensing their children’s needs and if they are feeling all right.”

“Also the position of women, restrictions linked with sexuality, and the strong community faith can have an effect. When the community itself is seen to be sacred, its structures and practices are not examined in a critical manner. It can hide extreme evil.”

“But matters in the culture, the community, and in the teaching do not cause these cases on their own. An overwhelming majority live healthy and responsible lives. There has to be some other factor, for instance, a distorted way of thinking which sexualizes children, and which is passed down from one generation to the next.”


What do you think? What reforms are needed to protect the vulnerable, some of whom -- as you read this -- are suffering? Is there a Dr. Hurtig among the American Laestadians who will dare speak for them?

9 comments:

  1. Wow, what a breakthrough! I hope American Laestadians take heart. There are too many wounded people who have been rejected by their communities when they have exposed sexual abuse and other wrongdoings. They become villified. I remember my mother telling me that men were not to be trusted and it was up to women to hold up the standards of sexual morality. When the subject of sexual abuse ever were brought up, she said little, but that it made her worry about her SONS, that they might commit such an act because of sheer horniness, or whatever. She never once expressed worry her daughters might be victimized because she saw any transgression as the girls fault, no matter how young her age. I was terrified of losing my virginity before marriage. Later I did learn that most of my friends reached the altar as non-virgins, in fact, it was the more promiscuous girls who had the most dates and married the youngest. I was raised in such a small isolated community hours away from the larger Laestadian community, so I really didn't have the back story of the real social conditions in the church.

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  2. ex falc says-

    The sexual abuse isn't just a problem in Finland, that's for sure! There are some people I know in the LLC that are holding some dark secrets. Hopefully this gives American Laestadians some courage to finally speak out about what has been going on. I'm so glad this is finally coming out. If the abusers are finally punished, the cycle of abuse will not be passed onto the next generation.

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  3. I remember as a child going to church at the OALC. I remember going to visit the preachers especially Ole Hendrickson and Ralph Stewart often.
    It was always fun when one of us kids had gas during church. We would feel the whole bench vibrate and endless giggling would be common. As children we never listened to the sermons but found any way to entertain ourselves. My parents usually slept through church but would sometimes wake up long enough to tell us to shhhhhhhh! Good memories. Good food. Not any place id want to go near as an adult.

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  4. Hee! Hee! I too have memories of those gassy days on the pew.

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  5. The American version of Doctor Hurtig is really this extoots.com blogspot board as the American Laestadianism/Apostolic Lutheran groups and divided and they have a 100 year history of introspection and 'covering up' the dirt via confession and absolution. Many of the churches have essentially enabled the abusers. I saw it with my own eyes with one of the leading 'speakers' who was always trying to get his arms around pubescent and teenage girls chests. Everyone just turned a blind eye! Much of the mindset seems to start in the pulpit with stong religious authoritative figures (aka speakers) with little to no formal education who have no comprehension at all of psychology, medicine or human behaviour in general outside of their narrow upbringings. With many of them confession of sin is seens sort of like a magic pill that is supposed to solve all of people's ills. I could go on but the root of the problem is that modern Laestadanism's focus is on 'curing sin' and belonging to the only true church (theirs of course), versus focusing on a complete new birth in Christ. A true Christian new birth is experienced and so profound that it begins a process of total transformation of that person into the image of Christ. This is something that confession of sins will never do. I know as I went through the whole Scriptural new birth experience myself and I ended up being ridiculed, ostracizied and shunned by the Laestadian pharisees who said I had gone into dead faith. Old AP

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  6. SUPPORT RON PAUL FOR PRESIDENT!

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  7. Yes... Ron Paul will protect our Freedoms.

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  8. LLLreader here: Oh come on, let's not get into the political stuff.

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  9. Interesting story on YLE.fi here about the reports in the papers about child abuse.

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