Showing posts with label SRK. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SRK. Show all posts

Friday, May 03, 2013

Seeking Clarity in the Face of Tragedy

I have watched a child die—suddenly, tragically, accidentally. It was the worst moment of my life, and a far worse one for the child’s parents and siblings. Left with a ghastly void in the space that a vibrant young life so recently occupied, we desperately seek to fill it—with explanations, rationalizations, comforting old sayings.

Richard George Davis, CC-licensed.
A preacher in the local congregation did his best to make sense of the senseless, a commendable and compassionate effort. His kind words of comfort at the funeral and in private conversations were pitch-perfect, offering a sense of fulfilled purpose to a devastated family. He shared a heartfelt Christian love with them, and with the shocked and grieving believers around them.

Their fondest hope for themselves and their loved ones is to reach the glory of heaven, he said. God had spared this child a lifetime of trials and temptations, bringing the reward to hand at a young age. The assurance about eternity was an attempt to offer some consolation, in the face of a very real tragedy that had been experienced right here on earth. It was religion serving its purpose, and doing it well: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

So what are you supposed to think when your religion is widely seen as playing a part in the unfolding of tragic events? It is hard to miss the possible connection when a mother from your church, a religion that strongly opposes birth control, reportedly tells officers she smothered the youngest of her nine children “because she thought she had too many children already and she was jealous of the attention her husband was giving to the baby” (Forghani 2013).

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Christmas Program

Three years ago, I attended the Christmas program of my younger children’s elementary school, my head swirling with cognitive dissonance over what I was reading in the Bible and church publications. One of the issues that stood out in my mind, as it does for so many troubled believers, was Conservative Laestadianism’s outrageous exclusivity claims. (These claims are also made by the OALC, FALC, and IALC, who all point their bony fingers of condemnation at each other along with the LLC/SRK.)

Here it is in a nutshell: The church’s membership comprises about 0.002% of the world’s population. Everyone else who is mentally competent and has achieved some vaguely defined age of accountability it consigns to an eternity of screaming torture, a fate that eventually will be shared by almost all of the billion or so of the world’s children. There are even questions about many of those within the official membership nowadays. I suspect the old guard in the SRK and LLC have been waiting quite a while now for another “heresy” to come along and clean house, freeing them from having to deal with those annoying liberals, part-timers, and questioners.

That evening I sat with my wife and watched our kids up on stage, saying their pieces and singing their little songs among the beautiful children and parents of a rural, simple, and fairly religious community. As it is most everywhere else in the U.S. and the world, none of them has ever heard of Conservative Laestadianism. The closest most will ever come to a member of “God’s Kingdom” is in their cars as they drive through the area where most of our old congregation’s members live, on their way to do some shopping in town.

Here’s what I wrote when we got home. It is reproduced from my book (§4.2.1), as is some of the commentary that follows (pp. 82, 84‑85, 242 of the printed version).


Friday, March 30, 2012

Laestadian Theologian Lacks Penis, Gets Ordained Anyway

Ed Suominen has been invited to participate in this blog and, starting with this article, looks forward to a dialogue with those whose lives have intersected with Laestadianism. He is the author of An Examination of the Pearl, a study of the Conservative/Heideman branch of the Laestadian movement, and his articles here will often reference portions of that book by section number with links to the free HTML version. You can find Ed's own blog here.

An Extraordinary Ordination

Change is happening in the Lutheran church worldwide, but Conservative Laestadians in Finland have held tight regarding the ordination of women. Now one courageous woman, Mari Leppänen, has challenged the status quo by completing her theological study with ordination as a priest in the Finnish state church. She did so over the objections of the SRK leadership, yet without expressing any other disagreement or conflict with her long-held Conservative Laestadian faith.

Mari Leppänen
Omat polut, CC licensed
It was a historical event, as the Conservative Laestadian historian Seppo Lohi noted, speaking strictly as a researcher. But he noted that female priesthood is not accepted in the movement and that the ordination of women is seen as heretical (harhaopiksi) in light of the Bible. In view of that, he observed that Leppänen, “loads quite a bit of pressure on herself concerning her relationship to Conservative Laestadianism. She shows that she has a different idea about ​​the ordination of women than the Conservative Laestadian perception.” Regarding the question of Leppänen’s possible separation from the movement, Lohi declined to “use such drastic terms” as that, but says the ordination will undoubtedly lead to discussions and she must explain her action (§4.7.6, quoting Ijäs 2012a).

Mari Leppänen's Ordination Ceremony:
Omat polut, CC licensed.
Now that she has gone ahead and accepted the ordination, those “discussions” seem to have resulted in her being condemned as not being in the “Kingdom of God,” as reported by Johannes Ijäs in his March 3, 2012 Kotimaa24 article. One of the main SRK figures involved with that judgement is Kimmo Puolitaival, the chairman of the board of trustees in Leppänen’s home congregation (RY) of Turku. He expressed agreement with a statement apparently made by Matti Taskila, the SRK’s Deputy Chairman, that “a woman who takes the priestly ordination removes herself from the movement” (Ijäs 2012b). In response to questions from Kotimaa24 and concerns expressed about human rights issues, Puolitaival released a statement defending the Conservative Laestadian viewpoint as one of religious conviction grounded in the Bible. The closest the statement came to mentioning Leppänen’s spiritual status was this:
If someone acts in another way in the female ordination issue and takes ordination, she might have considered her act, and understands the penalties of disobedience against the word of the Lord. [Alastalo 2012]
“The word of the Lord” that is being invoked so gravely here is mainly
Apostle Paul’s declaration to comply with the proper form of worship: Women are to keep silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34-35). This instruction stems from a lecture, or sermon, which gave this charge to the Congregation’s shepherd, or priest, when implementing the framework of the worship process. Apostle Paul argues that he has “the Lord’s command” on this particular directive concerning worship. Unfortunately, we do not feel any closer to understanding the meaning of “the Lord’s command.” The reasoning employed by Apostle Paul is most powerful and authoritative because it is the word of the Lord.” [Nissilä 2012, from §4.7.6]
Even more unfortunate than the admitted lack of understanding is the fact that a woman is essentially being condemned to eternal damnation (§4.2.1) for desiring to do what is permissible, routine, and encouraged for most any man in the SRK. And let’s not sugar-coat what Paul actually says in his “powerful and authoritative” reasoning. Here’s the entire passage:
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. [1 Cor 14:34-35]
The new priest. Photo by a supporter at her
post-ordination reception. Used with permission.
The next time a woman raises her hand to offer a comment in a “congregational discussion evening” or Bible Class, or gives a presentation or teaches a Bible Class lesson, you can bet that she won’t be told to shut up and sit down, to wait until she gets home to ask her husband about that nagging theological question. No, the trouble is when a woman decides to really get out of line and put on a clerical collar, stepping across an imaginary boundary to stand behind a pulpit that Paul does not mention. Then the startled and threatened menfolk grab the Bible out of her hands and point indignantly to a passage that has been otherwise ignored.

Nothing to See Here, Move Along...

Conservative Laestadianism has a long history of not appreciating outsiders poking around with concerns about how its members are being treated. In the midst of the 1970s “caretaking” hysteria that even the SRK has now acknowledged involved “spiritual abuse,” a 1974 issue of the SRK’s Päivämies newspaper warned believers about airing or talking about the
faults of the children of God . . . among unbelievers. It is the casting of pearls before swine, belittling of God’s children within earshot of unbelievers. This is in effect a boomerang when consequently the unbelievers in turn berate the children of God. With this trampling, the one who spoke evil is trampled too.” [from §4.10]
Dr. Johanna Hurtig.
Omat Polut, CC licensed.
Another courageous woman, Johanna Hurtig, experienced her share of being trampled–not by the evil world but by some of “God’s children” themselves–when she refused to let the SRK off the hook about child sexual abuse by prominent members. She was called “an overgrown, fat sheep, unprofessional, in a false spirit,” who didn’t have their trust. Her conclusions from the experience are not flattering about the SRK leadership:
They don’t appreciate her attempts to advise them, her open criticism of the organizational culture, and her speaking out publicly about the community. And what she speaks about is “a shameful phenomenon that happens in a community that considers itself representing family values, decency, and respect for the law.” She says, “I defy their great power as I act in the issue without asking their permission or opinion,” having “shown in public many negative things about them: stalling, ignoring, and inconsistent public communications.” They “have to admit their faults,” and thus “a shadow is cast on the inerrant congregation” [§4.10.1]
In March 2009, society poked its nose into the sanctum of the “Kingdom of God” again, this time about contraception. The European Union’s Human Rights Commission
expressed concerns that the movement’s teachings–whether a “ban” is said to be in place or not–effectively infringe on the individual right to freely make a determination about contraception. That right, it said, is a matter of human rights protection. It noted that the term “contraception ban” is not used. But it pointed out that Laestadians have experienced “very real social compulsion” about the issue, and “failure to comply will have serious spiritual and secular consequences.” [§4.7.6]
Now, despite Puolitaival’s wish that the SRK “would have the right to teach and bring out the Word of God, based on religious conviction and declare the kingdom of God and the message of sin and grace, without having to worry about being accused of human rights violations” (from Alastalo 2012), the outside world is raising its eyebrows yet again:
The leader of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Archbishop Kari Mäkinen, is saddened and worried at the attitude taken by the Conservative Laestadian revival movement toward those in the organisation who take a positive attitude toward the ordination of women. Mäkinen says in an e-mail message that he feels that it is a serious matter that a commitment to decisions of the Lutheran Church can lead to a person being silenced, marginalised, or excluded from the movement. . . . [T]he Conservative Laestadian movement decided that the Archbishop’s theological secretary Risto Leppänen would no longer be allowed to teach or speak at Laestadian events. The move was taken because Leppänen takes a positive view of the ordination of women, which [is] accepted doctrine in the Lutheran Church, but opposed by the Laestadians. [Helsingin Sanomat, Secretary Banned from Speaking]
Risto Leppänen is the new priest’s husband. His offense was supporting his wife’s desire to do the same kind of pastoral work that he is doing, without letting her gender block her path.

 

Cleaning House

The issue is not a new one, nor is it going away anytime soon. Mari Leppänen tells the Helsingin Sanomat, “The women theologians [in the 1970s] could not bring their wishes forward, and they were left completely outside the movement’s official debate on the ministry. They were bypassed because they were women, and because of their theological background.” Now, those in the younger generation “have grown both as Laestadians, and as members of this society, and they have seen how women in the church can function as equals among men. Many hope that they could ponder the ministry issue more openly without fear of being judged” (Women’s ordination divides Laestadian movement).

It is still an unrealized hope. Another SRK ordained priest who took the same stand in favor of female ordination, with the same consequence, writes that “the cleansings are continuing.” He hopes that what follows are not the same systematic and brutal excesses that were seen in the 1970s, but he is afraid that is just what is happening now (Alaranta 2012). Another ordained priest whom the SRK has decided to silence at its services is Stiven Naatus, who nonetheless does not believe that the situation will lead to the kind of fragmentation that has occurred at other times in the movement’s history (Ahonen 2012). Perhaps so, if the SRK follows what its Executive Board noted regretfully about the “excesses” of the 1970s: We should learn from the past” (from §4.10.2).

References

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Is it "Caretaking" or Pressure, Intimidation, Blackmail?

A reader sent this article and the English translation below (lightly edited for clarity). If you understand Finnish, you'll want to read the comments as well.

Conservative Laestadians tell of pressure in “caretaking meetings”

July 17,2011
by Pauliina Grönholm
Helsingin Sanomat

People belonging to the Conservative Laestadian revivalist movement, which operates within the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church, say they experienced pressure as well as spiritual violence, in so-called caretaking meetings.

A caretaking meeting in Conservative Laestadianism means a pastoral care event at which a member is called to "repent."

These meetings were especially common in the 1970's, but according to individuals interviewed by this newspaper, these sessions are still being held. These individuals said they were either a subject of caretaking meetings or were forced to follow the treatment "by the side."

They said that Executive Board members of the Central Association of Finnish Peace Associatons (SRK) as well as priests participated in the meetings.

Conservative Laestadian "Jukka" has first-hand experience of these meetings (because of his close friends, he does not want to appear in this interview with his real name).

Jukka says that current caretaking meetings are less organized and systematic than in the 1970's. Subjects are now individuals who have publicly expressed dissident opinions from the SRK's official views.

While caretaking meetings are often referred to as pastoral care in Conservative Laestadianism, Jukka has a different view.

"In those [meetings] are all the characteristics of the spiritual violence fullfilled: pressure, intimidation and blackmail."

“You may end up in caretaking if you have dissenting opinions, for example about family planning or the ordination of women, but also, for example, if you listen to rock music, go to concerts, or dye your hair."


***

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?