Monday, August 07, 2017

The Long Arms of Gällivare

Command Central for Firstborn/West Laestadian/Esikoiset/OALC
With news of widespread famine in East Africa, the calving of a giant ice shelf in Antarctica, and extreme weather after the globe's hottest year on record, the news of religious squabbling amongst a tiny portion of vast humanity is easy to dismiss. Unless you're affected by it, of course. 

Families are being wrenched apart, children alienated from their parents, loved ones shunned, the psychologically vulnerable isolated from critical support, for what, exactly? 

I will write more about Gällivare in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, my Finnish penpal (who will remain anonymous) has generously allowed me to post his correspondence below.  
Free,


Since the 1980s I have been observing the development from a distance — I guess much like yourself — which means my knowledge is uncertain and mostly based on second-hand accounts. Caveat lector.

As you know, a small group of Swedish Firstborn elders has adopted a role as a "spiritual central bureau" of the movement. While I do not know their number, or whether there have been splits among them, I am told that the Firstborn group in Sweden is in decline generally. There are fewer and fewer young people, some have left the movement, many moved out, etc. So it seems that this “core group of elders” in Sweden governs a flock whose great majority is abroad, in Finland and America.

One of the main stumbling blocks in the dispute in Finland (fermenting over perhaps 25 years) is the doctrine of this spiritual leadership in Swedish Lapland, considered the cradle of the movement. This same question has been a key element in the entire history of disputes and splits in the movement. The hassle started after the death of Laestadius in the 1860s, and in fact, the disputes in America played an important role in the splits that ravaged the movement in Sweden and Finland too, between 1880-1900, and later. 

There are very interesting historical records of early kingpins in the first decades of the Laestadian movement in America, e.g., Korteniemi, Roanpaa, Takkinen, and Heideman, of the traveling missionaries, and correspondence between Lapland and United States. Juhani Raattamaa (1811-1899), the companion of Laestadius, his main apprentice, and next in the line of authority, worked hard to maintain unity, peace, and tolerance. Already by 1900, however, disputes had fractured the movement.

In Finland there was a growing faction in the congregation who saw the “Overseer Board” as a questionable and unhealthy configuration. They grew in number and discontent when the spiritual tone of the elders changed following the death of the well-known and influential preacher Gunnar Jönsson (1905-1982), who was a broadminded, wise person with a vision that challenged some of the old, fixed, idiosyncratic ways of thinking. There was a gradual backlash and shift toward a strict, “anti-modernist” doctrine, in search of an old, untarnished Christianity with distinct separation from the normal average “worldly” life.

These elders have been the prime agents in fomenting the split in Finland from the Lutheran Church. Their advice was appreciated by many of the preachers and followers in Finland, and resulted in their setting up their own sacramental practices of communion, baptism, marriage ceremony, etc. in 2016-17.

The famous June meetings in the city of Lahti were organised in two separate locations this year (crowds about 4000 and 900 respectively).  http://www.sakramentit.fi/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/20170626_ESS_Juhannusseuroista.pdf

The American OALC structure, with small local congregations independent of the Lutheran State Church, has become – or so it seems — the idealized model.

I have heard that in Norway, splits of a similar nature to Finland’s have occurred in recent decades as well. I think it would be increasingly important and interesting to track the stories of people in Sweden (and Norway) who have been through similar experiences, and personal histories of distancing from or leaving the insider circles.
What makes these phenomena perhaps less interesting, however, is the fact that such disputes, quarrels, mutiny, and oppression of “wrong opinions” seems to be a prevalent feature among ALL groups within Christian religion (Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Adventist, Pentecostal movements …. to name a few). 

I  imagine that Jesus would be sad, furious, and frustrated to come and see the havoc.

****

9 comments:

  1. I am pleased to see a this kind of discussion about what Firstborn actually is. This writer is doing right, when she/he starts the history of Firstborns from those days of Raattamaa and Takkinen. (its roots are there, even its came visible first in 1899-1902)
    As we know, there were many different doctrinal fractions inside the Laestadian movement, even on the days if LLL himself.

    It has been so from the very beginning. The reason is: How to see the difference between Gospel and Law, in other words, how a person becomes righteous. That problem causes those many rules on clothing, manners, music, rings and so on.
    Another big issue is, how the word church/congregation should be understood.
    As we know, Laestadius had some friends among the collages in the church. He had also some enemies. Still all of his principals, bishops of Härnösand, supported him. He also received some critics, but that is more than normal in church´s life. We should also ask, whether all of his actions were truly acceptable? Suppose not.

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  2. Part 2
    As far as I understand, Raattamaa was not interested at the independent church in America, but wished that Christians would form a group inside and in co-operation with a Lutheran church there.
    In Finland, we do not have a state church anymore, but a National Church, in Swedish Folkkyrkan. The president does not name the bishops any more. For example, in Denmark, there is no Arch Bishop at all. Her Majesty the Queen is the head of the church. That follows the Lutheran idea, that the kings are protectors of the God´s people, like in Israel.
    As the writer told us about the historical events after the death of famous preacher and elder Gunnar J. (died 1982), I would like to express the feeling of many: Gunnar was an exception in the long run of the Firstborn life. His days were a kind of thaw. He probably had predecessors like Eriksson and some before him, but their influence was small. Anyway, from the very beginning the life of Firstborns has been a continuous struggle between to main streams, strong self-righteousness and more Evangelic Lutheran "merely the Grace".

    Especially the large Finnish congregation was until late 80´s very diverse. The opinions and talents of an old preacher formed the atmosphere of the local congregation. But, there were always those 2 poles, more free and narrow-minded. Beginning of the Gunnar J. era, the Finnish Christianity was in the hands of these narrow-minded. The head of the congregation, preached Joel A. and all the important preachers were against Gunnar and the position of Gällivare.
    I mean this, because it was then that strong position of Lapland and its superior power over the whole christianity came into the daily life. Of course, it had been always there, but now the national missionary-preachers started to use their autonomy. In order to strengthen the authority of the Lapland and here more Evangelical teaching over the local one, the Christmas meetings and Pentacost meetings were led by wire to Finland.
    There were many who did not accept those too sweet sermons. All the major preachers made repentance, some just changed their jacket.
    Then, first the sermons of Norwegian Stormo invited Finns to Norway, where people traveled by buses and came back full of crush.
    Then, the appearance of the present elders sarted the change. They introduced the strong centralism in their rule. The American OALC was their dream, united, ignorant, and fully depend from them. That means "Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Führer (the elders).

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  3. 3
    I made a printing error in the previous chapter. I was going to say, that in late 60´s the national missionary preachers started to loose their autonomy, or rest of it. The reason was, that people had cars, and they traveled to Gällivare themselves and see the Christianity there. Before only few people went there, as it took some 10-12 hours by train.

    As far as I know something about the present crisis, the sacraments, that is only the top of the ice berg.
    As far as any open discussion about the doctrine of the movement, and the role of the Scriptures versus the ideas of the Elders, is impossible, the Firstborn Christians stay as they are.

    The split did not change very much. In the new smaller unit, the old manners and habits were preserved, the sermons of Laestadius are read every sunday, the forgiveness of the sins must be gained from the words of the preacher and preachers hold tight with their power.
    The open discussion on doctrine is considered as unacceptable. It causes harm and dissonance.

    What should a single Laestadian do? It may be better to wait for the day our Savior is coming back, than the Resurrection of the Firstborn congregation of Finland.
    In Sweden the number of young Firstborns is few. They were mostly the Finnish volunteers who erected the new meeting houses in Gällivare, Luleå and Knivsta.
    Every single young christian, who starts to understand the Scriptures, votes by his/her legs.
    The strong awakening movements of the church of Finland, Lutheran Evangelicals and The Finnish People´s Mission gather tens of young Firstborn Christians to their bee, when summer festivals are held.

    So, where Laesadian Christianity is needed, if it does not respect the first and most important features of any religious society: Love for the Truth?

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  4. Thanks for commenting. Google translate is making a hash of this link, and I'm wondering if you could summarize it for us?

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    1. If you mean that latest newspaper article with pictures and interviews, I can try to do that. The opinion and answers are on OALC B-shit, but... we will see.

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  5. This is an interesting conversation, and much more in line with what I've always felt the spirit of this discussion board should be. I look forward to seeing where this goes, because I see much I agree with. I heard Jonsson and Erickson many times, and believe the American OALC is far from their teachng.

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    1. I visited Gunnar's grave in Övertorneå last summer.

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  6. I have understood one serious matter in this whole drama. It is not purpose to think what Gunnar J. or William E. did. The source of the truth is not there, but it is in the Holy Bible. We should not follow men, but Jesus Christ. Gunnar and William did much on their time, but they had to be politically wise and keep the unity. Moreover, they did not get themselves free totally from the destructive power of the tradition. A sheep in a wolf´s skin

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  7. Were Sami ever part of the church hierarchy, and if so, when were they usurped by Swedish men in Gallivaire? Gunnar was revered in OALC in North America. However, I consider him an oppressor.

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