|Command Central for Firstborn/West Laestadian/Esikoiset/OALC|
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.
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.