"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Breaking Silence

Photo credit: Carolyn Tiry/Flickr | Remix by Dell Cameron
From Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions:

"Being unable to tell your story is a living death and sometimes a literal one. If no one listens when you say your ex-husband is trying to kill you, if no one believes you when you say you have a pain in your body, if no one hears you when you say help, if you don’t dare say help, if you have been trained not to bother people by saying help. If you are considered to be out of line when you speak up in a meeting, are not admitted into an institution of power, are subject to irrelevant criticism whose subtext is that women should not be here, or heard. 
Liberation is always in part a storytelling process, breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story.
Violence against women is often against our voices and our stories. It is a refusal of our voices, and of what a voice means: the right to self-determination, to participation, to consent or dissent, to live and participate, to interpret and narrate. A husband hits his wife to silence her; a date rapist or acquaintance rapist refuses to let the “no” of his victim mean what it should, that she alone has jurisdiction over her body; rape culture asserts that women’s testimony is worthless, untrustworthy; anti-abortion activists also seek to silence the self-determination of women; a murderer silences forever. These are assertions that the victim has no rights, no value, is not an equal. They have their equivalent in smaller ways in language: the people harassed and badgered into silence online, talked over and cut out in conversation, belittled, humiliated, dismissed. Having a voice is crucial. 
It’s not all there is to human rights, but it’s central to them, and so you can consider the history of women’s rights and lack of rights as a history of silence and breaking silence.
We are not where we were in 1991. And where we were in 1961, when I was born--I think it's hard for people who aren't historically-minded and weren't there to comprehend how deeply misogyny, exclusion, and the suppression of women's rights, powers, and voices were not an imposition on the rules but the unquestioned rule.
There is no inevitability that we will continue to win; it requires as it always did passionate participation and some vision that it can be different. It is already different from 1991, 1961, because we are winning --and they are furious about it. As Michelle Alexander pointed out this weekend, we are not the resistance; they are; we are part of the revolutionary river of change they are trying to resist.
We have a long way to go to a world where women live without fear and in equality, but we have come so far already. Don't stop now."

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Religious Trauma: Steps to Recovery

The following is excerpted from the website Journey Free, founded Marlene Winell, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. She has been working in religious recovery for over 25 years and originated the term "religious trauma syndrome." Journey Free offers a Youtube series, no-cost phone consulting and low-cost retreats (the next one is in San Francisco, September 21-24, 2018).

Several extoots have recommended Marlene Winell over the years. Perhaps she'd be willing to lead a retreat in your area if contacted. Doesn't hurt to try!

1.   Get Real
  • This is when you start to get it that your religion is not really working for you.  It’s not making sense intellectually, it’s not paying off emotionally, or you see moral problems with it.
  • This early stage is hard because dogmatic systems do not let go easily and there is a cycle of abuse as you get blamed for the problems.
  • Your doubts and questions feel dangerous because you haven’t been allowed to think for yourself.  Yet you have to start getting honest.
  • Be honest with yourself about whether your religion is working for you. Let go of trying to force it to make sense.
  • Have a look at life and the world AS IT IS, and stop trying to live in a parallel universe. This world might not be perfect but facing reality will help you get your life on track.
  • If you feel guilty, realize that the religion teaches you to feel responsible when it isn’t working and tells you to go back and try harder, just like an abusive relationship.
2.   Get a Grip
  • Eventually, the problems get to be too much and you want to stop forcing everything to fit.  Don’t panic. It’s important to understand that the fear is just part of the phobia indoctrination.
  • Phobia indoctrination is a self-serving part of the religion that tells you that terrible things will happen to you if you leave.
  • If you calm down, you’ll be just fine. Many people have been through this. So read some deconversion stories and calm down. You will be fine.
  • When you look at the world as it really is, facing reality will help you get your life on track.
3.   Get Informed
  • Do everything you can to educate yourself. You are free to read, watch videos, and expose yourself to all the knowledge in the world – history, philosophy, other religions, mythology, science, psychology, biology, and more.
  • Read authors who have explained why they deconverted. In particular, learn about the origins of your religion and scripture, such as how the Bible was put together and early church history.
  • Having a look from an unbiased viewpoint can be pretty eye-opening. Enjoy letting your brain breathe.
4.   Get Support
  • Healing from toxic religion is not just intellectual. It goes deep into your emotional and psychological make-up, especially if you were taught as a child.
  • So don’t be surprised if you have a gap between what you know in your head and what you feel in your gut.
  • You can reject a belief in hell, for example, and still have nightmares. Get support in any way you can – from online forums, local groups, a therapist who understands, or go to a recovery retreat.
  • Do the work to heal the wounds of religious abuse. And be careful about what you may have been told about the evils of psychology or getting secular help.
5.   Get Well
  • It’s important to give yourself time to process your feelings and learn how to trust yourself.  You will probably need to deal with many emotions, such as anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, and grief.
  • You will also need to regain trust in your thinking abilities, practice expressing your own views, and develop critical thinking, creativity, and decision-making.
  • If you do the work to get healthy and mature, eventually your wounds will heal. You will feel stronger and able to love and take care of yourself.
6.   Get a Life
  • Letting go of a religious worldview means you have to rethink who you are and what life is about. You also have to rebuild most of your life structure such as social networks, work, and family relationships.
  • In general, you will have to take responsibility for your own choices instead of depending on the religion or God’s will for guiding your life.  This is exciting of course, because you are now in the world with many options, but it may be a little daunting as well.
  • But it is up to you to reclaim your life, construct your identity, and make commitments to new values. Rebuild your life around new values and engage fully with your choices. Develop your identity as you learn to love and trust yourself.
  • Take responsibility and create the life that works for you – in work, family, leisure, social – all the areas of commitment that make a life structure. If you still want a spiritual life, define it for yourself.
  • Venture into the “world” for new experiences and new friends. This will take time but you can do it.
7.  Get Clear
  • At some stage, you will need to let other people know about your change in views.  For many this feels like coming out of the closet and has serious implications. Family and friends who are still believers may react in negative ways, especially at first.
  • You may go through some challenging adjustments in your relationships. But for most people, this honesty is eventually necessary in order to have personal integrity.
  • It can be hard to let other people go through their own feelings and to deal with all the issues, but in the end, it’s worth it.
8.   Get With The Program
  • Welcome to the human race. Accept the idea that Earth is your home and humanity is your true family. If you aren’t part of a special group that is leaving, consider what that means for you.
  • You may want to participate in larger concerns to make the world a better place, such as caring for the environment or working for social justice.
  • Let go of expecting God to take care of all the problems and join others to make the world a better place here and now. You can see that we are all interconnected and you can enjoy relationships with other people.
9.   Get Your Groove On
  • As you relax about being part of this earth, you reclaim enjoyment of sensation and pleasure. You realize you don’t have to earn the right to exist. You are just like other animals.
  • Your sensory experiences are delightful, your body is great, and sex is good. You find all the ways to appreciate nature.
  • It’s ok to simply enjoy being alive. Learn to be present here and now. Enjoy and love other people instead of judging. Reclaim your creativity and express yourself any way you like, not just to “glorify God.”
  • Love your body and take care of it. Embrace this life instead of worrying about the next. Sing and dance and laugh for no reason except Being Alive.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Laestadian Divisions (Guest Post)

Following is a guest post from a reader with the pen name IlmarH. If you would like to contribute a post, please email me using the form on the home page. If you would like to discuss Laestadianism in North America (with insiders and outsiders), join this new  Facebook group. —Free


I am writing from Finland, and am curious to know how recent events in Europe have affected the OALC and perhaps other Laestadian factions. Perhaps readers of this blog could report on the current spiritual weather in North American Laestadian groups. The tumultuous times in America in the period 1880-1900 had an influence in the breaking of the movement here, and more recently the American OALC culture has been a factor in the breach in the European Firstborn flock (separation from the Lutheran Church communion, etc).

I suspect that sooner or later this division will send some waves to the OALC as well.
I find the theological attitudes and arguments on both sides alien at best
There are websites in Finland where the two factions of the Firstborn breach are discussing and arguing, e.g., http://esikoisten.foorumi.eu. I find the theological attitudes and arguments on both sides alien at best, and frequently appalling. My interests and viewpoint are more in the general phenomena of religion-culture-society, interaction of world religions, etc. I am challenging fundamentalism and the fatal neglect and mockery of broad-minded Bible scholars.
The main Laestadian faction, Vanhoillislestadiolaiset / SRK (LLC in the North America) has interesting ripples as well. An active blog (https://hulluinhuonelainen.wordpress.com) has reported some of the waves. The blog was initiated by two bright young theologians, Joona Korteniemi and Roosa Tahkola. Korteniemi was a priest in the Finnish Lutheran Church and also an SRK preacher. Some months ago he posted a message that he is giving up his position as a preacher due to differences between his convictions and Laestadian closed-congregation “only us” doctrine. I can imagine that this man has been quite alone, on a raft on open sea. I feel respect and sympathy for him. His blog contains writings of many thankful supporters but is also filled with texts from hot-head believers and narrow-span fundamentalists, and even hostile outbursts. (Unfortunately indicative of the intolerance justified by religious writings—a common plague all over.) 

The next phase of this story is surprising and unusual. Some weeks ago Korteniemi posted a message revealing that he has decided to join the Catholic Church. Some ex-Firstborn friends have sympathized or joined other denominations, for instance the “orthodox” Lähetyshiippakunta (Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese). See http://www.lhpk.fi/en/.
Christianity worldwide is in disarray and the main reason is . . . sex
Christianity worldwide is in disarray and the main reason is—how original!—sex / gender / reproduction, particularly the question of female priests, birth control, and attitude towards homosexuals. The crucial ideological rift is between two paradigms regarding Bible interpretation. Fundamentalist groups take every line, phrase, and saying in Bible as divine, untouchable truth that should not be analyzed with human reason, intellectual analysis, or socio-historical research. The other faction respects the Bible as the foundation of our civilization providing moral values and humanitarian guidelines of life, but recognizes the historical processes and cultural evolution that have taken place in the past 3,000 years.

I would like to see some signs of global reforms in Christianity spanning Catholicism, Protestantism, and all Christian denominations. The third millennium of Christianity is unfolding—but how, and in which direction?

Monday, June 11, 2018

When a Sin is a Crime — Laestadians & Sex Abuse

If you are a survivor of sex abuse, you may want to skip this post, as it is likely to open old wounds. Everyone else, please read on.

I posted here about Tysfjord in 2016 when the story broke and have been following the updates since then, much of it in Norwegian, using Google Translate to make sense of them. Many of the victims and abusers in Tysfjord are/were Firstborn Laestadian, the corollary to the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church here in America; both follow the same leaders in Gällivare, Sweden.

I've been following the situation with both horror and hope: horror that so many were hurt, and hope that healing is possible -- not only for the Tysfjord victims but for every family, workplace, church, and community yet to be cleansed by the #metoo tsunami.

When I emailed a relative inside the OALC about my hope that the situation in Tysfjord would compel the Gällivare elders to reform church practices, he responded "they would not try to affect natural affairs, as that would violate the doctrine of St. Paul, as he only allows one subject, to preach Jesus and Himself crucified."

Perhaps there was a misunderstanding? Perhaps not. The OALC may well view its silencing of sex abuse victims as virtuous rather than complicitous.

In April, I received a phone call from a friend who grew up in the OALC, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by an uncle who escaped all consequences in spite of his confession to preachers. Like so many other victims, she was first disbelieved, and then instructed to forgive and forget (if she did not forgive him, the sin would be on her soul). At 27 years old, she had struggled with crippling depression since childhood, and she was calling to tell me of other victims in the church, similarly abused and silenced, some related to her, some not. Her anguish was evident.

What can we do, she asked? Together we talked about possible actions, e.g., bringing a lawsuit for obstruction of justice. Lobbying for a change in the mandatory reporting law to specify lay clergy. Creating a shelter and legal fund to help women in the church to divorce abusive husbands (instead of staying, afraid to lose custody in a church-funded court battle). Filming a documentary on the church. Ultimately we decided to start with a smaller, more achievable project: Youtube interviews of OALC abuse victims. Before I hung up the phone, I told her about Tysfjord, how an entire "Firstborn" community was finding its voice, and why it gave me hope for reforms in the OALC. I mentioned that I was collecting notes for a blog post.

Send me your notes, she said. I emailed them on May 3rd. Three weeks later, she took her own life.

All who loved Kara are heartbroken, and searching for ways we could have helped prevent her death. If you are one of us, may we use that heartbreak to do the work she didn't have the strength to continue.

For the child she was, and the children she loved, I want to believe the tipping point is here.

That point comes, in the words of Tysfjord's Sámi community center director Lars Magne Andreasson, when "the shame of staying quiet about abuse becomes greater than the shame of speaking up."
When the shame of staying quiet becomes greater than the shame of speaking up
The shame of complicity with abusers -- of not protecting the vulnerable -- must prick the awakened consciences in the church. "Faith in the elders" must not be used as an excuse for an individual to avoid personal ethical and legal action. The lay clergy in the OALC are given power most of them did not ask for, and for which few are equipped or educated.

No doubt some preachers are doing the right thing, ethically and legally, if the increasing number of OALC men being prosecuted for sex crimes are an indication (my readers send me news items). But  considerably more "known offenders" remain at large, and the OALC grapevine, and whatever red/yellow/green alert systems any family may adopt, are not preventing their access to victims.

The church leadership in Gällivare must address the systemic problem.

Until OALC elders state clearly that sex abuse is a crime, to be reported to law enforcement and investigated by the state not the church, the cycle of abuse will continue. 

To understand Tysfjord, context is important. For the majority of residents, who are Sámi and Laestadian, the historical trauma of colonization is ample justification for distrusting the state and preferring private, interpersonal resolutions over legal ones. Colonization deprived the Sámi of self-determination, language, land, and culture, and disrupted the social bonds that protected children. Forced assimilation, called "Norwegianisation, was institutionalized from the mid-1800s and within living memory of some Tysfjord residents. How can the state that forcibly separated families be trusted?

“One of the most important reasons why people with Sami background don’t report violence is that they lack trust in the state apparatus. . . (and) the tabooing of sex and body, the silence concerning everything private, and the idea that issues are solved within the family. We find such ideas everywhere in Norway, but there are indications that these taboos are stronger within Laestadian and Sami communities." (Researcher Solveig Bergman, whose 2017 survey indicated Sámi victims of violence are less likely to seek help than Norwegians.)

Laestadianism's exclusivism and gender roles further impede transparency and accountability, making it all the more remarkable for #metoo to succeed in Tysfjord.

A recap:

In 2016, in a community of only 2,000 residents, decades of widespread sex abuse were revealed, sending shock waves throughout Norway and beyond. This came after years of persistence by parents trying to get the attention of authorities, and ultimately, one abuse survivor whose post on Facebook was read by a journalist. That journalist's research culminated in a national newspaper article, which was read by Tysfjord's chief of police, who demanded her deputies conduct an immediate investigation, which revealed 151 sexual assaults over six decades, by mostly male, but also a couple of female abusers. Forty were rapes of young children.

Most of the cases were too old to prosecute.

Nine years earlier, in 2007, desperate parents held a meeting in Tysfjord where local authorities were informed of the scope of the problem. The reaction was disbelief. Nothing more. Victims reporting to church leaders were likewise met with disbelief, or told to forgive and forget. Some of the families in Tysfjord developed their own system of protecting kids: families were assigned red, yellow, or green depending on how safe it was for children to sleep there, or even to visit. Red meant danger of rape or molestation.

It was not until a national newspaper published the article in 2016, and the police chief found it compelling, that interviews began. One thousand of them. Two cases have ended with convictions so far and more are in the pipeline. (The full police report, in Norwegian, can be found here.)

One of the victims said that when she was a teenager in the village, young people told each other about sexual abuse, but adults would not listen. 
"We were called whores and liars." (Nina Iverson, BBC news story)
When Tysfjord's Firstborn leaders were asked to comment, they initially said that preachers conduct their own investigations into sex abuse allegations, and report only when deemed necessary. This was met with outrage.
"The preachers have no prerequisite for making such assessments. It is the police's task." (Former Tysfjord sheriff Kenneth Nilsen)
"I strongly respond to the statements from the church in Tysfjord . . . everybody has a duty to report suspicion of child and youth abuse." (Norwegian Child and Equality Minister Solveig Horne)
The following month, the church issued another statement (here, in Norwegian) disavowing their former release. In a church where "nothing changes," something had changed.

The elders in Gällivare surely know the unintended consequences of certain practices, that the "forgive and forget" tradition effectively colludes with rapists and pedophiles, allowing them to maintain access to the victim. A child is even less likely to report abuse to an adult if she knows she may be required to meet with her abuser and "talk to the preachers," often alone, without her parents.  This is truly inexcusable.

Now imagine a child being required to embrace his or her abuser and say the ritual words granting forgiveness and asking repentance. What did the victim do, to be required to repent? She tempted him. She sat on his lap. She didn't resist enough.

How many victims were compelled to forgive OALC pedophiles before a parent -- often a "worldly" or one whose standing in the church was already compromised -- ignored the advice and filed charges?

State law in America is sadly less protective of victims than Norwegian law, but telling a victim of crime not to report to authorities is illegal everywhere. It's called obstruction of justice.

Will it take a lawsuit against the OALC to change this practice?

Kara thought so.

The average pedophile molests 260 victims during their lifetime. Over 90% of convicted pedophiles are arrested again for the same offense after their release from prison.

"like other sexual orientations, pedophilia is unlikely to change. The goal of treatment, therefore, is to prevent someone from acting on pedophile urges — either by decreasing sexual arousal around children or increasing the ability to manage that arousal. But neither is as effective for reducing harm as preventing access to children, or providing close supervision." (Harvard Medical School)

How many pedophiles remain in the OALC community's good graces, attending church and gatherings, while their victims drifted into isolation, mental illness, drug use, suicide?
Kara's abuser attended her funeral. He sat in the church that protected him, and rejected her, that allowed him access to other victims even after he confessed.
Let that sink in. Do you see anything remotely Christian about that?

According to the Norwegian news service NRK, "tens of victims and their supporters" received threats of violence and reprisals after speaking up. Here in America, we should expect no better. But change is coming.

The municipality of Tysfjord has apologized for its neglect. The Norwegian government pledged monetary support (over $1 million) to increase cultural competence among service providers, to build trust. Big name musicians gathered in Tysfjord and performed, gratis, at a concert affirming Sámi mihá (pride). There were unexpectedly large numbers who attended an interfaith (Lutheran and Laestadian, that is) service in the Tysfjord church. Sámi journalist Kenneth Haetta and three others were awarded the Fritt Ords Prize for their reporting. (Listen to this English-language BBC report on the process of healing.)

Lars Magne Andreasson is optimistic:
"We've come to the point where we dare to have the conversation."
It's past time for American Firstborn, and those who have left the church, to have that conversation. In our homes and if necessary, in the courts.

If you would like to be interviewed for Kara's Youtube series, please send me a note.

It's time to speak truth to power.