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Laestadians




On a related note about Laestadian influence elsewhere, a Laestadian woman in Arizona kept having more children because of the religious requirements. She was having severe mental-health problems after the birth of her ninth child and ended up killing the infant. Also, a noteworthy novel on Laestadians has recently been published in the United States (New York: Holt, 2012): Hanna Pylväinen’s We Sinners has been described as a graceful, moving, and compassionate depiction of growing up in this strict fundamentalist environment. The author was raised as a Laestadian. [IT 4.3 2013] 

Uskontojen uhrien tuki (UUT) [Support Group for the Victims of Religion] in Finland published two studies in 2013. The first study, reported in many Finnish newspapers (including the largest, Helsingin Sanomat), is about Conservative Laestadians’ ban on contraception, and the group’s current numbers in Finland. Despite very large families, the number of Laestadians has not grown significantly in the past 40 years. This means that many people who have grown up in the religious group have left it. UUT estimates that there are approximately 120,000 Conservative Laestadians in Finland, but more than 120,000 former members. These numbers are approximate because it is not simple to define a current or a former member. In any case, it is important to notice that in Finland a large population of people exist who have left their fundamentalist religious group and upbringing, an experience that is often very traumatizing. [IT 5.1 2014] 

Several books were published in Finland in 2013 on fundamentalist religion and problems within these groups. UUT organized a seminar on November 22, where authors discussed their work. One of the books is by Johanna Hurtig, who works at the University of Helsinki and has studied sexual violence among Conservative Laestadians. Hurtig has learned that there are structures within the group that have prevented victims from getting justice or perpetrators from being punished. These structures include the religious practice of forgiveness, which in the group works so that not only a priest, but any believer forgives sins. This practice has resulted in a situation in which forgiveness is expected from victims, and so the police have often not been notified of crimes until sometimes years or decades later, when the crimes are no longer punishable by law. Perpetrators who have been protected this way have been able to continue child molestation, for example, for years. [IT 5.1 2014]