More than she could bear

nina koistinen

Nina Koistinen

By now you’ve probably heard about the case of Nina Koistinen. The 36-year-old mother from Phoenix has been charged with first-degree murder, after she confessed to suffocating her 6-day-old baby, Maya. Koistinen reportedly told authorities that she killed the child, because she “had too many kids already” and was jealous of the attention her husband was giving the baby.

At his wife’s initial court appearance, Bradley Koistinen explained that she suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. “We have tried for years and years to manage it,” he said, noting that his wife of fifteen years “has been the greatest mother” who “has never hurt any of our kids.”

So, do we blame the murder on mental illness? What about Child Protective Services, who had visited Koistinen in the past? In interviews with social workers, Koistinen said she thought about smothering her children and wanted them to “go to heaven in a vehicle accident that appeared intentional.”

The truth is, there is much more to this tragic story. I oversee a closed Facebook group whose members are committed to raising awareness of, and eradicating, religious child maltreatment. As it turns out, a couple of our members know quite a bit about the Koistinens, because the members came from the same Laestadianistic church the couple belongs to.

I had never heard of Laestadianism, a conservative Lutheran revival movement that started around the 1850s in Nordic countries. Today, the church is estimated to have about 200,000 members worldwide. Some tenets of the fundamentalist branch of the Laestadianist faith—which the Koistinens’ church is a part of—have to do with raising large families. In fact, congregants are led to believe they will go to hell if they use birth control.

Maya was the Koistinens’ ninth child.

andrea yates

Andrea Yates

The case is a reminder of another devastating crime that took place in 2001. That was when Andrea Yates—a Houston housewife with a known history of mental illness—drowned all five of her young children. Yates and her husband were devout, conservative Christians who vowed on their wedding day not to use birth control and bear as many children “as God would provide.” Yates’ religious fears greatly propelled her to murder her children. While in prison, she told a psychiatrist that she had considered killing her children for two years out of intense fear and guilt.

“It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren’t righteous. They stumbled because I was evil. The way I was raising them, they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell,” she said.

Like the Andrea Yates and her husband, the Koistinens continued to have one child after the other, despite the mother’s deteriorating mental state. Why? If you listen to former members of the couple’s church, it seems likely that the church put subtle but influential pressure on the Koistinens to have as many children as they physically could.

“This tragedy was entirely preventable. Those of us with Laestadian backgrounds know why a mother with mental illness continues to have children, and why a father aware of his wife’s mental illness would not use birth control,” one unnamed, former Laestadian blogger writes.

The blogger includes in the post an audio clip of a sermon given in the church the Koistinens attended. At around minute 17, Pastor Eric Jurmu acknowledges that women who have many children can become “very tired.” But, he adds, the duties of raising many children are “all part of the life of a believing family,” and he intimates that mothers who question whether they can do what the church wants them to do are not pious enough. Furthermore, he appears to rebuke women who sneak birth control.

There are questions that come and doubts come as well that, how can I raise these children when it feels like there is so little time in the day? . . . . Even the enemy may raise doubts in our minds. And he may even then, during those busy times of life, come with this kind of sermon that you know there are ways that you can not have children, that there are ways that you control the number of children you have. There have been these kinds of occasions where the enemy has tempted some with practicing birth control. It is not according to God’s word, it is not according to the teaching of God’s kingdom.

Comments by former church members, written after a news report on the Koistinen case—a number of which have since been removed—reveal the trappings of an unhealthy, authoritarian community that poses harm to families, even those whose parents are not mentally ill.

“I too was raised in that wacky church!!  It IS a very scary place yet subtle in a strange sort of way. It is absolutely a CULT,” one person writes. “The ONLY way that church grows is mostly through the lack of birth control. They mostly get married in their teens and start-a-breeding. Then once the kids are born, the indoctrination begins !!!!”

Another individual remarks, “Families are not allowed to stop having children, even if you feel you have enough and cannot take care of them.” Someone else notes that children in the church are often taken care of by other children.

Another comment is written by a woman who was a member of the church for more than twenty years and knew Koistinen since she was a child. The writer explains that using birth control is considered to be a sin in the church. “Whether you like sex, don’t like sex, want kids, or don’t want kids, it’s just one of their beliefs. And they know if you are cheating and using birth control. If you don’t have kids, you would be suspect, absolutely,” she writes. The woman goes on to say that Koistinen “was a beautiful little girl,” but because of the fear-based teachings of the church, “This girl was trapped. I feel she was in a prison of her own, internally, and she basically couldn’t take it anymore, and she snapped like a twig.”

When a local television news station asked Jurmu about such accusations, he defended his teachings: “God created Nina with her mental illness. He gave her all the children she could bear. And if she couldn’t handle more kids, God would’ve closed her womb.”

The cases of Nina Koistinen, Andrea Yates, and others reveal important lessons. First, the mentally ill are particularly susceptible to fear tactics employed by religious authorities. Also, due to the perceived need to grow the flock, religious authoritarian cultures often pressure parents to have, and adopt, many children, while showing little regard for just how such teachings affect families.

We have to do a better job of taking care of the mentally ill, and we need to increase funding of Child Protective Services so that social workers can protect more children from abuse. But we also have to examine just what is going on in authoritarian faith communities that try to convince parents their eternal salvation depends on them giving birth to, and taking in, more children than they can handle.

Comments

  1. It breaks my heart to hear people being taught to ignore their inner voice, the voice within them that exists to guide and protect them. When they are taught that their intuition is the voice of temptation and can no longer make rational choices based in what is best for themselves and their families. When free-will-choice is taken from them out of coersion in the belief of a judgmental and very conditionally loving God.

  2. The patriarchat is very strong in these fundamentalist groups. The Laestadians are a small church in the States but rather powerful in the Lutheran Church of Finland, with over 80 000 members.

    There are in Finland rised critical voices even from the people who are thmeselves Laestadians. E.g. from the father’s point of view.

    http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/banning-of-contraception/

  3. Dear Janet,

    A sad tale indeed, but not entirely unfamiliar to me and my sibs. I was on high alert when I read this:

    “But we also have to examine just what is going on in authoritarian faith communities that try to convince parents their eternal salvation depends on them giving birth to, and taking in, more children than they can handle.”

    My father was a neurotically, pathologically devout Catholic, though my mom had converted (as was the demand of the day) from a ‘marry and bury/ new hat on Easter’ brand of laissez-faire Anglicanism.

    I am the eldest of ten children. Mom was pregnant at least 13 times I know of. (Indeed, one of my more searing childhood memories –I was maybe 11 or 12– is seeing my mother coming toward me while I worked in the barn, blood streaming down both her legs from a miscarriage, while she yelled for me to help her. Yikes!

    With such a husband, my late father, she apparently felt she had no option but to bear all the children that ‘God’ sent her way. (Decades later, near the end of her child-bearing years, she ‘cheated,’ she freely admits.) My brothers and sisters are healthy, productive, happy adults, and Mom’s bouts with depression were no doubt due to the pressures she felt all day, every day. This was the 1950’s, a terrible time for intelligent women.

    Even today my very youngest siblings are keenly aware of the irony that they might not exist at all had Dad been less Catholic.

    And if Mom had been seriously mentally ill, instead of just stressed out, my youngest sibs could easily have gone the way of poor Ms. Koistinen’s child. So, yes, yours was a poignant tale, but not an unusual one: we all knew Catholic families our size and with our same challenges, in that era. It was common in rural areas.

    BTW–today hardly a single one of us children, who spent our entire childhood on our knees, at church and at home, is observant of much. Dad over-sold religion 24/7, and we all had a guts full of it early in life.

    Thanks for sharing this article with us.

    • Vincent,

      Your words cut to the core, and I know that many other survivors of religious child maltreatment know all too well just what you experienced. Thanks for sharing your personal story and insights.

      Janet

    • Good for you, Vincent. I’m a survivor of a different stripe (Christian Science) & I applaud the courage & self-awareness of everyone who leaves the fold. Rock on,

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you Vincet for precious sharing your experience, memories and information about the Catholic church.

      Conservative Laestadian doctrine of contraception ban is probably the most stringent in the world. It is possible that hutterites’s rules are as tight. Their fertility is also very high statistically. Hutterites are a small pietistic church, members live in USA ans Cananda, mainly.

      It should be noted that the Catholic Church accepts and even recommends the so-called natural contraception. It means following the calendar method. In fact, the previous Pope has recommended, as we have read in interviews. The Pope also approved the use of a condom, at least in certain situations.
      Fundamentalist leaders of Conservative Laestadians do not accept any contraception. Even celibacy should not engage in a longer time than illness or other issues requires it.

      It is a precious thing that you have brought this to our attention and wide debate. This affects and damages tens of thousands of women and families in Finland and America, as well as in poor countries, where Conservative Lestadians have active in their missionary work: in Africa and Latin America.

      It is desirable that the public debate on the serious harmfulness and e.g. about that very tragic case in Phoenix, causes that the religious leaders will change their doctrine. However, this is hardly expectable.

      Red Rose (Finland)

      • Thank you for helping us understand these religious authoritarian doctrines that essentially allow faith leaders to control such personal aspects of people’s lives. The murder of Maya Koistinen has brought to light a religious movement many Americans did not know existed.

        Janet

        • Many of you really need to get your facts straight regarding the Laestadian Lutheran Church and its teachings. Yes you are correct they do not believe in birth control or abortion BUT they do not teach you will go to hell if you use it. I am a former Laestadian the church and the rest of my siblings where raised in. There are situation with member of the church who have to use birth control for health reasons and the church does not frown upon it. You really need to do your homework and get your facts straight before you start passing false judgement on the church.

          • Hello, and thanks for writing,

            I don’t know just how conservative your Laestadian church was (curious why you left) but I make clear when I am writing about problematic faith communities that I am speaking about the ultra-conservative places of worship. That is where you see church leadership — such as the pastor whose sermon I quoted — dictating or subtly trying to control families by getting involved in their very personal decisions. It is clear that the church that Ms. Koistinen belonged to is authoritarian in its governance of members, and my research shows that that is where you see problems of religious child maltreatment.

            Regards,
            Janet

          • YOU ALL NEED TO READ THIS AGAIN VERY CLOSELY BEFORE MAKING SUCH STATEMENTS ABOUT THIS ORGANIZATION: Many of you really need to get your facts straight regarding the Laestadian Lutheran Church and its teachings. Yes you are correct they do not believe in birth control or abortion BUT they do not teach you will go to hell if you use it. I am a former Laestadian the church and the rest of my siblings where raised in. There are situation with member of the church who have to use birth control for health reasons and the church does not frown upon it. You really need to do your homework and get your facts straight before you start passing false judgement on the church. THIS IS THE TRUTH RIGHT HERE.

          • JenniferAnn says:

            i remember the Apostolic Lutheran Church (as its known here in the USA) quite well. i was raised in the tradition. Please allow me to pass on a few of the “rules”

            You are not allowed to win anything because it is the sin of pride and against God.
            You are not to read any book beyond the Bible, hymnal and catechism because all other books are against God.
            You are not allowed to listen to music (with the exception of singing hymns) or to dance because these are against God.
            You are not allowed to watch television, movies or go to the theater because it is against God.
            Most of science is against God for it is written that man is not meant to know what lies in the heavens above or in the earth below.
            Homosexuals are to remain single, give all of their love onto God and preach his word.
            It is greatly frowned upon to fraternize with anyone not part of the church because outsiders will lead you astray from God.
            Children are a blessing from God and while having a small family is not a sin, we should each endeavor to be worthy of and receive with joy all of God’s blessings. (This would be the part that allows for medically necessary birth control while pushing married couples to have as many children as they can.)

            The list goes on much, much longer dictating the necessity of women to wear long skirts or dresses, the length of our hair, the type of shoes we can wear, a ban on make up. (sins of pride and ‘worldliness”) Parents are called upon to raise their children to be righteous followers of their faith and encouraged to not spare the rod when its necessary to bring their children back onto the path of God.

            Daring to leave the church means you are condemned to Hell. All members of the congregation will shun you as so to not also be lead astray and that does in fact include your family which we are taught comes second only to God.

            Regardless of if you like it or not, the Apostolic Lutheran Church is little more than a cult with religious non profit status.

          • JenniferAnn,

            Thanks for sharing this. I’m sorry that you were raised in such an authoritarian faith and admire you from trying to use your story to help others understand cult abuse.

            Janet

          • We live in Battle Ground, WA, which is a population center for Apostolic Lutherans. Though we are not in the church, my boss is. Because he did not marry and chose to live a different lifestyle, he was banned from the church and shunned by his family and all members of the church community. He now admits the church is very cult-like. We had suspected that since we moved here.

            It amazes me that ALL of these Apostolic Lutheran families have 8 or more kids. The women are expected to not follow any other career other than child-bearing and raising. But it goes beyond expectation; if they choose a different path they are cast out of their community and their family. What a horror….

          • Hey, “In Faith,” I want to tell you that I grew up Laestadian, too, and in one youth discussion, we were told that if we went into a movie theater, then left and got killed by a car, we would go to hell. The only time I ever knew of a Laestadian being allowed to use birth control for health reasons was a single woman who used it for acne. And that’s a fact.

  4. Thanks for continuing the conversation. The time for silence is over. It is time for us to have a real conversation about what the churches rules do to the people trying to adhere to them.

    Women will be the ones to effect change within the church, when they start to own their own bodies…when they see women like Nina crumble.

    I for one am not surprised, yet horrified others are. What can you expect from women who are raised in captivity of these religions without even the freedom of their own bodies?

    This incident can be the catalyst for change. It begins with you. Let this little girls life not be in vain.
    Beth Jukuri, ex-FALC

    • Beth,

      I think you have zeroed in on a very important issue…women and mothers. They are so often downtrodden, and so, like you say, they hold the key to turning things around. Thanks for your input.

      Best regards,
      Janet

  5. Andrea says:

    Why don’t people just get up and leave that denomination?!?!? And if they give people a hard time about leaving, that should definitely send a red flag! Sounds like a cult to me.
    I don’t want kids, I am on birth control. . . does that mean I’m going to hell???? I don’t think I am, and I don’t care about what anyone or group of people have to say about it! I know myself, what I am an am not capable of, what I want out of life, etc. I rather live life than be miserable. I want to enjoy life. Working with children most of my life has been the best birth control and on top of that, in today’s society its hard to survive as a middle class 2 person family- I don’t want to raise a child in today’s times anyways. At least I am responsible enough, strong enough, and intelligent enough to make such a bold decision and not be swayed.
    If you are in this group and feel pressured to have lots of kids and “down trodden” then leave. You don’t have to listen and buy into that crap. Find another and more accepting faith if you need that guidance.

    • Andrea, your reply is logical. Unfortunately, relatively few people who are raised with intense religious brainwashing ever shake it off enough to leave the fold. It is hammered into children from birth that their way is the only way, it is GOD’S way. Other churches are not the TRUE church. Other Christians aren’t “REAL” Christians and will burn in hell with all of the other sinners. Fear, guilt, and love are intertwined inextricably. Any information coming from non-Christian (or not their type of Christian) sources is suspect and discouraged. Science is vilified. Non-Christian books, movies, and music are to be avoided as “of the devil”. Kids are raised with other kids of the faith, sent to Christian schools or home schooled, packed off to Bible camp, enrolled in “Pioneer Girls” (Christian version of Girl Scouts) etc. It is literally all they know. Anything unapproved of is said to be “of the world” as if the world itself is a scary, demonic place. These churches teach a very us against them (everyone else) mentality. The “Saved” and the “Unsaved”.

      Imagine growing up, from childhood, like that. You are married off very young. Your husband has all the same beliefs. Your parents, your friends, your children all believe. You’ve been taught a very specific version of the Bible. You are told what the verses “really” mean. Doubts come from Satan, who is always engaged in spiritual warfare for your soul. Your self-esteem is in tatters because you were raised to believe that you are a worthless sinner, and just a woman, after all.

      Very few people have the courage to entertain their doubts in the face of all that. Those who do often lose everything – jobs, homes, marriages, friends. It isn’t as simple as just finding another church.

      • If anyone wants to see these people in action, and the effect on the children, look up “Jesus Camp” on YouTube. I grew up with people like that. It is real.

        • Thank you for sharing that. Here is the link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486358/ It’s a harrowing movie. I quote from it in my book, because the camp’s counselor so obviously is abusing the children through a form of maltreatment called exploiting. (The camp was shut down after the movie came out, btw.) Here’s the really disturbing thing, though…There are many people who would watch this movie and NOT see the indoctrinating, the exploiting, and the brainwashing as psychological abuse.
          Janet

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you Jen for your comment to Andreas logical question.

      “Why don’t people just get up and leave that denomination?”

      It is a question of identity, and when growing up in Laestadian (os Mennonite, or Amish, or Jehovah Wittness) family and community means that he or she has Laestadian identity (os some else). In the Laestadian education is the core problem that all the most importan realtionships where a young person is dependent in, are Leastadian and their love is possible to loose if this young person would like to go out of the faith.

      It means often identity work for years, often some kind of therapy as well.

      Growing up in the Laestadian community, you feel a deep sense of warm belonging. (The sense of community and need for belonging seems to be very hot and wanted in our human life.) There are strict rules, and these rules clearly delineate how you should live your life. You know exactly what is good and what is bad and strive to make your life conform to the rules, at least publicly.

      You are thaught that the outside world is filled with atheists and dead faith churches. These people are on a lower plane of value because they are not part of the community. They, even the most honourable of them, are going to hell. You feel as if the community is a refuge from a cold outside world, filled with ravening wolves. The people who make up the outside world are not diverse and not individuals; instead they are an undistinguishable mass of people “in the world.”

      There are many community mechanisms to keep you in the group.

      The fear of those worldly wolves is drilled into your head from childhood. You fear losing your sense of community and belonging. You know that if you leave, you will be tarred as a rebellious sinner who wants to pursue just money, pleasure and easy, frivolous way of life instead of remain faithful to God and be satisfied with His grace.

      As a typical Laestadian, the community was your world. You likely didn’t take part in outside social groups such as sports or student groups, and your friends were all from the church. It is only the lonely one without the safety community…

      However, many believers manage well to gert rid and have after that a happy life. It takse time but it is possible!

      Here you can read two stories how it is to get rid; both are young ladies, one in USA and one in Finland:

      USA: http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/leaving-llc/

      Finland: http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2009/10/04/leaving-laestadianism/

      • I wonder, were did you get these viewpoints or ideas? Where did you get this information? This sounds like a religion so different from my own, but that’s just it… People outside of the religion are getting a picture of the Laestadian Lutherans so different from reality. I urge you to come to church, and I hope that you would feel the love and peace of the believers.

        • Helena, there is love & peace if you conform exactly to what the Laestadians believe. But if you differ just a little, there’s tremendous pressure to get in line. I was in this church for 30 years. There is a lot to really love about this church… The honesty & work ethic, the outdoors activities (canoeing, camping, etc), the willingness to forgive & to ask forgiveness. There is definitely a lot to love. However, it comes with a price. And that price is you have to swallow what the Laestadians teach, hook line & sinker. As in, other Christian churches are all false, everyone outside the church is going to hell (except for children & mentally disabled folks and MAYBE some people in remote areas who had never heard of Laestadianism). Their teachings contradict the Bible, which teaches, “Everyone who confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.”

      • What you say fits our experiences here in SW Washington perfectly. We have seen two members of the Apostolic Church shunned by their community and families when they decided to go against church dictates. It was very hard on them psychologically, for the reasons you state. Maybe those of you in the church feel safe and warm, but try converting or arguing against some of your church mandates and see what your church is really like…

    • People are not given a hard time for leaving. We still love them. I personally have an aunt who is not believing, and it’s very sad, but I still love her. I am not any better than her just because she isn’t believing. I am a sinner too, but I am a sinner who strives to live a life of God.

      Just another random piece of info: Just because someone is part of the church does not mean they are truly believing in their heart. Faith is a personal matter and God is the judge.

  6. Linda Martin says:

    I know first hand about this also. Coming from the Followers of Christ cult, my mother gave birth to my twin brothers at 18 years old. The followers also believe in more than 1 child. Since my mother had twins she felt she met this obligation. She sought counsel from the elders and preachers and was told she needed more than one pregnancy. 6 years later she gave in and had me. She was never shy about telling me she hated me and never wanted me. I got married at 16 and left home after we argued and I believe she attempted to kill me. Even when my mother was dying, she told me she did not want me around. She finally let me help at the end only because my father told her he needed my help. I was only one unwanted child. I can only imagine if my mother had more she would have been very capable of killing them.

    • Linda,

      I thank you for sharing your story. What you experienced only proves that these religious leaders and some congregants and parents who promote the idea of big families care little about children’s individual needs. Instead, it is about them, about growing the flock, and allowing leaders and parents more power and status. I am heartened that you are part of our Facebook group.

      Best to you,
      Janet

      • Linda Martin says:

        I believe the only way to end the abuse is to openly discuss our experiences no matter how painful. It is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrased about. I am thankful to Jan and others for keeping this dialogue open. I hope more survivors find the strength to come forward. They are not alone even though it may seem that way.

        Thank you for inviting me into the FB group,
        Linda

  7. I grew up with a Mother that came from a very strict Catholic family. My mother was seriously mentally ill. My father was a Muslim. He tried to convince my mother to use contraception because it was obvious she couldn’t and wouldn’t deal with being a parent. The baby before I came along was killed by my mother due to child abuse. I grew up being hated by my mother because I reminded her oft what she did to my brother. I watched my mother battle with my father over having children one after another due to her fear of going to Hell and being rejected by her family. My siblings are either severely dysfunctional or are victims of abuse. . Being a victim is all they know.
    I was fortunate to have received intensive therapy to undo the damage of my childhood.
    Authoritarian religions not only hurt families and create mental disorders, they severely damage the children. I reject any organized religion because of the human agenda factor. Organized religion tends to use cruel and dominating methods to maintain the power of men.

    • Toni,

      I so appreciate you sharing this painful story. You have been through so much. Thank you for reaching out to us to help us understand just how religious doctrines can destroy the lives of children and families, as well as whole communities and beyond.

      Best regards,
      Janet

  8. I thank you all for your important and insightful comments.

    Someone in our Facebook group pointed us to an article about Mitt Romney telling college graduates, “Get married, have a quiver full of kids if you can.” It is no secret that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the largest religious institutions that pushes families to procreate, rather than allowing mothers and fathers to decide for themselves what makes the most sense for their families. The sign of an authoritarian faith is when religious leaders deny adults autonomy — especially in childrearing decision — and treat parents, well, like children.

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/05/mitt-romney-quiverfull-fundamentalist-family-planning-advice

    Best to you,
    Janet

  9. Louise says:

    The news of the baby’s death is heartbreaking. Knowing that the mother is ill is also heartbreaking. Let’s not be so quick to judge the situation.

    In every community, in every club, in every organization you have evil. Groups of people, traveling life together with whatever they have in common (be it politics, religion, sports, theater) will have evil. What matters is how the group handles the evil. Do they cover it up? Do they say that murder or sexual abuse or stealing or cheating or physical abuse or manipulation or filth is ok? Do they shove it aside or defend evil? If so, then this is something to talk about.. it’s something to take a stand against the group for. If not.. take a stand on murder, on abuse, on the cheating on the lying on the evil.. not the group.

    Because I believe that you have the right to feel however you want about anyone and anything.. as long as you do no harm from it.. I will not try to change your mind about religion. I also will not try to change your mind about what kind of people you should like and what kind of people you should not like. This is the beauty of being free people. You actually can decide for yourself that you do not want to hang around white people. And guess what! That’s technically ok! I highly doubt this will bring you a life of happiness.. I’m guessing that mentality will bring you much more grief than good.. but you do not NEED to like white people. What’s not ok is to do harm to others because YOU don’t like white people.

    Everyone has the right to live the kind of life they want in the way that they want. Everyone has the right to their own opinions and their own ideas. So, with that being said, there are going to be those who think some religions are cults. And there are going to be people in these “cults” that are going to think that those outside of it are going to hell. You may say their brainwashed and they may say your discontent and lost. Who cares! Unless, of course, there is evil done onto others.. then we all care (or we should).

    I find it just fascinating how much hypocrisy happens in life everywhere. You can cast your stones at another and meanwhile someone is casting one at you. It’s the nature of life and being human..and all you can do is try your best to be the best person you can be and try to spread things that are good (and what is good? uhmm.. another philosophical discussion topic :)). If they deny what you are offering.. that’s their right. You can try to pull people from their authoritarian faith and they can try recruit you!

    What I hope you get out of my little ramble here is to not let your passions and beliefs and judgments get in the way of you being a kind loving person to those around you. Don’t let your passion of freeing people from their ‘cults’ keep you from seeing the beauty of individual freedom of a life different than yours. Don’t let what may start out as a kind passion of getting others to see life the way you do, turn into a hatred for those that don’t. This is only my advice.. take it or leave it.. it’s your choice.

    I will leave this conversation knowing I will never come back to read your comments. Yes, because I am a bit of a coward. I know that many of you will cast a stone in my direction and even though I think you have that right to feel how you want, I don’t want to burden myself with the knowledge of it. :) I’d like to live with the ignorance of it.. doesn’t that just grind some of your gizzards? :)

    • Louise,

      Thank you for expressing your feelings about religion and the other issues you raised. I’m sorry that you are only interested in expressing your view and then after that, you “will never come back to read your comments.” I understand that you are fearful that people’s responses to your comment might be harsh. In case you ever do read my response, I wanted to let you know that I monitor all comments to this site. And while I publish just about all comments — even those that express a point of view I disagree with — I do NOT allow comments that are hurtful or malicious.

      I wanted to respond to one issue you raised: “Evil” is a supernatural phenomenon, although sometimes people use it to describe bad behavior that is difficult to face or comprehend. I refrain from describing bad behavior as evil because I think it puts us at a distance from what is really going on and what is causing the bad behaviors. Is it mental illness? Then we must deal with that? Religious abuse of women? Then we must deal with that. The list goes on, but by simply writing off bad things as evil leaves us no foothold. We humans cause these problems. Therefore, it is up to us humans to fix them.

      Part of fixing them means having a respectful and open dialog so that we can learn from each other.

      Regards,
      Janet

    • Wonderful, Louise.

  10. My mentally ill sister deteriorated with the birth of each child, never regaining her prior level of functioning. It is patently immoral for someone who is schizophrenic and depressed to keep bearing children.

  11. AyameTan says:

    This is obscenely cruel. She is the contemporary Diane Downs, a psychopath who killed for attention and “affection.” I hope she never leaves prison. Thank you for bringing these cases to the public’s attention.

    • Pauliine says:

      Dear Ayame Tan, you said:

      >> This is obscenely cruel. She is the contemporary Diane Downs, a psychopath who killed for attention and “affection.” I hope she never leaves prison.

      Iwould like to emphasize, that the mother of baby is born in the family that is memmber of an ultra fundamentalistic religioius movement “Conservative Laestadians” – in the USA known Laestadian-Lutheran Church. She is taughts to believe that the religioius community is a holy group of people, and the priests never do errors because that they say comes straight from the God in the heaven. The sin is very dangerous, she believes, and using birth control is very very serious sin.

      According my knowledge about the Conservative Laestadians’ doctrines, culture and methodology to deal with the believers in the community, his woman is really a victim of the religion, as also the dead baby. This is very very sad.

      If you would like to know how difficult it is to leave this community, please find out this report of one who could do it:

      http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/living-as-my-true-self/

      and:

      http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2009/10/04/leaving-laestadianism/

      Guidelines for memmber who would try to leave:

      http://www.wikihow.com/Leave-the-Old-Apostolic-Lutheran-Church

      It is very long journey to become adult confident person after growing up in the Laestadian family.

      A young American author has written a novel about the theme:

      Hanna Pylvainen: We Sinners

      http://www.cleveland.com/books/index.ssf/2012/08/hanna_pylvainens_beautiful_we.html

      • This is so sad when people who don’t know much- if anything- about the religion, claim to do so and draw conclusions that are far from true. Members of the church simply do not have time to reply and straighten out misconceptions or ideas about our religion, nor will we even try to. The fact is, there is beginning to be more and more false ideas out there about the religion than true ones. This just paints a picture so different than the reality of the Laestadian Lutherans.

        First of all, the link under “guidelines for members who would try to leave” is a link to the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. This is not the same as Laestadian Lutherans. The two different religions branched apart from each other.

        Priests are sinners just as everyone is. Everyone sins, and there are no “levels” of sin. Sin is sin. No one sin is a “greater” sin than the other.

        Also the book that Hanna Pylvainen wrote is not a true story. It may be based on a true story, but parts may be warped due to bitterness, regret, as a way to justify leaving, etc. I haven’t read the book, but who knows, Hanna may be regretful or not sure in her heart she did the right thing by leaving, and writing the book is a way of justifying it. The point is, you don’t know, I don’t know, and none of us know her real feelings and real experiences. Also, I guess the thing to keep in mind is that just because a family attends the church regularly does not mean they are believing.

        I have one suggestion. Do not speak to people who have never been in the church to gain insight into the religion. They often have no idea what the church is about, as you can clearly see from this reply from Pauliine. Pretty much all the information in her post was wrong. Be careful what you believe. So sad. Speaking to ex-members will not give you insight either. I suggest you come to church, and I hope that you would be able to feel the love and peace of God.

        • Thank you Helena for your opinion, very important issues to read for everyone who has lived or lives close to the laaestadian community.

          However, you said: “there are no “levels” of sin. Sin is sin. No one sin is a “greater” sin than the other. ”

          The leading preachers and responsible leaders of the Laestadian Lutherans in Finland, SRK (the Central Committee of Conservative Laestadian Congregations), the sister organisation of the American LLC, has said last week in the media here, that that conception of sins is not valid anymore.

          There are different levels within sins, said e.g. priest Viljo Juntunen, a vice chair of SRK. It does exsist strongly heavy sins, e.g. child abuse.

          There has been a schock for the public that there inside of the Laestadien congregation are living several abusers as free, never reported to police – caused and/or supported by mistaught Laestadian doctrine of forgiveness and silence. recently published university research demonstrates that there are recognized over 150 pedophiles in the congregation and they have had hundreds of victims.

          in Finnish:

          http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/srkn-johto-lupasi-uudistaa/

          http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/taivaan-taimet/

          A previoius public discussion 2010-2011, in English
          http://freepathways.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/child-abuse-srk/

  12. You say: ‘She is taughts to believe that the religioius community is a holy group of people, and the priests never do errors’ You have no idea what you’re talking about! You are very misinformed, and this column of yours is a bunch of baloney!

  13. I read the column with great interest….It’s always sad to see a death of a child in hands of people (by abuse, by beliefs that it’s a sin, etc) I’m not here to advocate which religion is the best or stop in believing in anything. Often, I have seen religions play in roles leading to abuse, death, problems. I do not think there is such a perfect religion. Yes, I believe in God although I don’t belong to certain religion. I’ve seen people being ‘brainwashed’ by certain religion groups although I will not name the ones.

    One of my friends who is currently on trial for the abuse leading to death of her adopted child. She claimed she was a christian. (Religion does play a role in a sense) She followed the Pearls (extreme christians who believed in discipline of children–I.E. spanking, etc) So, it may have played a role leading to this. I did not approve of what my so-called friend has done to her adopted child.

    Just putting in my two cents.

    • Hello, Steve,

      Thank you for contributing your thoughts. Religion can be used to help and harm. What’s important is that we learn what leads it to go one way or the other. There are warning signs. We can prevent religious child abuse and neglect. One way is to keep the conversation going and so I appreciate your input.

      Best to you,
      Janet

  14. Anyone who spent time studying this cult will be shocked and then asking questions makes more turmoil. One way or another they are related and lots of incest takes place. People are really mixed up what this cult is about, mentally illness, brain wash is the source more than mental illness is the cause made by this cult. It is hard to be deprogramed before something happens, unfortunately it was a killing. This cult needs to investigated, like the crazy guy in the Mormon polygamists. Until one really gets involved with this cult will one see just BRAIN DAMAGE THEY CAN DO TO A PERSON. To save one is a long slow process. The person will find it hard to separate them form the cult to reality.

  15. Sad article. The Old Apostolics are VERY MUCH a cult like church and community. Growing up with them as a young kid you dont quite understand their ways until you get older and realize. They follow their elders and preachers “rules”. Not the Bible. Berserk! GOD is the one who you should be counseling to, NOT the preachers! The Apostolics are totally different and do not think you are going to hell if you wear jewelry, nail polish, etc.. The Olds reside very largely in WA, WY, MT, SD, MN, WI, MI etc..the Apostolics are also in WA, SD, MN, MI, NH, SC, NC etc..very big difference between the Olds and Apostolics.

  16. As a member of the laestadian Lutheran church, I find it sad that so many people readily point out the “negatives” in the way we believe. I have experienced life outside of this faith and found for myself, only darkness. God will take care of his own and He truly knows what’s best for us even when we can’t see it. We can’t blame religion for the death of somebody. It is truly sad what has happened but we don’t no the condition of Ninas heart when this happened and the devil is always so close. But all sin can be forgiven, except for blasphemy. And there is no sin greater than the other, although our temporal minds may think there is. Sin is equal in the eyes of God and He loves the sinner but hates the sin. It is impossible to explain to somebody who doesn’t believe the same way as I do, the light, joy and happiness it brings. Faith is so personal. Nobody can believe for anyone else. When I gave up my faith, I thought life would be so much better. I could do what I wanted. I was “free”. But that’s just it. I wasn’t. I was miserable. I didn’t want anything to do with church. Each morning I would wake up blackened. It was also beautiful and comforting to me that my believing friends still lived and cared for me. They still wanted to be with me. They accepted my choice, as did my parents. I know it was very difficult on them but they just wanted me to be happy, and if the world made me happy then they would accept it. But it was a dark place and I thank God that he opened my eyes once more and aloud my heart to accept the gospel. Everyday is a struggle to believe. But it’s MY struggle and ultimately this is where I am happiest. The gift of faith is truly a beautiful blessing.

    • Hi, Nel. I left the Laestadian church too, and my experience was the opposite of yours. I prayed that God would show me the true way — if it was to stay a Laestadian, then I would, and if it was to leave the church, then I would do that. God put so many people in my life to show me the depth of faith that exists outside the Laestadian church. In fact, people outside the Laestadian church desire to follow God with a passion that I never knew inside the church. They TALK about Jesus. How many Laestadians actually talk about Jesus? We talked about “staying in faith,” and “the way and the journey,” but in my 30 years in that church, we rarely spoke the name of Jesus outside the church sanctuary. There is an amazing power and peace that comes from leaving the church and following God.

  17. I’m a lifelong member of the Apostoic Lutheran Church. And I have experienced the grace and the love of God and the forgiveness of all of my sins. We believe that children are a blessing and that Jesus loves children and he says whosoever shall receive one such child in my name receives me. Our hearts should be open to children. We also know that we live in a fallen world and everything is not perfect and we are very finite. We have the freedom in Christ also to not burden our wives above and beyond what they are able to bear, but to dwell
    with them according to knowledge,giving honor unto them as unto the weaker vessel.

    • Thank you for submitting this information about your church. Perhaps it would be helpful for others needing to understand what might have led to this crime of a mother against her child if you commented on it. Rather than remain aloof from the issue, people of faith are trying to engage others in discussion about these tough issues. Receiving only words that seem to defend the faith and avoid the hard-hitting emotions that arise in cases like this does little to move the conversation forward. That is what this site is about. It’s about being open, not static. What is the church doing to support the “fallen” and the victims of those who have fallen? Could it do more to prevent such tragedies?

  18. scotta. says:

    I went to this strange cult church back in the 70s as a young teen.they believe red is the color of the devil.and whistling is calling the devil. you cant get to heaven by following what some religion tells you to do. We cant work our way to heaven.we can never live up to GODS standards.the bible says all our righteousness is like filthy rags.the only way to heaven is to realize you are a lost sinner.just tell GOD you are sorry for your sins and ask JESUS to come into your heart and turn away from sin.the bible says for whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.that means anybody can be saved.JESUS said I AM THE WAY THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE NO MAN COMETH UNTO THE FATHER BUT BY ME. and the bible also says unless you repent you shall all likewise perish. But then it goes on to say GOD isnt willing that any should perish but that all come to repentance.get saved today its the one and only way to heaven.

  19. scotta. says:

    Another thing i wanted to say is the people of the oalc would come up and put their arms around you and cry their eyes out and confess their sins to you. That always made me feel really uncomfortable. Besides i cant forgive you of your sins you need to confess your sins to GOD not sinful humans.they follow superstitions and what do superstitions have to do with CHRISTIANITY? Nothing! We are all born sinners and we all need a SAVIOR.the church i went to is by cokato MN. strange beliefs that church has.one of the church elders would get up in front and just shake and babble on you couldnt understand a word he was saying how does that do anyone any good? If you are in a church like that get out NOW. AND go find a bible believing BAPTIST church.get saved before you leave this life because it will be forever to late for you if you die without accepting CHRIST into your heart.you will not get a second chance.even though this so called church tells you their way is the only way to heaven its all a LIE from the pit of hell.the bible says for whosoevers name was not found written in the book of LIFE. was cast into the lake of fire.and hell is eternal it has no end ever.get saved today before its foever too late.

  20. These comments, for the most part, make me very sad-perrpetuation of misinformation breeds fear and segregation. I am a member of the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. The lists of “rules” above is nonsense. We are a Christianity of the heart, meaning that if something feels wrong in your heart, you should not do it. Certainly we have guidance from our preachers to help us on that path. But as in all churches, we are made up of imperfect members and surrounded by imperfect non-members whom both can misunderstand/ mistepresent that guidance . This article and the comments would have served a much better purpose were they written in an attempt to shine a light on a broken social and medical system instead of pointing a blaming finger. As individuals we need to not be ashamed of depression/mental health needs and ask for help. As a community we need to stop the judgement, recognize those in need, and assist. Our medical sys needs to do a better job of screening for mental health concerns and following thru with management of the concerns. What we dont need is further isolation of individuals or religious groups brought about by criticizing/labeling things we dont understand.

    • It’s interesting that you accuse me of bias and, it would seem, unfairness simply because I am willing to look at systemic problems in this religious group, or as you say “criticizing/labeling things,” as opposed to just blaming “imperfect” members. And yet, you feel it’s fair game to go after systemic problems in other institutions, such as the “social and medical system.” Is this the same kind of reaction that people inside your church receive when they gather the courage to point out flaws? No one should have to feel guilty or shamed from pointing out problems in any system or institution if it is out of concern for people’s health and safety. I don’t denegrate your right to criticize the medical establishment, because to do so would cripple the opportunity for improvement. You are right that I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in your church, perhaps just as you might not be familiar with what it’s like to work as a doctor or nurse. However, to try to silence discussion on the topic does a huge disservice to individuals who have been hurt in your community. I wrote this article as a way to give a voice to those who don’t feel they have the freedom to speak their mind.

  21. I happened across this article while doing some late night research. While I am not familiar with this specific Apostolic church tradition, I also grew up in an Apostolic Lutheran Church tradition. I started leaving when I was 19 didn’t completely leave until I was 22, due to trying to live in both worlds and trying to pacify family. To those who wonder why folk don’t leave. Perhaps the #1 reason is because being raised in this means you have NO other contacts/friends/family. If you leave, you are not just leaving a church, you are literally leaving your family and your friends. Everyone. All gone. All at once. Now it may be, that a few may buck the system and remain in a relationship with you, but there’s no way to know that ahead of time.

    It’s important to note that the Laestadian’s (forgive my spelling) have split into many different churches. So what was true for one person in one group is not necessarily true for another person in another group. Additionally, even in the specific group I grew up in there are conflicting views and I often hear cries like the one above, that “WE” don’t teach (xyz). All I can say is, **I** was taught.

    I wish folk would step back a bit and realize that one person’s experiences may not have anything to do with THEM. Rather than posting and saying, a broad brushing we would never statement, why not say, in the specific group I was raised in, this was not the case. And then perhaps offer that those who attend where this kind of extreme legalism is in place, might find a new church home with you. Then offer them your personal information or at least your church’s information! Yadda yadda. You know, be HELPFUL, instead of trying to make people who have been abused not talk about it. And it is/was spiritual abuse.

    Many things were taught non verbally. This also contributes to the indignant cry ‘we never taught’. Yeah. Well. Here’s the thing. If a child grows up knowing they should only be friends with people from the church. They should only marry a ‘true believer’ and true believer is always understood to be ‘in THE church’. And preachers regularly talk about every other church as ‘dead faith churches’, etc and so forth, they don’t HAVE to come right out and say, All other churches are going to hell. It’s implied. The children grow up believing that. And when you leave and are battling cancer and your mother writes you a letter saying she hopes you don’t die before you see the error of your ways (no this wasn’t me)… well…. it’s pretty obvious that everyone not in ‘THE group’ is going to hell. Just as it is implied in OH so many ways that couples should have as many children as they can pop out regardless. From the time I was a small child, it was understood without so many words being said, that as a female it was expected that I would meet a “christian” (i.e. fellow ALC member) husband, get married, and have children. There was no concept of doing anything else. I was taught college was a sin and would lead me ‘astray’. It was understood, I should simply work whatever job supplied enough food and shop for a husband.

    This sort of self protectiveness is quite common. Since so many things are taught via custom, non verbally, and through hearing the adults taught when you are a child, it is EASY to deny they were ever taught. And I truly believe the deniers believe it themselves. They are not lying per say, they have most often, deceived themselves. After all, who remembers the conversation they hear as a child playing in the corner while their mother and others “discuss” and “tsk” the waywardness of some person or another who did some seemingly harmless thing and yet clearly it must be a horrible thing or why are they tsking it? But you see, NO ONE will ever talk about it. The child forms their beliefs and forgets the actual conversation that caused the belief. And since the adults were gossiping they will never admit they said what they said. And when their belief is confronted head on, it sounds unpleasant because rarely do their actual beliefs line up with what they KNOW to be true. So they deny it.

    This does apply directly to child abuse. I have personal experience with dealing with a family where there was incest among siblings and cousins from young teens to toddlers. Yet not a single soul in the family is willing to discuss this openly and honestly and have instead blamed one of the victims who insisted there needed to be honest, open, discussion. Over the years, more and more putrid details have risen to the surface and it has become more apparent that various adults (at the time the incest was happening) likely know far more than they are admitting, thus their refusal to have an honest discussion. But by golly, they are good people, godly people, forgiven people. I have to ask. HOW can one be forgiven if they ask for forgiveness from someone OTHER than the person who they did the wrong to??? If I punch you in the nose and ask Jim for forgiveness, does this make sense? Their very system of forgiveness is flawed and is being utilized by abusers to hide. Once the person ‘asks forgiveness’ the victim is then told they are to never talk about it again. This is said, EVEN IF the person asked forgiveness from someone else and the victim had no knowledge of it. It is also said if the person asks forgiveness for something completely not relevant. For example, Bob punches Joe in the nose. Bob then asks Joe to forgive him for raising his voice. Joe is then supposed to ‘move on’ from Bob punching him in the nose because Bob ‘had it forgiven’. It is ludicrous and childish and beyond narcissistic. To those who want to say, this doesn’t happen. Sorry it does. I am not the only one who has seen this, experienced this, dealt with this. I could sit and write here all night, with real life examples of similarly nasty things. These things have nothing to do with being “imperfect”. They have to do with blatantly living IN SIN.

    People can say, you need to research, but it seems to me, the comments of those who LIVED It ARE research. We are not lying. We are not making this stuff up. Those of us who have left have been through years of emotional damage to do so. We have endured judgement and anger. We have been randomly attacked (verbally) in grocery stores and gas stations. We have had close family pretend to not see us in stores. We have been told by close family we are going to hell. Some have died with our own mother refusing to sit by our side. We have been sat down and ‘set straight’ by those who think they are more loving than those who just outright attack. We have had our faith, our character, our reputations slandered. We have had our children approached in public and told we are liars. We have been called names. If the churches of this tradition are as loving and nice and open and wonderful as so many would claim, then WHY is it a commonly told story that people who leave are treated so horribly?

    One last thing. While I was still in the church, I started visiting another church. I hid it because I knew it would NOT be accepted, but I wanted to know because I was watching people I worked with and seeing that they truly believed in God the same as me. I visited another church, while continuing to faithfully attend the ALC church service. This went on for several months. No one was the wiser. And NO ONE treated me any differently. No one had a problem with me. No one questioned anything I said in Bible study type discussions. Until. The fateful day when someone found out. And told someone else. Who confronted me in a restaurant in front of a group. It was a very simple conversation. “I heard you’ve been visiting another church.” “Yep” “I heard it’s a BAPTIST (said like it’s a dirty word) church” “Yep” LOOOOONG pause. “Well you AREN’T going to KEEP going are you???” “Probably”. Silence. The entire group got up as one and left. THAT showed me the lie. The lie that we don’t say others are going to hell. If that’s true, then why did they care? Behavior ALWAYS tattles on your true beliefs folks. It doesn’t matter what you SAY. What matters is what you DO.

    • Lara, I greatly appreciate your thoughtful and honest comments, as well as your courage to see the group of your upbringing in an objective way, even if it was a gradual process to get there fully. I know that many others who have made a similar transition in their lives could learn from your experiences. If you’re comfortable with it, please join our closed Child-Friendly Faith Facebook group. Thanks again for sharing your story and for your advocacy.
      Janet

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