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The Cult Status of the Laestadian Lutheran Church

The Laestadian Lutheran Church is a conservative Lutheran sect of Christianity. Leastadians follow the teachings of Martin Luther and Lars Levi Laestadius. Laestadius was from a remote region of Swedish Lapland, in 1836 he had a spiritual awakening when he confessed his sins to a woman he had met named Maria. Maria freed Laestadius from his sins "by proclaiming absolution." Laestadians call this the "discovery of the keys", referring to the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Laestadius then began to preach against alcohol and worldliness as well as about the forgiveness of sins that he had received from Mary. (Hepokoski, "Lars Levi Laestadius and the Revival in Lapland.) This is the core of Laestadianism, the idea that one "believer" who as the Holy Spirit in them can forgive another persons sins. (LaestadianLutheranChurch.org) Shortly after Laestadius met Maria there was a religious revival in his congregation and thus Laestadianism was born, it has since spread throughout the globe and currently resides in Finland, Sweden, parts of West Africa, Ecuador, 12 U.S. states, and 3 Canadian provinces. There are 7,000 members on North America spread between 37 congregations. (LaestadainLuheranChurch.org) Although the Laestadian Lutheran Church (LLC) presents itself as a part of the Christian faith, a closer look reveals the church to be nothing more than a cult. There are 14 criteria for cults and the LLC fills 13 of them. (Lalich, Langone)

In the Laestadian Lutheran Church there is no one central figure like many other cults, instead there are ministers and board members that have immense control over the direction of the church. It is preached that ministers are the mouthpiece of God, that God is speaking through them when they are at the alter. Laestadian Lutheran Church displays zealous and unquestioning commitment to the ministers and board members.

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged. The gospel, or the forgiveness of sins states "believe all sins and doubts forgiven in Jesus name and blood." To include doubts in the forgiveness of sins is to consider it something that must be forgiven, or a sin. Leaders and members express deep concern for people when they are having doubts as doubting and not having it forgiven can lead to a loss of faith. Some members have questioned the church and have been ostracized. Ed Soumanin was once an integral part of the Laestadian congregation in Spokane Washington, he was shamed and ostracized when, trying to understand his faith, he wrote a book about the church that questioned many aspects of their beliefs. He has since left Laestadianism. Trying to understand God's word with your mind is warned against, one must simply have faith and believe.

The leadership of the LLC dictates how members should think, act, and feel. There are so many things that are considered sin in Laestadianism that talking about them starts to feel like a long list of do's and don'ts. Certain forms of bodily adornment are considered sin such as body piercings, tattoos, make up, and hair dyes. Long hair in men is discouraged and music that is not hymns of Zion or is too worldly is considered sin as well. (LaestadainLutheranChurch.org) These surface things have impact on how believers' lives are lived but there are things that are considered sin that have a significantly negative impact on them. Women are severely impacted by the fact birth control is considered sin and is vehemently preached against, even abstinence is considered sin. Women are expected to bare as many children as God gives them, often ignoring doctors' recommendations. If childbirth could result in a mothers or the child's death, it is still expected that the mother will carry the child to full term. Abortion is always considered sin, no exceptions. The strain of the expectation of bearing so many children often has the effect that young girls will not even consider careers or higher education because the likelihood of them having over a dozen children to care for is quite high. The church controls who members date and marry by preaching that one must only marry or date within God's Kingdom, homosexual behavior is sin, to file for divorce is sin and if, in the rare case that a Leastadian's spouse leaves the faith and divorces them, to remarry after divorce is considered sin. Remarrying is only acceptable if one's spouse has passed away. (LaestadianLutheranChurch.org.) Having so many restrictions in place on how think, act, and feel can leave a person feeling isolated from the world.

The restrictions on how to live as a believer result in a polarized Us vs. Them mentality. A common theme of the church is that they are in the light and unbelievers are in the dark. There are several hymns in the Laestadian hymnal "Songs and Hymns of Zion" that reference the "people who walk in darkness." (Hymn 22, 148) Young people are discouraged from having unbelieving friends which only adds to the feeling of Us vs. Them and to the isolation from the world.

Another aspect of cultism that adds to the Us vs. Them mentality is that the LLC like almost all cults claims an elitist, special exalted status. Laestadians believe that the LLC is the one true church and that to have your sins forgiven by a believer is the only way to be heaven acceptable. (Frantti)

There is only one criteria of a cult that the LLC does not fit. Many cult leaders are not accountable to authorities, they have found sinister ways of protecting themselves from the rule of law, often by brainwashing their constituents to lie in order to protect them. In the LLC this is not entirely the case, while many believers follow the words of the ministers blindly and would hesitate to report any wrongdoings to the police, the ministers are fully aware of the law and are law abiding citizens for the most part.

While ministers are law abiding citizens, there is a sinister underbelly to the organization they believe in. The LLC claims that the ends justify whatever means necessary. The phrase "the ends justify the means" often invokes thoughts of cults on murderous rampages or mass suicides. With the LLC how they believe in the phrase is on not such a gruesome level, but is no less disturbing because of the dogmatic following of the scripture "be fruitful and multiply. The LLC believes so surely that birth control is a sin that most believing women will not use it to even save their life. If a woman is going to die from having another child it is all worth it because she will go to heaven with a clear conscience because she did not try to control her pregnancies.

There are many things in the LLC that are considered sin that if one would rebel against the constrictions they might have a more fulfilling life. One that seems obvious is that marrying outside the church is considered sin. There are single people in the church who have not found a spouse with in the congregation, they are encouraged to pray for contentment and pray that god will give them a spouse. A song from Songs and Hymns of Zion shows the outlook that Laestadians have on their lives here on earth: "The way doth lead to perfect bliss, but a way of pain it is."(567) It is better to be lonely and without companionship than to marry outside the church and risk your faith.

The LLC's ban on birth control is a large contributing factor of why they fill so many of the criteria of a cult. One of the criteria of a cult is, a group that is preoccupied with bringing in new members. The LLC does not knock on their neighbors door and try to convert them, instead, the preferred method of bringing in new members is to make them. The LLC's main source of new members is by having children. Laestadians take the Bible literally when it comes to "be fruitful and multiply," most of them multiply several times over by having children as long as they are able. There have been some mission trips to West Africa and South America but most believers were born into the faith. It is speculated that less than 10% of membership is from converts. (Suominen)

There is much guilt and shame in the LLC. The ministers induce these feelings of guild in order to influence and control members. Everything in the LLC comes back to sin, and sins must always be confessed and forgiven. Sins can be confessed to and forgiven by any believer, creating more guilt and shame by the idea that believers often confess to people that they see on a daily basis, their friends and family. If you partake in any number of socially unacceptable actives that are not sanctioned by the church, you will be shamed in spoken and unspoken ways. It is shameful to struggle with your faith, and some of the things that are considered sin, just the act of confessing them is embarrassing for some. Premarital sex, masturbation, and even having sexual desires outside of marriage is considered sin. For someone to have to confess as sin something that is a normal bodily function is tough. In the LLC confession is not required, your sins can be forgiven without confession, but to leave a sin unforgiven can cause it to fester and bother at a person, often wracking a person with guilt for something that is perfectly normal to someone in "the world."(LeastadianLutheranChurch.org)

When someone "gives up their faith" family members are not discouraged from seeing them but ministers warn of the dangers of maintaining too close a relationship. Subservience to the congregation encourages members to cut ties their family and friends who are not believers. (Anderson) It is not common but also not unheard of for a family to "disown" their child when they leave the faith or come out as homosexual. Actions this drastic are not sanctioned by the church but often the pressure to toe the line or to keep the remaining children in the church can cause a parent to act in this way.

The idea that unbelievers can endanger one's faith is the reason that the LLC checks yet another box on the checklist for cults. Members are encouraged and even required to live and socialize only with other believers. Marrying outside the church is considered sin and to do so would be to give up your faith. Since marrying outside the church is sin, it follows that dating an unbeliever is discouraged. It is suggested that if you are romantically interested in someone who is an unbeliever, you must wait until they convert before pursuing a relationship. It is preached that even having close relationships with unbelievers will jeopardize your faith, the will cause you to question the church which is not worth the risk. (Jurmu, Jim)

Toeing the line is important to the LLC and not just faith wise, the LLC is preoccupied with making money. One can imagine that money is a hot topic with Laestadians, taking care of a large brood is expensive and so is running a church. The board members encourage young people to buy membership as soon as they are confirmed at the age of 16. At the yearly annual budget meeting members are pressured to pay monthly dues of over $200 per family. There are many believers but not nearly as much paying members. (Suominen)

One would imagine that with having such large families to raise and provide for, a Laestadian would rarely have time to make it to services yet members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to church functions. Looking at the calendar of events on LaestadainLutheranChurch.org can be quite overwhelming. There are church services twice a day on Sundays, during the school year there is an hour of Sunday school for kindergarten through 9th grade. On Wednesdays there is Bible Class, and during the summer there are church camps for kindergarten through 9th grade ranging from 3 days to two weeks long. Also during a weekend in the summer and winter there are Summer and Winter Services, which consists of 4 solid days of services and fellowship. Contributing more to the strain on time management is the fact that because of the large number of births in the faith there are baby showers quite often as well as weddings almost every weekend in the summers. There are a large amount of marriages where the bride and groom are under 20 or still teenagers, which is subsequent of extramarital sex being considered sin. Which comes full circle and contributes to more children and future members because the younger a woman gets married, the more children she can bare in her lifetime. The camps for the children may actually be a welcome break for their strained parents.

The crowning jewel on the LLC's cultism is that the most loyal members feel there can be no life outside of the church. The believe there is no other way to be and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the faith. Sunday mornings are a reminder not only of the joys of heaven, but also of how dark and lonely "the world" is. This reminder comes not only from what the ministers say at the pulpit but even from the hymns that are sung before and after the service. (Songs and Hymns of Zion, 567)The first verse of hymn 388 in Songs and Hymns of Zion shows how believers feel they would be lost without the church, "Clouds obscure the shining sun neath a vail of darkness, bringing anguish everywhere, filling minds with sadness." Leaving the church would be to give up this precious gift and plunge yourself into this dark sad world that is described.

There are many religions in the world, all of which can be healthy outlets to their followers. Cults are formed when a person or group of people take these religions and create a rhetoric around their religion that gives them power over another. Most cults fill several of the 14 items on the list created by the International Cultic Studies Association. While the word "cult" often brings to mind destructive cults like the ones of Jim Jones and Charles Manson, there are cults in existence that don't brainwash their members by violence or drugs, but by fear of the rest of the world. This research demonstrates that the LLC is in fact one of these cults.

Works Cited:

Hepokoski, Warren H. "Lars Levi Laestadius and the Revival in Lapland."

Jurmu, Jim. "JJurmu June 26, 2015." Sunday Services. Minnesota, Rockford. 06 Dec. 2016. Laestadian Lutheran Church

Koivukangas, George. "Doubts on the Journey: Where Do We Turn?" Voice of Zion 29.1 (2013): 10-11. Laestadian Lutheran Church

Suominen, Edwin A. An Examination of the Pearl. N.p.: Ed Suominen

"Right and Wrong - Position Statement." Laestadian Lutheran Church

Glynn, Alexandra, and Rick Nevela. Songs and Hymns of Zion. Loretto, MN: Laestadian Lutheran Church

Anderson, Ruth. "Believing Friends." The Shepard's Voice 23.5 (2015): n. pag.Laestadian Lutheran Church

Frantti, Jim. "Forgiveness, God's Great Gift." Voice of Zion (2015): n. pag. Laestadian Lutheran Church

Nikula, Rodrick, Pirjo Kanniainen, and Anna-Leena Heikkila. "Singlehood." Paivamies 41 (2014): n. pag. Laestadian Lutheran Church

"Calendar of Events." Laestadian Lutheran Church. Laestadian Lutheran Church

Lalich, Janja. "Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups - Revised." Cults 101: Checklist of Cult Characteristics. International Cultic Studies Association

Dec 9, 2016   #3
Ava, in the opening statement, you should focus on presenting the fact that the church is considered a cult in its country of origin. Present some basic information that led to the conclusion that it is a cult and then explain why it is important for the reader to know about the cult status of the church. Don't present any quoted information at this point. Your only aim in the opening statement is to present the topic for discussion in the succeeding parts of the research paper. You are not supposed to present any form of formal discussion yet.

I am a bit confused about the actual focus of your paper. Are you presenting a historical look at the development of the cult? Or are you presenting a discussion as to why the religion became a cult and how it is considered in modern times? You seem to have more than two types of discussions going simultaneously in this essay which divides the focus of the content, confuses the presentation of information, and doesn't really allow the reader to develop a clear idea regarding the relevance of the research.

The essay also has more than half of the information coming from quotes. Try to paraphrase most of the references with the relevant in-text citations so that the research paper will not be flagged for plagiarism should it be run in plagiarism software or websites by your professor. Any more than 30 % of quotes gets presented as a plagiarized paper in most plagiarism checker systems.

Finally, please divide the essay into proper paragraphs so that the stress on the eyes of the reader will be lessened and allow the reader to more easily follow your flow of thought in the paper. You have an interesting paper. It just needs to be properly tweaked in order to better represent the information that you wish to discuss.

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