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Conservative Laestadianism is the largest branch of the Lutheran revival movement Laestadianism. It has spread to 16 countries. As of 2012 there were about 115,000 Conservative Laestadians, most of them in Finland, the United States, and Sweden. The movement and this denomination attribute their teachings to the Bible and the Lutheran Book of Concord.
Laestadianism received its name from Pastor Lars Levi Laestadius. The origin of the denomination's name from the Finnish-based word Conservative ("vanhoillis-") is unknown. In North and South America as well as in Africa this denomination is known as the Laestadian Lutheran Movement.
The movement began in Swedish Lapland. Laestadius met a Sami woman named Milla Clementsdotter of Föllinge, during an 1844 inspection tour of Åsele. Clementsdotter recited various biblical teachings to Laestadius. This was an important meeting for Laestadius because afterwards he felt he understood the secret of living faith. He believed that he received the forgiveness for his sins and saw the way that led to the eternal life. His sermons underwent a marked transformation, and the movement began to spread from Sweden to Finland and Norway.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Laestadianism broke into three branches: The Firstborn Laestadianism, Reawakening and Conservative Laestadianism. After this major schism, several other groups have also departed from Conservative Laestadianism. It nevertheless remains the largest branch of Laestadianism.
Dissociation and exclusivity
Conservative Laestadianism's leadership rigidly adheres to the teaching that all other Christian groups, including other Laestadian sub-groups, even those doctrinally identical to Conservative Laestadians, are heretical and have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Child sex abuse scandal
In 2011, Finnish news media, including the paper Kaleva, reported widespread child sexual abuse and coverup within Finnish Conservative Laestadianism occurring over at least 30 years that eventually led to many criminal cases including against several Laestadian lay preachers, resulting in lengthy prison terms. Child welfare expert Johanna Hurtig, herself a Conservative Laestadian, uncovered the abuse in the course of her research on sexual abuse in the Finnish Lutheran church as a whole. After she was reportedly ridiculed and dismissed by a recalcitrant Conservative Laestadian leadership, Hurtig's findings were reported to the media, leading to wide scrutiny of the sect by the Finnish public. The problem was attributed in part to the core Laestadian doctrine known as the declaration of forgiveness, which meant in practice that the victims, often children who were subjected to repeated acts of violence for years, were expected to forgive the perpetrators time after time rather than reporting the crimes to the police.
The central teaching of Conservative Laestadianism, like the movement as a whole, is the declaration of forgiveness of sins whereby members proclaim to one another, "You can believe all sins forgiven in Jesus' name and precious blood," or similar words. Upon receiving this rite, a believer is said to receive the Holy Spirit allowing him or her to be saved from eternal damnation on the basis that God forgets all sins when they have been forgiven. This rite is also called the power of the "keys of the kingdom."
Conservative Laestadians believe that God has given the gift of faith to every child born in the world, although in their world view only Conservative Laestadians actually accept the gift.
Baptism is seen as a covenant of good conscience between God and man wherein God strengthens the faith of the child and raises him or her in the care of the congregation. A human who has fallen from the grace of baptism can receive that gift of faith back through repentance.
Repentance is seen as a change of heart. It includes penitence for sin committed, but at the same time faith in the gospel as the absolution of sins (these being the teachings of Martin Luther).
Communion is a remembrance meal which was established by Jesus. Its purpose is to strengthen a believer's faith.
The Kingdom of God can be discovered on earth, according to Jesus' teachings. It is a kingdom of grace on earth and a kingdom of glory in heaven. The Kingdom of God is unanimous in faith, doctrine and love.
- A free translation from SRK:s homepage, (Thus We Believe)
Conservative Laestadians often have large families due to their belief that contraception is a sin. They believe that God is the lord of birth and death. They do not have a television at home because of the showing of offensive and sinful programing. They do not drink alcohol or listen to pop music. Recently however, the Internet is blurring the line between television and no television as many watch television programming on the Internet. Conservative Laestadians have about 780 preachers and 120 priests. LLC has about 68 preachers. All preachers among Conservative Laestadianism are men.
Conservative Laestadianism is located mainly in northern Europe and North America. Small congregations can be found in Africa, southern Europe and South America. There are about 115.000 Conservative Laestadians, most of them in Finland, United States and Sweden. Most (80,000-150,000) are in Finland. Conservative Laestadians organize big summer services every year. It is the biggest religious event in Nordic countries. About 70,000 guests come from all over the world. Conservative Laestadianism does mission work in 16 countries: Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Canada, Kenya, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo and the United States.
Congregations in North America are located in the following provinces and states:
Associations and church
- Laestadian Lutheran Church (North America)
- SRK (Finland)
- SFC (Sweden and Norway)
- Eesti luterlik rahuühendus (Estonia)
Conservative Laestadians have five newspapers, three in Finland and two in North America. Those newspapers are translated into eight languages. The LLC publishes The Voice of Zion and The Shepherd´s Voice. (languages: English, Finnish, French and Spanish). The SRK in Finland publishes: Päivämies, Siionin Lähetyslehti and Siionin Kevät. (Languages: Estonian, Finnish, English, German, Russian and Swedish). They have a song book, which has been translated into 7 languages. It is called Songs and Hymns of Zion. There is also a book which describes Conservative Laestadians' doctrine. The name of this book is "The Treasure Hidden in a Field" and it can be ordered from the LLC webstore. However, the Bible is their most important book.
- Treasure hidden in a field, ISBN 1-887034-04-8
- From Victory to Victory, SRK
- In the Footsteps of the Sheep, ISBN 1-887034-03-X
- By Faith, LLC
- God is Love, ISBN 1-887034-01-3
- The Storms Will Cease, ISBN 0-8087-0038-3
- Aviva and the First Christmas, LLC
- Laestadian Lutheran Church
- Association of Peace
- SRK, Suomen rauhanyhdistysten keskusyhdistys
- SFC, Sveriges fridsföreningarnas centralorganisation
- Eesti luterlik rahuühendus
- Laestadianism in America
- Lars Levi Laestadius
- Talonen, Jouko (2001). Iustitia 14, STI-aikakauskirja, Lestadiolaisuuden monet kasvot. Lestadiolaisuuden hajaannukset (pdf) (PDF). Suomen teologinen instituutti (STI). ISBN 952-9857-11-X.
- Talonen, Jouko (2012). "Lestadiolaisuuden synty, leviäminen ja hajaannukset. Lestadiolaisuuden tutkija, kirkkohistorian professori Jouko Talosen luento. Virtuaalikirkko has videos from seminar, and they are archived in Internet. Laestadiuksen perintö ja perilliset - seminaari Oulussa 4.-5.10.2012 7. lokakuuta 2012". Oulun hiippakunta, Pohjoinen kulttuuri-instituutti and Oulun ev.-lut. seurakunnat.
- Talonen 2001. s. 25
- Talonen 2012. Lecture (in finnish) in Laestadius-seminar in Oulu 5. october 2012. Virtuaalikirkko has videos from seminar, and they are archived in Internet: http://www.virtuaalikirkko.fi/kirkot/virtuaalikirkkosali/arkisto.html
- "An Examination of the Pearl". 2012. p. 84 et seq. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
- Sampsa Saikkonen; Paula Häkämies (January 5, 2014). "Mapping Digital Media:Finland" (REPORT). Open Society Foundations. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
- ""Shedding light on child abuse among the Laestadians"". April 17, 2011.
- "Conservative Laestadians admit serious mistakes in dealing with child abuse issue – trust is gone in SRK". April 11, 2011. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
- "Finnish Christian sect reveals pedophilia cases". April 7, 2011. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
- Jussi Rosendahl (April 13, 2011). "Finnish church group reports child abuse over 30 yrs". Retrieved October 24, 2014.
- "Finnish church admits child abuse cases". April 7, 2011. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
- Päivämies, 20.12.2006, Puhujien kokous, Page 10
- LLC: Who We Are Retrieved on 2007-2-20
- LLC Member Churches and Lestadiolaisuus Ecuadorissa Retrieved on 2007-2-20
- SRK: Seurat ulkomailla Retrieved on 2007-2-20
- Helsingin sanomien Kuukausiliite Elokuu 2006, Article; Ja täyttäkää maa, Page 52
- SRK:n suviseurat Retrieved on 2007-2-20
- Lestadiolaisuus Ecuadorissa Retrieved on 2007-2-20
- LLC Member Churches Retrieved on 2007-2-20