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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Phoenix Laestadian Lutherans: 'Church has blood on its hands' in death of 6-day-old

The situation is heartbreaking. 

A 6-day-old baby is dead and her own mother, who has eight other children, is accused of killing her. 


The husband of 36-year-old Nina Koistinen has said she suffers from severe mental illness. 

But according to those who know the family, there might have been another contributing factor - the family's religion. 

Since Phoenix police arrested Nina Koistinen on Thursday, April 25 - several former members of the Phoenix Laestadian Lutheran Church in Cave Creek have come forward with serious concerns about one of its doctrines. 

One former Laestadian, who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, said it boils down to brainwashing. 

The teaching: if you use birth control - even if it's a life or death situation for a woman - you'll go straight to hell. 

"Six-days-old?" he said with deep emotion and disbelief. 

Like most people, even those who don't know the family, the former Laestadian is broken up over the April 8 death of 6-day-old Maya Hope Koistinen. 

On April 25, Phoenix police said Nina Koistinen told them she smothered the child because she had too many kids and was jealous of the attention her husband gave the infant. 

"They're good people," the former Laestadian said between tears. "Nina had a psychotic break." 

Her husband, Brad Koistinen, expressed those same concerns to a judge during his wife's initial appearance on April 26. 

"Nina suffers from bipolar, and schizophrenia and depression," he said, visibly shaken. "And we have tried for years to manage it." 

Brad Koistinen told CBS 5 News his wife has been in and out of mental hospitals during their 15-year marriage. 

Yet, they continued to grow their family. 

Maya was baby No. 9. 

According to the former Laestadian, "Nobody ever said, 'You know what Nina, you should stop having kids, because you can't handle it. And, that's OK. You're still heaven acceptable.'" 

Instead, according to this sermon by lay pastor Eric Jurmu from Mother's Day 2012 - around the 17-minute mark - trying to control the number of children you have is a sin. 

"There have been these kinds of occasions were the enemy has tempted some with practicing birth control," Jurmu preached during his sermon. "It's not according to God's word - it's not according to the teachings of God's kingdom." 

The former Laestadian said it's these kinds of words that shame and scare members into following the doctrine without question, "Somebody who uses birth control is basically giving up their faith, in a sense, and now they're going to hell." 

He said the Laestadian church, with roots dating back to 19th century Finland and small in size in the United States, is one you're born into. 

"It says 'go forth and multiply' in the Bible," he notes. "I think that's one of the most commonly-cited verses. But that's a pretty creative interpretation of 'go forth and multiply.'" 

He described the Laestadian church as a closed culture. 

"When you grow up in that environment, and these are your friends, these are your family - you don't really have any good friends outside of that environment," he explained. "That social ostracization - that's a real intense pressure." 

He told CBS 5 News he feels if the Koistinens didn't believe they'd betray their religion, by not having more children, Nina Koistinen might not be behind bars facing a charge of first-degree murder. 

"I'll tell you this, if she did the crime - if it was a pillow, the church was stitching the threads one thread at a time through her whole life," he said. 

CBS 5 News spoke with Jurmu at his home Sunday evening. 

He did not want to talk on camera. 

But, he told CBS 5 News: "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." 

Jurmu asked CBS 5 News to email him a list of questions - which we did. 

In an email, he replied, "I was busy this evening with other prior commitments so I wasn't able to respond to your questions. I think there are two distinct topics of discussion, one are the birth control questions, the other is the question of mothers' health. I will consider these questions and get back to you with my response in the next few days. In the meantime, I think it's most important to pray for the family as they struggle and mourn the loss of their child." 

The Laestadian Lutheran Church is not affiliated with the Lutheran Church in the United States.
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