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Christians and the Problem of the FLDS Church April 30, 2008

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Blogging, Christianity.
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From ABC news coverage:

Outside the courthouse, where satellite trucks lined the street, a man who said he was an FLDS father waved a photo of himself surrounded by his four children, ranging in age from an infant to about 9.

“Look, look, look,” the father said. “These children are all smiling, we’re happy.”

As I read this, my reaction was “I bet slave owners in the South said the same thing to people in the North.”

Members of the FLDS Church Entering Court

(Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo)

The events at the polygamist FLDS compound in West Texas have haunted me, and for several reasons. First, it haunts me that parents would allow their children to have their minds and hearts twisted the way that they have. However, I’ve also been haunted with questions about what Christians do that parallels some of the FLDS parents’ behavior in disturbing ways.

Forfeiting Your Right to Parent

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, a very close friend of mine has said, “Any man can be a father, but it takes something special to be a Dad.” The same, of course, is true for mothers and Moms. However, we also tend to view the maternal bond as being somehow superior to the natural paternal one. Perhaps its events like those at the FLDS compound; or the news of the Austrian who imprisoned his own daughter in a cellar, and forced her to bear his children; or any number of other instances of paternal cruelty; but the last people we expect to harm their children are their mothers, and some of the first we expect are their fathers.

A perfect example of this is found in a related article from ABC News:

“What Texas has done is barbaric,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “The worst thing you can do to these children is separate them from their mothers.”

Without going to much into the doubts that I have about Wexler’s NCfCPR, I have to ask, is separating children from mothers who have, at the very least, tolerated and allowed abuse, the “worst thing you can do”? If someone were forcing your daughter to engage in sexual activity at 13 years of age, what would you not do to stop them? I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that I would give my life before I would sit back and allow someone to do something like this to a child.

What then, of the mothers who did nothing? Are they not just as guilty of complicity in this crime? In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, if I become aware of a child living in an abusive situation and don’t report it, I am criminally liable for not doing so. In effect, Kentucky has said (rightly, I believe) that I am guilty of allowing the abuse to continue, and am therefore a party to the crime. Should we not hold the mothers to this same level of accountability? Should we instead excuse their behavior because they nursed the children as infants, or because they weren’t physically involved in molesting the underage girls?

The response, quite naturally, is that the FLDS church members are simply exercising their beliefs. They fully believe that it’s healthy for an underage child to engage in this kind of sexual activity with an adult. By extension, they clearly feel that the girls are capable of establishing healthy emotional relationships, with the men involved and with the children they bear.

This is where, as someone outside the FLDS Church, I look at such behavior with disgust and a powerful sense of moral outrage. Clearly (to me) these children aren’t capable of dealing with the complexities of such decisions that have been thrust upon them, both by peer pressure and through the powerful influence of the adults in their lives. Children of this age obviously do not understand the powerful emotions, or understand the subtle complexities of relationships. They obviously haven’t reached the age of… the age of…

…accountability?

The Age of Accountability?

For Christians, the phrase “age of accountability” is one that’s widely recognized. When we hear this, we instantly think of the controversy that springs up when a child walks forward in a church service to make a “profession of faith.” Depending on the church, this age will vary, but among Southern Baptists you’ll see children from age seven and up making decisions without an eyebrow in the congregation being raised.

“Seven?”, you may ask. Yes, seven. I was nine when I did so, which in some circles, seems to be rather late. I have been in churches where meetings were held to determine whether or not to accept, for membership, children as young as five or six. Many of my Christian friends have children at this age, and those children are asking questions about salvation and “a relationship with Jesus.” This is not at all surprising, and is in fact quite welcomed by virtually all Christian parents.

In the context of the FLDS story, does this sound strangely familiar to you? It does me, and that’s why it’s haunting.

What is it about a “spiritual relationship” that causes Christians like myself to think that a child of seven is capable of dealing with its emotional complexities? Why would children of that age be more capable of dealing with those complexities than those that spring from a sexual relationship with another person?

As Christians look at the FLDS Church with disdain and disgust, and consider the behavior of the parents to be abusive and manipulative, do we miss the potential for our own actions to be just as manipulative? Are we guilty of “spiritual abuse” by not teaching our children to search for truth, but also to teach them to wait for such a time that they’re ready to appreciate everything that spiritual relationships involve?

Perhaps the members of the FLDS Church are afraid that if the girls were older, that they might choose to not marry 49 year-old men. Perhaps they might not choose to engage in that kind of lifestyle at all. Perhaps they would choose to think for themselves, instead of just falling mindlessly into behaviors that are so easily encouraged when a child is so young.

Perhaps Christians (like myself) are guilty of the same thing with spiritual issues.

[Ed Note]

One of the automatically generated links below, FLDS: Big Hate-Big Brother, contains an interesting rant about the actions of Child Protective Services in Texas, and their intrusion upon the rights of the parents. The blog author has apparently decided that the following comment from me is not worthy of approval (they have approved at least one other comment since mine was posted):

Funnier still that there seems no contempt here for the middle-aged men guilty of statutory rape of teenage and possibly pre-teenage girls. And similarly funny that the mothers who sit by and allow it to happen are vindicated somehow by faith.

This hardly excuses inaction for other ills, but it seems a bit odd that the “epithet polygamists” would somehow suggest that we (a society) should tolerate some middle-aged man having intercourse with, and impregnating, a 13 year-old girl. I guess I’m weird, but that doesn’t sound like “tolerance” to me… that sounds like what happens when nobody in the family wants to speak up about “Uncle Frank” molesting his nieces.

Yes… all very funny. – Tim

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Comments»

1. Linda Sherman - April 30, 2008

Tim, This is a really excellent post. Amongst other things I was struck by your statement:
“What then, of the mothers who did nothing? Are they not just as guilty of complicity in this crime?”

How many children have been abused by fathers in family situations where the mother feels so bullied that she does not rise to defend her own children? I suspect many. In later years the anger at the father is easy to sort out and even forgive because it is so straight forward but the lingering repressed anger at the mother is much more confusing.

I support any organization that helps women to stand up for themselves and their children against their abusive husbands and leave a bad marriage. It may sound trivial, but my dream is that the product I represent for North America, Singelringen, helps them do that. Singelringen is a unisex ring that reminds the single wearer that they are already complete, while open to possibilities. Too many women are afraid to leave bad marriages because they don’t believe in themselves enough.

2. the age of accountability « more than the sum of my parts - May 1, 2008

[…] 1, 2008 · No Comments Tim has written an excellent, thought-provoking essay about the FLDS sect and their indoctrination of woman and children into the belief that it’s […]

3. tiffanytaylor - May 1, 2008

Excellent and fascinating. I’ve been thinking about responding since yesterday, and realized that I’d end up hijacking your comment section. So, I’ve written an entry with my thoughts.

4. Oscarandre - May 2, 2008

A very provoking post, Tim, more for the extension of the reflection that sometimes the abuse of children may even extend to the spiritiual dimension. In many ways, the history of childhood is a history of abuse in many more ways than sexual (look at their exploitation in the Industrial Revolution, their “marriage” in tribal cultures, female circumcision, child soldiers under Pol Pot etc.). But there are also questions to be asked, as you have, about the extent to which we inculcate our spiritual beliefs at an age well before children are able to exercise rational choice. Of course, you could add to this the plethora of bigotary, prejudice and falsehood that some children are also victims of in families. The difference with “spiritual abuse” is that we usually do it with love…thanks for an interesting piece.

5. Alex - May 15, 2008

Hi, I found the post quite interesting. I think the limit has to do with how much pressure you put on somebody to conform to your religion and how much choice they have in the matter. People pass on their religious views to their children from a young age, but I think they do owe it to them to at least represent another viewpoint, like to say they believe something but that other people would disagree. I think a lot of religious parents simply pass on their beliefs as fact, like this is the way things are, God unquestionably exists because Mom and Dad say so. People should reach an age where they no longer see their own parents as infallible before being asked to accept an infallible God.

I don’t know, just a comment. It’s a tough issue.

As for the FLDS issue, in a situation like this, it’s very difficult to separate the abusers from the abused. I wrote an article on it last night that you might be interested in. It discusses the idea that if polygamy (consentual polygamy, let’s say) had not been outlawed and marginalized, these cults would not have formed and polygamist religions would have conformed to certain social norms and legal age requirements. I hope you don’t mind my putting a link here, I thought your article was interesting and I think you might be interested in mine. Feel free to remove it if it bothers you.

http://shortcircuitnewswire.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/analysis-of-flds-debacle-intolerance-plays-role-in-development-of-dangerous-cults/

6. Tonya Tippetts Olsen - May 20, 2008

I thank you for your soul searching about this issue, but I think that it misses the point. I think its wonderful that christian children want to come forward to make a “profession of faith.” It shows that peer pressure is working correctly and the child has been raised to conform to their parents ideals.

I was raised in Utah. I remember when the “plygs” changed costume. They felt that it would raise tourist interest in Utah if the looked like the “Amish” of Utah. I farmed for 10 years in central Utah and have had my life threatened several times by “plyg” factions that are started up by the missing or “Lost” boys.

The sad fact is that while the girls may be valued and cared for nicely the boys are not. Ervil Lebaron was one such lunitic, if you need information about the repercussions of that lifestyle. In my youth I have seen a family throw 12 children and themselves off a high building and die for their “lifestyle”.

The age of consent in Mormonism is 8. At age 10 I was sold to the Lebarons as a wife by a man named Shirl Allred. He had taken up with my Great-Grandmother. He felt as the new Patricarch of the family he had more knowelege than my parents about my age of consent. Twice they tried to kidnap me.

I have a growth hormone disorder called Soto’s Syndrome that had me fully grown at 13. The only reason they wanted me was to try and justify the 13 and 14 year old marriages because the young women were “fully” grown. The Lebarons were just to work the raw edges off me untill they could get me in shape to be married. They were looking for a Supreme Court Lawsuit that would make the papers and “show their plight”.

I had already been raped twice to tame down my native blood. I was treated like that because there was no threat to anyones freedom from me, they could just say it was consentual. The first rape was so arrogant that they filmed it with a super-8 cammera.

The film got out nd there have been numerous attempts to blackmail my family with it which were promptly turned over to the FBI. My adoptive parents were good christian people that felt that strong example of the right way to live was better for the “plygs” than any punitive measures. I do not.

These are the Drama Queens of the planet. We could put little crowns on their little heads for all the attention they have gotten for their plight.

They take the cake, the whole ball of wax in one little parade. Those poor people that have to live next door to them and try to stay christian. I am starting to think that the Sundance festival should be introduced to their cult just so they can sit and upstage each other.

7. Tyler Stewart - June 4, 2008

I’d like to piggyback on what the previous responder, Alex, touched on. Do you ever wonder if commiting to bringing up a child in Christ is commiting to brainwashing that child before he has an opportunity to make a legitimate decision? I think back to the not so long ago days where I was forced to get up on Sundays, listen to the sermons and enjoy wonderfully illustrated felt board stories, and hear only of the love of Christ and what one should do in response to that love. The same applies to the week long crash courses where the “Truth of Christ” is pronounced proudly to children as they spend an entire week learning only the Christian perception of religion in Vacation Bible School. I go back and forth with this issue. In my experience, I feel like the ability to make a truly independent, conscious decision about the spiritual truth one follows is highly deterred by expectations of the family and those one grows up around. Had I been brought up by muslims I would likely be a muslim. Had I been brought up by Jews I would have likely been a Jew. SInce i was brought up by Christian parents I have an affinity for the teachings of Christianity.

Now I understand the stark difference between this little thought exercise and the situation described in the post. If a parent were to bring up a child in a loving Chrisitianity that did not allow for morally reprehensible actions then at least the teachings would contribute to a morally functional member of society. I do, though, wonder if the hijacking of a mind is, at least at some level, slightly immoral or reprehensible. In many ways a Christian parent, while desiring the best for the child, removes one of the greatest intellectual, emotional, and spiritual pursuits that one might ever have in his life. Is it the case that the church and parents who dedicate their children to a faith are participating in what in the end is simply brainwashing?

Where this thought requires a little four-wheel action to save itself from running off a cliff comes with, “What do we do with the kids if we do not want to brainwash them but also want to share with them what we believe?” This is a question that I have no answer. I also am not a parent so it is a question that I cannot experientially make any quality claim.

Just some thoughts, not meant to be remarkable or anything of the sort, just wondering…

8. Daniel Stiegel - December 5, 2008

I thought you might be interested in this website. It discusses the deep doctrines of Mormonism and particularly the FLDS Church and contrasts them with Biblical Christianity.

http://sites.google.com/site/fessupjessop/

9. The Thrill of Competition and Trying Harder | It's Different For Girls - February 1, 2010

[…] offered to guest blog this post on her popular Teens Today blog bringing me new readers including Tim “The Fool Man” who made a comment well worth reading below. Actually all of the comments for this post are great, […]


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