Elizabeth Smart a Victim of Mormonism?

The trial of ex-Mormon-turned-Prophet Brian David Mitchell is well underway, and garnering attention outside of the US.

Mitchell, you may recall, abducted 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002, insisting that she was to become his second (plural) wife. Mitchell and his legal wife, Wanda, kept Elizabeth for 9 months, until she was found and rescued by police in Sandy, Utah.

The Guardian (United Kingdom) ran an article this week that examines Mitchell’s doctrines and behavior. What makes this particular article unique is that journalist Holly Welker unapologetically compares Mitchell’s actions to those of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, and tightly ties Mitchell and his beliefs to Mormonism.

What follows are a few excerpts from the article, but I encourage you to go read the whole piece. Once again we see the fruits of a false prophet on display (Matthew 7:15-20).

“Federal Prosecutor Felice Viti asked Smart, ‘During these discussions [of Mitchell’s sexual abuse of Smart], did he ever mention whether the prophets had young wives?’ The question refers to the fact that of the 30-plus wives generally established to have been married to Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith, two (Helen Mar Kimball and Nancy Mariah Winchester) were, like Smart, 14 – a fact many Mormons prefer to overlook.

“Duffy notes that ‘Mitchell believes he is the divinely appointed prophetic successor to Joseph Smith.’ Comparisons of Mitchell to Smith are, therefore, unavoidable – and, I would argue, absolutely necessary.

“Joseph Smith established a church in which an adult man can command reluctant teenage girls to marry him… Smith established a script by which men exert sexual and physical control over women, and Mitchell followed it.

“According to Smart’s testimony, Mitchell used both actual and threatened physical violence against her, his victim. Smith also used the threat of physical violence, though, usually, he made himself the potential recipient of it… he told women that if they didn’t marry and consent to sex with him, they would be responsible for his death.

“Smith was not above using another type of violence: spiritual violence. Smith sometimes threatened those who opposed his plural marriages – including the women he courted – with eternal damnation…Given that Smith was revered by his followers as a prophet who spoke directly to God, these threats were thoroughly dire and utterly terrifying. Their impact and profundity cannot be overestimated: the psychological and supernatural scope of this spiritual violence exceeded any threat Mitchell was able to make against Smart…

“As I and countless others who have served missions for the LDS church before leaving it can testify, it is, indeed, harrowing to confront ways in which an institution you’ve loved and worked to support has harmed and betrayed you…

“Granted, Mitchell did not practise his religion in the same way that Smart practised hers. But many of their beliefs are related, and many of the means of abuse, control and coercion Mitchell used against Smart were scripted and practised by Joseph Smith – who also offered his followers a promise of safety, security and meaning…

“Given what Smart has gone through, I’m glad that she has found comfort where she can. But there are issues beyond her ordeal to consider, and concern for her must not prevent us from addressing them. As long as Mormonism is reluctant to confront the coercive, abusive elements of the doctrine of polygamy, which is, even today, a sacred part of Mormon canonical scripture, the LDS church will fail to fully make good on its ‘promise of safety, security and meaning’ for many of its followers – particularly women, who are most vulnerable to the doctrine’s coercion and abuse.”

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Polygamy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Elizabeth Smart a Victim of Mormonism?

  1. Violet says:

    I will look for an interview Mr. Smart, Elizabeth's father, did where he told the story of an event that took place at his church after Elizabeth returned home same and sound. Mr. Smart heard voices in the restroom. A couple of lady church members were raising their voices to Elizabeth telling her awful things that she couldn't do anything about after it all took place like, 'Why didn't you escape?', 'Couldn't you have done something sooner?' and Elizabeth stood there and didn't say a word. Her father explained that he told Elizabeth that it was appropriate for her to leave and that she didn't have to take it. I cannot even make this up. Mr. Smart was full of regret that she just stood there explaining that he felt sorrow that it was his fault he raised her to do so. (I am not saying anything during her kidnap was her fault, or she could have prevented it, or she should have done anything differently.) The interview was of Mr. Smart, Elizabeth's father, expressing regret that he daughter 'just stood there and didn't say anything.' Maybe that interview would be relevant to this discussion. PS. I love Elizabeth Smart and was sickened every time they showed her roasting marshmallows at a bonfire on the beach. I cannot believe the trial has taken this long and her kidnapper is still making a mockery of our justice system.

  2. I want to encourage my fellow evangelical commenters to be especially thoughtful on this issue. Being sloppy with Mitchell/Smith comparisons will just look like we have an ax to grind. Smith was indeed a manipulator, but he wasn’t a bona fide rapist, etc. One guy over at MADB put it this way:

    From what I can see, an important difference between the Elizabeth Smart situation and the Helen Mar Kimball situation is that Helen Mar Kimball had a testimony of Joseph Smith as a Prophet of God.

    Elizabeth knew nothing of Mitchell before she was forcibly “sealed” to him the night of the abduction.

    But suppose Mitchell had abducted her and spent a few weeks teaching her his doctrines, and she had gained a testimony of his calling, and then consented to be “sealed” to him. Would that make it any different?

    Well, there’s still the awful factor of abduction.

    So, suppose Mitchell had met Elizabeth while he was doing work around the house, and developed a friendship with her. Then, over the course of several weeks, he teaches her his doctrine and she gains a testimony of it. Then, she consents to join him in his wanderings, and leaves of her own consent and gets sealed to him. Is that any less objectionable?

    Well, the parents are still out of the loop.

    So, suppose over the course of several weeks, not only Elizabeth but the entire Smart family grow to believe Mitchell’s doctrines, and choose to follow him. Then, Mitchell reveals to Elizabeth and her parents that she is to become one of his wives and join him in his travels, and if she does so, it will bring eternal rewards to her entire family. It’s a hard decision, but they agree out of faith.

    Is that less objectionable?

    One critic of Mormonism over at MADB put it sarcastically:

    “Even though Joseph was in positions of power over these girls like President of their Church, Prophet, Mayor, General of the militia, editor of the newspaper, in some cases like Fanny he was her employer or others like the Lawrence sisters he was their legal guardian. Those positions of power did not put him in a position to unfairly influence or coerce their decisions and I’m sure at even their young ages they were able to make adult informed decisions and weren’t influenced by his stature over them. If President Monson reinstated polygamy and took a teenage bride the membership of the church should support him in that decision because there is clearly nothing wrong with it.”

    The manipulation performed by Mitchell and Smith was qualitatively different, but that doesn’t necessarily put Smith in a better light. The key quote for me in Holly’s article is,

    “Given that Smith was revered by his followers as a prophet who spoke directly to God, these threats were thoroughly dire and utterly terrifying. Their impact and profundity cannot be overestimated: the psychological and supernatural scope of this spiritual violence exceeded any threat Mitchell was able to make against Smart…”

  3. This sounds like a rumor. I doubt Mr. Smart would publicly speak ill of other members of his church, especially at a time when he is trying to show the role the LDS faith has in the healing process. I also doubt someone could hear voices like that outside a restroom in a ward.

  4. f_melo says:

    I think you said it all – "Once again we see the fruits of a false prophet on display"

    While Joseph didn´t abduct his teenage wives the spiritual threatenings made sure to scare them into submission. Anybody in families that have been in the mormon church for generations knows the pressure there is to follow the "prophet". I think some of their families would have disapproved of them had they not obeyed the prophet – which would be equal do disobeying God Himself.

    I´ve seen old men, with fragile hearts, waking up early to go clean their chapels, and many more sacrifices done for a false prophet because they sincerely believed.

    So, while the two have major differences, Joseph paved the way for that kind of stuff to happen, i´m just glad those cases are rare.

  5. f_melo says:

    I like this video from Sandra Tanner, touching on this subject:

    In my opinion, after listening to that is that what Joseph did was much worse than what Brian David Mitchell did with Elizabeth. He didn´t have to abduct anyone with that kind of power…

  6. falcon says:

    This just sickens me! I can't express here what I'd like to do to Mitchell or Joseph Smith for that matter. Elizabeth Smart was as much a victim of Mitchell as she was Smith. Smith fostered this type of belief system that Mitchell took and molded into his own. There wasn't much Elizabeth Smart could do in reality. I've read enough about the psychological mind set of those who have been abducted to know that she was broken and unable to act. Does Mormonism play a role in Elizabeth's reaction. I don't know, but I do know that these kids are taught to be compliant and are really not empowered. I don't know how in the world Elizabeth Smart can stay on course after having experienced this.
    We all need to pray for her. I don't know if praying for Mitchell will do any good. God will have to grant me special grace for that one.

  7. Lacee says:

    That interview was on Oprah. Ed Smart told Oprah that Elizabeth had gone to the bathroom in the church & she was gone for a long time, so Mary Katharine went to look for her. She couldn't open the bathroom door because the 2 women(Ed said they were reporters)were blocking the door. Mary Katharine forced her way in & found the 2 women badgering Elizabeth about her captivity, saying things like "Oh you were in love with Mitchell weren't you." Ed said that when he heard about it he got upset, & called his daughters into his home office & said he wanted to hear them yell, & that no one had the right to do those things to them. I believe this was why Ed started RadKids, to teach Elizabeth how to be aggressive(toward people like that) instead of passive.

  8. Violet says:

    Hmm… Found this on Oprah.com. Mr. Smart was speaking of empowering his children as well as all children. See transcript of interview with Mr. Smart and Oprah at: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Elizabeth-Smart-Jo

    After her safe return, Elizabeth's father, Ed, says he realized he needed to empower his children. "We try to train our kids to be respectful, to trust adults. And we live in a different society today," he says. Ed quit his job in real estate in order to work full time as a child safety advocate. "One thing that I feel very strongly about is that we have to prepare our kids. My motto is, 'Be prepared—not scared.'"

    Ed now works with radKIDS.org (Resist Aggression Defensively), a child safety program that uses certified instructors to train children and their parents on how to protect themselves from harm. "I think one of the biggest issues that our children face is that line of respect and that line of saying no. It doesn't matter if it's a religious pastor or your scout master or your neighbor," he says. "Kids have got to be able to learn to say no. And that's why radKIDS has become such a huge issue with me, because it teaches them to say, 'Nobody has the right to do this to me.' We have to ingrain it in our kids."

  9. falcon says:

    I've referenced "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer here. It's worth the time to read it. The cover describes: "At the core of Krakauer's book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krahauer constructs a multilayered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America's fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief."
    Now I know enough about some Mormon commentators to understand that their main strategy is to try the argument from equivalency. That is, to search high and low to find some example of dastardly behavior and link it to some aspect of Christianity. In that way, Mormons try to cover for the diabolic Smith and the aberrant form of religion he founded. Smith's behavior was truly pathological and the seeds he sowed find fertile soil in the likes of the "prophet" Brian Mitchell's of the world.

  10. Reason says:

    What's really disheartening is that Elizabeth Smart is now serving a mission for the same LDS church which inspired her kidnapper. http://mormonhomeevening.blogspot.com/2009/10/mor

    "she has been called to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paris, France, and will be departing November 10th for preparatory language training." http://open.salon.com/blog/kathy_riordan/2009/09/

  11. Jersey_Tomato says:

    Some people specifically market things to mormons. Things which most mormons believe they need. Like particular supplies for their 6 mos, or 1 year rations. Like canned goods, bags of wheat, perhaps other special foods or equipment. My folks bought some vitamins, and a mini trampoline under this advice. The person started the sales pitch with something like "the prophet said we need to take care of our physical bodies". So one great way was to exercize, and of course this mini trampoline is the best way because of x,y, and z. I used it for years, and I did get stronger. But I get the feeling my parents way overspent on this product. we probably also weakened our floor support beams in the house from the hours of mini trampoline bounces.

  12. Jersey_Tomato

    Previously, I blogged my thoughts about Hell here… http://martinofbrisbane.blogspot.com/2010/09/h-wo

    To cut a long story short, the Biblical concept of Hell makes no sense without the Biblical concept of a Judge. The Good News of the Christian Gospel is that the One who judges us has demonstrated his detachment from his own self-interests by dying for our sins.

    Of course, what I believe or don't believe about it makes no difference to its reality or otherwise. However ,I do tend to rely on what the Bible says, because it has proven itself to be a reliable guide to God, humanity and relationship between the two.

  13. Aaron,

    I'm reading Sharon and your quotes with quite some interest, especially the discussion about what kinds of coercion might be considered lawful, or appropriate.

    One of the key differences between the Christian Gospel (as I read it) and "other" gospels (such as Mormonism or Islam or secularism) is this; the Kingdoms of the World rule through dominance, but the Kingdom of God rules through service.

    Jesus tackled this directly when a couple of his disciples started quarreling over which of them would get the better "portfolio" in his new order…

    When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    (Matthew 20:24-28, see also Mark 10:41-44). Note that not even the Prophet (Jesus) holds himself above what he commands his followers to do. Instead he models what it means to be the servant of them all, so that they can see what he's trying to tell them.

    Joseph Smith and Brian David Mitchell do have one thing in common; neither of them were serving the interests of their under-age "wives".

  14. Jersey_Tomato says:

    Falcon, Interesting reads I am sure. I didn't know that this was such an issue. I thought it was only the occasional pastor that had too much control over a congregation. Interesting thing is that I keep seeing an ad for a documentary about "jonestown" and the peoples temple. What a horrible tragedy that didn't need to happen. Unfortunately I have a feeling that this sort of thing can happen again. Its a bit off the topic of the LDS faith, but I guess the people temple could be characterized as a cult. The LDS organization is much larger, and a bit more mainstream, but who is to say that something similiar might not happen within its membership? That would be an even larger tragedy than Jonestown.

  15. Jersey_Tomato says:

    Interesting comments about religion and ads. Hell and satan I think is too often used for personal interests. A local shop owner blames his failing business on satan, and not his dirty store or low quality products. My inlaw takes comfort in hell, knowing that someone that has hurt her will ultimately suffer. That seemed to be the appeal that sense of justice which is missed while on earth. And people do seem to get away with a lot of things in life. Your comment is advised, its not a human who judges who resides there, but people forget that.

    I am not so sure that God is free of self interest. The doctrine of hell and devine punishment is totally self interest, and power, "lordship", it hints of sometype of fear of loosing control, not being in charge, some type of volunernability. Difficult to see from a christian perspective I am sure.

  16. falcon says:

    The dynamics of these groups is just about the same, it's just a matter of how far they go. Jim Jones started out pretty conventional and then went nuts. Religion is the perfect back drop for this sort of thing. We had a group in my area some years ago that started out fine. Then the pastor got this idea of "dancing" in church. Sounds a little strange but then he took it to the next level and started something called "spiritual connections". He was assigning men and women to each other to connect "spiritually". Well of course it turned into a sex cult basically. The whole thing blew up and the church fell apart.
    It all starts with some sort of dynamic guru leader who people don't challenge. There's always a group who will leave but the ones who stay get taken in and sell themselves over to the leader. There's all kinds of these groups around the world. National Geographic channel had an excellent documentary on this a few months back. People have to maintain their independence and not let the group or leader control them in any way. This is the problem with the culture and religion of Mormonism. It's all about control and people handing their power over to the church and its leaders.
    Take a guy like Mitchell. Could you imagine what would have happened if he had actually garnered a following? As an aside; from the time my daughter was little, I worked on cult proofing her. Even when she challenged me about a few religious concepts, I encouraged her. Even to this day (she's 23) I often tell her that she has to figure some things out on her own. If they don't you end up with something called "identity foreclosure" where a kid basically accepts the family religious norm without questioning.

  17. Jersey_Tomato,

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

    On the issue of God's self-interest, the defining act, for me, is the Cross of Christ.

    That's as it should be because it is the focal point of the New Testament and arguably, the whole Bible. In other words, all of God's actions need to be seen with the Cross in view, including hell and judgment.

    I spend much of my time meditating on the Cross of Christ and what it might mean. There are many dimensions to it, but the one that grabs me is the idea that God emptied Himself of everything, including life itself in an act of pure, unadulterated, selfless love. He poured out everything, until there was nothing left – for me! I am convinced that this is the vision of God that inspired John, who famously wrote "God is love" (1 John 4:8).

    (Incidentally, contrary to Mormonism and other forms of the Arian heresy, the suffering of Christ isn't about God sending his second-in command, it's about God himself. The one is a cynical form of child-abuse, the other proof positive that the highest being in the universe will not even spare himself as he pursues our interests).

    This is nothing new. It's there in the earliest form of the Christian Gospel (that Mormonism claims to have restored). Perhaps the earliest text in the New Testament is the hymn that Paul adopted into his letter to the Philippians about AD 49.

    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus

    Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
    And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
    that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

    (Philippians 2:5-11)

  18. Jersey_Tomato says:

    Interesting, thank you for your comments. I think I have seen that sort of thing a few times. Someone I met years ago started a ministry out of his home, it seemed really mainstream biblical teachings, but I detected a subtle sort of egotism and control stuff in the person. I don't know what happened to him, or if he continued working the ministry. He did gather enough of the following to have a service in the nearby college campus. I guess he found that was fertile grounds for truth seekers, the curious etc… I went to one of his services there, it was nice I must admit.

  19. wyomingwilly says:

    May sincere LDS pause and ponder this question : Do false prophets always look and live
    like Brian David Mitchell ?


  20. falcon says:

    Not being LDS, but I'd say false prophets come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, colors but they do have a common theme. They say that they are speaking for God and that they have a special connection to the Almighty. They also have great powers of persuasion but they don't necessarily have to be great stand-up preachers. They often have a niche market. That is they've figured out how to meet the needs of a certain segment of the population. They have a "hook", "bait" that appeals to some fish.
    These people, men and women alike, are great manipulators and can read people. They often find those who are at a vulnerable point in their life and says something that makes sense to that person where as it may sound like blah blah blah to someone else.

  21. wyomingwilly says:

    falcon, great points. I would add one more : they can also be known to wear a suit and tie.


  22. falcon says:

    I have suggested that at some point MC might want to post a couple of these videos with an article. But in the mean time, I'd suggest our LDS readers (especially) take a look at the link I'm providing and watch the first short video of this prophet. For the Christian readers, apply your discernment to this. Then if you have the time go to Wikipedia and read the article and review what this prophet's doctrine developed into.

  23. Jersey_Tomato says:

    Well, I would agree that there is something which isn't new. There are a number of Hindu epics, and greek myths concerning a 'son of god' who came to earth to solve some problem. Various incarnations of diety, for some reason certain problems require a physcial embodiment, and can't be resolved in another plane, or another way. Perhaps it was because human writers don't understand the metaphysical. If you ever read Stephen Hawkings you would see what I am getting at, there are so many levels of reality which just are difficult to understand.

    I have difficulty, honestly with the thought that some human had to suffer and die, that it would require a sacrifrice. It seems to me that an all powerful god could just remove the effects of 'negativity' and neutralize it without physical suffering.

  24. Kathleen says:

    So, Mr Smart finally realized the danger of his daughters' passivity … but he was about 8 years too late. And it's unclear whether he understands that he and his repressive religion are equally responsible for producing such passive daughters in the first place. Had Mormonism not taught his daughters that women were supposed to be quiet and docile and meek and subservient, both Elizabeth and Mary Katherine might have averted the abduction altogether by fighting back or shouting out. Instead both displayed a stunning level of compliance that is shocking to most observers. Normal girls aren't so meek and passive — we can credit Ed Smart and his religious indoctrination for having turned his daughters into little Stepford wives. It's a sad commentary that it was only when Elizabeth failed to respond to reporters — not when she failed to resist her kidnapper and rapist — that Ed Smart finally realizes the problem of the very passivity he helped to cultivate.

  25. bdm says:

    I would agree. It is clear the mormon church deviated after the prophet Benson. If the church had stayed true to its foundations she would not have been kidnapped, but rather been allowed to enter into such a union of her own free will and choice. She would have been emotionally and spiritually prepared to make that choice.

Leave a Reply