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More Elizabeth Smart fallout: Should Mormon church change booklet?

Published May 7, 2013 12:53 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart made national headlines this week by saying that she didn't try to escape from her captors because she felt like a "chewed-up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away."

Having been repeatedly raped, Smart told a Johns Hopkins human-trafficking forum, it was "easy ... to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."

Smart said she heard the chewed-gum analogy from a teacher. Now, many commenters are pointing to her Mormon faith, in which some members in the past have used such images to discourage premarital sex.

These analogies may be long gone from LDS usage, writes blogger Kristine Haglund in a post at bycommonconsent.com, but a false connection between rape and chastity subtly remains.

"The very first scripture [LDS] girls are required to study in their Personal Progress work [booklet] on the value of Virtue is Moroni 9:9, which describes young women as having lost their virtue by being raped," Haglund writes.

The verse says: "For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue — "

Haglund is emphatic about eliminating any suggestion that a rapist can take away a person's virtue.

"That scripture reference needs to go, NOW," she writes. "And we need to start explicitly teaching that this scripture reflects a cultural mistake among Book of Mormon peoples in their understanding of virtue, one which fails to properly apply the principle of agency and denies the power of the Atonement. The chastity in which the Lord delights (Jacob 2) is not merely virginity, and cannot be taken away by another person, especially not by violence or abuse."

Remove that reference, Haglund asks the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Do it now."

For Smart, comfort came partly in the form of a "blessing," or healing prayer, by the late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who assured her that she was not responsible for anything that had happened to her when she was being controlled by her captors.

That is in line with LDS teachings, according to church spokeswoman Ruth Todd.

"Victims of rape, incest, or other sexual abuse are not guilty of sin. If you have been a victim of any of these crimes, know that you are innocent and that God loves you," reads a church pamphlet, For the Strength of Youth.

The church's official Handbook for local leaders makes the same point: "Victims of sexual abuse (including rape) often suffer serious trauma and feelings of guilt. Victims of the evil acts of others are not guilty of sin."

No word on whether that scriptural reference will be removed from — or otherwise explained in — the young women's booklet.

Peggy Fletcher Stack