The hearts of thousands of Americans beat with joy last week when news media outlets broke the story about the fifteen year-old young lady of Salt Lake City, who had been found after months of frenzied worry on the part of her family. Nine months ago, the teenager had mysteriously disappeared from her bedroom in the dead of night and all efforts to recover the youngster had proved futile.
We do not wish to detract in any way from the happiness of this occasion. Still, it provides an occasion for us to comment upon a couple of significant religious issues.
It should be noted for the record that the family of the girl is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). Additionally, her alleged abductor is reported to be a devotee of the same system — though he is not formally connected with the church at present.
When the news of the child’s discovery was announced, various family members gave interviews to the media. One of the girl’s close relatives proclaimed to the world: “Miracles do exist!” Our own central California newspaper, The [Stockton] Record, led its March 13th front-page story with a huge headline echoing this very sentiment.
It is a not-a-little distressing that religious vocabulary is bantered about so loosely in today’s society. The term “miracle” is casually employed of almost everything from a scenic sunset to an auto paint job. The fact of the matter is, as elated as we are for the young lady’s recovery, it had nothing to do with a miracle.
- A consideration of those traits that identify a genuine biblical miracle will reveal that nothing comparable to those supernatural wonders are being effected today. Critically examine, for instance, the 35 specific miracles in the ministry of Christ, and see whether or not anything that even remotely resembles the present case is in evidence. Jesus walked on water, raised the dead, healed the congenitally blind, fed thousands with but a few fragments of fish and bread, instantly calmed a raging storm, had his apostle retrieve money from a fish’s mouth, etc. These were real miracles; and they cannot be explained in any naturalistic fashion. For a further consideration of this theme, see our article on “Miracles”, in the “Archives” section of this web site.
- The facts in the present case involved: the persistency of loved ones, a little sister’s memory being jogged, an artist’s drawing, media publicity, police work, etc. As helpful as these matters were, they were not, by any stretch of the imagination, miraculous. Surely, reasonable people ought to be able to see this.
But there is another issue relating to this bittersweet episode that is noteworthy.
When the girl was first encountered and questioned by police officers, she denied her identity (for almost half an hour). She claimed to be “Augustine,” a “minister of the church of Christ.” She further contended that she was the daughter of her abductor and his wife, whom she represented as “messengers from God.” According to a report issued by NBC, the teenager also alleged that she was forced into a “polygamist relationship” with her 49-year-old captor .
Though there are many baffling things that trouble the early stages of the investigation, the prevailing theory at this point seems to be that the girl was “psychologically brainwashed” by her abductors.Two thoughts come to mind.
- The child’s vulnerability to brainwashing, by someone who claimed to be “a messenger of God,” certainly would be enhanced by her Mormon background. The L.D.S. people believe the mid-19th century story that Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844) was God’s prophet. Supposedly, Smith was given a special revelation by means of some golden plates that he was led to in a hillside near Palmyra, New York. The claims of Joseph Smith (and others associated with the movement) have been shown to be entirely bogus by numerous competent scholars over the past century and a half.
Further, though, Mormon leaders continue to allege that the L.D.S. church is blessed with prophets, apostles, and an abiding flow of sacred revelation. [Note: This notion is contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, namely that prophetic gifts were to cease by the end of the first century, when the New Testament canon was completed (see 1 Cor. 13:8ff).]
It would not be difficult to see, however, how a tender, impressionable young girl might be persuaded by such a story-line from a “prophet-looking” character who appeared in her bedroom in the dark of night.
- The report about the kidnapper’s “polygamous” marriage scheme is worthy of reflection as well. Such cannot but remind the student of Mormon history of the origin of this idea among these benevolent Utah folks.
Though Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the church, had “tested the waters” relative to the dogma of plural wives as early as 1831, the so-called “revelation” regarding such was announced to the church on July 12, 1843. The dogma was hailed as a “new and everlasting covenant,” and those who would not “abide” it were denounced as “damned” — as recorded in one of Mormonism’s “sacred” books (see Doctrine & Covenants, Salt Lake City: L.D.S. Church, 1952, 132:4).
Joseph Smith himself had at least 27 wives (and some estimate the number at 48 or even higher). His successor, Brigham Young, had as many as 50 or 60 wives. Young once joked that he never refused any respectable woman who asked him.
The U.S. government eventually outlawed the custom of plural wives, and, in 1890, Mormon leaders ostensibly agreed to abolish the practice in compliance to civil law (see the Woodruff “Official Declaration” at the conclusion of D&C, p. 257). [Note: Earlier, however, Woodruff supposedly had received a “revelation” that led him to declare that he would never yield to a court decision forbidding polygamy (see the work of ex-Mormons, Jerald & Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?, Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1987, p. 234). Had the L.D.S. church continued to defy U.S. law, of course, a charter for statehood would have been denied.
However, many Mormon fundamentalists still practice polygamy in the more remote areas of the state — with little interference from the authorities. Mormons yet contend that plural marriages will be valid in the “millennium.”
We sincerely wish the very best for the young lady who has been subjected to such trauma, and for her family as well. We hope that she may find happiness and contentment with her loved ones again.
More than anything, however, we wish for them, and for all sincere seekers of truth, that they might explore the pages of genuine divine revelation, i.e., the Bible, for the answers to life’s crucial questions — the greatest of which is: “What must I do to be saved?” (cf. Acts 2:37-38).