Sunday, November 15, 2009
Stolen Innocence, an autobiography by Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer, will make you angry. It made me furious. It made me want to do something to protect these girls, although I don't know what that would be.
Stolen Innocence is about Elissa's life in a polygamous sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). It starts off simply odd, with an inside look at growing up in a house with two mothers and two sets of children (eventually a third wife joined them). It details the conflicts and frustrations from such a living arrangement. That's interesting enough, but eventually due to their belief that the world would end on Y2K, the family moves to an FLDS exclusive community. They were secluded before this, but now they have no access to the outside world. The schools, the police, everything is run by the FLDS. As Warren Jeffs taken control of the group, the restrictions on the community become increasingly strict. Elissa's mom and her siblings are reassigned to another man when her father is deemed unable to control them. From that point, this new man is their father. They cannot question anything, or have any worldly influences. There is no TV, no radio, no non-FLDS sanctioned music or books. They are only taught religion in school. They are taught that they will go to hell if they disobey or do not listen to the prophet, who Warren Jeffs is speaking for and later becomes.
Despite these rules, some of the boys do question what is happening. When they do so, they are banished, becoming apostates whom they believers can no longer have any contact with without facing banishment themselves. This ends up happening to all of Elissa's older brothers. They even have to leave one on the side of the highway.
When Elissa is 14, she is forced to marry her 19-year-old cousin. She fights this decision, but no one will listen. Her mother and sister do try to plead her case to Warren, but he refuses and tells them they must encourage Elissa to go through with it or they're putting their own salvation at risk. Elissa considers leaving, but has no money, no real education, no contacts, nothing. She also has been so brainwashed that she believes running away will condemn her to hell. She is forced to go through with it. Until this point, she has never heard words such as "sex" or "rape" and has no idea about anything related to sex or that anything other than sleep happens in a married couples' bed. She has been taught that even the most innocent touching from the opposite sex is wrong and has also worn for concealing clothing. Now suddenly she's married and her husband expects sex. He explains nothing to her, just forces himself on her. She tries to tell her mother what's happening, but she won't help her. She goes to Warren and tells her everything, but he just yells at her for coming to see him without her husband.
There is much, much more to this story, so please don't let this synopsis lead you to believe you know the whole story. Read this book. Learn about Elissa's story. There are many scenes that are difficult to read. Her "husband" repeatedly raping her is awful to read about, especially before she realizes that this is something they're supposed to be doing to create babies. I want to reach out and strangle her mother for sitting back and watching this happen. Elissa is very forgiving to her mother, but I can't be. What kind of mother let's that happen to their child? And she has two younger daughters that the same thing could happen to, and she does nothing. I know that she was brainwashed, but so was Elissa, and she managed to do something about it eventually. I don't understand how at some point you don't question authority, realize that what they're doing is wrong.
And yet, I've seen people act like that on much smaller scales all the time. They don't ask questions. I remember one time at church, during my senior year when we were in between pastors, we had John Carl Davis serve as either an interim pastor. He blatantly misrepresented scripture and took things out of context. He also made this bizarre proclamation that the youth, who usually sat in a group together around the middle of the pews directly in front of the altar, should start sitting in this other section, off to the side. And people just did it! Without asking why or having any sort of basis for this decision. I was shocked. I was the only one who stayed in the original section, refuses to move or sit with my parents. I had people come tell me they couldn't believe my behavior and that I needed to move, lecturing me on my bad behavior. Not one of them could tell me why I needed to move except that Davis said so. Now, one could surely argue that my stubbornness was a sin, and that's fine. But I think everyone else blindly following is far worse, far scarier, far more threatening. What else would the blindly follow without questioning? How real is your faith when you only do what you're told without examining anything for yourself? I know this is a very small example, but I can see how going with the small things for a while can eventually turn into going with the big things, which is what happened with the FLDS.
Always question. Always try to find out the truth. Always ask why. Don't blindly follow someone just because they're in a position of authority. I am moved by Elissa's story and hope that I will always have the courage to stand up for what is right.