A Much-Needed Correction regarding Elizabeth Smart and Church Teachings Regarding Chastity, Abstinence, and Rape


Elizabeth Smart was married in the Laie Hawaii Temple
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2012


I’ve been puzzled, over recent days, by certain remarks attributed to Elizabeth Smart — remarks in which she seems to criticize, rather harshly, what she had been taught in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding chastity.


Supposedly, her church had taught her that young women who have had nonmarital sex — even coerced sex, in rape or child abuse — are like licked cupcakes, or already-chewed gum, or boards into which a nail has been driven and that can never be restored to their unmarred state.  Consequently, having been raped by Brian David Mitchell, her abductor, she felt herself worthless.  This, she supposedly said, is why she didn’t try to escape.  Her church is responsible.


Her criticisms didn’t seem consistent with what I had heard and read from her before.  I specifically recall her saying that it was her church’s and her parents’ teaching that she is a daughter of God that had helped her to retain the sense that, despite Mitchell’s abuse, she was valuable and valued, not worthless.  She has recovered remarkably well, and, among other things, has served a mission in France and has married in the temple.  She scarcely seems hostile to her church, or resentful of its teachings.  (For those who might be unaware, sheer admission to LDS temples is granted only to those who have been judged to be committed to the teachings and practices of the LDS Church.)


I resolved that I would comment upon this matter on my blog, but that, first, I wanted to be sure to get everything exactly right.


(I’ve had some personal involvement with this famous case:  Early on, not long after she was recovered, I was retained by the State of Utah as an expert witness, to analyze Brian David Mitchell’s “revelations” and testify for the prosecution regarding them and what they seemed to disclose about his state of mind.  The state’s case never went to trial, but, when the federal government took the matter up several years later, I did in fact testify for the prosecution during both Mitchell’s competency hearing and, a year later, at his actual criminal trial.)


Fortunately, it seems that I may not have to do much checking up.  And it also seems that the accounts of her recent comments at Johns Hopkins University have garbled her sentiments rather seriously.  (See here, for example.)


Color me astonished that the national news media would seem to slant a story touching on a socially-conservative church in a negative direction, and that certain commentators would leap on that slanted story with uncritical and perhaps agenda-driven gusto.



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  • JohnH2

    The licked cupcake analogy is used, as is chewing gum, as is passed around roses, as is pennies, as is pretty much whatever other slightly disturbing and flawed analogy one can think of in teaching especially the Young Women the value of “virtue”. Which is taken to mean “virginity” way too often and an attitude towards sex, all sex, even in marriage, (and, to perhaps a lesser extent, the value of women) closer to the teachings of St. Jerome than anything else. Moroni 9:9 which can very easily be read as victim blaming (and virtue as virginity) is the very first scripture on the subject of virtue in the Personal Progress book. Her words being taken out of context doesn’t mean that the problem that others (many in the church) have identified isn’t a valid problem which is highly prevalent in the church.

    • DanielPeterson

      I don’t disagree.

    • Collin Simonsen

      I’ve never heard any of those things, except that virtue and purity seemed linked with abstenance a lot. And, I was never a young woman, so maybe I wouldn’t hear it.

      Virtues include honesty, kindness, courage etc. And all sins make us impure before God. But, Isaiah 1: 16-18.

    • http://www.facebook.com/minalhansen Mina Hansen

      The only “out of context” issue in her John Hopkins talk, which I listened to and watched several times, is that she said it was a “school teacher” not a Sunday School or Young Women’s or Seminary teacher. However, I too heard the same object lessons as a young woman in the 1980′s and in Seminary. Additionally, I frequently heard/read the words of President Kimball and others that it would be better to die fighting than allow yourself to be “raped”. As Elizabeth Smart did say the chewing gum analogy is a horrible thing to say to a person. Hopefully, such object lessons will be eradicated from LDS Church curriculum.

      • RO

        I have never seen it in church curriculum. Would you please give me a reference to any publication by the LDS church that makes reference to the ‘chewing gum’ analogy.

        • Darren

          Agreed. I too fail to find the “chewing gum” analogy in LDS cirriculum.

          • JohnH2

            I don’t think they are in the curriculum, but they are very commonly taught in lessons.

          • Darren

            Combined with what’s in the LDS cirriculum: faith, self worth, repentence, hope in Christ, etc. I’ve no problem in using the chewed gum analogy. It’s when presented by itself which the true message of one’s self worth and God’s unconditional love seems to get lost.

  • http://www.facebook.com/garry.moss1 Garry Moss

    I was involved in this conversation the other day. Does anyone really think that the Church is going around telling people that if they are raped they are no good?