Yearning for Zion

As wasteful government spending goes, $14 million is mere peanuts.  But in light of how long and hard individual taxpayers have to work to earn that much money, I think we can agree that it’s a whole lot of peanuts.

Of course $14 million might be well spent if used, for example, to protect innocent children from trauma and abuse.  Suppose, for example, someone discovered a plot to kidnap 416 children, at gunpoint, and to then hold them in custody against their parents’ wishes, all the while subjecting them to psychological abuse, including demeaning and impugning their parents, their faith, and their community.  Certainly spending 14 million tax dollars to prevent such an outrage might be well-justified and appropriate.

But suppose the $14 million was actually spent to seize 416 children from their parents and community, and to subject them to a barrage of physical and pyschological tests, and to smother them with lawyers, and to systematically challenge and attack their families and lifestyles?  What society would possibly do such a thing?

On April 3, 2008, the State of Texas carried out a paramilitary raid on the peaceful religious community known as Yearning for Zion Ranch.  The media dubbed the community a “compound” and immediately began publishing wildly unsubstantiated allegations of child abuse, rape and torture.  The raid itself, although long-planned, was supposedly triggered by an anonymous phone call, later revealed to be a hoax.

416 children were torn from their mothers’ arms, at gunpoint, and whisked away to the “safety” of modern, secular society, where they were subjected to DNA testing and a battery of psychological examinations, all under the supposed supervision of an army of government social workers and court-appointed, taxpayer-funded lawyers.

It was all patently illegal and immoral, of course.  As soon as a competent court was able to speak to the matter, the state’s actions were declared unlawful, and the children, undoubtedly traumatized for life, were returned to their families.

And the taxpayers of Texas were handed the bill for $14 million.

How could such a thing be tolerated in the United States of America?  Easy.  The victims were members of a religious minority, whose beliefs most of us find distasteful at best.  Their parents practice plural marriage, as humans have for thousands of years.  The girls often marry older men, while still in their teens, as girls have done for thousands of years.  The members of the community shun modern society, which disallows plural marriage although it actively promotes casual sexuality and serial monogomy.  The girls in the community become sexually active and pregnant at a young age, in marriage, whereas girls in modern society become sexually active and pregnant at a young age, outside of marriage.  The members of the community honor traditional family heirarchies, in a modern society that ridicules them.  In short, they are easy to attack because they are difficult to defend.

I don’t believe in plural marriages.  I don’t believe girls should become mothers while in their teens, and I certainly don’t believe young girls should be pressured to marry anyone, including much older men.  And I don’t accept the validity of the religious beliefs of Mormons, fundamentalist or otherwise.  But I definitely reject the notion that those who do believe these things should be subjected to the kind of abuse and terror that the residents of Yearning for Zion Ranch have endured.

Thinking about what happened to these children and their families, I can’t help but recall the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Lets resolve, therefore, to speak out, whether we are “one of them” or not. 

Grace and Peace