Most immediately, I empathize with the children involved at an almost gut level, but not in the way of the hand wringing CPS types who fear they're being sexually or physically harmed. From the evidence presented publicly, I do not believe that's true. Allegations of forcible rape turned out to be bogus, and only five girls between age 16-19 were found pregnant or with children - probably about the same ratio you'd find if you rounded up all the kids in my neighborhood.
Instead, I wonder what it would be like for these children to be torn from a loving family by people whose message is this: Everyone who loves you is bad. Everything you believe is wrong. The God you've been taught is a fraud and belief in Him is harming you.
To pluck any deeply religious child out of a secluded household and shower them with such messages from "de-programmers" would scar a kid for life, if they believed it.
From a psychological perspective, though, what's more likely to happen is that scared youth will cling TO their loving family, not rally against them. Or they'll act out, especially once they're exposed to media from the outside world portraying them and their lives in ways they know are false and unfair. Either way, these kids will surely blame themselves for what's happened to them, their parents and their faith.
There's also perhaps a personal reason I've latched onto this case, and since it definitely influences how I approach the issue, I'll just put it out there. In high school back in Tyler I had a crush for a while on a beautiful young Mormon girl. (There are a couple of Mormon wards in Smith County, and a large number of Mormons, surprisingly, in neighboring Upshur County.) As a gentile, her parents wouldn't let us date, per se, but after a rather odd experience where I formally asked their permission to see her - literally hat in hand - they agreed to let me visit her at their home in exchange for attending a series of introductory classes to their religion at the church, which happened to be near my house.
As evidence of the strange places young love can take you, I did so, and thus gained perhaps more insight than your average East Texas Baptist on the particulars of Mormon faith and family.
What ultimately put me off in that relationship was this gal's belief, not so dissimilar to those in the FLDS (though she didn't believe in polygamy), that bearing and raising children was a woman's highest calling. She was very smart, but her plan was less to go to college than to obtain what used to be called an "Mrs. degree" - i.e., she wanted to find a nice Mormon fella with whom to raise a passel of kids. She, her sisters and friends would openly discuss what would be the maximum manageable number of children while I listened, near horrified. I recall her speaking with admiration of women she knew with 15 or 17 kids, but didn't believe she could "handle" more than 12, the same as her Mom.
I was fascinated by her family nearly as much as the young lady, and for a while really loved spending time with them, especially her mother who I truly admired. The kids were all happy, disciplined, and well-adjusted. Listening to the Mormon religious narrative and doctrine, I never could buy it. But if you looked at the values and lives of the people living the faith, they behaved a lot like the more religious Baptists I knew, except with less hypocrisy.
I can no longer explain the theological details of the LDS belief that more children earned more heavenly rewards, and it hardly matters except to say that the idea is a substantive part of the religion established in America by Joseph Smith, in both its mainstream and fundamentalist forms.
In Eldorado, no one alleges YFZ parents are themselves abusing children. Instead the allegation (in court, at least) is that they're teaching their kids that a woman's highest calling is giving birth and raising children, and that it's acceptable to get married at an early age. Even if it were true, and the allegation was disputed, can this really be enough to seize children from their homes? It's not SUCH an outrageous belief, even if you don't share it: Until 2005, 14-year olds could marry in Texas with parental consent, and 16 year olds didn't need parents' permission.
I wonder if somebody put my high school sweetheart on the stand at 16 years old and asked her honest, fundamental beliefs about her religion, women's role and child bearing, if her answers wouldn't sound as strange to a bunch of CPS workers as the FLDS ideology? I'm pretty sure I know the answer. But I can tell you for sure the state of Texas wouldn't have done nearly as good a job raising those dozen kids as her parents did.
See prior, related Grits' posts:
- Big Love in West Texas
- Search warrants for polygamist compound may be invalid
- Is History repeating itself with raid on West Texas polygamist compound? Eldorado incident recalls 1953 "Short Creek" raid
- Will Eldorado case expose overwhelmed CPS system?
- Officials, lawyers, scrambling to handle biggest family law case in Texas' history
- Road to Eldorado paved with bumpy moral, constitutional questions
- History and biology cloud debate over Eldorado marriages
- Lots of substantive Eldorado coverage
- More law blawggers need to weigh in on West Texas polygamist case
- Too many unanswered questions plague Eldorado polygamist case
- After all the hoopla about "child brides" ...
- Phone call alleging abuse at polygamist ranch was fake, can the kids all go home now?
MORE: An online petition has been created calling for release of the children.