Elizabeth Smart, Who Changed Mormons' Views on Sex, Is Wary of Religion

Elizabeth Smart, a Mormon girl who survived a horrific and highly-publicized abduction, is wary of people who use religion to justify their actions.

Smart’s abduction was followed carefully by people across the United States when she was kidnapped from her bedroom by a homeless street preacher at the age of 14. In a conversation with Reddit users on Monday, Smart talked openly about her nine months in captivity in 2002, and about integrating back into society after she was rescued by police.

“There are things that make me wary, one of them being when someone uses religion excessively to justify what they’ve done or are going to do,” Smart said, when a Reddit user asked if she had learned from her abductor how to read signs of danger.  

Smart also offered some advice to parents who want to keep their kids out of harm’s way: “Make sure that your child understands that no one has the right to hurt them or scare them in any way. It doesn’t matter what that person may be: family, friend, religious leader, community leader, it doesn’t matter,” she wrote.

Smart’s kidnapper was sentenced to life in prison in 2011. During the trial, Smart told the court that her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was a hypocrite for repeatedly raping her while calling himself a servant of God. Elizabeth’s father, Ed Smart, also lashed out at his daughter’s captor for using religion to justify his actions.

"Your perversion and exploitation of religion is not a defense. It is disgusting and it is an abuse that anyone should despise,” Ed said, adding that Mitchell had put his daughter through “nine months of psychological hell."

Mitchell’s wife later testified that her husband had kidnapped Smart because he believed he had to take seven wives as part of a crusade to restore polygamy to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. During captivity, Mitchell gave Smart the biblical name Shear-Jashub, meaning the remnant who will return, and forced her to wear white linen robes and head coverings.

The ordeal did not turn Smart away from religion, however. She went to France in 2011 to work as a Mormon missionary, and today she credits her faith with helping her get through the harrowing months of captivity.

Nevertheless, Smart has very publicly criticized the church’s promotion of virginity and spoken out in defense of rape victims.

"I think the power of faith is amazing, the hope and the healing that it can bring to people," Smart said in an interview last year. "But I also think there's another side of it that can be potentially very harmful, especially when a lot of religions teach that sexual relations are meant for marriage...It's so stressed that girls in particular tie their worth to their virginity, or, for lack of a better word, purity."

During Monday’s conversation on Reddit, one Mormon commentator praised Smart for changing the church’s conversation around sex.

“I'm Mormon as well, and have deeply appreciated what you've done to change the culture of the Church in the way we talk about sex and abstinence,” the Reddit user wrote. “I think I'm a few years younger than you, and I experienced a definite shift in the culture surrounding those topics ever since you and your experiences were thrust into the spotlight.”

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