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Brian David Mitchell & The Mormon Fringe- Duffy

Brian David Mitchell & The Mormon Fringe- Duffy

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Published by woodstockwoody
Brian Mitchell David was a Mormon on the fringe and who was eventually excommunicated by his Church. He also kidnapped Elizabeth Smart. This article gives us a glimpse into his thinking and.....
Brian Mitchell David was a Mormon on the fringe and who was eventually excommunicated by his Church. He also kidnapped Elizabeth Smart. This article gives us a glimpse into his thinking and.....

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Published by: woodstockwoody on Jun 28, 2010
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03/12/2013

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SUNSTONE
O
N THE DAY FOLLOWING BRIAN DAVIDMITCHELL’Sarrest on suspicion of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart,
LDS
Public Affairs emphatically denied that Mitchellwas Mormon: “Neither Brian David Mitchell nor his wife, Wanda Eileen Mitchell, are members of The Church of JesusChrist of Latter-day Saints or are affiliated with it in any way.”The official statement conceded that Mitchell and his wife “areformer Church members” but hastened to add that they hadbeen “excommunicated for activity promoting bizarre teach-ings and lifestyle far afield from the principles and doctrines of the Church.”
1
Church officials admitted to the
New York Times
that mediacoverage surrounding Mitchell’s arrest had put them “on thedefensive.”
2
News stories around the globe linked Mitchell to
LDS
teachings about polygamy and personal revelation. Themedia commonly suggested that Mormonism’s emphasis onobedience to male authority, or affinities between Mitchell’s re-ligious ideas and mainstream
LDS
beliefs, might explain whySmart had been so susceptible to Mitchell’s control. There wasthe suggestion—at times the outright assertion—that this hor-rible incident was a product of Mormonism. “Like it or not,”one online commentator wrote, “the truth of the matter is thatwithin the Mormon doctrines lie evil seeds waiting to germi-nate in . . . deluded specimens like Brian David Mitchell.”
3
In the wake of Mitchell’s arrest, Latter-day Saints respondedin various ways to what they perceived as negative publicityfor their religion.
4
LDS
Public Affairs continued to chastise journalists who called Mitchell or other polygamists“Mormon” and dismissed as “nonsense” the suggestion thatMormon teachings were at the core of the Smart story.
5
SomeSaints minimized the connection between their faith andMitchell’s by insisting that Mitchell had “twisted” or “miscon-strued”
LDS
teachings, taken them “out of context,” or gone“off on a tangent.”
6
Mitchell has been dismissed as delusional,deranged, mentally ill, perhaps even a conscious fraud.
7
Mitchell may be mentally ill; he may have acted with con-scious intent to deceive. But Mitchell is also devoutly, all-too-devoutly, religious; and the religious worldview to which hesubscribes
is
rooted in Mormonism. Mitchell believes he is thedivinely appointed prophetic successor to Joseph Smith.Mitchell’s revelations, which have frequently been described as“rambling,” actually reflect a coherent worldview synthesizedfrom statements by nineteenth-century
LDS
leaders, teachingsof former Mormon apostle and Church president Ezra TaftBenson, and beliefs endemic to entire subcultures within the
LDS
community. Mitchell’s beliefs may be “far afield” of whatthe majority of today’s Saints profess, but there are possiblythousands of members and former members of the Churchwho would find that in many ways, Mitchell’s beliefs coincidewith their own.“I N
 AME
T
HEE
I
MMANUEL
Who is Brian David Mitchell? What does he believe? 
M
ITCHELL WAS BORNinto a family largely alienatedfrom the Church but with roots going back to theMormon pioneer era.
8
 Although he attended churchas a child, Mitchell professed to be an atheist until he wasnearly thirty, when an
LSD
-induced vision convinced him thatGod wanted him to return to the Church. Twice-divorced,Mitchell has been accused of physical and sexual abuse, but hehad served as a high councilor and a temple worker and wasunusually strict in applying Church standards—the kind of Mormon who eats only whole wheat bread and walks out of movies containing profanity. Media interviews with relatives
PAGE 34OCTOBER 2003
The worldview laid out in the writings of Elizabeth Smart’s alleged abductor is entirely derivative.Every one of his views that is likely to strike mainstream Latter-day Saints as bizarre hasa precedent in beliefs that thrive on the margins of the
LDS
community itself.
THE MAKING OF IMMANUEL
B
RIAN
D
 AVID
M
ITCHELLANDTHE
M
ORMON
F
RINGE
By John-Charles Duffy
 JOHN-CHARLES DUFFY holds a masters degreein English from the University of Utah, where heteaches composition and coordinates an interdisci- plinary Mormon studies brown bag series. This ar-ticle is based on a presentation given during the ses-sion, “An Uncomfortable Connection: Brian DavidMitchell and the Mormon Prophetic Tradition,” at the 2003 SaltLake Sunstone Symposium (Tape SL03–121).
34-45_a_duffy_brian david mitchell.qxd 10/15/2003 10:14 AM Page 34
 
seeking the praise of the world; for ignoring the poor andneedy; for failing to testify against secret combinations; forturning to doctors to cure illness instead of relying on faith,herbs, and fruits. The revelation titled “Plus One” speaks toBarzee rather than Mitchell, commanding her to welcome intoher home seven times seven plural wives. Though Barzee hada hysterectomy after divorcing her first husband,
12
the revela-tion promises her that if she is obedient, “thine own wombshall be opened, and thou shalt bring forth a son to sit uponthe throne of his father David.”
13
Mitchell is told that he will bea king and a lawgiver butalso that he will suffer insimilitude of Christ. Thereare quotations from Isaiah(but not from the King James Version) prophesyingthat Mitchell will be“marred beyond humanlikeness” and “numberedwith criminals.”
14
Besides the oracular rev-elations,
The Book of Immanuel
includes a“Statement of Intent andPurpose,” dated 1997, foran organization called TheSeven Diamonds PlusOne—Testaments of JesusChrist—Study and Fellow-ship Society. This society isdedicated to examining“the covenants betweenGod and man as containedin the Testaments of JesusChrist that are herein setforth; and to . . . considerhow we . . . may fulfill thesolemn and binding agree-ments that we have enteredinto with our God.”
15
Therethenfollows a list of sevendocuments, plus one, which Mitchell and Barzee regard as tes-taments of Christ:1. The Holy Bible—King James Version2. The Book of Mormon—translated by JosephSmith3. The inspired words of prophets of The Church of  Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints4.
The Golden Seven Plus One
by Dr. C. Samuel West5.
Embraced by the Light
by Betty J. Eadie6.
The Literary Message of Isaiah
by Avraham Gileadi7.
The Final Quest
by Rick JoynerPlus One1.Inspired sacred music and song and the testi-monies of all the humble followers of Jesus Christ bythe power of the Holy Ghost
16
SUNSTONE
and friends paint contrasting pictures of Mitchell, but together,they suggest a disturbed man struggling to find stabilitythrough strict obedience to the gospel.
9
Beginning in the late 1980s or early ’90s, Mitchell and histhird wife, Wanda Barzee, observed rigorous home devotions,praying for hours at a stretch. Angelic visitations and revela-tions followed. They insisted that relatives call them by newnames: David (pronounced as in Hebrew, DAH-vid) andEladah. In 1995, Mitchell and Barzee sold their possessionsand spent the next two years hitchhiking around the country,returning to Salt Lake in1997 with intentions topreach to the homeless. Inhis white robes and un-kempt beard, Mitchell—now calling himself Immanuel—became a fa-miliar sight in downtownSalt Lake, where he andBarzee panhandled. On 6 April 2002, Barzee finishedtranscribing a twenty-seven-page collection of Mitchell’srevelations titled
The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah
,which the couple distrib-uted to relatives. LocalChurch leaders obtained acopy as well, leading to thecouple’s excommunicationin absentia at the beginningof June 2003—the sameweek that Elizabeth Smartdisappeared.
10
The Book of Immanuel
is acollection of eight docu-ments, numbered onethrough seven, with an ad-ditional section bearing theodd title “Plus One.” All butone of the documents areoracular revelations in the voice of the Lord, akin to thosefound in the Doctrine and Covenants. Section One of 
The Bookof Immanuel
begins:Hearken! Oh ye inhabitants of the earth. Listen to-gether and open your ears, for it is I, the Lord God of all the earth, the creator of all things that speakethunto you. Yea, even Jesus Christ speaking by the voiceof my servant whom I have called and chosen to be alight and a covenant to the world in these last days. Ihave called him and given him a name to be had in re-membrance before me, even the name ImmanuelDavid Isaiah. . . .
11
In Mitchell’s revelations, the Lord chastises the Saints for re- jecting the Book of Mormon and the words of the prophets, es-pecially the words of Ezra Taft Benson; for loving money and
OCTOBER 2003PAGE 35
M
itchell and Barzee claim to have received angelic visitations and revelations.
Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee 
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 Where is all this coming from? Why does Mitchell accuseLatter-day Saints of rejecting the Book of Mormon and thelatter-day prophets? Whence his opposition to doctors? Whydoes he apply to himself Isaiah’s “suffering servant” prophe-cies, which, like other Christians, Latter-day Saints tradition-ally understand as referring to Jesus? Avraham Gileadi andBetty Eadie will likely be familiar names to Latter-day Saints;but who are C. Samuel West and Rick Joyner?Little wonder that mainstream Saints have concluded thatMitchell’s beliefs are “bizarre,” even delusional. Yet the world-view laid out in
The Book of Immanuel
is not the product of lu-natic imaginings on Mitchell’s part. Mitchell’s worldview is en-tirely derivative. Everything about
The Book of Immanuel
that islikely to strike mainstream Saints as bizarre has a precedent inbeliefs that thrive on the margins of the
LDS
community itself.FOLK ON THE FRINGE
Mitchell emerged from subcultures onthe margins of Mormonism
D
URING THE TWENTIETHcentury, Mormonismtransformed itself from a separatist movement withradical beliefs and practices into a more mainstreamreligion—still distinctive but accommodationist, more in linewith conservative American values and bearing greater resem-blance to what the public would recognize as a Christianchurch.
17
“Not weird,” as President Gordon B. Hinckley has fa-mously said.
18
 Accommodation has required that certain nineteenth-cen-tury Mormon traits or tendencies be deemphasized, attenu-ated, or altogether suppressed. Older ways of thinking havenot disappeared, however, especially in the Mormon corridor(Utah, Idaho, Arizona), where they are passed from generationto generation in families and communities whose roots goback to nineteenth-century Mormonism. Accommodation hasshifted people who subscribe to these older ways of thinkingto the margins of the
LDS
community. But such people arelikely to have a strong awareness of their connection to pastMormon tradition and therefore a strong sense of their own le-gitimacy. People at the margins may eventually become so outof step with the mainstream that they leave the Church alto-gether, either by choice or as a result of Church discipline.Many others, however, will spend their entire lives in theChurch. Such individuals will strike accommodationist Saintsas unusually conservative, maybe even “weird”; but if they livein certain parts of Utah, they may not stand out at all.The key to understanding Mitchell’s Mormon connection isto get a sense of the accommodation-resistant subcultures onthe margins of Mormonism. Mitchell emerges from thisMormon fringe. His “bizarre” beliefs are descended from atti-tudes once mainstream in Mormonism but later pushed to themargins. Mitchell demonstrates four tendencies currentamong accommodation-resistant Latter-day Saints: (1) nos-talgia for everyday access to the supernatural, (2) allegiance toalternative teachings about health, (3) ultraconservative poli-tics, and (4) a strong impulse to separate from the world.
SUNSTONE
PAGE 36OCTOBER 2003
B
RIAN DAVID MITCHELL’Sfather, Shirl, has propheticaspirations of his own. As achild, Shirl heard a voice tell him,“You are Christ.” He eventuallycame to understand this as a signthat he is the “mortal messenger of Deity,” called to reveal the truth about human evolutionarypotential. Beginning in his early twenties, Shirl spent half acentury developing what would eventually be a 900-pagemanuscript titled
Spokesman for the Infant God or Goddess
(completed in 1997, the same year that Brian launched hisown prophetic ministry).Shirl teaches that human beings collectively constitutethe body of an infant deity, just as cells constitute our ownbodies. The infant deity—the offspring of the sun, who is agoddess, and a male companion star—has been gestatingover the last several million years of human evolution andis now ready to be born. This birth will occasion a radicaltransformation in society. In the new age following the birthof the infant deity, people will follow an all-natural vege-tarian diet. Children will engage in erotic play without re-pression; teenagers will freely copulate for the purpose of procreation; and adults, having sexually satiated themselvesduring childhood and adolescence, will live in celibate ec-stasy. Marriage, an inherently dysfunctional institution, willbe done away.Idiosyncratic though they are, Shirl’s prophetic teachingshave certain affinities to Mormon tradition—themes of apostasy, revelation, millennium, and divine nature—which Shirl himself attributes to his Mormon background.Shirl writes at some length about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the Word of Wisdom, and Mormon polygamy.Like his son, Shirl comes across as disturbed—particu-larly, in Shirl’s case, as regards the body and sexuality. Heabhors elimination, by which he means menstrual bloodand bowel movements; in the new age, these will be mini-mized if not altogether cease. Shirl writes of the “addictivevoyeurism” that had him fondling young girls as a childand peeping into women’s windows as an adult. He com-plains that every woman is a manipulative nymphomaniacwhom no husband could possibly satisfy; he fears that hispenis could be “strangled” during sex; he is fascinated by arecurring dream in which a shaft of light penetrates hisanal chakra. Accused by his former wife of rape, Shirl de-fends himself by insisting that when rape occurs in mar-riage, it’s because wives withhold sex from their husbandsand that there can be no “illegal rape” in marriage anyway. Abuse of wives by husbands is inevitable, Shirl maintains,and will end only when the institution of marriage is abol-ished. Shirl Mitchell, like Brian, appears to struggle withpersonal demons—and that struggle manifests itself in hisprophetic teachings.
L
IKE
S
ON
, L
IKE
F
 ATHER
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