April 14, 2008

Yearning for Zion

I have been following, out of the corner of my eye, the developments in Eldorado, TX at Yearning for Zion Ranch, the home of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints compound that has been so much in the news. And, while I certainly have no sympathy with their polygamous practices, their heretical view of Jesus and the gospel, or any form of their suspected abuse of children…I find my heart moved in sympathy for the people of YFZ Ranch.

This week hearings begin to determine the fate of 416 children taken into state custody from the Ranch. 416 kids who do not know any better than to think their home is normal; 416 kids who may lose their families temporarily, and maybe permanently; and 416 kids who have no real idea why any of this is happening to them. There are also over a hundred mothers who are losing their families. Not to mention the dads. Are all of them abusive monsters? I don’t know. Chances are some of them are not. Have all 416 children been victims of abuse? It seems highly unlikely. But now entire families find themselves torn apart—based on one report of abuse, plus a general suspicion of more.

Make no mistake. Whatever child (or wife) abuse is happening at YFZ needs to be punished to the full extent of the law. If underage marriage is being forced on young girls, the government should be their advocate. I in no way defend men like Warren Jeffs who prey on children through the guise of religious belief. He and others like him deserve whatever punishment they receive. But this situation saddens and scares me.

It saddens me for these poor, frightened children—both because of the possibility of abuse, and because all 416 of them have been snatched away—abuse or no. We ought to be praying for them—that God protects them; and that He shines the true light of Christ through this dark cloud.

The situation at YFZ also scares me. If state officials can raid an entire compound and carry away 416 children—simply because one child reported abuse—what sort of precedent does that set? I am no expert on child welfare. I know there are situations where children must be removed from their homes. But my worry is that the line is getting blurrier and blurrier. Children can, apparently, be removed from their homes without proof of abuse, but simply accusation and surmise. It may turn out that the fostering of 416 children was the right choice. But it may not. We don’t know yet. And the quickness of the removal of these 416 leaves me asking: ‘What next?’ With the religious intoleration that is slowly building in this country, is a day coming when faithful Christian families might be subject to such search and seizure because they spank their children; because the neighbors suspect they spank their children; or because they homeschool their children (one of the public knocks on the FLDS folks)?

I don’t want to be a prophet of doom. But I do believe that Christians ought to be paying attention to the events at YFZ and realize that, although we in no way, shape, or form agree with the practices of the FLDS, our own biblical values and beliefs may, in 20 years, seem just as bizarre, unhealthy, and criminal in the eyes of our ever more secular culture.

At the very least, YFZ is a mandate to pray—for the 416; for the eternal souls of the entire group; and for our own liberties as distinctly religious people. YFZ, to me, is also a mandate to obey Deuteronomy 6.6-9. What happens to the ten-year old YFZ kid who maybe never goes back home? Will he still believe what his parents taught him when he is twenty? Or will he have blended into the secular culture around him? More close to home—what would happen if my Julia or Andrew or Silas were taken from me? Am I training them so diligently that they would, like Daniel, remain true to Jesus even if dragged into a completely pagan upbringing? The thought makes me shudder. We are stranger to the onlooking world than we think. So the possibility of a raid on Christians may not be as remote as it seems. So I’ve got work to do. And, if you are a parent, so do you.

May our children, whatever their earthly fate may be, find themselves always and truly yearning for Zion.

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