Chad Daybell: How Does a Believer Go So Horribly Wrong?


In the shocking criminal trial of Chad Daybell, Latter-day Saints were left asking what happened here. How did a church member go so far off the rails? What are the things that lead people out of the mainstream of the Church and into apostate ideologies and horrifying criminal behavior?

To answer these questions in the story of Chad Daybell, we first need to understand that Chad Daybell was not alone in his journey into madness. By now, many church members are familiar with the picture of law enforcement encountering Chad Daybell and his then-new wife Lori Vallow by the side of a pool in Hawaii, where Daybell and Vallow had been reading from the book Visions of Glory, a book created by the late John Pontius in conversations with Thom Harrison.

The genre of Visions of Glory is apocalyptic, similar to the biblical Book of Revelation and other similar passages in scripture. Visions of Glory purports to be an account of a series of Thom Harrison’s near-death experiences, with elaborate apocalyptic visions of the future of the world and the Church. In a letter to his priesthood leaders following the book’s publication, Thom Harrison walked back much of the contents of the book and expressed regret for its publication, though his statements in other settings seem to convey none of that regret.

With its publication, Visions of Glory helped to fuel a culture of sensational fabulism in prepper communities in particular and sparked the development of a number of offshoot apostate movements. Chad Daybell seemed to attempt to replicate the appeal of Visions of Glory in his own books and eventually began claiming his own near-death experiences as the basis for his own accounts of apocalyptic visions. Throwing gasoline on Daybell’s delusional fire, his friend Eric Smith began teaching the idea of “multiple mortal probations” (a form of reincarnation,) and eventually, Smith was excommunicated. Both Daybell and Smith were close friends with Julie Rowe, who claimed her own prophetic visions and six (!) near-death experiences, leading to her own excommunication.

To read the entire article: Public Square Magazine