Issues surrounding sexual, physical, and emotional harassment and abuse, or of persons not feeling safe in certain institutional environments, have received fresh attention in the past several months because of the bravery of women and others sharing their stories, leading to protests and the rise of several movements designed to educate about and mitigate future harm. Neither the United States government nor Mormonism has been exempt from new attention to these ugly accusations, as former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, a Latter-day Saint, was forced to resign over claims by his two ex-wives that he emotionally and physically abused the. Tying Mormonism into this arena even deeper, each stated that she had counseled with her Mormon bishop about Porter’s treatment of her in their marriage and received less-than-helpful counsel. They didn’t feel safe, and yet only after a while did one of the women’s bishop encourage her to file for a temporary retraining order against Porter.
These issues of harassment, intimidation, and abuse are pervasive, with Mormonism being no exception. And stories and examples of Latter-day Saints reporting abuse and working to influence structural changes in Church policies and procedures are getting increasing attention. Mormonism puts bishops and other leaders in closed-door rooms with children, teens, and adults, girls and boys, women and men. It instructs them to interview members for various reasons: do they meet requirements (spiritual and moral) for participation in ordinances, are they worthy to receive certain advancements or callings, and more. Members are also encouraged to seek out these leaders when they want to talk about troubling situations in their lives, ranging from spiritual malaise or crisis, to interpersonal differences with others, to issues in family life, to feeling a need to confess and repent of certain behaviors/sins they may have fallen into. All of these types of interaction have the potential to become very personal in nature. And there are many accounts in which such personal situations have gone badly. At times leaders pry and ask about details that go beyond what they are instructed to do, resulting in the interview and counseling situations to move into unhelpful and potentially quite harmful areas. The structure of these meetings is ripe for trouble, and it often is found. What can we as Latter-day Saints do to mitigate against these problems and the harm that can follow from them? What can the church do, structurally and via training of leaders and members, to help lessen the chances for damaging interactions?
In this episode, three engaged, informed, and experienced Latter-day Saints—Julie de Azevedo Hanks, Ronda Callister, and Tim Birt—join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a discussion of the larger issues surrounding abuse and its prevalence, the systemic and personal causes that often feed into its occurrences, and, most of all, what we as individuals, parents, teachers, leaders, and church members can do to become informed and more alert to situations before or very early on as they begin to go wrong. This issue must come into our consciousness more than it ever has before. How can we be proactive in keeping ourselves and others, as well as the institution of the LDS Church, safe from these dangers and the harm they bring about?
Listen in! Take notes! There is much in this episode that will be helpful for you as you accept responsibility to be change agents in your own lives and within the structures and practices of the church.
Protect LDS Children and Concerns about Child Interviews in LDS Church
(See http://protectldschildren.org/ )
Recommendations for parents/members to protect their children by advocating with bishops / Stake Presents
(See https://invisiblescubit.wordpress.com/2018/02/04/great-suggestions-to-protect-our-children/ )
Response to “How Mormons (the Church) Approaches Abuse”
Mormon Newsroom resource: https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/how-mormons-approach-abuse
16 recommendations by Tim Birt to improve the LDS Church’s child protection policies and practices:
J. Bonner Ritchie, “The Institutional Church and the Individual,” Sunstone (1999)
Day, Terence L. “Bones Heal Faster: Spousal Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Dialogue. 46:01
“The Abuse and Forgiveness Dilemma,” Mormon Matters 110 (July 2012)
Investigating A Claim of Child Abuse at Church – An Inside Perspective
Recommendations for Church Child Protection policies from other Churches:
United Methodist Church (Safe Sanctuaries)
United Church of Christ
Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake