The Problem with Whistleblowers

Hawkgrrrlabuse, Anti-Mormon, Bloggernacle, burdens, catholicism, christianity, church, Culture, curiosity, Discrimination, diversity, doubt, excommunication, faith, feminism, General Authorities, General Conference, LDS, Leaders, love, meekness, missionary, mormon, Mormon, Mormons, obedience, questioning, religion, thought 22 Comments

A whistleblower is someone internal to an organization who alleges misconduct.  So, what if the organization is the church?  Does the church handle whistleblowers effectively or not?  If so, how?  If not, why not? corporate America, misconduct is often characterized as a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption.  Whistle-blower protection is a serious concern as others inside an organization tend to “shoot the messenger” when it comes to whistle-blowers.  Major corporations are wise to provide options and multiple complaint mechanisms to handle internal complaints.  I work for one such organization.  There are many vehicles to handle internal complaints:  employee surveys, human resources groups (several different kinds), an ombuds office, online employee discussion forums that allow anonymous participation, and a very large compliance and legal department to proactively police regulatory issues.

In my experience, the vast majority of what gets reported as “misconduct” is really something else, such as:

  • a complainant with hurt feelings
  • the result of poor relationship or communication skills (either on the part of the complainant or a direct leader or some other third party); in some cases, this alleged misconduct is actual misconduct, but not always.
  • a misunderstanding of what the laws and regulations are or what the supposed “misconduct” activity entailed
  • an act of vengeance (e.g. the complainant hopes to exact revenge on another employee or leader using the complaint vehicle as a weapon) is not always the case, of course, which is why it’s worth it to sift through hundreds of complaints to find the one that is a real issue for the company and that requires intervention.  To the complainant, the complaint is very serious and needs to be resolved to their satisfaction.  In reality, it’s nearly impossible to separate the complaint from the complainant.  The more neutral the complainant, the more valuable the complaint.  Some of these factors make the complainant seem less neutral:

  • The complainant wants something of personal benefit as a result of the complaint.
  • The complainant is vengeful toward individuals they accuse of wrong-doing or there is a known personality conflict between them and an accused party.
  • The complainant has a history of making complaints.
  • If they no longer have any ties to the organization (an ex-insider), that complaint might also seem suspect to insiders, regardless of how neutrally the complaint is phrased.

So, when it comes to complaints within the organization of the church, how do we do?  Here are some areas where I think we do well:

  • Complaints are handled at the lowest level possible.
  • Complaints are generally handled in confidence (obviously, there are individuals who have blown this, but IME, local leaders tend to take confidentiality to extremes).
  • There is a focus on accountability (LDS scriptures actually instruct members to handle personal conflicts between them and the other party).
  • Actual misconduct complaints (e.g. fraud, legal, etc.) are generally taken very seriously and actions to remedy are easy to handle swiftly due to the lay clergy aspect of the church. do we sometimes fall down?

  • Females alleging sexual misconduct may find the process extra difficult due to the lack of female representation in church courts.  A female who already feels violated may have a difficult time in addressing an all-male leadership with painful details that are necessary to assess the situation.
  • There is very little effective access to top levels of the organization.  This is really only an issue if the complaint is about local leadership or if the complaint has organizational implications.  We should bear in mind that this is how the Catholic church got into trouble over the priest molestation scandals–by pushing too much to local levels to handle and not realizing they had an institutional problem before it was too late.
  • Organizations with deep pockets are often the target of spurious law suits which makes identifying the serious cases more difficult.
  • Disclosures about financial and legal activities are either vague or considered confidential.  But again, this is often the case in a corporation as well.  While financial disclosure of a publicly-traded company is more open, airing dirty laundry over minor litigations is not.
  • Local leaders may lack the skill to assess and deal with issues and may hold complainants at bay to cover their ineptitude.  They may use unrighteous dominion to punish the complainant.  And there is some open question about the church’s culpability when an untrained lay clergy makes a local error in judgment.
  • Individuals feel guilty for complaining in a religious structure.  This is true of all churches, but added to it is our lay clergy.  It’s harder to complain about an unpaid volunteer.
  • Whistle-blowers may not be taken seriously if they are not considered neutral or are frequent complainers.  But this is true in all human organizations, and is the basis for the age-old story The Boy Who Cried Wolf.  There’s sometimes a reason the messenger gets shot.

So, what do you think?  Do we do a good job dealing with complaints or not?  Do we do a better job with more severe complaints or minor issues?  What should we do to improve how we handle complaints or is the system working just fine?  Discuss.

Comments 22

  1. I think one way to assess how well complaints are handled is to look at how many people are voting with their feet. When there’s no feeling of responsiveness to existing problems, more people choose to become inactive or move to other churches.

    The other problem is that there’s no mechanism for complaints to be addressed to higher levels of the hierarchy. Obviously, there’s no sense in talking to local leaders about institution-wide problems. There’s nothing they can do about those. I’m impressed how my company has many means of communication from the bottom levels up to the very top. At least they work hard to make that the perception. And it seems to actually work. We have dialogue sessions with the upper management in groups of 12 to 50 employees. I asked a question 2 years ago, “What are we doing about pandemic planning?” The CEO said “I’ll look into that” and six months later, we had a company-wide pandemic planning and response group that was discussed in a newsletter and on the main webpage. Because of that, I do feel we take full advantage of the knowledge that front line workers have at the highest level of management.

    The church would seem to have zero methods for that sort of information to bubble up to the top levels. If I wanted to ask the church the same question, it would require unknown levels of hierarchy all becoming convinced that it was important enough a question to kick upstairs. Without direct access to those levels by the person concerned, there’s virtually no chance of that happening. After being silenced a few times, there’s absolutely no way someone will stick their neck out to help in that way. Therefore valuable and possibly crucial information gets lost.

    Certainly there needs to be a filter mechanism. There’s no way every member could have the president’s ear. But once a quarter, or once a year, there could be some q&a sessions between upper levels and the rank and file. I think such a thing would benefit the church greatly. We have so much technology now for communications. We could make this a reality. How much would that improve the experience of being a member?

    After all, God listens to every request individually. =) Can the church hierarchy take his lead and listen to a few from time to time?

  2. I agree with Tatiana here that members do vote by walking out when problems are just dismissed or appear to be dismissed by the leadership. Notice that if a member complains to the stake about a leader there is never any feedback on how the stake dealt with it, so the only option one may have is to leave.

    And its true that there is no real chance of a normal level member reaching the GA’s with a complaint. Notice that if your complaint is about a Stake President (maybe one as bad as the Bute Montana one) your complaint will only reach his leaders in the seventy if the stake president AGREES to pass on that complaint to HQ! If you send the letter separately it is simply sent back to your stake president! Talk about a catch22. And if its not about him, he still has to agree to pass the letter on up the chain for it to be read.

    The Church, as an institution, relies on staggered vertical feedback in that stake presidents mostly ask bishops for feedback, GAs mostly ask stake presidents for feedback, apostles ask seventies and so on. If you aren’t on that list your ‘complaint’ will mostly be ignored. Even when a GA asks for questions during a stake conference training session they do so during a meeting with hundreds of other people there so you can’t really get up and say “My bishop said I was a dog…” or “My Stake President tried to rape me…”

  3. I agree with #1 and #2. We had a huge issue with a GA in our ward. It was large enough that we left the church. The SP and the Bishop agreed with us (and had even called and asked us to do what the GA was upset with). The Bishop and SP were afraid to go above the GA. We were told we couldn’t write or share our thoughts with Church Headquarters, that it would come back to the SP and be a “train wreck” for us. Fortunately for us the GA became emeritus and left our area to become a Temple President. The SP went to the FP and we received a reversal to the previous letter we received.

    We are very fortunate, and are back in the church. Although I wonder what happens to people who don’t have well connected leaders and don’t live in LDS Land like we do. This all took just over 1 year. I believe if the GA hadn’t been made emeritus and moved away we wouldn’t be in the church.

  4. Whistle blowers are enemies of the state and treated as such. How dare anyone commit evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed!!!

    I blew the whistle a few times while I was a missionary. There were some things going on that were beyond wrong. To this day, I am ashamed to have been part of that mission even though I tried to clean up the mess made by my predecessors. In a “discussion” with my mission president, (I use that term loosely) I was “counseled” to have more faith in the leaders of the church and was then sent to the bowels of the mission to learn humility. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foot option as my passport and visa were locked in a safe in the mission office. I actually asked to go home early to return to college. That didn’t get to far.

    I don’t think we should stand for abuses of authority and if the “upper management” of the church won’t address problems at the “ground floor” that’s something they will have to answer for at the last day. The only thing that we, the average, run of the mill members can do is to live righteously (which we can choose to do independently) despite of these leaders.

    There are several sections in the doctrine and covenants that command Elders to watch over the church and to make sure there is no corruption or abuses. That’s gospel. Also, the authority of our leaders is directly tied to the stewardship of their positions. Lastly, God is no respecter of persons. Why should we be?

  5. I don’t to even pretend to understand church HQ. I was in stake leadership when a member of the HC embezzeled $90,000. SL had us investigate and send a report to them. In the end, this guy was not prosecuted. As it came out, it was his second time, the other time occurring in a different stake. The only thing I could figure out is that SL did not want bad press.

    Glad you resolved your situation, domestic goddess, but did you have to leave us hanging with so many imaginations running around in our heads????

  6. The embezzlement case Holden is reporting is a strange result. Embezzlement is usually the same as grabbing a live power line. It, and sexual abuse of minors are supposed to route through the first presidency office. Was the member of the HC immediately excommunicated? Did he return the money? I’m really curious.

    The only time I complained to Salt Lake (the general audit committee) the results were swift, direct and startling, with absolute kid gloves towards me (someone was circulating a faux official church policy statement). Of course my complaint was rather gentle, I just forwarded it on, noting I had been asked to forward such things if I ran into one. I did not clutter it up with narratives or complaints. I think if I had it would have just been sent back to the Stake President to look into.

    Hmm, I remember a discussion at the law school about a rape. Dallin Oaks kind of treated the people talking about it as if they were passing on rumors, until one of the guys explained that he was in the bishopric and had been involved in counseling the victim. The change in Professor Oaks was dramatic, from slightly annoyed to be dealing with one more second hand rumor to galvanized anger at the perpetrator.

    That captures a lot, and I think goes back to Hawkgrrl’s comments about the issues.

  7. Warning: Threadjack (or is it Blogjack?)

    Shadow said, “In a “discussion” with my mission president, (I use that term loosely) I was “counseled” to have more faith in the leaders of the church and was then sent to the bowels of the mission to learn humility. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foot option as my passport and visa were locked in a safe in the mission office. I actually asked to go home early to return to college. That didn’t get to far.”

    This is something I’ve never understood. As a missionary you are at least 19 years old, an adult, at least by legal standards. I realize that having 19 year olds away from home for the first time, in a foreign country, could be a recipe for trouble. But take their passports away? How can they decline the honest request of an adult who wishes to return home?

  8. Chris (#7): I carried my passport with me my entire mission. Shadow’s MP must have had some compelling reasons for keeping passports in the mission home (there’s lots of dangerous parts of the world where American passports could be really valuable, turning young missionaries into an easy target).

    The real danger of public whistle-blowing is its long-term effects upon social status and “career management” within an organization. Socially, you become known as someone whose loyalty to the organization aren’t rock-solid, and others might feel reluctant to befriend you for fear of negative social consequences for themselves resulting in perceived alignment through friendship. Organizational leadership cannot trust the whistleblower to walk the party line, as it were, thus stymieing vertical career growth. These two costs often prevent people from reporting inappropriate actions of individuals.

  9. I am the wrong person to talk to here, but in serious cases it seems that Federal law allows for whistleblowers to be highly compensated in serious cases usually involving publicly traded companies. In some casese this makes whistleblowing a huge incentive, particularly when the awards lie in the millions of dollars. The reasoning behind this was because without it whistleblowing is career suicide, this is intended to even the playing field a bit.

  10. True that Holden #5, Many ideas running around in my brain.

    I do think that there is a gap somewhere in the complaint department within the church. Someone I know was nearly raped by the son of a Bishop in a ward in the stake. She went to the bishop in her ward, who happened to be friends with the Bishop in the other ward. The boys father talked to him, the boy denied it, and that apparently satisfied both bishops of his innocence, so the issue was dropped. I don’t know what would have happened if the issue had been moved to the stake level, but, this girl was so young she may not have realized that she could have moved up to the stake level.

  11. I am going to say this very carefully, because I don’t want to leave implications I don’t intend, but one of my deepest concerns is that some church members treat their bishops like Catholic priests – almost in place of law enforcement officers. When criminal activity occurs, members should contact those charged with handling criminal cases FIRST. Bishops should be contacted immediately AFTER criminal charges are filed, since that gives much more weight to the issue than if the bishop perceives that what happened “wasn’t serious enough to take to the police”.

    I know how touchy that is, and I agree 100% that there is too much defensiveness and denial that occurs with some leaders in the Church, so please don’t take that last paragraph as meaning or implying anything other than what I actually wrote. There is NO hidden message or agenda, and I am NOT “blaming the victim” in what I am saying. I’m only saying that Doug G’s example, while very painful, is the proper way to handle it – through legal channels first and ecclesiastical channels second when criminal activity is involved.

  12. This is true Ray. Bishops should not be used in place of law enforcement. I have heard, on at least two occasions Bishops recommend not going to law enforcement, and that the problem is an internal problem and should be dealt with internally. This is bad advice.

    I know of people in our particular ward that go to the Bishop for counsel on just about everything, often things that Bishops have no business counseling on. For example, this member got a ticket for driving too fast in a school zone. He felt he had a legitimate case for fighting the ticket. His wife told him that he should pay the ticket because he broke the law. The couple went to the bishop, the bishop suggested that he should just pay the ticket and not fight it. Not to second guess the Bishop or anything, but, I would have told him that he needed to use his own judgment on this matter.

  13. “The couple went to the bishop, the bishop suggested that he should just pay the ticket and not fight it. Not to second guess the Bishop or anything” Well, I suppose the bishop could have said to just pay him directly; then, when the guy got arrested for non-paid tickets, he would have learned a valuable lesson. 🙂

  14. If a woman is physically or sexually abused by a Church member or leader, it is critical that she documents the abuse and involves the police and medical professionals. If she does not, she may be the one excommunicated when she reports the abuse of a bishop. It happened to two of my friends.

  15. Anybody who asks a bishop what to do about a speeding ticket, deserves whatever happens. And the bishop deserves to have his time wasted if he considers that a legitimate use of his time.

    That reminds me of a very insecure sister in our ward who was seeking counseling on whether to move out of state. While still in that process, she was called to be a den mother. She said that was all the answer she needed……she was staying.

  16. lol Hawkgrrrl. Actually, he had a legitimate case against the ticket. It’s possible that if he had taken his case to court, he would have been let off.

    I’ve found that this individuals attitude towards these things a little too common around these parts.

  17. #4 “if the “upper management” of the church won’t address problems at the “ground floor” that’s something they will have to answer for at the last day”

    I highly doubt that. Jesus is the most forgiving of all and especially so with those who give up free time to represent him. He’ll probably just say something like “well, it should have being done differently” and move on.

    #5 “when a member of the HC embezzeled $90,000. SL had us investigate and send a report to them”

    How does a HCmen embezzle? SL probably wanted to know how he got his hands on money to then see if they needed to change policy, I’m guessing.

    By the way I also had to hand in my passport to the mission office, only because of security concerns since missionaries were robbed frequently, almost always of their watches and backpacks although one companionship were left in their garments.

    #14 About that speeding ticket, that couple wasn’t very inspired -they should have asked for money to help them pay it!

    #15 I’m dieing to know more details, but then I suppose its a private matter?

    Ray, which one’s Doug G’s?

  18. #15 – Absolutely. It seems proper to take criminal matters to the police, legal matters to the courts, and spiritual matters to the Lord.

    #17 – Thanks! Yeah, I got lucky in the media realm this time. I particularly liked the “take a number” one.

  19. 1. My best friend was sexually assaulted by her branch president, who was her boss and a close relative of mine, in a remote resort community. This assault resulted in a pregnancy. My friend was excommunicated when she reported the abuse and my relative, a next-door neighbor of an apostle, remained active in this church. This story gets much more troubling, but I will stop here. Amazingly, my friend is fully active in the Church and at my relative’s funeral, where the apostle spoke, no promise was given that he was receive eternal life.

    2. Another close friend had been physically abused for years by her husband, who was also a bishop. She did not report the abuse, was was documented by physicians, to the police. Her husband was a close friend and neighbor of a prominent GA. When my friend left the marriage, this sweet angel faced a Church court for some fictitious charges her sociopathic husband trumped up. I was accused of homosexuality for helping my friend. (I am happily married to a former bishop and am 100% heterosexual), and my husband was called in by my friend’s stake president and told if we lived in his stake, he would have been ex’d for helping my friend leave her abusive marriage. I could write volumes more about this situation, but learned from it that my friend should have reported her abuse to the police. (However, her husband was close friends with the police chief, so I don’t know how much help she would have received.) She continues to be active in the Church and receiving her temple blessings back.

    3. My son-in-law is a prominent physician in the Salt Lake area. He is a member of a bishopric and faithful in the Church. He reports to me that he sees many women who are severely depressed and who are also badly abused by their bishop- or stake president-husbands. I believe the Church needs some agency (other than Church social services) that these women can turn to for help. It needs to be headed by men and women who have legal, social work, or mental health backgrounds.

  20. Hello Caren:
    Thank you for having rasied awareness for women of what they should do if sexually assaulted. If the woman is a child, under 18, Child abuse services should be called also. Here is the main problem when abuse happens. Women first want to shower, which removes evidence. The evidence in a rape can still remain on her or in the local area, garments, bedding etc, so that should not prevent a person from reporting.
    Tell them not to shower and not to touch anything in the area that might have genetic information on it. Genetics have changed everything in the “He said, she said.” defense.
    Calling domestic violence or a sexual response service can also help when women are physically or sexually abused.
    Do not call a Bishop, as they are often more protective of the priesthood holder than they would be of the victim and may, to my experience, interfere with best practices on the response to the victim.
    Also, the more people that interact with the victim, who are not professional, the more opportunity for the abuser’s lawyer to claim a defense that involves someone else putting the idea into the victim’s head that this was an assault.
    Getting the correct people, quickly, to assist the victim is an important part of ensuring that a well established case is made against the purpetrator. Keeping others from asking questions of the abused is also important to ensure that the case is not tainted.
    There is so much fear that victims experience, in the aftermath of an assault, that can limit or interfere with their reporting crimes.
    Children, especially, do not want to talk to the police. They are more comfortable reporting to someone that they know, such as a teacher or a counselor at school. That is a good place to refer a child as there is an established protocol and a way to ensure that the child is not interfered with for the sake of the purpetrator.
    In Boise, there is a beautiful process used by the Ada County Sheriff’s office or Boise Police to interview victims of sexual attack, especially children. They have trained professional counselor’s and others with specific training to assist the victim. I am concerned that women in our LDS Church are reluctant to “rock the boat” when it needs to be rocked to protect their children or each other from abuse.
    We are socialized to feel secondary, and, in my professional experience, the fear of bringing up a problem or concern, when it arises is very real as the response to reporting a problem is not consistent, depending upon the Ward and Stake leaders.
    I have had to step into situations, in my profession role, to address children that have faced situations by LDS Church members that were abusive. In a milder situation, I addressed the Bishop directly, and he immediately called my superintendent to complain. My superintendent upheld my action after hearing my and the student’s clarification of the information as I had followed good procedure and process. In the second situation, police were called by someone on our school team to intervene. On many cases, I have not been directly involved and have acted as a consult, with my team’s knowledge that I have an LDS background.
    In the situation where I addressed the Bishop directly, after he tried unsuccessfully to have disciplinary actions through my school district, I worked with the student and she was able to resolve the situation, to a degree. Directly due to this situation, she chose a full-ride scholarship at a school other than BYU and was very successful.
    I wonder how abusive actions by Bishops impacts the number of bright and capable women who leave the LDS Church (attrition rates)? Do we have higher attrition rates in college educated or those with graduate school experience (MAs or PhDs). Attrition rates can be factor analyzed to determine causality or at least correlation to identify or determine what causes women to flee the LDS Church. Has anyone completed a study on this area?
    Also, there is some discussion that certain religious belief’s attract and support men who demonstrate abusive behavior. The idea that “God is male, therefore only males are Godly” is an attitude that encourages our male elite in the LDS Church to see themselves differently from the secondary group, women. Supporting their attitude is akin to supporting “White Supremacy”, where the group designated by their lighter color of skin felt that they should be the ruling class, based on the color of their skin. This elitist attitude, takes away from other factors, such as education, professional experience,aptitude that may be more important when determining leadership positions.

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