READER POST: This week, video was released of a woman confronting an LDS man, Joseph Bishop, whom she alleges sexually assaulted her while he was a mission president and she was a missionary at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo. Although both the Church Newsroom and the Bishop family have tried to paint this woman as an unreliable witness due to her church standing, mental health issues, and questionable past, the fact remains that Bishop admits on the tape to molesting another women. He also admits to police in a recent investigation that he asked another female missionary to show him her breasts, which she did. Remember, he was in a position of power over her at the time.
Bishop is the witness, not the woman on the tape, so HER credibility is moot.
Earlier this week, the story dawned in borderland, Mormon discussion spaces, and, since then, I’ve heard many stories about sexual impropriety and other abuses of power by priesthood leaders. In many cases, church “upper management” is aware that this happening, but is looking the other way. In some anecdotes, church membership and family relationships are used as a weapon against people to keep their silence and ensure that these men are protected.
The LDS church handbook has clear, established consequences (I would call them punishments) in place for members who engage in same-sex relationships. It does not, however, have similar prescriptions for sexual predators or abusers. It seems, therefore, that the church considers consensual same-sex relationships more sinful than violent incursions against (particularly women and children’s) bodily autonomy. It is troubling to me to know where the priorities lie.
As I have discussed this in various stages, I’ve seen criticism from traditionally believing members of those of us who have shared this in more public settings. One of those criticisms is that this is one man, not a whole church organization. On this topic, I refer you to the two previous paragraphs. There is a systemic issue here.
The other criticism I’ve seen leveled a lot is that “we” are doing plenty of complaining without offering any solutions for solving this problem. That is a reasonable critique. Fortunately, I have some suggestions that I consider reasonable and will not require any doctrinal changes.
1. Establish protocol for allegations against leaders that includes a mandatory release (possibly temporary) for anyone accused of sexual misconduct.
2. Immediately place into the handbook consequences for people who commit sexual assault or harassment. (Again, the language regarding LGBTQIA members is precedent). This should include an annotation in their records that will bar them from certain positions where they could be a danger to others and themselves.
3. Immediately introduce a victims hotline staffed by trained professionals and lead by a woman. This should include counselors as well as victims advocates who are empowered to work within the church system to ensure that the protocol in suggestions 1 and 2 is being observed.
4. Background check all leaders who work with youth and young adults.
5. Require leaders to be mandatory reporters.
6. Provide additional training to local leaders in regards to proper conduct, handling sexual assault, domestic violence, etc., so that local leaders do not become secondary offenders.
Additionally, since good information leads to good inspiration and we now know, without question, that church leaders are not immune to the appetites of men, I would suggest the following as well:
1. Immediately cease any questions and confession regarding sexual behavior. If this is required (and certain circumstances may necessitate it), only do so with two-deep leadership present. One of those two people should be a woman any time women are confessors.
2. Create additional leadership positions for women in the church and empower them to provide a check on male leadership decisions.
3. Clearly and unquestionably reinstate the practice of common consent. This will require the brethren to meet with those who oppose during general conference (as was the case 30 years ago) and likely also to discuss this topic in General Conference.
Since I have very little faith that any of that will happen, I have the following suggestions for individuals (particularly parents):
1. Carefully teach and practice personal consent in your homes. Children should never be forced to give physical or verbal affection or encouraged to allow others to violate their boundaries.
2. Find your “No.” Learn to establish and maintain healthy boundaries for yourself. Do not allow church leaders or family members to shame you into accepting callings or assignments you cannot shoulder. Protect your own mental health. Deal with your own baggage so you can walk in your own power.
3. Never allow your children to be alone for worthiness interviews, or in other situations, with church leaders. Do not allow bishops to ask questions about sexual behavior.
4. Talk openly with your children about sex using sex-positive language. Become really comfortable with that so that they are empowered by it. Provide them with additional adults in their lives who are safe people in case they find themselves unable to talk to you. That person is not their bishop.
5. Consider signing the Protect LDS Children petition: http://protectldschildren.org/
6. Pray thoughtfully before General Conference. Consider casting an opposing vote at conference, particularly your ward or stake conference, for general leaders. I know this suggestion may feel apostate/controversial, but the Lord established this principle for a reason. We are responsible to provide a check on the potential for abuse of power in the church. Take this to God in prayer and humility. Not everyone will get the same answer on this, but ask.
I know many of these suggestions are targeted towards parenting/raising children. Empowered children become powerful adults who don’t stand for this kind of nonsense. Predators groom broken people because they are easier to bend.
My church needs powerful medicine to heal right now. It is divine work provide it.
READER BIO: Lacey grew up in Eastern Idaho and is the daughter of a convert and a lifelong Mormon. Her own faith journey has taken her places she did not expect and she has embraced the idea that everyone’s faith is unique and valid to their own path. As a non-traditional believer, she is passionate about creating environments where charity allows us to understand each other and build Zion together. This is Lacey’s second submission. Read her first here.
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