Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormonism and the dangers of empire

Jana Riess in Turkey, 2014, sitting on a pillar of a lost civilization. Yeah, that's a metaphor.

A few years ago I got to go on a pilgrimage to Turkey with a busload of Episcopalians, and it was one of the best travel experiences of my life. (If you’ve never been on a pilgrimage, it’s something like a vacation, only with daily church and lots of Deep Thoughts about the various places you are visiting, in between bouts of scouting out the best hummus.)

On that trip I had reason again and again to think about what happens when religion is too comfortably enmeshed in empire.

Jana Riess in Turkey, 2014, sitting on a pillar of a lost civilization. Yeah, that’s a metaphor.


Ephesus. Laodicea. Pergamum. We visited one ruin site after another, learning about the successive waves of civilization that took root in those places. Of these, the one I remember most vividly is Laodicea, because it was uncrowded and still being excavated. We got to watch while a capstone was restored to the top of an ancient column. I wondered what the column had looked like in its heyday, and what was the final insult that broke it into pieces: a war? A hurricane? Simple neglect over the course of centuries?

Whatever happened, Laodicea was once a thriving and wealthy city, filled with people who thought it would always remain that way. We never plan for our empires to fail. However, history teaches us that they usually do.

Those have been my thoughts recently as I have followed the news about Mormonism, which has often been unflattering to the institution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That’s not because journalists have been unfair to the Church; it’s been because the Church has too often chosen the comfort of empire over the cause of justice.

For example, yesterday, a MormonLeaks document was released to the public that has been discomfiting to say the least. It was apparently an internal memorandum from the Salt Lake City law firm Kirton McConkie detailing several cases of alleged or admitted sexual misconduct on the part of various LDS church leaders and missionaries.

I’m bothered as much the banal bureaucracy of the cover-up as the abuse itself. This two-page document seems to chronicle only about two months in 2012, which of course begs the question: how many more such memos are out there, detailing the Church’s attempts to hide, obfuscate, delay or otherwise deny justice to victims? So filing reports like this is a kind of quarterly thing, just business as usual?

In one entry the Church’s attorneys seem to be ready to offer $10,000 to a man who claimed he was physically and sexually abused while he was a student in the Indian Placement Program. In another, the Church reveals knowledge of an elder who sexted with one girl before his mission and also inappropriately touched another girl while serving on his mission. And while the attorneys are recommending that the elder be sent home, the missionary department seems to be resisting because “he may face prosecution for a felony” because “his conduct is clearly unlawful.”

Imagine that: the attorneys are recommending he be disciplined by the Church, and the Church wants instead to allow him to continue on his mission because if he goes home, he might actually have to face up to what he has done. Neither the attorneys nor the Church seem very concerned about the victims, except insofar as they be kept quiet–more than once the anxiety surfaces that a particular case may receive media attention.

And of course this is coming to light in the same week that my Religion News Service feed is filled with headlines about a Catholic cardinal who may be resigning because he tried to cover up sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, the spiritual fallout from the Willow Creek pastoral abuse scandal, and a handy guide for how to keep your own spiritual crap together when your religious leaders are found to have feet of the most malleable clay.

And all that is just from the last few days, people.

I’d love to believe what I have heard from one particularly (and endearingly) optimistic apologist for the LDS Church, which is that the leaked document is from 2012, and the fact that we haven’t heard more stories of abuse since then shows that the Church is handling the problem or the problem itself does not exist.

But no, unfortunately, the absence of public news on this score more likely means that the Church has for the most part successfully kept such stories hidden from view in order to protect its reputation.

And that is a reputation that is built on social respectability, on the idea that abuse doesn’t happen here, thank you very much. Our people are squeaky clean. We make excellent and successful capitalists. And our church is prophesied to last forever.

Tell that to Laodicea. To Perga, to Pergamum, to Ephesus, and to every other once thriving community that didn’t see that its own pride was going to be one part of its demise. For that matter, try reading the Book of Mormon. I hear there’s a bit of a theme about pride and empire in there too.



About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • Thank you, Jana.

    Basic sociology. Organizations, especially highly bureaucratic ones, tend to do that which is necessary to protect themselves. More accurately, it is the job of the bureaucracy to preserve itself and the organization. It’s one of the reasons our health insurance industry is as expensive as it is.

    Unfortunately, the preservation of the the Bureaucracy is not necessarily the same as the preservation of the organization.

  • What Jana, you think that when issues arise the answer is instantly clear? If that’s the case then it would sure be peaceful to live in Jana land.

    Discussions need to be had in order to determine the clearest way forward. The brethren themselves hear from different experts in varying fields before coming to policy decisions- that’s part of the revelation process in that we seek out what knowledge is available and weigh it up, then we ask the Lord for guidance.
    The church is tasked with protecting the widow’s mite and the lawyers provide legal advice on what will cost and what won’t- their advice isn’t necessarily accepted nor is it always rejected.

    Different nations have different laws and sometimes that means policies can’t be global- bishops have different protections in different nations and differing obligations in different nations.

    A church with 11+ million attendees sees sins/trends/issues/crimes happen all the time… the Pacific Islands got some attention from the church a few years ago with church policy when kava consumption meant no temple recommend could be issued, yet in New York etc where there are nitrous oxide parties, well, nitrous hasn’t been articulated in any church literature. It’s a big church with plenty to consider.

  • The widows mite is worth over 32 billion dollars. This would embarrass Christ today. Heck they are now the large and spacious buildings in Nephi’s dream.

  • Oh my gosh … more whataboutism!

    It almost looks like bad deeds are associates with, with, with … human beings …. rather than specific churches.

  • Read this article, and as a Latter Day Saint I would say there is always going to be some sort of sexual abuse case in any religion. I don’t believe there is a “cover up”. I believe its being held private between the parties involved, the church hasn’t denied that it happened (that is a cover up). They clearly state in the document that it happened, are they going to publish this to the world? No, 2012 was a while back. I would say that the church does do a good job staying “squeaky clean” compared to all other large religious groups. That’s what we strive to do. We aren’t perfect by any means and are susceptible to life’s bad decisions just as everyone else is. I hope we can create a system to help bring these issues up and prevent them, no one should be able to get away with such sins in the church.

  • “I believe its being held private between the parties involved…” This is covering up illegal behavior by fiat.
    A cover up by tacit consent of an authoritarian hierarchy focused on maintaining a pristine public appearance. ALL religions do this.

  • I think it’s dangerous to read too much into internal legal documents. Lawyers are trained to compartmentalize issues and communicate in a brief, “just the facts” kind of way. Additionally, these are also notes meant for discussion, not a complete record of the incidents. We don’t know, based on the documents, who “the Missionary Department” is (is it lower level staff? higher level staff but no GAs? GAs?).

    Also, as a law firm, the firm is only concerned about the legal issues. That says nothing about what other departments or individuals are involved and what other response they will have.

    In short, based on this document, an internal note not apparently meant for distribution, that leaves out significant details, logs accusations, and produced by a specific law firm with a specific set of responsibilities, I don’t think you can draw any conclusions one way or the other about the Church’s concern for any particular situation. In fact, I have some inside knowledge of matters similar to this, and I can guarantee you that this is a misleading document. Sometimes having a little bit of information can make you less informed than no information at all.

  • Do you think victims of crime want their stories published? Keeping things private is usually the preference of all involved. Even when things hit the criminal justice system, often plea bargains and other arrangements arise out of a concern for privacy and the desire not to make victims testify.

  • The business cult fronting as a religion indeed. Don’t want any black eyes affecting the bottom line!

  • Victims determine if their violations become public, NOT religion driven patriarchy or the legal system.
    Keeping things private is what has fed this horrible pandemic of clerical abuse for more than a century.
    The absence of a central agency for Baptist Churches to report known or suspected child molesters has resulted in preachers moving from one church to another without their new congregation ever learning about the history of sexual abuse. But having a central reporting agency hasn’t done much to address this either as the past two decades have indicated.

  • Rat a tat, rat a tat, the tap dance continues. Nice soft shoe routine. Good use of the appeal to authority fallacy as well. I’m picturing Baghdad Bob. Go to Sam Young’s website and read the stories. Then come back and declare them all lies, all told by evil-minded people whose sole purpose is to smear the church. There’s a good lad.

  • I’ve read many of those stories, and the vast, vast majority do not involve a leader even touching a congregant. Instead, they mostly involve invasive questions, which, although inappropriate, are not what most people think of when talking about “abuse”. Their concerns are valid, and real, and should be addressed, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

    Do you have anything substantive, or do you just plan to spew forth meaningless rhetoric?

  • “Instead, they mostly involve invasive questions, which, although inappropriate, are not what most people think of when talking about “abuse”. ”

    Perhaps “most people” should think of such inappropriate questioning as abuse. The idea that emotional harm is somehow lesser than physical harm denies the real, demonstrable link between mental distress and subsequent physical harm, both to and by those abused. The purpose of such questioning is, I suspect, either prurient or manipulative – neither motive should be tolerated by any organisation with pretensions to caring for its membership.

  • If you think asking about masturbation and actually touching a child are in the same ballpark, I guess you and I live in a different world.

    I suspect that the purpose of the questioning is a misguided attempt to set clear boundaries.

  • Whether or not a child masturbates, and virtually everyone does after a certain age, is not something that anyone else is entitled to ask about, let alone someone hiding behind the false assumption that it is really an unevidenced and unnecessary virtual being that wants to know.

    And yes – abuse is the act of treating someone with disrespect, it is cruelty – in any form. The ballpark is the cruelty, intended or not, of the abuser – not the way in which it is displayed.

    If your world has created an artificial distinction between physical cruelty and mental/emotional cruelty there is a reason, and the reason is unlikely to be one that shines a positive light on that world.

  • You’re entitled to your own opinion, I guess. Personally, I think by equating inappropriate questions with physical abuse, you are both unnecessarily elevating the danger of inappropriate questions, and by implication, mitigating the danger of physical harm.

    “The ballpark is the cruelty, intended or not, of the abuser – not the way in which it is displayed.” Here I am this whole time thinking that it was the harm to the child.

    If your world has erased the real distinctions between two things thar are clearly different, there is a reason, and the reason is unlikely to be one that shines a positive light on that world.

  • Are inappropriate questions the same as physical abuse?

    Not physically. But in both cases, the I’d be willing to bet that abuser is getting off on it.

  • Why are you here in this thread of comments about a religious group you frequently label a cult? At least Ben and I are ex-Mormons.

  • Why is anyone surprised?

    Just another rotten-to-the-core outfit obstructing justice for its own perceived benefit. No different than a corporation selling soap instead of “salvation.”

    A pox on them all.

  • Aren’t you ignoring the efforts of the church, exposed in the memo, to shield the abuser from the criminal justice system, despite the acknowledgement of illegal conduct?

  • What a bullshit question.

    Journalistic outfits typically shield the identities of abuse victims. As does the judicial system in the case of minors. You’re just casting about for excuses to save embarrassment for some purportedly holy church.

  • I guess that Ben needs to step in and provide some insight. I thought that he was a Mormon at one time. No, I’m not LDS at this time, but as a former member of the LDS Church I would think that I have more reason to be interested in these topics and to comment here than you would, with your cult feelings and all.

  • No, I’m saying that you can’t draw conclusions about supposed efforts to shield the accused from prosecution from these notes, for the reasons I have above.

  • Ben in Oakland, we know that you will always assume the worst of a religious person. You have voiced your opinion without evidence so many times that everything you say rings hollow.

  • Correct, precisely because victims don’t want their stories to be told. No journalist or judge will ever stop a victim who wants to tell their story.

  • I think it more accurate to say that you are assuming the worse about me, I didn’t say anything about religion. You did. But I do think under just about any circumstances, people asking intrusive questions about other people’s sexual interests, And doing it under color of authority, especially when the person is a child that is not one’s own, has an element of creepiness to me that I would be very wary of. You might be willing to pass on that. I’m not. Prurient interest is a known phenomenon.

    You might want to refer to the movie “Harold and Maude” for a fairly good depiction of it. It doesn’t matter whether the perp does it for “religious” reasons or entirely secular ones.

    As for evidence, several people have testified on thesevery pages that they didn’t not like the intrusive questioning.

  • I don’t think it’s fair, either, that your correspondent assume the worst about you.

    I recommend reading your posts and having the worst about you confirmed.

  • Bee ess.

    No responsible adult would even postulate such a course of shielding a person they think is a predator.

  • The victim’s preference in no way reduces the responsibility of those who have knowledge of abuse to inform the cops. You’re just making excuses, in a phony concern for the victim.

  • A 17 year old kid sexting with a 15 year old is stupid, wrong, and rightfully illegal. It’s also something that thousands of otherwise normal horny teenagers do on a regular basis. The right course of action is exactly what the attorney here suggested, send him home and let the legal chips fall where they may. It is, however, something that otherwise responsible adults ignore on a regular basis.

  • I’m sorry, I was responding to the comment “Victims determine if their violations become public.” Perhaps you lost track. Of the conversation?

  • I understand what it means for you. However, in the end all religious faiths are cultic practices. Perhaps learn a few other languages, such as Latin.

    Again, moving on.

  • “Cult” is a noun.

    “Cultic” is an adjective.

    They have different meanings.

    Focus on English.

    I learned Latin over a half century ago.

  • If absence of public news indicates successful hiding rather than correct handling, what can the Church do besides shutting down? Church programs involve human relationships, and all human relationships run the risk of abuse. Checks and balances can minimize abuse and policies should respond aggressively to protect victims, but 100% prevention with a large and open membership is just not possible. When public writers do not require any particular evidence before assuming Church men are abusive, that deters men who volunteer to serve in callings like Scouts and MIA and Primary. I think boys and young men need positive male leaders in their life. I expect the Church to align her handbook, policies, conference talks, and training to holding abusers accountable. I think the public should expect the same, and should applaud the Church’s overwhelmingly responsible efforts to provide safe and positive male and female leaders to young people.

    Also, if the Church is an Empire, does that imply President Nelson is like a Palpatine or Nero on a personal power trip? Does that imply priesthood boils down to unrighteous dominion?

  • You cannot conceal information by fiat, you need the consent of the involved parties. If one party chooses to disregard the rules and their promises to expose secrets to the public, they can do that. The Justice Department and US Senate are apparently powerless to impose justice on some classes of confidentiality violators. Senators Booker and Clinton are recent public examples.

  • Everyone should listen seriously to victims, including patriarchal religious leaders and representatives of the legal system. Victims can always make allegations and should always be heard, remembered, and protected. I think the public lacks sufficient data to objectively evaluate Church performance in preventing and responding to allegations of abuse.

  • “…does that imply President Nelson is like a Palpatine or Nero on a personal power trip?”

    Quite possibly. It wouldn’t be the first time. It’s common knowledge Rusty’s had a beef with the designation “Mormon” for a long time. I don’t think it’s just coincidence that he now as president of the corporation has a “revelation” about the redesignation. I doubt he’d prefer one of the suggested alternatives, “ziontologist”.

    “…the Church’s overwhelmingly responsible efforts to provide safe and positive male and female leaders to young people.”

    Ummm, what would those efforts be exactly? Are there background checks like most other churches require? Nope. It seems to me that a former bishop named Sam Young led an effort to end one on one interviews between teens, pre-teens, and adult males. He was just excommunicated in a “court of love” because apparently he didn’t shut up when told to, and so was designated an apostate. With that action, the church made it clear that obedience to the organization trumps everything, even safety of children. The church of my youth morphed over time into the abomination it is today. Truly, the path of discipleship in this church is to “pray, pay, and obey.”

  • Wow, a couple of memos, a few letters, and all of a sudden all missionaries are despicable child predators and all Church leaders are as corrupt as Hillary Clinton.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I think a good neighbor allows her neighbor self identify. I like identifying as a member of the restored Church of Jesus Christ; section 115 settled the issue form the Church in 1838. Consider being friendly and putting away the box of unkind labels.

    If you would like to see church efforts to provide safe and positive leaders to young people, I recommend a visit to your local primary, young womens’, scouts, and quorum meetings. At each, you will find unpaid volunteers who, on the whole, make extraordinary efforts to help their neighbors’ kids. These volunteers and the kids they serve suffer when public writers presume Church members and leaders are there to commit abuse.

    I don’t know much about Sam Young, but it sounds as if he was determined to dismantle the custom that every member has a right to a private and frank conversation with their priest or bishop. This custom protects children. The Church would be irresponsible to deny a child their right to private communication with their eccliastical leader. If Bishop Young is in open rebellion to that policy, he is not in communion with his community. An ecclesiastical court is right to recognize that fact. Ecclesiastical courts, like the public court system, exists in part to protect kids.

  • Thought that Jana would have read the Book of Mormon by now. I am curious if she really knows why Jesus was baptized? Or the doctrine of Christ as taught in this ancient scripture? Apparently not.

  • My understanding of English is that adjectives are derived from nouns. The Latin is cultus = worship

    cult | kəlt |
    a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object: the cult of St. Olaf.
    • a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister: a network of Satan-worshiping cults.
    • a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing: a cult of personality surrounding the leaders.
    • [usually as modifier] a person or thing that is popular or fashionable, especially among a particular section of society: a cult film.
    cultic | -tik | adjective
    cultish adjective
    cultishness noun
    cultism | -ˌtizəm | noun
    cultist | -tist | noun

    I subscribe to the main meaning for the faith of the majority of folks with whom I share this planet. I realize that you use the 1st sub-meaning when you speak of the LDS Church. 16 million members isn’t small. Some LDS beliefs may be strange to others, but I don’t find them sinister. And just because you and others regard it as a cult, as defined by the first sub-meaning, doesn’t make it so. It just makes it your opinion.

    We are done here.

  • Aaron, sorry about the coming wall of text. I’m sometimes disrespectful of the church leaders because I now know they are not who the represent themselves to be.

    I appreciate your reply. I suspect were we to meet each other in person we could have a friendly conversation and even be friends. I’m a long-time poster on Jana’s website. I served in every aspect of the church for over 50 years, including bishoprics, high councils, Scoutmaster for several years, seminary teacher for 4 years, married in temple, missionary to South Africa, yada yada. 4 years ago, I decided to objectively weigh the evidence of the church’s claims as I would any other legal matter (I’m an attorney.) Due to the availablity of information through Google, information not readily available in the 70s 80s 90s, it became evident the church’s truth claims could not withstand scrutiny.

    So then I was left to explain what before I had considered undeniable spiritual witnesses in my life. My testimony was based much on those sacred experiences. What I’ve come to learn is there are sound scientific explanations for experiences we deem supernatural. Just go on YouTube and watch how Derren Brown induces an atheist into having a spiritual experience.

    I was also left to explain why people of other faiths had spiritual experiences that confirmed their own belief systems. Why were my experiences valid, but theirs weren’t? I found the church’s doctrinal explanations lacking. I was also unwilling to nullify others’ experiences as counterfeit.

    I suspect you are WAY too young to remember, for instance, Paul H. Dunn. He was like the ultimate cool storytelling general authority. He was hugely popular in the 70s and 80s. He wrote books that Deseret happily sold for a bundle. We collectively felt chills down our backs and the Spirit during his talks. I even played one of his talks for an investigator while I was a missionary. And then it turned out he was lying. His stories never happened. He was quietly retired from GA status. No apology from the church. No offers of refunds for having purchased his bogus books. It’s like it never happened. But how come it was never “revealed” to the prophet, let alone all the other GAs we sustained as “prophets, seers, and revelators” that they had a charlatan in their midst? Wouldn’t Jesus want to keep his ranks pure?

    In the course of my investigation, the institutional and personal hypocrisy of leaders became apparent. The church held me and others to a higher standard than it did itself or its early leaders. I’ve seen the actual copy of a letter (Univ. of Utah archives) of Joseph Smith writing to his young polygamous wife, Sarah Whitney, to paraphrase, “The coast is clear, Emma is gone, come on over and comfort me.” Joseph was keeping this marriage a secret from Emma. Being married 35 years, I can tell you such “secrets’ are hugely damaging to a relationship. And I doubt such secrets are sanctioned by God. And if they are, then God is manipulative and abusive.

    I now know he was banging his nanny, Fanny Alger, without Emma’s knowledge or approval. In fact Emma threw a visibly pregnant Fanny out of the house. Just read Rough Stone Rolling. That was why Oliver Cowdery left the church for awhile, calling it a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair”. Yet Smith is defended. On the other hand, Spencer Kimball, Boyd Packer, and others had no problem telling us teenage boys we were going to become gay (sorry Ben, no insult intended) and mentally ill for masturbating.

    Yes, Sam Young was getting in the way of a principle. How many molestations or other abuses are you willing to tolerate in behalf of what you perceive as the greater good? Do you think Jesus says, “well, we had 5 molests, and 20 pervy interviews, but we had 300 great interview, so okay, yeah, it was worth it.” Because that kind of calculus is what your response implies. In the words of Spock, “then needs of many outweigh the needs of the few”. Is that how God works. He’s a utilitarian?

    Any by the way, you misrepresent what others are saying when you write, “These volunteers and the kids they serve suffer when public writers presume Church members and leaders are there to commit abuse.” I don’t know of anybody who has made that argument. It’s a straw man argument. What you are missing is the main point: responsible organizations enact rules that prevent abuse from happening. So long as the church allows for one on one interviews, it is tacitly admitting it is willing to allow abuses to occur for what it perceives as the greater good.

  • 1. Danny, thank you for your comment. To respond to your points:
    2. Can the Church’s truth claims withstand scrutiny?
    a. The Church’s primary truth claims are about the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to Joseph Smith, “all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to . . . Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven . . . but in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.”
    b. I think these claims are unfalsifiable. To me, that means they hold up under scrutiny. As for all the rest of Church teaching, from authorship of the Book of Abraham to Noah’s ark to the historicity of the Book of Job; those things can be freely accepted or rejected by good members. Stories like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son and the Garden of Eden don’t have to be historically accurate to be “true” from my point of view.
    3. Why do people of other faiths have spiritual experiences that confirm their own beliefs?
    a. Jesus taught everyone to pray, which implies everyone can have a valid spiritual experiences. Spiritual experiences include unpredictable and unobservable thoughts and feelings. Some people in the Church speak as though any spiritual feeling in physical or temporal proximity to the Book of Mormon is proof of its “truth”. No one is required to think like that. Spiritual feelings are not infallible error detectors. People do not have infallible error detectors in their heads. The Spirit has a different role in human life, which is one part of the explanation for why the Spirit leads various people in various directions.
    4. Why was it never “revealed to the prophet . . . That they had a charlatan in their midst? Wouldn’t Jesus want to keep His ranks pure?”
    a. “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?” Jesus was the only pure one. Ever member of the Church needs to admit to sin and repent before they are permitted to be baptized. Remember that you were allowed to be a leader in the Church, despite your sins. Angels are unavailable for most church callings. If the Church is to be led by inspired mortals, we need to expect occasional errors. Jesus teaches forgiveness for all trespasses.
    5. Are [plural marriage] secrets sanctioned by God? If so, is God manipulative and abusive?
    a. Feel free to privately consider Joseph Smith an adulterer. Joseph denied that charge, but so did David. David also murdered Uriah. That didn’t stop David from writing Psalms, which Jesus quoted on eleven occasions. Joseph Smith died 175 years ago, and no one is asked to pass judgement on his life. I think he was right about the need to restore the Church of Jesus Christ. His sins do not have much relevance on whether we should be members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ.
    6. Did general authorities teach some errors about masturbation? Yes.
    a. People are often in error. It seems the Church has since corrected–what more can you ask? Continuous revelation means we can adjust as we get closer to the truth. Our children will still have to deal with our errors, even in a world where revelation exists. Church teaching, including the law of chastity, helps us make fewer errors.
    7. Are private church interviews a way of tolerating abuse for the “greater good”?
    a. No. Interviews are not justified on utilitarian grounds. Utilitarian analysis would require isolating and measuring the benefits of the interviews, which is impossible. Ending the interviews would destroy those unmeasured benefits. Everyone benefits when people are sexually faithful to their spouse. We teach our teenagers that in several ways. Private conversations with trusted Church leaders are part of the right way to teach chastity. No one should tolerate any abuse. The interviews exist to help people reserve sexual relationships for their spouse. Ending interviews would not protect anyone, which is one of many reasons why ending the practice is a bad idea.
    8. Is it a “straw man argument” to say some public writers “presume Church members and leaders are there to commit abuse”?
    a. Ms. Riess writes, “the absence of public news on this score more likely means that the Church has for the most part successfully kept such stories hidden from view in order to protect its reputation.” One commenter in forum imagines 5 molestations / 300 interviews for a hypothetical example. Both comments are absurd presumptions of abuse in the Church.

  • Hi, Aaron. Thanks for the lengthy responses. As we say in the law, reasonable people can draw different conclusions based on the same set of facts.

    I, personally, hold the church to the standards it proclaims through its apostles and prophets. Gordon Hinkley’s April 2003 general conference address, “Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.” J. Reuben Clark, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” Ezra T. Benson, ““…the Book of Mormon is the keystone of [our] testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.”

    Defenders of the church continue to walk back the bold claims made by its leaders as evidence mounts against the accuracy of such claims. One simple example (there are many). Originally, the Book of Mormon announced it was a history of Lamanites who were “the principal” ancestors of the American Indians. In 2014, the church conceded that cannot be the case and changed the Book of Mormon to say that the Lamanites “are among” the ancestors of the American Indians. Time after time the Book of Mormon is shown to be incorrect, and even after thousands of internal revisions.

    So, fine. Apparently now the only truth claims the church has to meet that Jesus was resurrected and is the Savior of the world. That at least eliminates criticisms of so-called prophets who were abysmally incorrect in their statements and were only “speaking as men”. Which makes one wonder about present times, how do you know when a prophet is speaking as a prophet when the church can roll back and disavow statements at a later date? Such a position also dilutes the church’s claims to be the sole purveyor of the “restored Gospel of Jesus Christ”.

    So you want to give Joseph Smith a pass, huh. Well, he married at least one 14 year old (or as LDS essays grudgingly admit, a girl who was “a few months shy of her 15th birthday”) using spiritual manipulation, sent men on missions and then proposed to their wives, married women who had living husbands, etc? Fine, but then don’t ask me about whether or not I live the law of chastity. Because Smith sure as hell didn’t. Frankly, the church has become an obedience and chastity cult. I think the chastity stuff is a vestige of the church’s polygamy days when the geezers wanted young unsullied girls to add to their flocks. But I digress.

    Regarding 7a: Regardless of semantics, the willingness to continue unchaperoned interviews between male leaders and pre-teens and teens, clearly implies a willingness to sacrifice some children’s well-being for the greater principle of priesthood “worthiness” interviews. Unless you are saying nothing improper ever occurs duing such interviews, which I don’t believe you are saying. There is no other way to look at it.

    Regarding 8a: Your focus is on the lesser issue, that being the accuracy of numbers. The more important point is it does not matter if its 5 molests our of 300 interviews, 5 out of 3000, or 5 out of 30,000. It is still 5 too many. Again, a willingness to continue such interviews while acknowledging that abuses do and will occur, is a utilitarian approach.

  • Yes very true the ending of The Book of Mormon highlights the decline of 2 major civilizations and of course the Church in their midst. Apostasy raged
    And the people turned from God!
    You are right I think, we are not immune by our title or by our supposed allegiance.