Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sources of Reliable Information

(Post #497)

On the way home from the park yesterday, S-Boogie said that she needed to go potty. This was a concern because we were a good twenty or thirty minutes from home, and because at the moment she was sitting on Tolkien Boy's shoulders. At TB's suggestion, he, his brother Bassercussionist, and I took Little Dude and S-Boogie into the first open bookstore to look for a restroom. We took a lightning quick tour of the store (much to the owner's concern), determined there was no restroom, and left. On the way out, though, the cover of this week's Seattle Weekly caught my eye. There was a man (boy?) with his face obscured, dressed in a white shirt and tie, reading the Book of Mormon--which is the thing that caught my eye, because it has a fairly recognizable cover (at least to those of us who have spent much of our lives reading it, carrying it around, and distributing copies in foreign countries). The headline read: "TEMPLE OF DOOM! One Man's Brutal Encounter With Sexual Abuse In the Mormon Church." My curiosity was piqued--more than anything by the blatant sensationalism--and the newspaper was free (which should tell you something about how credible it is as a source of reliable information [and come to think of it, this blog is also free...]), so I picked up a copy.

The article is... interesting. To be clear, the article is not about ritualistic sexual abuse in Mormon temples or even in Mormon churches, as the grandstanding title might lead you to believe. It's about a man who, as a boy, was repeatedly raped by a (Mormon) scoutmaster and is now suing the LDS Church for the role some local leaders played in protecting the scoutmaster from legal consequences for his actions. The article also mentions a handful of other cases where victims were encouraged by LDS bishops to essentially keep quiet about sexual abuse, rape, or assault--usually with the idea that we should forgive those who offend us or something like that.

I'm not sure I'm convinced this is as widespread a problem as the article claims; four or five cases spread out over many years do not make an epidemic. Four or five cases of a problem as appalling as this, though, are cause for concern in and of themselves, and are likely indicative of a larger problem. That problem, I believe, is that LDS bishops are not trained to deal with all the problems they are called on to deal with. Members expect them to be their personal source of divine communication and therefore experts on anything and everything. I know I did when, as a seventeen-year-old, I told my church leaders I was attracted to men. The first nervously laughed it off and suggested I join the football team because that would help me feel more manly (and then he passed on my confidential information without my knowledge or permission), and the second told me with complete confidence and authority that my same-sex attraction was a direct result of my poor relationship with my father and that it would be cured with counseling and faith. In both cases the leader sincerely wanted to help me and believed he was giving me accurate information, but the fact is that neither of them had the expertise to give me the answers I was looking for. Unfortunately, I was naive enough to believe that whatever my church leaders told me must be true.

I imagine this happens not only in the cases of sexual abuse and homosexuality, but in all sorts of issues. There are probably bishops who tell drug addicts that all they need is faith and willpower or abused wives that they just need to be more patient with their husbands. A friend of mine who was at the time an elders quorum president once asked me why a bishop would ever refer someone to a therapist or marriage counselor. "Isn't the Atonement enough to cure any problem?" His question came from a position of faith, which I respect, and naivety, which I understand, so I don't fault him for it. The problem, though, is that this man is just as likely as any other to be called as a bishop. Yes, I allow for divine inspiration overcoming ignorance in many cases, but the fact is there are still bishops and other church leaders who give stupid and even harmful counsel because they don't know any better.

I'm not sure what the best solution is. Giving leaders better training on how to handle reports of abuse is definitely a priority--and perhaps steps have already been taken in this direction--but that still leaves the 999 other problems they need better training to deal with. Heaven knows people in leadership positions in the LDS church already have more training meetings than they have time for. Perhaps that's the solution--give them more time. As much as I love the idea of the church's unpaid clergy, perhaps what the church really needs is some leaders who don't have to split their time between church callings and a full-time job, so they can receive the training they need to better serve their wards and actually meet the heavy expectations placed on them. I wouldn't attempt to tell the church how to run itself, particularly from my current position outside the church, but I think this is a problem that I hope any current or future LDS leaders who happen to read this blog will work to find solutions for.

My primary concern when it comes to the LDS church lately is my children. It's important to FoxyJ to raise them in the church and I have no intention of interfering with that. I don't want to see them get hurt by well-meaning but under-informed members of the church, though. In this particular case I take comfort in the fact that FoxyJ has never subscribed to the kind of naive faith that led me to put more trust in my leaders than in my own conscience. Hopefully her more level-headed approach to faith will rub off on our children.

Oh, and lest I leave you hanging, rest assured that we made it home, ate dinner, and showed Tolkien Boy and Bassercussionist all our toys and drawings and our sleeping bag before S-Boogie decided that it was time to actually go potty. Her panties--and Tolkien Boy's shoulders--remain dry and clean.


JB said...

"Isn't the Atonement enough to cure any problem?"

This is an interesting question, because ideally the Atonement can fix anything. However, if your leg is broken and you're sitting there bleeding to death, you don't expect the Atonement to magically make it all better. The Atonement doesn't make you superman. I think there are similar emotional/psychological things the Atonement can't fix even if it were 100% True or even just Real (I'm still not convinced either way).

Honestly, I think the LDS church should take less time away from families in general, because a lot of that time (ie. Sunday School and Relief Society) is spent reiterating things everybody hears all the freaking time. Not always, but often. If they could cut one of those extra meetings out and make Sacrament meeting about half as long and then hold fewer meetings for the adults, people would need to sacrifice their families for the good of the Church a little less.

Really, I think it would help most of church leaders were better at knowing what their strong suits are and aren't. For example, someone who's never dealt with someone else that is gay should know he doesn't know what to do and that it's time to refer said person to someone else who's studied it and knows how to deal with that situation. Isn't that the LDS Family Services' job?

Th. said...


As for abuse alone, the Church has a 24hr-contact system for bishops when they run into such an issue. It lets them know about legal issues (the Church's policy is to always report sexual abuse), how to help victims, etc.

Rebecca said...

I think it would be really great if only counselors (with at least a master's) were called to be bishops. And were paid to do it. Plus, that would solve a lot of confidentiality problems since they LEGALLY are not allowed to tell your problems unless...stipulations, blahblahblah.

And I think you're right - while it IS a problem, I'm not sure it's an epidemic. I've heard some bishop horror stories, but also a lot non-horror stories (what would that be? Happy stories? Non-fiction fairy tales? Disneyesque?). I was always lucky enough to have WONDERFUL bishops.

But most bishops are lawyers or engineers or policemen or...whatever. I don't think I've ever met one who was actually trained to counsel people.

Mama said...

My husband is in the Bishopric currently and gets some stuff lobbed at him unexpectedly.

He's noticed several folks in the church, when confronted with counseling scenarios that they're uncomfortable or untrained to handle, begin rambling. I lieu (or in fear) of silence or an "I don't know what to say" response, he says random, often unintentionally hurtful, words start filling the air. (He claims the same happens in testimony meetings, in his opinion. Now that I've paid more attention, the more "creative" parts of folks' testimonies do seem to happen when they should have stopped about 2 sentences prior.)

He wishes there was more training for the counseling itself and says that our Bishopric has a "shut up, listen, and pass this situation on to someone who can handle it" approach because they don't want to do (more) damage. They are engineers and a pilot - so there's not a huge amount of therapy background between the 3 of them.

To me, an epidemic in the church is how insanely unsafe our primaries are. argh argh argh

B.G. Christensen said...

Foxy and I were just talking the other day about how stupid it is for parents to treat church as this safe, worry-free zone where their children can just run free. Hello? Have you not noticed that anyone can walk in and out of that building? What makes you think your children are safe unsupervised in a public building with a lot of empty rooms with closed doors? Again, I'm thankful for her lack of naivety.

Mama said...

I'm thankful for her wisdom in raising your children, too, Mr. Fob! Too many parents, and Primary leaders, just don't get it. Smart parents are refreshing.

About a year ago, my daughters were in the HFPE nursery class and allowed to leave by themselves to use the restroom (aged 6 and 5 at the time) and were approached in the bathroom by a homeless man. AAAAAAARRRRRGGGHHHH

They went and told the Bishop, and as a mother, I was never even spoken to about the situation. I was shocked and saddened by the naievete and the way the situation was handled.

Thankfully, I'm the Stake Primary President, so I've instituted some stake-wide changes. In my stake now, RS and P-hood are to be released at least 3 minutes before the block is over so that parents are waiting outside of Primary classes for children.

Now, if I could just facilitate some change in counseling situations....sigh....

skyeJ said...

"...FoxyJ has never subscribed to the kind of naive faith that led me to put more trust in my leaders than in my own conscience." I have a friend who has a hard time with organized religion because he says he can't put his faith in any "institution of man", and he hasn't ever seen a church that isn't run by men. To that I say, "What else does God have to use?" Whenever I have a hard time with the humans who are called of God to lead me, I just try to remember they are humans. Maybe that makes it harder for me to put faith in some of them, but it all comes down to what God sees in MY heart in the end, right? If I am doing my best to live in this life with the spirituality I am given, then that's all that is required, right? We're all just doing our best with what we have. We can't ask any more from each other than that, can we?