Friday, August 31, 2018

Sam Young and Common Coercion

The ex-Mormon world has been ablaze recently because Sam Young may be facing excommunication.  For those of you who don't know (to borrow an oft-used Mormon phrase), Sam Young is the man behind Protect LDS Children, a movement that wants the church to implement safer guidelines for worthiness interviews so that the risk of sexual abuse and sexual shaming among Mormon youth can be significantly decreased.

As Mr. Young posted on his blog, here is why he's being summoned to a disciplinary council that may result in—and, to my mind, likely result in—his excommunication.
Of course, I believe in what Sam Young is trying to achieve and I agree that the prophets and apostles have showed a lack of moral fortitude by neglecting to directly address his concerns or even to acknowledge the existence of the problems he's raised.  But, oddly enough, the authoritarian paranoia, the blame-shifting, and the pathological avoidance are not what irritate me the most about how these events are unfolding.  What really makes me grind my teeth is Sam Young's first cited offense in the letter above:
Encouraged others to vote opposed to church leaders.
The way I'm reading this summons, the Houston Texas South Stake has just helped muddy the already turbid waters of official church policies.  Let's take a quick trip to the Doctrine and Covenants, section 20, verse 65:
No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church;
And for good measure, I'll throw in Doctrine and Covenants, section 26, verse 2:
And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith. Amen.
Just about any location of the modern church in which a sustaining vote is conducted is a location in which there is a regularly organized branch or ward or stake of the church.  Of course, votes are conducted after the fact to sustain the leadership which has already been installed, which means we weren't really following the practice of common consent the first place...but according to a divine, scripturally canonized revelation given to Joseph Smith himself, a vote should be required prior to anyone receiving a Priesthood position.  Official LDS doctrine has been twisted and perverted and watered down and redirected to the point at which it's become an abusive mockery of the word of God.

Why do I bring this up?  Because Sam Young's foremost crime in the eyes of his stake presidency is encouraging people to vote against the established power structure.  Not only can Mormons not vote before officers are ordained, but if Mormons vote against officers after they've already been set apart in their positions, it's somehow a terrible thing punishable by formal disciplinary action up to and including losing all their ordinances and blessings for eternity.  So, essentially, the prophets grant the members the ability to cast a non-binding, wholly cosmetic vote and become furious when that powerless gesture is used in a way that displeases them.  How much pettier could the apostles be, even if children's psychological, sexual, spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical health didn't all hang in the balance?

I suppose there's an argument to be made that the operative phrase in the first offense is "encouraged others."  I suppose you could say that the problem isn't voting against the leaders, the problem is influencing your fellow members to follow suit.  But I'd argue that this would make the sustaining vote even more of a sham if only the dissenters are expected not to share their opinions with those around them.  This is not voting and this is not consent.  If the event at which this crime is committed is pure pretense, how should violating the fake procedure matter enough to merit a disciplinary council?  

The votes are not real votes if there's only one acceptable way to cast a ballot.  The consent is not real consent if it's only granted after the deed.  The voting, instead, is used to reinforce the need for controlled conformity and to engender a false sense of common consent, which is all terrifyingly authoritarian and blatantly non-scriptural.  I've been reading George Orwell's Nighteen Eighty-four for the first time in about fifteen years and all this is sounding chillingly familiar.  The church is not following its own rules and is instead modifying those rules as it wishes so that it can disparage, discredit, and discard something it perceives as a threat.  Truth goes out the window, integrity goes out the window, and the need for the system to perpetuate itself drives every inelegantly unscrupulous decision.

I think it's also worth noting that, in my country—the country where Mormonism originated and is headquartered—if any administration of any party were to deport or denaturalize a citizen for merely campaigning for an opposing candidate, it would be a massive scandal, even in this particularly unusual political climate.  And that's even if the administration in question weren't tacitly condoning isolated but extremely serious cases of children being groomed for sexual abuse by its own officials.

This should be a no-brainer.  Child abuse should be one of those rare issues that everybody can agree needs to be addressed.  But the church seems to be more concerned with maintaining its authority over its followers than it is with protecting its followers' children from sexual predation, from psychological trauma, and from unwarranted shame and guilt.  And it will continue to twist and retcon its own doctrine to do it.  In the meantime, Nelson and his apostles continue to lose moral credibility because they're more worried about informal nicknames and marijuana legislation.

That's fucked up.  Plain and simple.  And if Sam Young gets the spiritual noose, he'll be far nobler a martyr than Joseph Smith ever was.


  1. Beautifully written.

    The "vote" in the church is solely to show allegiance to and obedience to the leaders. It's the Mormon (yes "Mormon") version of bowing before a king. I know a guy who voted no on a vote for a relief society president. It was because he thinks she's not a nice person. She's judgmental and vindictive and shows no compassion for people. These are very legitimate concerns for which he said he could not sustain her in that position. He got called into the SP office and ended up getting chewed out and basically told to tow the line.

    Sexual abuse in the church is not at all taken seriously. it is precisely the reason my wife, children, and I no longer attend. As a child, I was asked inappropriate questions like if I masturbate (age 11), if I had sex with animals (age 18 in mission interview), and many more inappropriate questions during my marriage interviews. We even had to postpone our temple wedding for 2 months, because my soon to be wife had been raped by a previous boyfriend. I could go on and on...I often wonder how we stayed active as long as we did. I have little respect for Church leadership and their lack of discernment and do not sustain them. I understand that many of the local leaders are good men trying their best, but they actually believe that their feelings are god talking to them. Totally messed up.

    I believe Sam Young is sincere. What he's doing is heroic in my mind. He wants to stay, but if his SP wants him out, the high council will sustain the opinion of the SP to ex. That's how it works. At the end of the testimony and deliberations, the SP will come back with his opinion on the matter and the others will vote to go along with him. They wouldn't dare do otherwise. I heard 1st hand from a high councilor who voted yes to agree with his SP, even though he thought the man who had had sex with several dozen different women he met online should have been exed. The SP only wanted disfellowshipment. Had the high councilor voted against the decision, he most likely would've been called into the SPs office and removed from the high council for not sustaining church leadership. He was sick about it. I think it would've been worth it. What a messed up system. In Sam's case, if the SP decides to do nothing, he will probably be quickly replaced by another man willing to do the bidding of the corrupt, narcissists leading the church. I'll be following this case closely.

    1. Postponing a temple wedding because someone is a victim of rape...? Were they seriously claiming that she wasn't worthy because of something someone else had done to her? I have no firsthand experience with rape, but I would assume that being told you're not worthy to enter the temple after something like that would only exacerbate the psychological fallout and compound the trauma. Whatever Kimball-reading priesthood leader mandated that delay was behaving in just about as far from a Christlike manner as anyone can get.

      I think you're right that many of the local leaders are good men trying their best, and I think that the story you told about the high councilor plays out over and over again in every stake in the church. I think good Mormons who want to do right are regularly railroaded into acting against their consciences in large and small ways because they've been taught to trust the organization more than their gut. And I think knowing that Sam Young comes from that kind of environment makes what he's doing that much more impressive.