Monday, August 19, 2019

When is Protection Not Protection?

The big news in Mormonism last weekend was that the church has created its own training material to prevent abuse and identify signs of abuse among children and youth.  At least, that's the ostensible purpose behind the rollout of the webinar.  I'm sure just about everybody can agree that stopping sexual abuse and reporting abusers is extremely important, but there are a few things about this particular development that leave a sour taste in my mouth.

Firstly—and perhaps I'm-wearing-a-tinfoil-hatly—it's the URL.  As shared in the Salt Lake Tribune article, the simple web address the church chose to share is ProtectingChildren.ChurchofJesusChrist.orgprotecting children.  There is no way that during the preparation of this new training course, no one said, "Hey, that's kind of like the name of the organization whose founder we excommunicated last year for raising this issue in the first place."  Sure, it's a different form of the verb "protect" and it doesn't have the name "LDS" in it (because using that as an identifier for a member of the church is a victory for Satan) but it's strikingly similar.  It could have been called "preventing abuse" or "child safety" or even "stewardship safeguards" for a more citrusy Mormon flavor.  They could have called it "please God don't let us get sucked into an international scandal the way the Great and Abominable Church has" if they thought it would have been a memorable enough URL.  But no, they went with "protecting children."

And it's troubling that it's similar because (and maybe this is even more tinfoil-hat-esque) this is only being done as an answer to Sam Young and his Protect LDS Children wave-making.  I think the name was an intentional choice so that the church can point to this and say, "Look, we're taking this seriously and we've made appropriate changes."  Well, no, I actually don't expect them to say that, but I think they're hoping that any faithful Mormons who were bothered by the issues Sam Young raised will make that connection on their own and be satisfied that the problem has been solved.

Moving on to more substantive arguments, this demonstrates yet again that the church refuses to admit when it's wrong.  After making an incremental change that nodded in Sam Young's direction, they excommunicated him for his efforts and they are now making flourishing, meretricious dance steps across his spiritual grave.  This does seem to continue a pattern of the organization's brutal authoritarianism when it's confronted with its most blatant flaws.  After the CES Letter went viral, the church started releasing Gospel Topics essays on its website.  Then they went after its author in a disciplinary court and continued pumping out Gospel Topics essays that confirm many of the accusations leveled within the pages of that damnable, curséd CES Letter.  Shortly after Kate Kelly formed Ordain Women, the first woman gave a prayer in General Conference, but Kate Kelly was excommunicated a year later (and now we sometimes even have women's events in which men don't do any of the talking).  This behavior is paranoid, childish, manipulative, and heartless—and yet, somehow, it's exactly what people have come to expect from our loving Father in Heaven's only officially recognized religion.  

And, of course, this new training thingamajig doesn't actually address the crux of Sam Young's crusade anyway—the one-on-one interviews with bishops that can cover sexual topics.  It's carefully calculated lip service.  The standing policy of the church is still—with the small concession made last year—that the child being interviewed may ask that another adult be in the room.  Church policy does not require another adult to be present and it does explicitly take explicit sexual questions off the table.

Even more troubling is the disparity in how suspected abuse should be reported by people in different callings—as pointed out by a Redditor who took the training course:
Bishops and Stake Presidents should call their hotline, which goes to Kirton McConkie.  Everybody else should call the police.  This is one hundred percent not okay.  If someone is molesting a child, call whoever you think should be alerted, yes, but the police should be at the very top of that list—exactly the way it works in the "Other Leaders and Teachers" section of the image above.  If you find a dead body, you call the police.  If you see a drug deal going down, you call the police.  But if a child tells you they're being sexually abused, you call your church's law firm?  Your religious organization's desire to insulate itself from lawsuits and bad press does not supersede your responsibilities to the abused child and to the public.

I also want to say that this business of having an online training course that certifies your completion and has to be renewed after a set period of time really helps drive home just how corporate the church has become.  This is perhaps not a fair criticism, because I have to admit that if you want to make this training available to as many of your people (with the appropriate login credentials) as possible and you need a good way to keep track of who has and has not completed it, this option seems very efficient.  But it's still strongly reminiscent of the standardized training I've taken at every large company I've ever worked for.  And it fits very neatly into a corporate hierarchy with a patriarchic oligarchy at its head pushing out pilot programs and surveys and mission statements and ad campaigns and branding initiatives to help them smoothly navigate through every shift in policy and every projected market downturn.  I have no ideas for how else they could have accomplished what they're doing.  But I suppose a divinely inspired religion could fairly be expected to have some more out-of-the-box solutions than what your typical 200-year-old multibillion-dollar company would come up with.

Just sayin'.

Anyway, in conclusion, this was a weak attempt overall, guys.  Try it again, only be more sincere this time.  There could literally be lives at stake.


  1. Nailed it! I couldn't agree more. I did the training the other night (I'm in cub scouting), and the same exact thing struck me, Bishops call the hotline so we can figure a way to keep liability away from the church; everyone else, call the police. I also agree that this feels just like the CBT stuff I do at my work regularly. The boy scout training was better, but still CBT pablum.

    What I am wondering is if the church is going to do background checks for youth leaders like the scouts do. I'm also wondering what is found in a person's membership record that no one but the leadership sees. Are there asterisks that peg people with a past? I know that if you have been excommunicated and let back in that that part of your life stays in the church's computer system.

    This whole thing feels more like today's corporate culture, where the talk is about child safety, but in reality, it's about keeping the church out of litigation.

    I simply have no

    1. Anyone correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure the church already does background checks for youth leaders, but only when required by the government. I remember my mom making a stink about the hassle of it several years back when my state passed a law about it.

      Of course, this doesn't do much to establish the church as a leader on moral issues. Just, as usual, a begrudging participant on the tail end of societal progress.

      I hope your idea of flagging membership records of abusers is something the church will implement, but I'm not holding my breath. They go after apostates much harder than sexual criminals, so I wouldn't be surprised if a past excommunication earns you an asterisk but past predatory behavior doesn't.

    2. I can assure you that the church keeps track that a person was ex'd and the of excommunication. A friend of mine was called to be in a bishopric, and was told by the stake president that he would have liked to call him as bishop, but his excommuication wasn't more than 10 years ago (it was 8 years and 3 months ago!).

    3. Sure, sure, we can let Orson Pratt back into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles less than six months after his excommunication, but we can't call your friend as bishop until ten years have gone by. That makes perfect sense!

  2. Well done. Brilliant analysis. You've written the things I wish I was smart enough to think. :)

    1. Let's assume there's a good way to express gratitude for your kind words without condoning your self-deprecation. Then let's assume I said whatever that is. :)