The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has officially lost its temper. Yesterday, the Church’s Newsroom released a strongly worded rebuff of the Aug. 2nd AP article titled “Seven years of sex abuse: How the Mormon officials let it happen,” written by Michael Rezendes. Its initial statement (offered last week) asserted the article misrepresented the help line which bishops and stake presidents are required to call upon learning of abuse, hoping to recast it as a tool to end abuse without addressing why the help line is staffed through its legal-centric risk management office. Many, myself included, were stunned by the inhumanity of the initial response if not by its legalistic hedging of responsibility. But this second response makes the first PR failure look tame, not only because of its continued defensiveness, but also for its misrepresentation of the article. I won’t rehash that. Follow the links above to read each for yourself. Instead, let’s chat a bit about this line from the second official response:
“We [the church] are constantly striving to be better and do more [to end child abuse], and we invite others to join us in such efforts.”
I accept this invitation. And so will most LDS. We saw hundreds, if not thousands, of LDS women join in social media efforts to combat child sex trafficking as they promoted Operation Underground Railroad (OUR). The point is, LDS people in general and parents in particular despise child abuse and are very willing to fight this good fight. In the same spirit, I have a recommendation for the LDS Church: put the power of your bankroll into the fight to make mandatory reporting a legal requirement everywhere.
I live in Texas, a state that, of late, has dangerously overstepped its bounds regarding reproductive rights and the rights of the parents of transgender children. However, Texas exempts no one, not even clergy, from being mandatory reporters. Many states do exempt clergy. Utah exempts clergy in spite of recent efforts to remove the exemption from Utah law. If the LDS Church expressed a desire to have clergy made mandated reporters in its home state, it’d happen. But there’s no evidence I can find that suggests it has interest. That’s problem #1. No one is arguing that upper church leaders condone abuse. No one says they haven’t publicly condemned abuse. Yet, if the Church were truly interested in protecting victims first and foremost, it’d express support for legal moves to require clergy reporting in its home state. But it doesn’t.
The LDS Church claims it is committed to political neutrality, but that neutrality extends only to refusal to endorse political candidates. Political issues are a wholly different thing. I joined the LDS Church in 1978 when it was actively using ward meetings (especially Relief Society) to organize and encourage women to advocate against the Equal Rights Amendment. Though still a teenager and a new convert, I witnessed this firsthand. Clearly, the local organization of the LDS Church stands ready to serve the needs of abuse victims by advocating universal mandatory reporting in states and foreign countries where it doesn’t currently exist.
Its no secret that the formal church has devoted enormous resources to denying marriage rights to homosexual couples. Again, it used members of California wards to mount its campaign against Proposition 8, spending its own money and advocating for donations from Church members. Over and over again, it has used its legal arm to file amicus briefs in an effort to thwart and then overturn the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision which requires all states to legally honor all same sex marriages.* The point is, the LDS Church may not support candidates, but it clearly supports political positions on moral issues, both in terms of paid and voluntary man hours and through dipping into its own coffers. Most LDS will support the political activity their Church undertakes.
So here it is, the perfect opportunity for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to demonstrate their commitment to put action behind their denouncements of abuse. It could write one of those letters that are read over the pulpit in every Sacrament Meeting, announcing that members are to organize in locations in which clergy are not mandated reporters and then give direction as to how. Send general authorities out to do media interviews about how mandatory reporting must exist universally if innocent victims are to be protected. Funnel necessary funds that you’ve been saving for the millennium into protecting children in the days of tribulation that precede the second coming. And do it now. That’ll prove where the Church’s heart is much better than taking a defensive and angry stance via the Newsroom.
LDS Church members in the US need the Church’s permission to advocate for universal mandatory reporting. After all, the Church excommunicated Sam Young for publicly asking the Church to reduce the odds of church-centric sex abuse. Its reasonable for members to wonder what might happen to them if they take it upon themselves to advocate that their own bishops and stake presidents be made mandatory reporters through the force of law. Fear of formal discipline often inhibits members from acting according to their consciences.
And legalistic responses like those made recently by the Church’s Newsroom do nothing to convince members that the Church has any interest in making its clergy mandatory reporters. Mandatory reporting saves victims from abuse. Mandatory reporting does not eliminate the opportunity for a perpetrator to contritely repent and redirect their life. Quite the contrary. The act of rallying the LDS people to ensure universal mandatory reporting–either through a federal law in the US or on a state-by-state basis–would give license to dedicated LDS to do the right thing and better protect abuse victims.
Perhaps the LDS Church doesn’t want clergy to be mandatory reporters, but, rack my brain as I have, I can’t understand why, considering over and over LDS leaders rightly condemn abuse. One thing is clear, neither of the official responses to the Rezendes article explain why it’s more important to comply with the technicalities (and loopholes) of a given state’s clergy reporting requirements than it is to change those requirements to a universal standard that would require their bishops and stake presidents to report.
If the LDS Church wants me to believe its rhetoric about ending child abuse, it can throw its weight behind efforts to make universal mandatory reporting a reality, starting with the state that hosts its headquarters. Use the LDS people to help achieve this wherever clergy are not mandatory reporters. Organize the mothers and grandmothers of the Church through the Relief Society to create petitions and apply pressure to lawmakers in the same manner you used LDS women to combat the ERA. And make sure the men are equally actively engaged.
I personally think the men who lead the Church abhor abuse, just as they say. But having that emotional reaction without putting its weight behind efforts to change mandatory reporting laws is as dead as faith is without works. That work is long overdue. This is a moral and ethical issue. And members of the LDS Church are a force to be reckoned with. We’ve proven it over and over.
So how about it? Give us official sanction to advocate that mandatory reporting become a legal requirement for clergy throughout the United States and then the world. Lead us forward in this action. Assign your lawyers to the work of helping members enter the world of political advocacy for a righteous cause. We will be there for you as you are there for the victims of abuse. We accept your invitation.
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works… James 2:20
*RECOMMENDED READING: Gay Rights and the Mormon Church: Intended Actions, Unintended Consequences, by Greg Prince, PhD., provides a thorough discussion of the Church’s historic efforts and financial commitment to arresting gay marriage.