• Ex-bishop is convicted of felony sex crimes
  • The MTC expands
  • LDS Church reaffirms its “doctrine” on homosexuality

 

stop abuse1) Former Mormon bishop pleads guilty to sex crimes with teen girls

A former Mormon bishop in California has pled guilty to sex crimes with two different teen girls in his congregation. In 2006 and again in 2012, Todd Edwards, 49, committed sexual battery against a minor and “sexual penetration with a foreign object.” He was also initially charged with persuading one of the victims not to report the crime, but the Los Angeles Times reports that this charge will be dismissed.

His stake issued a statement expressing the Church’s sadness about the crime. The Church has not revealed any details about the specific dates of Edwards’s tenure as bishop, though the Times says that the Church removed him from his position as bishop as soon as the allegations were made against him.

One final note about some of the discussions happening about this case. While the predatory sexual behavior of this bishop occurred in his home and car, and not in the church building, Mormon cultural practice certainly paved the way for him to have time alone with his victims. Our controversial practice of sending teenagers alone into a room with a bishop for an “interview” that can include questions about sexual behavior gives teens the message that they are not fully in charge of their bodies. Moreover, our religion’s emphasis on obeying those in authority leaves little room to resist when leaders abuse their trust.

For some helpful suggestions on how Mormon leaders and parents might minimize the possibility of abuse – including a rule that a teen should never be completely alone in a room with a priesthood holder – she this August post from Doves & Serpents.

 

2) MTC in Provo to expand

The Missionary Training Center in Provo, bursting at the seams after the missionary age requirement was lowered last year for both men and women, has announced an expansion. LDS Living reported this morning that the south end of the MTC’s campus will be most affected.

The Deseret News reported in August that there are now more than 75,000 Mormon missionaries in the field, up from 58,000 just before the historic 2012 announcement. More than 85,000 missionaries are expected to have entered service by the end of this year. To accommodate the influx, the Church has opened 58 new missions and a new MTC in Mexico.

 

3) Harry Reid’s gaffe prompts Church to reiterate that its “doctrine” on homosexuality has not changed

Last week, reporters asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) how he reconciled his legislative support for the ENDA with his membership in the LDS Church, which has, to put it mildly, not always been supportive of gay rights. A Las Vegas newspaper reports Reid’s reaction and the Church’s counter-reaction:

What Reid should have done is separate his duties as a lawmaker to his constituents from his personal religious beliefs. But he didn’t. What he did was say was that members of the Mormon Church are coming around in favor of gay rights.

Two things. First, the key word here is “members,” which could be true in his circles. Maybe the Mormons in his liberal-leaning progressive circle feel that way, which is good. Which leads to the second point: the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not changed its doctrine on homosexuality, despite Reid’s contention of its members softening.

“Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position,” the church said in a statement following Reid’s comments.

Then came the hammer.

“If it is being suggested that the church’s doctrine on this matter is changing, that is incorrect.”

rainbow same-sex marriageIn the commentary following the exchange, Religion Dispatches blogger Joanna Brooks noted a mounting tension among Mormons surrounding the issue of LGBT rights. On the one hand, the Church has adopted a gentler tone about the issue, especially in writings from its Public Affairs department; on the other, it encouraged members in Hawaii to campaign against same-sex marriage in that state. Their efforts were not successful; this week, Hawaii became the fifteenth U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage.

I certainly hope this is the last ill-fated attempt we see of Latter-day Saints attempting to impose their marital will on the rest of the nation.

28 Comments

  1. What a tragic story about the bishop who abused those children–it breaks my heart to see that.

    Thank you for shedding light on that and for the comments you made about setting boundaries in priesthood interviews, as well as for linking to my post on Doves and Serpents. I feel really strongly about this topic and hope that with enough voices we might be able to create a critical mass that brings about change in this area. It’s the only thing that makes me nervous about raising my girls in the church.

  2. I served as a bishop of a local ward (congregation) from 2009 into 2012. It was heavy, but spiritually very rewarding calling. However, in this comment I speak only for myself as an individual member of the LDS faith.

    This situation involving an LDS bishop is tragic–especially for the youth involved, but also for the ward (congregation), the former bishop’s family, and the former bishop himself. The former bishop violated his sacred calling of trust and the bounds of human decency. Such incidents with bishops are rare, but, in a church with almost 30,000 congregations, they do indeed happen since NO system on this earth is perfect. However, as we clearly see in this case, they are NOT swept “under the rug.”

    The now former bishop has been, or shortly will be, excommunicated (LDS Disciplinary Councils often wait until legal proceedings are completed to complete excommunications where such proceedings exist although appropriate preliminary steps certainly are taken.). That excommunication will last at least 5 years, and he was directed to fully confess his crimes to civil authorities and fully serve legal penalties as condition of LDS church repentance. After that, if his repentance seems fully sincere, not only to local leaders, but to the First Presidency, he will be re-baptized, but his membership record will be annotated so he will never again be called to a position working with youth, etc.

    Bishops are carefully trained about how, when and where to interview about sensitive subjects without going beyond the bounds of propriety. To maintain confidentiality such interviews need to be private, but there are to be responsible individuals close-by, usually in the next room. All leaders are regularly counseled to avoid being in a car, etc. alone with a member of the opposite sex. However, confidentiality between bishop and ward members is vital in helping members deal with major repentance issues. Bishops regularly encourage youth to confide in their parents whenever possible.

    The LDS faith also provides parents, etc. with excellent materials for teaching children and youth about intimacy boundaries and issues. Parents are strongly encouraged to teach their own children and to teach them about sexuality and intimacy including teaching them to avoid sexual abuse by anyone! Some of this teaching should begin perhaps as young as 4 years old and continue through the teen years! See “A Parent’s Guide” (1985) at http://www.lds.org/manual/a-parents-guide?lang=eng (Please note the link for “Feedback for this page” at the bottom). I encourage other to look at these materials carefully and discuss and share suggestions for possible improvements.

  3. Aaron Lankford

    What a tragedy that this would happen. Fortunately this Newspaper and other sources have stood by the victims. Abuse is an issue with the LDS Church. Most of the cases are swept under the rug. The LDS Church is a mega-corporation with top notch lawyers and marketing.
    As a Mormon I can understand how the culture creates a prime situation for a predator. Bishops have private interviews where they ask questions about sexual purity. At the same time Mormon leaders (like other religions) are placed on a pedestal. Their word is God-like.
    It appears that the victims will have good support around them.

    • “Abuse is an issue with the LDS Church. Most of the cases are swept under the rug”.

      If you don’t have evidence to back this up, this is an irresponsible accusation.

  4. Jana – You have been a little bit too judgmental on church procedure. And not well informed. Bishops are counseled to have someone in an adjacent room, usually the clerk’s office, when interviewing young women and for that matter all women. As I recall doors connected to the bishop’s office are to be slightly ajar. Your ability to report without bias comes into question.

    • Jana Riess

      Stephen, that would be a very good step if put into practice, but it has certainly not been my experience. In fact, in our ward building there is no office adjacent to or even near the bishop’s office; there is a Primary classroom, a gym, and a hallway.

      And just a note on your last comment: I am blogger, not a reporter or journalist. My posts are by nature opinion pieces, even when I am summarizing or commenting upon news stories. Merriam-Webster defines a blog as “a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.” While I strive to be accurate in my reflections, they are not intended to be factual reports without opinion. Thanks.

      • I not impugning honesty only that she, Jana, makes a statement about something she could not possibly know with any degree of accuracy. Do 50% of Bishops follow the rule or just 10%? Whether a blog or a report in the Times one should have some degree accuracy when coming to such conclusions. Jana only compared her ward building out of the 27,000 that exist.
        Jana make this statement: “Our controversial practice of sending teenagers alone into a room with a bishop for an “interview” that can include questions about sexual behavior gives teens the message that they are not fully in charge of their bodies.”
        The Church simply does not wholesale send teenagers to some viperous den totally unprotected. When truly unfortunate tragedies like the one we spoken of here, some make proclamations that are a bit silly and exaggerated. Almost any practice can be called controversial if one deems it so.
        Bishops do not routinely in quire about a young man or young woman sexual behavior. They simply ask if they are morally clean. If a young person wishes to confide at this time the Bishop will usually ask if his/her parents can be consulted, that is if the trespass is a serious one. Embarrassing detailed answers are not pursued. As you should know the Church employs a cadre of specialist to deal with various kinds of infractions that a Bishop can consult whenever he wishes. Does it always go smoothly, obviously not but a private interview has lots of good things to say about it. It should be made plain that these interviews are not only about transgression but Bishops counsel about school, hobbies, goals for the future, and a host of things kids like to talk about. Young people have volition on attending these interviews. Many teens like to know someone is interested them and how their lives are going.

        • That’s nice that that’s been your experience, Stephen, but absolutely hasn’t been mine. Never once have I ever had an interview with a priesthood leader ever, in any of my wards, stakes, or on my mission, where this protocol was followed. Also, I have been asked explicit sexual questions on several different occasions.

          Regardless of how widespread the problem is (I believe that more don’t follow the protocol than do, but let’s say for the sake of argument it’s only 5%) this is still a problem that needs to be addressed on an institutional level. It’s dangerous.

        • Essentially you are correct. We (myself and my counselors) typically asked, “Do you live the law of chastity?” With youth that question was often proceeded or followed by, “What is your understanding of the law of chastity?” (Answer: “Do not have any sexual relations before marriage, and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage.”) We sometimes, after a discussion of the for Strength of Youth standard on Sexual Purity, just asked, “Are you sexually pure?” We also often asked, “Are you modest in your dress and language?” With young men especially we often asked, “Do you have any problems with pornography or masturbation?”

          We tried to listen carefully to those we interviewed and to the Spirit of the Lord. Deeper and/or more specific question on these topics were NOT asked unless needful. We specifically tried to avoid planting unwholesome curiosity in the minds of ward members. If deeper and/or more specific questions were needful they were asked only by the bishop and then very carefully. Such situation were proceeded by prayer and often fasting and prayer on my part. This was explicitly part of our training as was avoid situations that would lead to temptation of impropriety on our parts.

          We live in a fast-paced world rich with information and temptations. This especially true for the youth. Our calling was to know and watch over our youth and to try to help them NOT become deeply enmeshed in temptations of our world. Of course, in the years I served as a bishop, I assisted with the efforts of several youth in repenting from moral problems of varying depth. Part of the roll of bishops is to be “the father of the ward,” as well as “a common judge in Israel, president of the Aaronic Priesthood, and presiding high priest in the ward.”

    • @Stephen Buck.

      So rather than take notice of abuse of youths,you blame the person bringing it to your attention and attempt to insinuate something concerning her honesty.

      Its exactly that kind of attitude that creates the climate in which predators can operate with impunity.

  5. With all the bishops, branch presidents, and Stake and Mission leaders that we have, it’s tragic that it happens at all, but compared with similar pastoral situations, the incidence of this despicable behavior seems to be considerably less. Zero, of course, would be the only acceptable statistic, but is probalby an impossibility as long as we had to pick our pastoral leaders from the male half of the “hew-mon” race.
    Certainly there is a vetting procedure (the annoation procedure that Wayne mentioned, AFAIK, is such that even a relatively youthful deviance will be a lifetime mark, regardless of the man’s repentance). The Church does not knowlingly take undue risks, especially where the “yutes” are involved.
    It’s better to look at overall how the Church does rather than the notorious failures of the few.

  6. The Mormon church’s doctrine on homosexuality may not have changed, but other doctrines have. Such as polygamy and allowing blacks into the priesthood. With that being true, I don’t know how a Mormon can think they are standing on anything better than shifting sand. They can’t be absolutely sure whatever doctrines they stand on now, such as their doctrine of salvation, will not change tomorrow.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  7. A response to Ji’s response to my comment:
    I understand your concerns about questioning specific sexual practices in general respect of privacy, propriety and to avoid awakening unwholesome curiosity. However, I did NOT “ask. . . teenage boys if they masturbate,” I asked young men: “Do you have any problems with pornography or masturbation?” The difference is subtle, but I believe significant. I went on to explain the context of and reasoning for my approach, back when I served as a bishop.

    You seem to have criticized my approach without providing context or reasoning. Please do so, because I would appreciate more fully understanding your thinking. Of course I was speaking, and continue to speak, for myself as just a member of the Church and in any official capacity as I noted in my comments earlier in this stream. We are all welcome to our own opinions and to express them on the internet.

    • I. The Law of Chastity does not reach to masturbation. The law is that no man will have sexual relations with anyone other than his or her own spouse. That’s the law. Anything else, such as a concern regarding masturbation, might be a hedge around the law, but is not the law itself.

      II. Masturbation does not require confession. The handbook teaches us that the only sins we are required to confess to a bishop are those sins which, if known, would put the confessor’s membership status in jeopardy. Masturbation is not one of those. It does not require confession.

      III. The bishop’s duty is to receive voluntary confessions, not to force or coerce confession. Asking a teenage boy if he masturbates is coercing a confession.

      IV. A teenage boy is a minor. No adult, other than his own father, should ask him that question. The father is the one responsible for teaching about sex, and the father knows the son far better than the bishop. The father’s opinions might differ from the bishop’s. A bishop puts a teenage boy in an untenable position by coercing a confession and “working with him” for months while the boy keeps the secret from his father. No, it isn’t a bishop’s business. Leave it to the parents. Don’t coerce secret confessions from a minor and then keep them secret from the parents under the guise of “helping” the boy.

      V. There is a difference between an interview where the boy seeks out the bishop versus where the bishop draws the boy in, such as for semi-annual or annual interviews, or interviews for callings. I am speaking more towards the latter case, although the basic truthful principles also apply to the former.

      I see no difference whatsoever between asking a boy if he masturbates and asking him if he has a problem with masturbation. These are semantically identical.

      I’m also speaking as a member of the church. I’m also speaking as a father of my son.

      • I to have a son and three daughters. I served as a counselor in a bishopric when my son was a teenager. Thank you for sharing your views on these subjects with me. They are important.

        I partially agree with you. Voluntary confession is much more helpful than coerced confession and I regularly reviewed and taught the principles in D&C 121:34-46 which is the most useful of scriptures in understanding how to use authority and the limits thereof. I consistently tried to avoid encouraging guilt as a motivator, but have certainly met some individuals in and out of the Church who play the guilt card persistently.

        I also agree with you that parents should be included as much as possible while maintaining confidentiality. I could NOT tell parents without the permission of the youth. I encouraged youth to share their concerns and problems with their parents. However, unless parents have carefully built a climate of trust with their sons and daughters, and sometimes even if they have, parents may be the people with which youth have the most problems talking. I have watched overwrought parents berate 18 and 19 year old children for transgressions that while significant, would yield quickly to the repentance process. Thus, it is often easier to confess to a bishop than it is to a family member with whom one lives and must be with every day. Most youth go through some rebellion issues, especially with some of their family as they work at developing their own identity. So we would work on teaching, encouraging, and empowering youth to share with their parents as soon as possible without using compulsion.

        The materials “A Parent’s Guide” (1985) at http://www.lds.org/manual/a-parents-guide?lang=eng are ignored by far too many parents. These materials lay out a clear path to teaching children at home about family and intimacy in the best setting: at home. We worked with parents to introduce and encourage the use of these materials. In “Chapter 5: Teaching Adolescents: from Twelve to Eighteen Years” under the heading of “Prepare Your Children for the Changes That Will Accompany Puberty” and “Teach Teenagers That They Can Control Desires for Physical Intimacy” the LDS view of masturbation is pretty well presented in the proper context. As a “problem” it should be neither over nor under emphasized.

        I am generally less concerned with the physical act and potential of habituation, than I am with the mental and emotional “ideation” typically associated with masturbation: which is pornography and unwholesome thoughts (See Matthew 5: 27-30 at http://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/matt/5?lang=eng ). Masturbation, pornography and lust are NOT the same as fornication and adultery, but they are part of the same road. When we head down that road we tend to view our self and our brother and sisters with much less than the pure love of Jesus Christ. Without that pure love (charity) we cannot fulfill the measure of our creation. There are calling we can never receive in righteousness if we have ongoing and significant problems with masturbation and/or pornography. We need to teach of the importance of cherishing virtue.

        We may NOT agree on all the issues we have discussed even when we take the time to try to understand, but thank you again for sharing your views. I took them seriously and felt edified by the effort to ponder these topics carefully.

      • Thank you JI, I agree with you wholeheartedly. If I could add one thing, it is that all of these interviews are conducted in a very authoritarian environment.. usually with the power suited bishop sitting behind a large desk with a portrait of Pres. Monson behind him, and a painting of Jesus next to it. The power differential is immense and adds to the coercive nature of the interview.
        Bishop Dequer, the idea that the semantic use of words… ‘Do you masturbate?’ is essentially different from, “Do you have problems with masturbation?” strikes me as disingenuous if not outright deceptive. Perhaps one of your more semantically literal minded young men need to call you out on it with a reply to the substance of, “Do I have problems with masturbation Bishop? No, I managed to figure out how to do it on my own.”

    • To “a serving bishop,” and others:
      “On Training to Interview about Sensitive Topics”
      1. Every time I have been interview by a humble but righteous leader I have been trained. At times in my own life, I have been very self critical and shared a lot of burdens with my bishops who seemed to always listen patiently.
      2. In missionary work, serving in bishoprics, and serving on the high counsel interviewing was was taught and discussed. We specifically talked about what you don’t ask and when you politely close the interview and refer the person to higher authority. Many interviews in extending callings were done by two of us. When I’d have a challenging interview, I would discuss it with my leader. My leaders almost never asked who I had interviewed. This continued as a bishop discussing difficult situations with the Stake President while maintaining confidentiality either by anonymity or permission.
      3. LDS Family Services, at least in our area, was NOT only an agency to whom we would refer those who needed professional help, but Family Service Counselors were happy to talk with leaders who asked for suggestions and/or another prospective. Again, confidentiality was maintained by anonymity or have permission from the person interviewed to discuss the situation.
      4. The Church maintains help lines bishops are to call in cases of possible abuse, welfare fraud, etc. I found those who served on those helplines to be very instructive on much more than legal details.
      5. It is wise to study and discuss handbooks repeated. Understand the correct principles.
      6. Most importantly, I felt the Holy Ghost guiding me as to when to continue listen intently, when to speak, what questions to ask, and what principles I should teach. We can only really understand ourselves, but the Holy Ghost can bless us with sensitivity, empathy, and understanding. We are told that if we have not the Spirit we are not to teach. That is even more true in dealing with those many ministering and interviewing situation in which a bishop finds himself. We need to physically, intellectually and spiritually prepare ourselves every day. Candidly: I felt I received spiritual impressions and answers to prayer several times a week with regularity before becoming a bishop. As a bishop I received spiritual impression and answers to prayers several times a day with regularity. It was not continual, but I am still in awe and humbly grateful for the blessing I received as part of that calling.

      I turned 60 a few months after being called as a bishop. I’d been a scout leader, taught gospel doctrine for 7 years, been a ward mission leader twice and a stake mission president, been a ward clerk, an elders quorum president, served as a counselor to bishops for 7 years and served on the stake high counsel for 5 years. I served with wonderful leaders. (I’d worked as a public school classroom teacher for 37 so I had a lot of experience with youth especially 12 to 15 years old.) The first couple of months I served as bishop I had members talking to me about sensitive matters that, in spite of my background and experience, I felt totally over-matched. But calmness, patience, inspiration and revelation came. It did NOT stop, especially as I counseled with individuals as a bishop. I certainly made mistakes in administrative matters and tried to learn from them as rapidly as possible. I learned to be more patient on administrative tasks for which the Lord did NOT promptly provide answers. Often that inspiration came through other members, especially on Ward Council, and, in the Lord’s own time, and the Holy Ghost would tell me it was the revelation we had been seeking.

      That was my experience on learning to interview and minister as a bishop. I love the people who lived in the ward I served and have a special bond with them that will always be. I hope my comments provide some insight for others, and testify that the Lord loves all His children and indeed blesses His bishops.
      P.S. Bishop, I am glad you will focus on teaching love and forgiveness. They are core doctrines in helping your youth, and the rest of your members, to applying the Atonement with is the heart of the Gospel. Keep a good supply of Kleenex in your office for as your members fell your sincerity in teaching, your love, and forgiveness, they will share with you their hearts and tears as they move toward forward.

  8. A serving bishop,

    You wrote,

    “I’ll say right here if a kid is masturbating a little (maybe once a week, twice a month…?), there is not much to worry about. But if it is something constant, then that maybe is a problem.”

    I agree. But this is more a father’s concern than a bishop’s. It isn’t a bishop’s problem at all.

    You might say once a week isn’t a big deal — another bishop might say once a year is too much — neither one of you have any basis for your number. Neither bishop should be asking the question anyway. Please, please, please, encourage young men to be charitable and kind, and please teach about forgiveness. You can do all of this without coercing a masturbation confession.

    • A serving bishop

      Agreed!
      But us Bishops do need to be able to counsel and address issues of sexual problems. But there are real issues about how this should take place. I agree about the father part to some degree. But what if some kid wants to talk about these issues in confidence–you’re going to tell his father??

      I agree we need to be careful about inappropriate probing (and really–no pun intended!). But we have to be there for people to open up when they need to.

      I would say the biggest lesson we should take from all of this is the need for some serious training. We learn plenty about administering, but precious little about ministering in our bishop’s training meetings. I think this happens in part because of our fear of looking like “hireling preachers”, and so we avoid any kind of professional training. We think the Spirit we take care of it all. If we were perfect it would, but dont think we are quite there yet. I ‘ll keep seeking after the spirit, but I would also very much appreciate some sensitive professional training on this!

  9. There are some problems with some of the comments. Some of you need to re-read what you said. Think about it. The LDS church is not the only place where this awful thing happens. Some of you are right on. And yes the youth need to have charity impressed upon them constantly. Charity lacks in my ward in all ages.

  10. It seems to me that spiritual leaders should not be asking about sexual practices of youth, perhaps they should be asking if they know and recognize the Voice of the Lord? If we as saints focused on this principle of listening and strictly obeying the directions of the Holy Spirit, we would have little need to pry into the private lives of others in purient way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.