Love and skepticism

April 13, 2008 | 89 comments
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When Christ was sending out his disciples to work as missionaries, he told them “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Latter-day Saints need to be wiser when dealing with the wolves among us.

There are numerous stories about confidence men among members of the LDS Church who take advantage of the trust we have for each other to sell us bad investments and bogus goods. The Mark Hoffman saga was to a large extent a story of credulity toward a member of the Church who claimed to have found significant artifacts of the early Church. People who sexually abuse children are master manipulators, and insinuate themselves into family friendships and Church and youth organizations, such as the Boy Scouts.

As an attorney, I learned that jurors and people in general have an exaggerated confidence in their ability to judge whether someone is lying to them or not, based solely on the person’s demeanor. They do not understand that there are criminals with little conscience who therefore do not manifest the signs of a guilty conscience, because their conscience has already been strangled in its cradle. They can lie to your face and look no different than a truly innocent person. The only way to determine whether a person is lying or not is to weigh objective evidence about the facts, as well as the testimony of others. People who are capable of murder, rape, armed robbery or abuse of a child view lying to protect themselves as the easy part of their enterprise, and they get off on the kick of evading capture or conviction.

Remember that Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer of women and girls, was a successful law student at the University of Utah when he was first arrested as a suspect. (He was in the class a year ahead of me.) He charmed women into being alone with him, where he could then attack them. He charmed his way into associations with other people, even to the point of going through the process of claiming to be converted to the LDS Church. We can be thankful that it does not appear that he ever used his Church connection to facilitate one of his murders.

As Latter-day Saints, we are often optimistic about the goodness and sincerity and potential for repentance of even those who are called up before a bishopric or high council for Church discipline. Unless we are police, criminal law attorneys, or in some other profession where we deal with felons, we can have an unrealistic view of how easy it is to repent of certain serious offenses.

For example, I once sat on a high council which was presented the matter of a Melchizidek Priesthood holder who had been charged with sexual abuse of one of his step-daughters. He had not yet gone to trial. He came in and made a presentation admitting that he had acted improperly to some extent, but denying that he had done anything to any of the other children. During our deliberations, I explained to the other members of the high council that because such crimes are connected to sexual behavior and feelings, the temptation to commit them is very strong, and that pedophiles lie to themselves as well as others about how much self-restraint they can exercise when alone with a vulnerable child.

Indeed, any aberrant behavior that becomes associated in the actor’s mind and heart with his or her sexual urges is almost impossible to eradicate, as illustrated by same-sex attraction. I explained that the normal pattern of behavior for pedophiles is that, as soon as they are denied contact with one victim, they will turn to the next one available, and that the other children in the family were at serious risk. Sometimes the triggering event for a victim reporting sexual abuse is when the abuser moves on to victimize the younger sibling of the first victim. What often makes it worse is that the spouse sees this behavior as so terrible, and the contemplation of their collaborating in it so guilt-producing, that they often tend to fall into denial, which facilitates continuation of the abuse. The patterns of behavior are illustrated in the cases of Catholic priests who abused children and were not disciplined by their superiors, who either could not believe in the reality of the crimes, or thought the crimes were not serious and that they were ones easily repented of.

In my own personal and professional experience, I have seen several cases of child sexual abuse by Church members or investigators, by Little League or Boy Scout leaders, by a teenage babysitter who was a member of the ward, by a relative within my extended family, and by fathers toward their own daughters. Some of these I prosecuted, some I dealt with in Church disciplinary councils, and others I learned about when they were finally arrested.

All members of the Church should exercise proper caution about the behavior of other Church members that might be a mask for illegal and abusive behavior. Those of us with leadership positions are especially responsible to ensure that we and the Church do nothing that facilitates acts of abuse. If we learn of an allegation of abuse of any kind, we need to take proper steps to notify law enforcement authorities in accordance with law, and to prevent access of the suspect to vulnerable Church members. We do not help a person who has these temptations if we place a potential victim within his ability to harm. We must be careful not to aid and abet such crimes by our lack of wisdom.

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89 Responses to Love and skepticism

  1. Marc on April 13, 2008 at 5:04 am

    “Indeed, any aberrant behavior that becomes associated in the actor’s mind and heart with his or her sexual urges is almost impossible to eradicate, as illustrated by same-sex attraction.”

    I’m going to have to strongly object to the lumping of gays with pedophiles.

  2. Marc on April 13, 2008 at 5:13 am

    To clarify, as you will likely claim you are not lumping the two, I don’t think same-sex attraction is comparable to pedophilic attractions nor do I think its use as an analogy here illustrates anything worthwhile.

  3. Jonathan Green on April 13, 2008 at 9:36 am

    Raymond, concerning the same statement that Marc mentioned (“Indeed, any aberrant behavior that becomes associated in the actor’s mind and heart with his or her sexual urges is almost impossible to eradicate, as illustrated by same-sex attraction”), I have two questions:

    1. What is your qualification to make that kind of a statement?

    2. Are you suggesting that current Church teaching regarding homosexuality–that gays might always have temptations, but that they can resist those temptations–is wrong?

  4. Snow White on April 13, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I’ve been busy with my newborn, so I haven’t had a chance to post lately. I did want to say, though, that I’ve enjoyed all your recent posts and am glad to see you will be a regular contributer. I’m a big fan!

    And Marc, I think one could say the same about any behavior (including heterosexual behavior). What would determine aberrance would be the effect of said behavior to self and society.

  5. Nathan Bunker on April 13, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Very good post. The important issue here is that normally it is quite easy to see when someone is lying. It can be seen on their face. But this ability, to sense when people are lying, makes us vulnerable to the rare person who is very good at lying. It is very important to check facts on serious cases such as these. Another good clue is when a person minimizes a very serious problem. This is a red flag to me to be very wary and check out the facts. A person who is sorry, and is willing to change, or has changed, will never minimize what they have done.

  6. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 13, 2008 at 10:42 am

    #3–Jonathan: My only qualifications are my observations and experiences (which I mentioned) and examination of literature from people who are more professionally qualified than I, sometimes in connection with formal training in my profession.

    The catalogue of sexual behaviors outside heterosexual marriage is not something I want to recount on this web page. People motivated by an association of a behavior with sex can in some cases feel driven to do things that are tremendously self-destructive and life threatening.

    With respect to same-sex attraction specifically, I would have better said that it is very difficult to change the actual emotional and thus behavioral attractions. Those who advocate that homosexuality should be accepted as totally normal and of equal value with heterosexual behavior, including marriage, assert that it is impossible to change those emotions, while those who from a professional or personal standpoint affirm that it is possible admit that it is not easy. The range of actual behaviors that can arise from same-sex attraction vary as much as those involved in heterosexual attraction, and there are certainly a lot of people in both categories who retain full control over their behavior, including abstinence, while I would suggest that, in both categories, there are people whose behaviors are compulsive.

    I would also suggest that, as with any behavior, the more a particular temptation is submitted to, the more compelling it becomes, while the more we resist a temptation, the easier it becomes to resist the next time it is presented. In the context of formally diagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a key factor in treatment is the person’s determination to resist urges that are disabling, urges that carry a threat of anxiety, a resistance which diminishes the urges over time, and allegedly actually alters patterns of brain activity as indicated by Positron Emission Topography (PET) scans of the brain.

    In any case, the focus I hoped to have is on being alert for abusive behavior of all kinds that occurs within communities of trust such as our church. We should avoid creating situations in which abuse can occur and people with proclivities to abuse can be tempted. I am definitiely NOT saying that people who feel same sex attraction are abusive per se.

    #4 (Snow White): Thanks for the encouragement. However, I have been asked only for a temporary gig here at T&S. I suspect it may have something to do with the permabloggers needing time to work on their income tax returns.

    Your observation about behavior is a more articulate statement of what I was hoping to express.

    #5 (Nathan): That is a good insight.

  7. no-man on April 13, 2008 at 10:44 am

    \”Indeed, any aberrant behavior that becomes associated in the actor’s mind and heart with his or her sexual urges is almost impossible to eradicate, as illustrated by same-sex attraction.\”

    In the middle of a reasonable post, this outrageous claim demands further explanation. In what way does same-sex attraction illustrate anything about aberrant behavior? This is a ridiculously irresponsible statement to toss into a paragraph about pedophilia.

    Are you suggesting that any behavior related to same-sex attraction is aberrant?

  8. dangermom on April 13, 2008 at 10:48 am

    My Seminary teacher is in jail for offences towards young boys. He was a very popular man–lots of fun, quite charming, an entertaining teacher, with a reputation for helping teens in trouble. He had offended before–in another place, long before–but said he had repented, and I suppose his wife wanted desperately to believe him. I suppose a lot of what I saw of him was real, but it’s hard to know now.

  9. cchrissyy on April 13, 2008 at 11:25 am

    “In the middle of a reasonable post, this outrageous claim demands further explanation. In what way does same-sex attraction illustrate anything about aberrant behavior? This is a ridiculously irresponsible statement to toss into a paragraph about pedophilia.”

    yeah. wow. That line was totally uncalled for, while the rest of the post was fabulous and well-reasoned.

  10. Trish on April 13, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Raymond, I agree with your comments.

    I currently reside in Utah, but I have lived in different states and met a variety of LDS people. As a young child and throughout my life, I was taught not to question church leaders or authority — many of us were taught to have faith in all the church leaders because they were selected by other leaders who had divine inspiration. Children will believe what you tell them and that is what makes them vulnerable.

    Over the years, I have met a number “upright and honest” church members who turn out to commit crimes such as physical and sexual abuse and theft. In one case, the victim was advised by the bishop or stake president not to report it to the law. The bishop called the accused in and discussed the situation. Of course, the accused was able to talk his way out of the situation (great liars are talented). Nobody reported it to the police. As a result, there was not arrest or trial and the “accused” later committed similar crimes.

    Many people are placed in leadership roles without training or education in social services or counseling. How are they qualified to handle abuse cases or other social issues? One of my friends holds a degree from the U of U in social services — that took several years of formal education. Another friend of mine is police Lt and also has had formal training dealing with criminals.

    The bishop in the above story was an insurance agent and the stake president owned a small business — kind of like “the blind leading the blind” when it came to dealing with domestic or criminal problems.

    I am not suggesting that every church leader needs a degree in criminal law or social services, but a little formal training would help.

  11. Howard on April 13, 2008 at 11:29 am

    So let’s all be suspicious and afraid?

    “The only way to determine whether a person is lying or not is to weigh objective evidence about the facts, as well as the testimony of others.” Did you forget about the power of discernment?

    “the more a particular temptation is submitted to, the more compelling it becomes, while the more we resist a temptation, the easier it becomes to resist the next time it is presented.” In general I would agree but I would like to point out that the Spirit has the power to help us not only resist temptation but also to master ourselves to the point of transcending temptation. Alma 19:33 that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.

    Ok, let’s all be aware. Sure these problems like all problems can be found in the church. But, to the extent that these problems can be overcome, you will also find those righteous souls in the church.

    John 8:11 Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

  12. Matthew on April 13, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Great post Raymond. We are in the same business and I have many of the same observations. Any criminal practice at all teaches you very quickly that the the prisons are full of some of the nicest most amiable folks who are simultaneously capable of extraordinary evil. There are plenty of awful things that occur every day and sometimes by members of the church. I am a huge proponent of showing mercy to the guilty, but that is a radically different concept from exposing myself or my family to danger. We should all be wise as serpents indeed (most of whom flee when trouble appears).

  13. Matthew on April 13, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Howard, I don’t think Raymonds point is that we should live in fear. Is that really what you thought he meant? Rather, his point is that we are sometimes too trusting and that we should not abandon common sense by exposing ourselves or our families to danger. I don’t think that’s quite the same thing as suggesting we should build a compound in Montana. I’ll let Raymond speak for himself though.

  14. Howard on April 13, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    A compound in Montana?

  15. Bill MacKinnon on April 13, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    I don’t want to delve into the one small part of Raymond’s post that touched a nerve among some readers, probably unintentionally, but I do want to say that almost all of what Raymond has said (along with the comments of Matthew and Nathan) is good counsel about which we all ought to think re dealings with others. Raymond’s advice tracks precisely the findings and warnings in the report of a special governor’s task force led by Utah’s attorney general in the early 1980s. The report expressed alarm about rampant commercial fraud in Utah (disproportionately so vis a vis almost all other states) and attributed part of this phenomenon (involving mainly stock fraud and insurance scams) to a population prone to trust co-religionists, especially those in positions of authority. I don’t think that the result is that one need live in “fear,” but such findings do indicate a need to exercise a normal modicum of skepticism and what I’ll call “vigilance.” Elder Oaks has talked about church leaders serving as the “watchman on the tower” re doctrinal matters; the same behavior applies to leaders in a family with respect to everyday non-religious transactions and opportunities. I’m not talking about rocket science or intrusive background checks, but rather the exercise of normal, healthy skepticism — especially if one’s instincts or gut signals something “wrong” in a situation or individual — which can pay off in terms of avoiding bad outcomes. Does the person’s description of their background, personal history, and professional accomplishments pass the “sniff test” of common sense? Do references check out? Are there unexplained gaps in a resume? Inconsistencies? Someone posting re this thread used the phrase “red flag.” It’s a good one…red (and dark orange ones too) flags that pop up during interactions with a stranger or someone trying to sell or convinve you of something should be followed/probed rather than disregarded. Sometimes asking open-ended questions and then listening to what comes back over the net yields volumes of interesting information that can save grief if not heartburn. (In my consulting practice, one of my favorites is: “Is there anything about this situation [company or product or person] that I should have asked about that I didn’t?” Very much this same process aplies in matters of assessing documents to be used for historical research (a la the Mark Hoffman case). I once came across an account dictated to an attorney in the 1920s by an elderly, illiterate former soldier in South Dakota who claimed to have accompanied Capt. Randolph B. Marcy on an 800-mile winter trek down the spine of the continental divide from Fort Bridger to northern New Mexico to buy food and animals to reprovision and remount the Utah Expedition during the winter of 1857-58. It was a fascinating, one-of-a-kind insider’s account of what was the most arduous winter march in American military history — nothing like it until the retreat from the North Korean reservoirs in the winter of 1950-51. I really wanted to use this item. Before doing so, though, I pursued a bright orange flag that popped up in a single sentence of the dictated narrative. It related to the former soldier’s account of how he and several of his mess-mates had coverty pilfered food from the detachment’s provisioons and that Captain Marcy had secretly joined them in enjoying the spoils — this at a time when the detachment was literally eating their horses and mules and when an infantry sergeant gorged himself to death once a little food came to hand. To me this didn’t sound at all like the behavior one would expect from an officer of Marcy’s reputation for probity, discipline, and self-sacrifice (I knew from another account, for example, that Marcy had recently divided his last plug of tobacco among his men rather than using it himself.) When I went back into the National Archives’ muster rolls for the soldier’s regiment to see where he was when the Fifth U.S. Infantry stood muster on 31 December 1857, I found that the soldier wasn’t with Marcy at all in the snows of New Mexico but rather was enjoying the relative comforts of Fort Bridger, where he was recorded as present for duty during the whole campaign. In the early 20th century, in a little old-age quest for glory, he had apparently dictated an account of the Marcy trek based on what someone had read to him of Marcy’s published 1866 account of the march plus a few embellishments. Too bad…it would have been a great story. At least one historian of whom I know has accepted that story at face value.

  16. AberrantInWeHo on April 13, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    “…..In the context of formally diagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a key factor in treatment is the person’s determination to resist urges that are disabling….”

    I question this assertion. FWIW, I am qualified to comment on the treatment of psychiatric illness. Key factors are a patient’s determination to get treatment and ability to change their thinking, not resist urges which are often uncontrollable. In fact, telling patients that they need to resist more is often clinically counterproductive. (“Just buck up! Resist that depression!”) There are plenty of dead gay Mormons who wound up committing suicide in despair because they were told to just “resist urges” more. It’s highly problematic advice in some contexts.

    Not much to add about paragraph 7. As I learned a while back, if I’m going to hang around in the Bloggernacle I will get lumped in with pedophiles from time to time (but please don’t forget the pornographers, puppy abusers, and drug dealers). -Mike

  17. Julie M. Smith on April 13, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Sigh. A really excellent and important post will lose a great part of its audience (me included) because of the inclusion of one unnecessary and inflammatory line.

  18. Howard on April 13, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    We should be aware, maybe even vigilant.

    But, viewing the church or the gospel through an attorney’s eyes is not the same thing as viewing them through Christ’s eyes. The gospel is not the law and the church doesn’t enforce the law.

    The adversary would just love to have us viewing each other with suspicion.

  19. JimD on April 13, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Pardon me for asking, but perhaps I haven’t been through enough sensitivity training:

    What, exactly, was wrong with Raymond’s post? That he used the word “aberrant”? Does it connote something more sinister than “differing from the norm”?

    Or was it the suggestion that sexual urges are equally powerful and difficult to re-wire, whether it be in straights, pedophiles, or (ulp!) gays?

  20. no-man on April 13, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    it is unfortunate. I sent my note before seeing Raymond’s reply (#6) and yes, you would have done better to focus on compulsive sexual behavior in general without mentioning same-sex attraction. What you describe in the rest of the post is applicable not just to criminal offenders but anyone who is deep into compulsive behaviors.

    Unfortunately, many church leaders do not have the healthy skepticism you describe, so they are discouraged or confused when a member with addictive tendencies keeps backsliding. Whether that member is involved in porn, an emotional affair outside their marriage, or predatory/abusive behavior, they can do just what you describe: convince others they are innocent, or fully repentant, when in fact they have not changed their behavior. Getting away with that deception is often a big part of the thrill associated with the behavior.

  21. no-man on April 13, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Jim, how many people are asked to re-wire their heterosexual tendencies?

  22. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    #17 – Amen. I knew it would happen when I read the post, and that is unfortunate. Literally everything else about this post is a must read.

    Taking that discussion completely out of my response, how we view repentance is key here, I think – and there are elements of our current view that do not match the scriptural foundation articulated in the Sermon on the Mount. Suffice it to say that the element of “bringing forth fruits meet for repentance” is critical.

    As a society in general, repentance often is assumed on profession of a desire to change, rather than an actual demonstration of change – and I think that is one thing that needs to be altered when dealing with what Raymond is describing. Any seasoned liar can cry on command and be convincing; any good con man can explain his actions just as convincingly. Some things are serious enough that we have to take them seriously, no matter how we feel about the person in every other aspect of his life. Sometimes, skepticism has to be the foundation, even though that goes against the ideal for which we strive in all other areas of our lives.

    Also, some things are serious enough that repentance needs to include an acceptance of a complete prohibition on the situations that caused the sin in the first place. Someone who has abused children should be excluded from any situation where s/he is alone with children. Period. Professed (or even genuine) repentance notwithstanding. To the end of his life. No possibility of parole. Period. We can believe their assertions of a changed heart, but we need not create situations where what they did can happen again. Someone who truly has repented sincerely and completely, and who is truly humble, will understand that societal need for certainty and gladly acquiesce. In fact, that is one of the truest fruits of repentance, imo – the humility to change his “normal activities” to submit to the best interests of the society in which he lives.

    If someone fights such a restriction, arguing against it in any way, even by claiming full repentance, I believe we must retain a degree of skepticism and be even more diligent in our duty to protect the innocent.

  23. StillConfused on April 13, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I too am an attorney and have seen abuses in Church. I have seen fellow parishioners taken advantage of in various schemes etc. The worse was by an attorney who stole all of the funds of an estate of the mother of a fellow member. The Bishop, also an attorney, knew of the theft but did not remove the man from his callings until after the FBI stepped in and he was arrested. Having grown up back East where I guess we are a little more skeptical, it never occurred to me to blindly believe someone because they were a member of the same church. But I can see that that is often times not the case in Utah. I know the Church leaders have made statements not to blindly believe others. What more can be done? How can we change this unhealthy mindset?

  24. Howard on April 13, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Ray,
    Even if someone fights such a restriction because their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil? Shall we still retain a “degree of skepticism and be even more diligent in our duty to protect the innocent”?

    When do we actually forgive them?

    Perhaps we should set aside our judgment as men long enough to ask God what to do.

  25. StillConfused on April 13, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Forgiving someone does not remove our obligation to ourselves and others to be intelligent and careful. I have no problem forgiving a pedophile but that does not mean that I will leave my child alone with him. It appears that the definition of “forgiveness” means different things for different people. I know my God would not want me to place my child in that situation because of a belief on what forgiveness means. I wonder if other people have that same view.

  26. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Howard, I stand by something I said that you are not addressing.

    Some things are serious enough that they need to be categorized outside the norm and treated differently. Jesus himself categorized the abuse of children as so heinous that painful death is better than what will happen to the abusers. That came from the one who said, “Neither do I condemn thee” to a woman caught violating one of the most serious commandments of the time. If he was willing to avoid condemning the adulteress but spoke so severely about child abuse, I think it requires a different approach than other issues.

    “Forgiveness” is one thing; ignorance and acceptance of ongoing temptation is quite another; **giving the impression of more concern for the perpetrator than the victim(s)** is still another. Some things simply are so horrific that they deserve a life sentence, repentance notwithstanding – and anyone who truly is repentant will understand and accept that need. If they fight that restriction, they aren’t sufficiently humble to recognize the need for it – which means their heart really hasn’t been changed fully – which means there still exists at least a sliver of possibility that it will happen again, given extreme pressures and the perfect storm.

    Think of an alcoholic or a drug addict. It is a **central** tenet of rehabilitation that such a person must accept the need for eternal diligence – abstaining from any situation where alcohol or drugs are flowing freely, particularly where there is no support structure to help avoid temptation. That is the manifestation of real repentance – the willingness to do absolutely anything in one’s power to avoid any situation where past mistakes are a legitimate possibility. If a drunk or drug addict won’t commit to avoiding bars and crack houses, why must we accept their promise that they are the exception – that their simply is no way they will succumb even if they go dancing with the devil?

    Again, someone who has repented fully will understand that; someone who has not, will not.

    I could pray and ask God this question: “Should I call this man who has sexually abused his daughters to be the Primary Teacher in his daughter’s class?” If I did, I would expect one of two answers: 1) total silence for asking such a stupid question; or 2) a solid, spiritual slap upside my head for asking such a stupid question.

    Finally, we conflate forgiveness with love WAY too much. They are NOT the same thing, and misunderstanding forgiveness plays a HUGE part of the problem in this discussion. Suffice it to say that, unless he has abused me, my wife, my children or someone close to me, forgiveness is not my right. It is left to those whom he has harmed in a real way. “Easy forgiveness” does not help the abuser – **and it can be devastating to the victim and those close to the victim**, who of necessity will struggle greatly to be able to do what appears to be so easy for us. “Easy forgiveness” of this sort is a result of ignorance and misunderstanding, and it needs to be rooted out of our lives in every iteration. Pure forgiveness is wonderful; easy and indiscriminate forgiveness is abominable.

  27. StillConfused on April 13, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    What Ray said!

  28. Nathan Bunker on April 13, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    I like the idea of being “skeptical”. I have a strong testimony of the church and always wish to follow my leaders. But I always balance what I hear with what I know. I have never felt that I have blindly followed my leaders because what they teach is well support by other trusted sources such as the scriptures.

    The same goes for someone who says they have “repented”. If they have done so, the evidence of it will not be only in their words but in their actions. A person unwilling to face the consequences for his/her actions but who instead pleads for “mercy to rob justice” have not repented. In these cases skepticism is good because it forces us to to do the leg work of actually finding out if someone has changed.

    As for the spirit of discernment, this is an important gift. But I don’t think it replaces asking for the testimony of others (as to the sin or action of others) and for doing thorough research to back up those promptings. After a person has done all they can to make restitution for their sin, it is with the power of discernment that a priesthood leader can confidently assure the person they have repented properly and that person can then have confidence that their priesthood leader is right. The power of discernment is not a replacement for common sense.

  29. Howard on April 13, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Ray,
    “If they fight that restriction, they aren’t sufficiently humble to recognize the need for it – which means their heart really hasn’t been changed fully” nice little catch 22 you’ve constructed.

    Gee, what if they were actually innocent? To bad, so sad?

    What if the Spirit took them through true change as in Alma 19:33…still a life sentence? If so, for which transgressions?

    Protect our children sure, that’s our job as parents, Primary Teacher – maybe not the best choice, but a life sentence?

    Nathan,
    So if your common sense is in conflict with the spirit of discernment, you’re going with your common sense?

  30. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Howard, please don’t twist words to make hyperbolic arguments. There is absolutely nothing in anything I have said that even implies punishments simply for being charged with something. The assumption of everything I’ve written – and to which you responded – is that forgiveness is necessary. To remove that foundation at this point . . .

    As to “for which transgressions” – that has been addressed. Child abuse, especially sexual abuse. I made that clear when I said “some things” (NOT “all things” or even “most things” or even “many things”). In that case (obviously abominable child abuse), yes, a life sentence **from those things related to the sin of abuse**. I never even intimated that a truly repentant member in this case could never be called as Gospel Doctrine teacher. That’s a completely different discussion.

  31. Nathan Bunker on April 13, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Howard – Good question. If they didn’t agree I would guess more research and more praying would be in order. But common sense isn’t a hard-lined thing. It just means that you should use your best human judgment in concert with what the Lord gives you. It is not enough to just pray to get answers you also have to do work. Normally we don’t have the ability to judge what is in someone’s heart, but the spirit of discernment can help here. But it doesn’t replace asking the right questions and making sure someone is telling the truth.

  32. Howard on April 13, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Ray,
    You did say “Someone who has abused children should be excluded from any situation where s/he is alone with children. Period. Professed (or even genuine) repentance notwithstanding. To the end of his life.” Does this include his own children?

    “The assumption of everything I’ve written – and to which you responded – is that forgiveness is necessary.” The question “Gee, what if they were actually innocent?” is a practical one, not a twist of your words. Maybe forgiveness is NOT necessary, how do we know for sure? DNA is now freeing the innocent all over this country. How do we avoid a life sentence of the innocent?

    Christ’s judgment avoids this problem, man’s judgment does not.

  33. Howard on April 13, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Well said Nathan.

  34. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Let me be crystal clear: If forgiveness is necessary for the sexual abuse of children, then the accompanying prohibition of being alone with children (at the very least of the general age range of those who were abused) should be a lifetime one, including his own when they are that age. That is my opinion, as one who has written extensively on the power of grace.

    You are right – Christ’s judgment avoids this problem, so I will leave judgment in His hands and deal only with consequences for actions. I have not “judged” the sinner once in anything I have written here; I merely have spoken of proper consequences for the sin. When a sin crosses a line and can be classified as “better that a millstone be hanged around his neck and he be drowned”, the mortal consequences imposed instead of drowning must be severe. Not allowing unsupervised, private interaction with children is not severe, compared to death my millstone. It would be painful for a father, but nowhere near as painful as what he did to those he abused. I can’t see how such a requirement is out of line in any way.

  35. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Howard, would you allow a man who sexually abused a 10-year-old girl to be alone with his 10-year-old daughter if he claimed full repentance and you felt he was sincere and fully repentant?

  36. Coffinberry on April 13, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    I’m gonna embark on a bit of a stream of consciousness response, because this touches on something I’ve been ruminating on of later. Regarding “wise as serpents, harmless as doves….” I found myself writing this line in frustration this past Tuesday on a pop quiz in a class, where the professor had asked a question mocking some of the assigned reading material because it emphasized the importance of developing emotional clarity among members of a board of directors. I had called him on it (the prerogative of being older than the professor: you get to say he’s full of bull), and he gave me the “Getting together and singing ‘Kumbayah’ isn’t going to solve anything and besides it puts you at risk of being taken advantage of” line. I have to admit that I can see his point (those who believe that unity is a worthwhile aspirational goal are at terrible risk up against those who talk the talk but behind your back don’t walk the walk). I also got a really lousy grade on a negotiation, because the written portion of the assignment specified that we were to pursue the negotiation with the purpose of relationship-developing and compromise in mind… but the class as a whole went after a maximize-for-yourself strategy, so I ended up with a seriously less-good deal than others in my position achieved. The professor rewarded the players who maximized, because that was the ‘real world’ way to play. So thanks to the curve I earned effectively an F. Then to top it off, in my capstone mock trial, I observed that the mere accusation of wife-beating, without any physical evidence and no witnesses, was enough to convince a jury that the accused had done the beating. One juror told us: “he said he hadn’t hit his wife, but he admitted that he had yelled at her. We figured he was lying.” (Not to mention that a random question in cross-examination to the accused of “Do you do cocaine?” answered negatively was enough to convince the jurors that he did indeed use cocaine.–hey lawyers out there: what would have been an appropriate objection that would not have underlined the question in the mind of the jury? Lack of foundation?) The underlying assignment materials suggested that the accuser was mentally unstable and had made statements to others that she was undertaking the suit to make money and get revenge for the divorce. But there was no good way to present this evidence convincingly. Heaven help the man who really has done nothing; it seems that since there are “some” abusers out there, that all (men?) must get painted with the same brush.

    Thus what I have been pondering about is how to reconcile “aspirational” ideals with life’s experiences in the “real world.” How does one get tough (especially as a lawyer), and yet remain tender-hearted and susceptible to the Spirit?

  37. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 13, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    As I pointed out above, some of the people who commit sexual abuse of children do it with their own sons or daughters. I is amazing to hear them tell their rationale, such as “I was teaching her how to recognize bad sexual behavior so she could avoid it in the future.” In that case, the sentence the jury handed down was long enough to ensure that the youngest daughter of the defendant would be an adult before he got out of prison.

    If we place someone in a position of being tempted to repeat their misconduct, we know that they will blame us if they are unable to resist, and we will then blame ourselves for using the lives of our children as a gesture to prove our magnanimity.

    The effect on a child of any kind of serious abuse is lifelong, can destroy their trust in us and in God, and can be a precursor to becoming an abuser themselves. We cannot risk our children’s lives and salvation just to tell ourselves how forgiving we are.

  38. Seth R. on April 13, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Throwing a guy in jail and simply deciding that he can’t get any more Primary callings are two different things.

  39. Bob on April 13, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    # 36: Everybody wants to protect the innocence, especially our kids. But, I have been in these legal situations many times where it is hard to clear the air of early accusations or assumptions. Sometimes the Accused is really the Victim. Also in Law, the abuse is in the eye of the Victim, and not the Accused. He may only have only put his arm around his daughter’s visiting friend in the swimming pool. Now he is faced with being labeled a Sex Offender the rest of his life.

  40. Bob on April 13, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    # 36: Everybody wants to protect the innocence, especially our kids. But, I have been in these legal situations many times where it is hard to clear the air of early accusations or assumptions. Sometimes the Accused is really the Victim. Also in Law, the abuse is in the eye of the Victim, and not the Accused. He may only have only put his arm around his daughter’s visiting friend in the swimming pool. Now he is faced with being labeled a Sex Offender the rest of his life.

  41. Ardis Parshall on April 13, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Men should know better than to put their arms around women who have not invited the embrace. Especially a father’s-aged man around a daughter’s-aged girl. Especially when they’re wearing as little as bathing suits.

    No, don’t say it, Ardis, don’t engage …

  42. Bob on April 13, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    #41: Then good, I will have the last word. I have put my arm and hand on many a youth though out my life. I do not consider my self a Sex Offender.

  43. JimD on April 13, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Jim, how many people are asked to re-wire their heterosexual tendencies?

    I fail to see your point as it applies to Raymond’s post, but I suppose it would be blatant thread-jacking for me to insist on continuing this line of thought.

  44. Ellis on April 13, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    The Mark Hoffman saga was to a large extent a story of credulity toward a member of the Church who claimed to have found significant artifacts of the early Church.

    Mark Hoffman was in the process of negotiation over documents he was attempting to sell to the Library of Congress when he was caught. So it wasn’t just credulous Mormon’s who believed him to be the genuine article.

  45. Howard on April 13, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    “Howard, would you allow a man who sexually abused a 10-year-old girl to be alone with his 10-year-old daughter if he claimed full repentance and you felt he was sincere and fully repentant?”

    Ray, what I felt about it is unimportant, as you stated in 34, I will leave judgment in His hands.

    Btw, I enjoy reading your comments.

  46. Howard on April 13, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    RTS,
    “The effect on a child of any kind of serious abuse is lifelong, can destroy their trust in us and in God, and can be a precursor to becoming an abuser themselves.” Yes, think about that cycle, the abused becomes the abuser.

    Break the cycle, but while you are doing it keep in mind that the abuser was likely a victim once themselves. The abuser you aim to prosecute was once the equivalent of the innocent child that you now attempt to protect.

    The abuser is simply the victim all grown up. My how easy it becomes to blame that innocent child victim once they have grown up. Society’s solution, protect the child, discard the adult. How enlightened.

  47. Maryanne on April 13, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    The handbook is clear about sexual abuse and callings; those who have ever been involved in sexual abuse may not have a calling directly working with youth, at any time, regardless of full forgivenenss and fellowship in the church.

  48. A Single Sister on April 13, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    # 46
    \”The abuser is simply the victim all grown up. My how easy it becomes to blame that innocent child victim once they have grown up. Society’s solution, protect the child, discard the adult. How enlightened. \”

    The adult has a choice. The adult can choose to seek help. The adult who knows what it means to suffer from abuse can choose to break that cycle of abuse. The adult can choose not to inflict another child with what they themselves suffered as a child.

    It is the responsibility of the adult – especially one who was abused and is feeling an inclination to perpetrate similar abuse on a child – to remove his- or herself from the temptation and seek help. If the adult chooses not to seek the necessary help and instead seeks relief by continuing the cycle of abuse, then that adult has chosen to be discarded by society – and very rightly so.

  49. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 13, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    #46 (Howard): Let me be clear on this. If someone’s abusive behavior is the result of themselves having been abused (one young man I knew who was convicted of child sexual abuse had been so abused by his natural father, before his parents divorced and his mother remarried), going forward with prosecution is often the one thing that will ensure that they are offered and that they will cooperate in whatever therapy we can offer them. They have lost some of their free will to their compulsions, and they need external discipline to regain control over those compulsions. It is similar with alcoholics and drug abusers.

    I once was the government representative in a military discharge proceeding for a man who had become an extreme alcoholic. He was in his mid-thirties but looked to be seventy years old. He had flunked out of a series of inpatient voluntary rehabilitation programs. He had to have a high blood alcohol content in order to avoid going into painful and debilitating withdrawal symptoms. He was acknowledged to have a basic IQ higher than average to be able to function in his job under these circumstances. The expert rehabilitation witnesses we presented stated that in such extreme cases, the only thing that gets such people to change their behavior is a rude shock such as firing or prosecution.

    In my experience, the old joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a lightbulb is true. It only takes one, but the lightbulb must WANT to change. People mired so deeply in compulsions of various kinds can only overcome them if they take responsibility for their situation. Without that, no amount of external assistance can help. So the best thing we can do for such people, no matter what the original trauma that might have set them on their path originally, is to treat them as being fully responsible for their actions, because they cannot change until they accept full responsibility for their past, and for their future, actions. It is not compassionate to them to encourage avoidance of responsibility, to echo the voice in their heads that tells them they have no control, that they are not really culpable.

    And it should also be remembered that there are far more victims of various kind of abuse than there are perpetrators. It is not inevitable that victims become victimizers. We clearly have a duty to provide all the aid we can to victims so that the trauma does not bear that awful fruit. Aiding children is the most effective way we can help the adults they will become.

  50. Howard on April 14, 2008 at 12:08 am

    SS 48 “The adult has a choice.” Well, they have more of a choice than their child victims, but they until they get help they have less choice than you or I. As RTS says in 49 “They have lost some of their free will to their compulsions”

    At issue: When are they forgiven? Should this really be a life sentence?

    RTS, the point I have been attempting to make is; Christ is not limited in the same ways that society is. Within the church we should be lead by the Spirit when we are called upon to judge others.

  51. Ray on April 14, 2008 at 12:50 am

    Again, forgiveness and consequences are two very different things. One can be forgiven and still need to make amends for his actions by enduring societal restrictions until the end of this life.

    Jesus condemned child abuse in the strongest terms possible, as has Pres. Hinckley in our own day. The Church imposes a life sentence of restricted service on those who abuse children. I’m fine with that being the will of the Lord. If anyone thinks otherwise, they can take it up with someone far above my authority level.

    I now a, repeating myself, so I will bow out.

  52. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 14, 2008 at 1:30 am

    #50 (Howard): With respect to the use of spiritual discernment in assessing the culpability of a member, and the sincerity of their repentance, and the likelihood of their commiting another offense: Let me make one observation based on my year of research in the Church Archives, reading the verbstim transcripts of the Salt Lake High Council church court proceedings and the statements of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young on how those hearings should be conducted.

    Joseph Smith made clear to the bishops and high council members that they were to base their judgments in matters of alleged transgression of real evidence, and NOT on inspiration or impressions or feelings about the accused. Exoneration without real evidence is just as bad as conviction without evidence. The D&C specifies that half of the members of the high council are assigned to act as advocates for the accused member, as a means to ensure that all the positive things that should be considered on his side are brought to the attention of the full council. The pattern of proceedings involved opening with prayer and asking for understanding, but the high council did not deliberate by kneeling in prayer and asking God to tell them the right decision. They rather reasoned with each other based on the evidence before them. They apparently believed that they had a duty to come to a decision by reason first, and could then examine it in the light of promptings of the Spirit.

    When what we are betting is the life and health of our children and families, and the reputation of the Church (not to mention the actual legal and financial liability of the Church, which can take away money that could build temples and send people on missions), we have an obligation to use the talents God has given us to discern the best course of action. As Jesus taught, we must be “wise as serpents” in dealing with the wolves that enter among us.

  53. Nathan Bunker on April 14, 2008 at 8:23 am

    I hate the term “cycle of abuse”. There are many people who are abused and never abuse, and there are many abusers who were never abused. Abusers many times claim prior abuse specifically in order to deflect criticism of their actions. Many people are duped by these claims into believing that abusers are not responsible for their actions but instead are really the victims of someone else’s abuse. While it is true that abusers can have a history of being abused this idea of the “cycle of abuse” is championed most loudly by those caught in abuse who wish to shift the responsibility of their action to someone else. We are responsible for our actions.

  54. Howard on April 14, 2008 at 9:13 am

    RTS,
    Interesting, thank you for sharing the history of church court proceedings. Regarding “they had a duty to come to a decision by reason first, and could then examine it in the light of promptings of the Spirit.” it is simply the second half of this statement that I have been attempting to highlight.

    We live in interesting times: Reminiscent of the McCarthy era, fear is again being used by government to further it’s agenda. Middle eastern “looking” people speaking a foreign language onboard American airliners are viewed with suspicion, even fear. TSA treats grandmothers like terrorists. My Afghan friend is afraid to mention out loud that she is Muslim! The adversary must be very pleased.

    “When what we are betting is the life and health of our children and families, and the reputation of the Church…” in my opinion, we need to do it with cool heads and the guidance of the Spirit.

    Nathan,
    “Cycle of abuse” is not one of my normal soapbox issues, RTS brought this issue up in 37. Yes, we are responsible for our actions, according to the light we are given.

  55. Howard on April 14, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Ray,
    “One can be forgiven and still need to make amends for his actions by enduring societal restrictions until the end of this life.” Good point.

    At issue, when does this apply? My concern; these sanctions need to be guided by the Spirit on a case by case basis.

  56. Ray on April 14, 2008 at 9:44 am

    “My concern; these sanctions need to be guided by the Spirit on a case by case basis.”

    I can agree with this, as long as leniency is the rare exception, not the rule, in cases of extremely serious sins like child abuse (or sexual abuse, in general). Everything I read (scriptures, case studies, etc.) and personal experience simply says leniency is not proper in the vast majority of cases, since the consequences generally should match the severity of the sin. I just know too many situations where sympathy for a friend and peer was mistaken for promptings of the Spirit, and that can be manipulated by a skilled and practiced liar – particularly when that liar is convinced of his own power to change and not truly repentant (meaning “changed”, not just “feeling sorrow and remorse”).

    In cases of the sexual abuse of children, I think lifetime calling restrictions should be automatic – no exceptions. Perhaps we simply have to agree to disagree on that one – and perhaps there will come a time when I have an experience that will change my mind.

  57. Howard on April 14, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Ray,
    “sympathy for a friend and peer was mistaken for promptings of the Spirit” Spencer W. Kimball agrees with you. This was one of the topics of an April 1975 conference talk. Basically the message was Bishops and SPs who cover up the iniquities of men will bear those sins themselves.

    “as long as leniency is the rare exception” In Alma 42 we read “repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment” but 9 verses later “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.”

    God’s harshness subsides once true repentance has taken place. When the Spirit is truly guiding these decisions, I don’t think we need to be concerned about how frequently mercy is applied.

  58. bbell on April 14, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Personally I have seen one case of child abuse in the church.

    An older childless couple moved into the ward. The man volunteered for nursury. I remember a few discussions in Bishopric meeting about a 60 year old male volunteering for nursury and how odd it was. We had the ward clerk check for anything in the church system about this guy. My wife warned me that she was getting a bad spiritual feeling about his call and said our own children would not be going to nursury if he was the leader. We did not find anything in the church IT system so we called him to nursury. About 2 years later his wife caught him abusing a child who’s parents they were visiting outside of our ward. His wife convinced him to confess to the Bishop. We called the hotline got the legal advice and called the authorities to report the abuse. He was arrested and charged and finally convicted. In fact a bishopric member drove him to the police station. The next Sunday we held a open meeting where the situation was addressed by the SP. He had engaged in some minor abuse of some of the nursury children as well and there were some really upset parents.

    We called SLC to discuss the case and they divulged after a few days of research that there was a paper record of his being disfellowshipped for child abuse back in the 1960’s. Somehow the old paper record had not been digitized!

  59. Howard on April 14, 2008 at 11:40 am

    bbell,
    “My wife warned me that she was getting a bad spiritual feeling about his call…” I would offer this as confirmation that the Spirit knows what is going on. Further, relying only upon church or civil records may well lead us to the wrong conclusion.

    Do you know if your Bishop sought the Spirit’s guidance in this decision?

  60. madera verde on April 14, 2008 at 11:44 am

    The measures Ray outlined don’e seem to me to be a punishment, they seem to a mercy.
    To someone who has a problem with a particular sin it is a mercy that they not be placed in temptation regarding those particular sins.

    Or are you saying that after repenting they have are supermen and no longer able to be tempted – that flies against my experience – has that been your experience with repentance?

  61. Howard on April 14, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    madera verde,
    “don’t seem to me to be a punishment, they seem to a mercy” Interesting view point, one I had not considered.

    Alma 19:33 speaks of a change so profound and significant that “they had no more desire to do evil”. The church’s disciplinary process should consider this possibility by seeking the Spirit’s guidance.

    Also, some people have been convicted but they are actually innocent!

    Finally I am saying that in lesser sins than child abuse and after repentance has taken place, John 8:11 tells us Christ said “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

    By seeking the guidance of the Spirit, we will know when to apply each of these.

  62. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 14, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    People who sexually abuse children often rationalize that they “love” them, as in the case of fathers in incestous relations with daughters. When the victims are old enough to defend themselves or report the abuse, the abusers often have to deceive the victims into cooperation, using language such as “love”.

    In any case like the one cited, a simple precaution is having the nursery open to outside view, and ensuring two people are there. It is very sad that the prior record was not made available. Has anything been done to ensure such records are captured and made available? Do bishoprics check the government sex offender registries which are available for precisely that purpose?

    As was pointed out above, the best course for people with serious addictions is to avoid the addictive substance or situation. For people who abuse others, they should not be placed in a position of temptation. I cannot think of any bishop who would call as financial clerk someone who had a record of theft or identity theft or passing bad checks or a gambling addiction. We would not send a brother who is an alcoholic down to a local bar to contact an inactive member. We should likewise not allow anyone who is tempted to abuse children to be given a calling that enables them to do so. That would be a devilish thing to do.

    There was a notorious case here in Idaho Falls where a boy scout reported improper touching by a young adult scout leader, but the senior scout leaders at the camp took no action until it was reported independently to the police. The actor had a prior history of child abuse. His mother, however, was on the district scouting board, and those relationships outweighed the policies of both the Boy Scouts of America and the Church in the eyes of the local area scout and Church leadership. The scout leaders even impugned the integrity of the victim who made the report. The root cause, in my view, was that the responsible officers were overconfident in their ability to judge the sincerity of the abuser’s repentance and his asserted ability to reform his behavior. They cut a lot of slack to someone who had otherwise been a model boy scout and they blatantly disregarded the directives of both BSA and the Church.

  63. Rob on April 14, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Howard,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me that you may never have had to deal with an Abuser; nor have you had to deal with the aftermath of that abuse in the lives of the victims. If I am incorrect, then please let me know, but it would very much surprise me. I mean no insult in saying so, but I do think you are belaboring the point without focusing on the most important parts of this issue.

    YES – the Spirit ought to guide people in dealing with these cases. YES, we ought to be compassionate towards the Abuser. But we ought to show the *greater compassion towards their victims.* A central tenet of the LDS Church is personal choice. Free agency. Once you reach a certain point (for most it is at age 8) you are responsible for your choices as well. These abusers may have once been victims themselves, but that is, and can NEVER be, an extenuating circumstance which mediates the pain they inflict upon others.

    If childhood comes only once in eternity (hundreds, thousands, maybe milions of years), then it is an extremely precious thing. Being sexually molested is something which can destroy that childhood. Distrupts the life of the victim. I submit that there is a reason why rape has, in many places and times, incurred a penalty of death. (And it still does in some places)

    That is because sexual abuse can be a life-sentence of anguish, uncertainty, self-hatred and difficulty having a \”normal\” relationship for the victim.

    I am someone with first-hand experience in several situations. I have been a pediatric nurse, and I have served in a capacity where I taught inmates in a Prison. And, I have been a victim of abuse myself.

    And honestly, I agree with everything that Ray has said here, but I would probably be even more skeptical than he in my approach if ever placed in a position to judge someone who has committed abuses — sexual or physical — against a child. And the LAST thing I would do, would be to place them in a position to ever harm that child, or any other child, ever again.

  64. DavidH on April 14, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    The last time I had access to the manual, the annotation on records for a person who had abused a minor could only be removed with First Presidency approval. That seems about right. It does allow the annotation and restriction to be removed, but only when the body whom we sustain as the “highest” council of prophets, seers and revelators concludes that it is appropriate.

    I would note that there may be differences in types of abuse. A 21 year old having consensual sexual relations with a 17-1/2 year old, in some places, could be considered statutory rape (even if they subsequently marry), and (I defer to those with a current manual) might even be considered abuse of a minor for church discipline purposes. I defer also to those with expertise in social science, but it does not seem like that is the type of “pedophilia” with a particular risk of repetition–any more so than if the 21-1/2 year old had had consensual sexual relations with an 18 year old.

  65. Nathan Bunker on April 14, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    The most horrible aspect of this is that if abuse is not disciplined properly in the church, if the abuser is able to escape effective censure for their behavior; not only are they able to continue their bad behavior but they easily feel that they have a limited-license to continue in their behavior as long as they don’t violate certain rules or get caught. Sometimes victims of abusers are horrified to find out that when, after reporting the actions to the proper authorities, that that that person’s power and capacity to abuse has increased because they now better understand their limits and are now able to better prepare for and avoid future discipline. It is important when bad behavior is recognized that it be thoroughly investigated and dealt with such that the abuser is made to face the reality that their behavior is in no way normal or acceptable in any form and also so that the abused feel for certain that they were not at fault. This all must happen, even if a person is sorry and has changed. A person who is sincerely sorry and understands the weight of what they have done will accept the consequences of their actions. That goes the same for all of us, whether or not we have abused. Repentances does not remove natural consequences to our behavior. This takes time, but abusers can repent and they can receive the full blessings of the Gospel and become close to their families again. I’ve seen this happen.

  66. Amanda on April 14, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    As someone who has worked closely with sex offenders (direct supervision in a criminal justice system), I was surprised to learn that the statistics do NOT support that most sex offenders were offended on as children. In my situation of counseling with a lot of offenders, a more common circumstance than the \’cycle of abuse\’ described above is that those who are offended as children grow up and continued to be abused (prostitute themselves for drugs, in abusive relationships etc).
    I absolutely agree with the original post regarding judgments made in the church. I have learned, through the experience of being lied to on a daily basis by felons, that I am way too trusting and that it is necessary to have corroborative evidence to get to the truth. Lying is absolutely a coping mechanism for most offenders and they are often extremely bold and very good at what they do.

  67. Nathan Bunker on April 14, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Amanda – This matches my own experience and what I have read as well. Most offenders will self-report that they were abused as children. But when asked to take a polygraph, many do not continue to assert so. While there is no doubt that there are offenders who have been abused themselves, and that this contributes to the problem, for the most part the self-reporting of abuse is used to deflect attention away from the real problem. These assertions by the abuser covering their actions is what leads to the “abuse cycle” theory.

  68. Kevinf on April 14, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    I am on Ray’s side in this. I have seen in my church service, unfortunately, too many cases of individuals with sexual/morality issues struggling over years to deal with it. As a mental health practitioner once explained it to me, the normal sexual feelings that we have towards our spouses is the same feeling that these folks have towards the objects of their aberrant behavior. It’s tough to deal with.

    I can’t discuss specifics. I will only say in theory, that we as a church are indeed very quick to forgive, which is in most cases a good thing, but it can and often does mask our legitimate responsibility to keep safe those we have a stewardship for. I would err on the side of caution every time.

  69. Howard on April 14, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Rob,
    My personal experience includes numerous victims including two close family members. I am not arguing that having been abused mediates the pain they inflict upon others.

    “And honestly, I agree with everything that Ray has said here, but I would probably be even more skeptical than he in my approach if ever placed in a position to judge someone who has committed abuses — sexual or physical — against a child. And the LAST thing I would do, would be to place them in a position to ever harm that child, or any other child, ever again.” So simply being accused is enough in your mind to restrict them for life?

  70. Ray on April 14, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Howard, NOBODY is saying restrictions should be imposed based on accusations. NOBODY. Please stop throwing that at people who are not saying it.

  71. Howard on April 14, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Ray,
    So we’re only dealing with those who have given creditable confessions then?

  72. Ray on April 14, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    Yes. In this conversation, we have only discussed those who have abused children. That has been the foundation of every mention of lifetime restrictions.

  73. Howard on April 14, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    Please elaborate how we KNOW that they have abused children, “yes” to creditable confessions only or are you including criminal convections as well?

  74. Howard on April 15, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Ray,
    Assuming they have confessed freely they must also be”sorry after a godly manner” This includes an honest, heartfelt contrition of soul, a contrition born of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Paul and Benjamin both taught that the “natural man” must be displaced by a “spiritual man” if we wish to escape from carnal desires.

    The court should convene in the attitude of fasting and prayer. Total justice in harmony with the revealed word of the Lord should be the prime objective of the court. Judgment that is too light or too harsh often defeats the purposes of the Lord. A fair hearing and a final decision of the court that is ratified by the gifts of the Spirit will always be in the best interest of the member being tried…these are courts of love with the singular objective of helping Church members to get back on a proper course. New Era, Jul 1975

    President Spencer W. Kimball: “When dealing with transgression, apply a bandage large enough to cover the wound—no larger, no smaller.”

    Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. It is a divinely inspired process not a sentencing guide line.

  75. MSG on April 15, 2008 at 2:05 am

    Reading all of this brings something to mind that I’ll just share. I’m the type of person who always wants to “understand” because it helps me forgive or let go or just come to terms with whatever. One time I actually had to hire a lawyer (from our Ward so I knew him). He saw me trying to “understand” why this person had done to me what was done. Was this person having a mental breakdown, maybe on a medication and weren’t thinking clearly, etc. Trying to give every benefit of the doubt I could come up with. And finally he just said, “Some people are just evil” and this wasn’t the first person of that kind he’d come across–it was for me. There are some people who do things to others that normal people don’t do.
    We’re not going to change them, not all of them anyway and we don’t know the ones who can change. So, we have to protect ourselves and our loved ones the best we can and not think that everything can be resolved by turning the other cheek constantly or having a heartfelt conversation with the offender. There are people who cannot be dealt with in a normal manner, ever. And that was the lesson I learned.

  76. Rob on April 15, 2008 at 10:56 am

    #69 Howard,

    So simply being accused is enough in your mind to restrict them for life?

    That’s a straw-man. I resent you trying to place words in my mouth. (And, in the mouths of others) I see, repeatedly here, that you snipe at your opponents by putting words in their mouth. While, at the same time, answering open questions instead of posing a hard and fast position. You condemn generalization, citing the need to handle each disciplinary case on a case-by-case basis, and yet you generalize just as much in your own arguments. I submit, therefore, that you are getting more out of the act of arguing than out of the interaction of minds.

    You know as well as I do that each disciplinary council is called upon to weigh the matter. Just like a civil court. The rules of evidence are not nearly as strict — which I generally consider more of a good thing than bad, given the convolutions and miscarriages of judgment, which rules of evidence cause in our Justice System.

    And, as you yourself cited, they have the benefit of the Spirit to guide them. Moreover, it is the responsibility of part (a half dozen?) of a full-fledged disciplinary council to advocate for the Accused. Which, in my mind, indicates both compassion and a desire to ensure fairness in such proceedings.

    I could play your own game: “Are you indicating a lack of faith in the Church disciplinary system? And by this, also, a lack of faith in the members of the High Council which are called to attend, as well as the leadership above them? What about the Stake President? What about the Prophet? Does God exist?”

  77. Howard on April 15, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Rob,
    I often use questions to tease out more information regarding someone’s position, it saves time getting to the point. Sorry you took offense. The same approach produced the 29, 31 & 33 exchange between Nathan and I. I was attempting to learn how you (and Ray) conclude that we KNOW they have actually abused children.

    “You condemn generalization, citing the need to handle each disciplinary case on a case-by-case basis, and yet you generalize just as much in your own arguments.” Are you trying to put words in my mouth now? I condemn the use of generalized sentencing guidelines in church disciplinary action unless they are specified in the CHI.

    “You know as well as I do that each disciplinary council is…” Actually I don’t have any idea what you know. That is what I was trying to find out. “Are you indicating a lack of faith in the Church disciplinary system?” No, not at all, quite the opposite.

  78. PTL on April 15, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I don\’t have faith in the church disciplinary system. I know of a man who had been excommunicated for adultery years ago, and was rebaptized, and years later committed the same offense, this time with a member of the church with small children, and his punishment for this was disfellowshipment. Well guess what? He happens to be in business with the SP and his lawyer is an area seventy. I do know that he is very personable and can talk his way out of anything (considering he has also ripped off members in his stake several millions of dollars), but where is the inspiration deciding his case?

  79. Howard on April 15, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    “Where is the inspiration deciding his case?” Great question. See 57.

  80. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 15, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    In each case I am familiar with, there has been either a confession or a criminal prosecution, often not yet concluded, not just a naked accusation. On the other hand, if the evidence were strong (two or more independent accusers or witnesses), it is possible that disciplinary action could be justified. And of course the bishop or high council should be wary of false accusations being used as a weapon by an angry child or spouse.

  81. anon this time on April 15, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    PTL,

    I can only say that in my limited involvement in the church disciplinary system, that I have seen miracles occur, and have felt the spirit more strongly than just about anywhere else. I can’t speak for all instances, but in every instance that I have been involved with both at a ward or stake level, the inspiration has been clear, almost a palpable presence. I hear of situations like you describe, but they are, as in the case of all disciplinary councils, hearsay, as it is rare that they are ever spoken of outside the confines of the council. In every one that I have been involved with, I have been satisfied that the outcome has been confirmed by the spirit.

    Ditto to what Raymond says in # 80. Spectral evidence is not well received. Accusations do not normally bring about a disciplinary council, unless there is significant evidence of the wrongdoing, and a real danger to others or the reputation of the church.

  82. Rob on April 15, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    #77

    I was attempting to learn how you (and Ray) conclude that we KNOW they have actually abused children.

    You’re speaking of hypothetical situations. (While also arguing that this must be handled in a case-by-case basis) There is no answer which will suffice for you. The fact is, someone makes an accusation OR someone comes forward to their Church Leadership, and it is up to the best efforts of that Church Leadership to do what they can to correct the situation.

  83. PTL on April 15, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    #81- Well anon, this is not hearsay, as I am intimately involved. So tell me, how does this council outcome square with the scriptures, D&C 42:25-26?

    I guess that the miracle here is that I still go to church even though no longer believe that Stake presidents and certain Area Authorities are inspired.

  84. anon this time on April 15, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    PTL,

    As I said, I can only speak to the situations I have been directly involved with. Anecdotally, I am aware of church disciplinary councils decisions that have been overturned on appeal, and an actual formal apology given to the individual who was the subject of the council. I am also aware of foot-dragging in some well publicized abuse cases, where action should have been taken sooner.

    I also can say that in some church leadership positions, I wish that I could say that every decision, every calling, was inspired. But they weren’t always that way, and I hope I learned something from those circumstances. In reality, it may be a miracle that as many of us still go to church as we do. But ultimately, my testimony, while certainly affected by others around me, is not dependent on them. Part of the paradox of having a lay church leadership at the local levels is that most of us will not only be offended by or question the judgment of our leaders, but we also get to be the offenders and poor judges as well.

    I have someone very close to me that has left activity in the church over church discipline that appears to have overstepped it’s bounds (involving a 3rd party). So your question is also real to me, and painful.

    I wish that all of us had the assurance that our lives and our decisions were always in line with gospel principles and scripture, but it’s not. And then we get up and go on, learning how to forgive, and be forgiven also. As we seek mercy in our own lives, perhaps we will see more justice as well.

  85. Howard on April 15, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    “The fact is, someone makes an accusation OR someone comes forward to their Church Leadership, and it is up to the best efforts of that Church Leadership to do what they can to correct the situation.”

    Rob, an accusation is a very different situation than a creditable confession. In the case of an accusation not accompanied by a confession, one does not KNOW that the person being judged actually committed the sin.

  86. Howard on April 15, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    PTL,
    “So tell me, how does this council outcome square with the scriptures, D&C 42:25-26?” It seems to me your question pivots on the definition of “cast out”. Does cast out mean excommunication or does disfellowship also qualify?

  87. Rob on April 15, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    #85 Howard:

    You, yourself, cited that the officers of the Church need to use the Spirit in order to handle these things. If it cannot help them to weigh all the evidence, in order to determine the truth of the situation, then what is the point?

    Your responses have become circulus in demonstrando, ad infinitum, and so I’m finished replying unless any new and interesting material of importance enters the discussion.

  88. Howard on April 15, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Rob,
    The point is that they DO have the Spirit available to discern gilt, innocence and sentencing and they are directed to use it.

    So what is your point is saying “I would probably be even more skeptical than he in my approach if ever placed in a position to judge someone who has committed abuses — sexual or physical — against a child. And the LAST thing I would do, would be to place them in a position to ever harm that child, or any other child, ever again.”?

    What is the relevance of your sentencing opinion? Wouldn’t you consult and then follow the Spirit?

  89. Someone unimportant on May 2, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    In response to post 75 by MSG,

    Yes, there are truly EVIL people in the world. I was inflicted by one through my teen years. I can\’t think of a way to describe it. I don\’t think she would have killed anyone, then again… They don\’t play by any rules I can understand. Demonic comes to mind. Causing pain for the purpose of causing pain.

    I came away from it scarred. As a result, there are some areas of my life I can lie convincingly about; after all, I witnessed a master at work. My wife can ask me direct questions and I can lie to her about it without even a hesitation of breath. Weeks later, when I tell her the truth, she comments on how scary that is.

    Am I proud of it? Perversely, yes, and also ashamed. It is a power.

    I am guilty of naively allowing people to use my good manners to coerce me. Odd how I can be manipulative and be manipulated by my sense of honor. It probably has to do with hiding who I think I am by wanting to keep up appearances.

    Post 78 – Faith in the system.

    We tried to tell a church authority what was going on with that aforementioned evil person. It failed. The judge in Israel didn\’t believe us.

    Time has made me reflect on what happened over and over. My realization is as follows. The Gospel is true. This is the Church of Jesus Christ, the one true church. The members of it are just people. They make mistakes, they are sinners, they don\’t always do things right. Some, as is the point of this article, are dangerous wolves.