Recently within the Mormon community, former bishop Sam Young started a movement to protect the LDS children by seeking to gain the support of others to demand that the LDS church stop sexually explicit interviews of Mormon youth that are held behind closed door, alone with an older man. He is collecting signatures of people who support this cause which he will present, along with a record of testimonies of those abused as children by church leaders, on March 30th to the LDS Church Office building. If you do not know about the petition and efforts underway to protect the innocent children of the LDS Church, I would suggest visiting protectldschildren.org
I will not be going into detail here about the issue of sexually explicit interviews of Mormon youth. That has been addressed well enough by others and so for the sake of argument, we are going to assume that the practice is morally wrong. Instead, this blog post will address why questioning policies and standing up to such issues does not make one an apostate and how as a faithful members, it is your responsibility, and not just the leaders, to see that your church is rooting out the evil so that it can become the bride of Christ - a Zion people ready for the return of the Lord.
On Thursday, January 25th, Sam Young met with his local church leaders to discuss the book "Sacred Stories of Sacred Children" and Sam's efforts to raise awareness of the issue. As Sam described some of the trauma and horrible accounts of sexual abuse and misconduct in bishop interviews share by victims in his book his leaders responded saying,
Sam takes it a step further is his response,
“Shame on the system that enabled the actions of these men.”
I find Mr. Young's response to be a very profound and true statement. I have repeatedly heard the argument from members of the LDS church that the "the church is perfect, but the members are imperfect". This is a reaffirming argument for those who believe that church can never lead you astray because inspired leaders of God are infallible since they would be struck dead by God and removed from their place if they did try to lead the church astray. It is comforting to believe that you can rest in the assurance that the life you pursue and the actions you take are in accordance to God's will so long as you maintain faith in the direction and authority of that perfect church. It is easier to surrender the personal moral responsibility of following the dictates of your conscience to the idea that "if you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it."
I want to explain why the institution, and not the members, is the primary cause of such abominations and wickedness. Before you continue reading, I want to first clarify that I do not believe that the sins and abuse administered by men upon the innocent are at all justifiable. I am seeking to shed light on how a system can enable the wicked actions of seemingly good men so that despite whatever form evil may manifest itself in, we who do seek to follow the dictates of our conscience and who are followers of Christ will have the courage to stand up against wickedness- to put an end to it before it spreads uncontrollably. If you are Mormon, I hope that by reading this you will recognize that the obligation to see that the organization you serve protects the least among you rests upon your shoulders as members, and that that is a responsibility you can not delegate unchecked to the system.
The Fruits of a Church are the People Produced by that Church
When we hear the word “church”, we often think of a building with steeples and containing a large congregational hall lined with benches and the echo of bells and organ pipes. Our minds go back to Sunday school rooms with whiteboards where we were taught from church-issued manuals as we sat, rocked-back on hind legs of metal chairs (or, if you were lucky enough, a comfy, cushioned chair which was smuggled from the Relief Society room). Images of general authorities in formal business attire, the Conference Center, and temples may also flash across your mind.
None of these things, however, actually constitutes a church. The words church comes from the Greek word ekklésia, simply means an assembly or collective body of Christians, or of those who profess to believe in Christ.
The Lord defines church in the Doctrine and Covenants, declaring his statement as doctrine with a warning:
Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.(Doctrine and Covenants 10:67–68)
This is the church I am part of. If you have repented and come unto Christ, despite whatever denomination you affiliate with, I consider you my brother or sister in Christ.
The church is the people, specifically those who repent and come unto Christ. Everything else a church may require or produce is more or less. So the fruits of a religious organization are the people. If the people are doing bad things, if they are engaging in sexual misconduct, that is the fruit of something amiss in that organization. That church is, therefore, an imperfect church.
For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.(Moroni 7:11)
In our personal progression, we are commanded by Jesus to "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt 5:48) This is the goal and mark for which we must be aiming, but as fallen mortals, we recognize that although this is a commandment, it is an impossible task. For those who have faith in Christ, however, they realize that with God nothing is impossible and it is Christ's role as our Lord to perfect them. When we understand the power of the atonement and blood of Jesus, we can reach for the utmost heavens while not to spiraling into self-pity when we fall short because of our weakness. For our weakness WILL be made manifest as we work on our relationship with Christ. Ask anyone who has been married for a long enough time and they will agree that being in a serious, committed relationship long enough will bring out all the ugly issues not noticed during dating/honeymoon phase. Our relationship with God is no different, for He says,
"...if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."(Ether 12:27; emphasis mine)
If we humbly acknowledge our weaknesses when they are shown unto us and we take them to Christ in penitence, he will make weak things strong. This is a true principle on the individual level of a believer. Why would this be any different on the scale of a collective body of believers - a church? The church is referred to in the Bible as the bride of Christ. (Eph 5:22-23) In the ancient Jewish marriage process, the bride had to go through serious preparation and ritual cleansing before the wedding day. As a body of believers, we are not yet married to Christ and still have serious preparation and cleansing to go through before we can become that "perfect" church. The ugly truth will be brought to light as we strive for Zion, for perfection. This is the natural effect of coming unto Christ so that we can recognize evil exists and have it uprooted.
As long as the root of evil is hidden, it is strong. When it is recognized, it is undone, and if it is brought to light, it dies. For this reason the word says, “Already the ax is laid at the root of the trees.” It will not merely cut them down, for what is cut down sprouts up again. Rather, the ax will dig down until it cuts out the root. Jesus pulled out the root of the whole place, but others did so only in part.
Let each of us also dig down after the root of evil within us and pull it out of our hearts from the root. It will be uprooted if we recognize it. But if we are ignorant of it, it takes root in us and produces fruit in our hearts. It dominates us. We are its slaves, and it takes us captive so that we do what we do [not] want and do [not] do what we want. It is powerful because we do not recognize it. As long as [it] exists, it stays active.(Hidden Parts, The Root of Evil - Gospel of Philip)
|What fruit are you?|
If the church is producing bad fruit is it not our duty as members of a body of believers to address the issue and uproot the evil? Could the efforts of people like Sam Young, who points out flaws in church policies that enable wickedness to abound, be God's way bringing to light such wickedness? If we choose to ignore such criticism, dismissing the proponents of such arguments as apostates or false-prophets because they shed light on the weaknesses of our church, are we not refusing to humble ourselves before the Lord to receive His sufficient grace to make weak things become strong? Not all material that sheds light on the imperfect state of the Mormon church is anti-Mormon; some of it may be God's efforts to call his people unto repentance to sanctify his bride before the great wedding day! We ought to humble ourselves, acknowledge our sins, and repent. If we choose to remain ignorant or support the legislation of bills that undertake to cover our sins, we allow the evil to take root within us as a church. That wickedness will grow and as Philip states, it will dominate us. Jesus said, "Every plant that my Heavenly Father has not planted shall be uprooted." We need to allow our God, the Lord of the vineyard, to do that necessary gardening and weeding within our souls and throughout our church.
Bad Apples or Bad Barrels?
“Shame on the system that enabled the actions of these men.”
Throughout recorded history, and most especially in the 20th century, humanity has suffered some the most horrendous and evil acts ever committed on a large scale that a new word, genocide, had to be invented in the last 100 years to describe such massive, wicked acts. We must never forget how such evil became a justifiable act in the eyes of a society, or it will unfold again in our lifetime. Now you are probably thinking, "This is escalating fast, I thought this was a post about a church policy!"
No, I am not comparing the LDS church to Nazi Germany, but wickedness always starts in small doses and can escalate, can dominate us, if we derive our source of mortality in a system and not in values that transcend dogma. Morality is something we think is fixed and impermeable with us on the good side. This is false. Our sense of morality is as changing and skewed as much as we are blind in our devotion to authority and shallow in the dictates of our conscience. If you are not watchful, you can cross that line without even knowing it. We believe that if we had lived in the countries of the mass genocides we would be good people and choose the right if we were placed in a bad circumstance. History and psychological and anthropological studies show otherwise.
The following video is Ted Talk on titled "Psychology of Evil" presented by psychologist Philip Zimbardo. He discusses what he calls the "Lucifer Effect" which explains how good people will do really evil things if placed in a bad system that enables such behavior. Now I must warn you, this video is a bit discomforting, but it reveals something terrifying about the natural man we must forsake, and so I invite you to listen and watch. I believe it is worth your time.
Warning: The video does contain graphic and disturbing images meant to educate the audience of how evil of acts men are capable of committing. The images are shown from 5:00 to 6:45. If this is too disturbing then skip this portion of the video.
Satan understands the psychology of evil very well. He is the father of lies. He works through deception and secrecy. He understands that if he can overtake an institution and puppet it, he will lead every soul devoted to such an organization to the gulf of misery and endless wo. The LDS church has been blessed with more scripture then other Christian churches. They have fewer excuses for not obtaining and comprehending deep truth than others. Satan knows this and this is why they are targeted and more susceptible to fall. This is why we must be watchful when presented with opportunities to repent. This especially why we as Mormons should be on guard against devotion, faith, and confidence in a hierarchy because when the deceptive temptation to engage and allow wickedness come, when we are justified to unknowingly cross that skewed line of morality, the gates of hell are ready and open to receive such. Please consider the following:
Lucifer and his followers damn mankind by employing the following strategies.
Imitate: Lucifer makes what he does resemble what the Savior does. He teaches as closely as possible what the Savior teaches. He claims what the Savior claims. He promises what the Savior promises. But in every case, he does so falsely so that it cannot save anyone.
Appropriate: He gains control over whatever the Savior establishes. The very best way to insure no one is saved is to take the actual House of God and make it Lucifer’s house.
The weak-minded are easily fooled into believing they have salvation when they only have a powerless imitation. Hence the Lord’s prophesy that many will claim at the last day they did many wonderful things in His name. To them He will say: “I never knew you; depart from me ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:21-23.)
It may seem challenging, but making the right choices is not difficult. As long as we take this concept seriously (our salvation depends on it) and we study carefully using the scriptures as our guide, it is easy to tell imitation from the real thing. It is also easy to see when the order established by Christ has been misappropriated. The scriptures tell us the test for priestcraft. Do men seek the welfare of Zion, or their own benefit?
Protecting the Good Name of the Church
In Sam Young’s interview, he was accused as an apostate by his local church leaders, his stake president left Sam with this warning:
You can’t continue speaking in public about this. We will have to protect the good name of the church.
Here is Mr. Young's public response:
I agree that we need to protect the good name of the church. How about that? The Church’s reputation is being trashed by a dreadful policy that is doing severe harm to our children. My fellow Mormons…join with 13,000 of us to protect the good name of the Church. If this policy is not eliminated, those who didn’t speak up for change will be responsible for the bad name the Church is now accruing.
Here is my response and thoughts:
I agree with Sam Young. We need to protect the good name of the church (that is, the collective body of believers). However, from the eyes of the church leaders, I do not believe this is their real concern...
This is the definition of apostasy from the Church Handbook of Instructions:
"Apostasy refers to members who repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.”
These grounds presented for accusing members of apostasy are not based on morality or doctrine, but rather upon the failure to submit to, obey, and fall in line with those in power. In a religious organization that puts so much emphasis upon and equates salvation to "keys" and authority, it can become a greater priority to safeguard the authority and the reputation of the system instead of the moral obligation to protect those the system is designed to serve. It is difficult for such an organization to have the humility to admit their weaknesses and repent. Leaders are still mortal men who make mistakes. Often their belief in their divine calling and institution can blind them and make them ignorant of the root of evil forming in the organization they preside over. This was the case of King Noah when he had Abinidi excommunicated.
“And he said unto him: Abinadi, we have found an accusation against thee, and thou art worthy of death. or thou hast said that God himself should come down among the children of men; and now, for this cause thou shalt be put to death unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou hast spoken evil concerning me and my people.”(Mosiah 17:7–8)
What Constitutes Apostasy?
In a sense King Noah is also telling Abinadi, “You can't speak out against your church leaders, stop speaking evil concerning my people, we need to protect the good name of the church, stop this or be excommunicated"
Sam Young is being faced with a similar dilemma as his leaders dangle his membership over the fire, implying excommunication if he does not stop speaking evil concerning institutional policies.
I recently read this in a book. It's fitting:No institution or its leaders, despite how divine it may believe itself to be, is exempt from becoming blinded by pride or having wickedness creep in and take root. When those roots of evil are made known, it does not make you an apostate to stand up, question, and seek to make better the organization you are a part of. In fact, it makes you a true Latter-Day Saint because you are fulfilling your responsibility as a member of the body in purifying the church to be the bride of Christ. As Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 would say, All parts of the body of Christ are needed and if one part suffers, if the children are abused, the entire well-being of the body is held back. Zion will not come unless we are one heart, one mind, with no poor among us.
When the culture of any organization mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of the individuals who serve that system or who are served by that system you can be certain that shame is systemic, money is driving ethics, and that accountability is all but dead.
This is true in corporations, non-profits, universities, governments, faith communities, schools, families, and sports programs. If you think back on any major scandal, fueled by cover ups you’ll see the same pattern, and the restitution and resolution of cover ups almost always happen in the wilderness when one person steps outside their bunker and speaks the truth.
- Brené Brown, "Braving the Wilderness"
The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. (1st Corinthians 12:21)Every individual believer makes up the bride of Christ. Everyone is needed. As a member of the body, this is your church. It doesn't belong to a prophet, or the brethren, or any office or policy. It belongs to the people. It is the people. And as a people, we are preparing to be joined in union with Jesus on that great wedding day and so the responsibility to prepare and be one as a whole belongs to each and every member. If you are a foot, or a hand, or any other part of the body, and you are hurting or witnessing wrongdoings, you must make it known to the head so that we can become Zion- One heart, one mind, with NO poor among us. No poor means a system that does not create an environment that perpetuates abuse. Wickedness will not cease unless it is first brought to the light.
Sam Young is a warrior and a defender of the children, fighting to protect your kids from a system that enables the wicked actions of men. He is a man speaking out against wickedness in high places to serve the least of these. He is a what Philip Zimbardo describes as a hero, and is doing what Brené Brown describes as "braving the wilderness". He is a faithful Latter-Day Saint because he striving to make the body of Christ whole and well. He is daring to stand alone, even if it means choosing the harder right. That is courage, that is living the gospel, that is fighting against powers of darkness and rooting out the evil before it escalates into something worse. He is doing this because he cares about the church and the people its system serves. I care about the church and the people its system serves. As a faithful Mormon, these are your people, this is your church. You should care, too.