Guest post by Tara T. Boyce
Children were raped and assaulted by their father for seven years and LDS officials knew and did nothing to stop it. LDS bishops and stake leaders tried to help the father, tried to get him to stop his abuse until they excommunicated him, but they did not report the abuse to state or protective services, nor did they help the children. What happened to those children and the systemic failures that failed them matters.
The AP News article released last week details an investigation into the deliberate inaction of many Church leaders at many levels, sustained by a Churchwide system, which requires local lay leaders, such as bishops, to call an LDS “help line” operated by LDS social workers. When cases are deemed high risk, the protocol requires that these cases “immediately” be transferred to LDS defense attorneys. In the case of MJ, the oldest and first victim of abuse in her family, LDS attorneys advised or have been said to have legally threatened one bishop not to act on behalf of the victims. Though Arizona state laws say clergy may withhold reporting as it relates to church doctrine, the law does not say that they have to. LDS officals chose to.
They just let it keep happening,” said MJ. “They just said, ‘Hey, let’s excommunicate her father.’ It didn’t stop. ‘Let’s have them do therapy.’ It didn’t stop. ‘Hey, let’s forgive and forget and all this will go away.’ It didn’t go away.”
Though the official handbook and PR Team of the Church says “[a]buse cannot be tolerated in any form,” the LDS protocol for reporting and handling abuse as revealed by AP News is itself an incubator for abuse. “Very few of the scores of lawsuits against [The Church] mention the help line,” writes the AP, “in part because details of its operations have been a closely guarded secret.” The process for reporting and handling abuse is non-transparent, insulated by Church defense attorneys, and unable to be accounted for, let alone by anyone without institutional ties. The Family Services Department which currently operates the help line, originated as an office of Risk Management, which tracks lawsuits that pose risk, including sexual abuse, against the church. A Church attorney reported he could not say how many calls to the help line were not referred to police or child welfare officials. And all records of calls to the LDS help line are destroyed at the end of every day, according to the Church’s Director of Family Services as reported by AP.
Regardless of whether or not initial help line workers are sometimes able to help victims through reporting or providing welfare services, cases deemed “high risk” are all transferred to LDS defense attorneys at Kirton McConkie who legally represent the LDS institution. This protocol jeopardizes victims the second a victim’s interests become at odds with those of the institution.
The Church cannot claim to be intolerant of abuse if victims are ever a second priority. The current system requires them to be.
MJ’s case is not one instance of an otherwise healthy system dropping a child or a family of children through the cracks and back into the hands of an abuser. After all, documentation of MJ and her sibling’s abuse were only discovered while U.S. officials were investigating another non-related LDS sex abuse case. To suggest this case does not reveal a systemic failure worthy of fixing is either ignorant of the many stories and research shared on LDS platforms decades prior to the AP News article, or dishonest, both of which are ways of turning away from victims.
Kirton McConkie, the Salt Lake City firm that represents the LDS Church, is now in a legal battle with MJ and her siblings–all 16 years of age or younger–for requesting monetary and policy restitution. One attorney argues the legal case as a “money grab,” and that local leaders did “nothing wrong” to MJ or her siblings because leaders did not violate the law.
I want to pause here and step back.
A religious institution, claimed to be supported by state laws that do not require clergy to report abuse because of its doctrines, is fighting children of abuse about the institutional right to not actively protect those children.
The best legal and non-legal action for victims of abuse is a worthy and necessary discussion to have, but for now, this is not my point. The law is not our moral compass. LDS Church policy is not our moral compass. Honoring human dignity–the right to every body’s safety and protection and healing–could and should be our moral compass.
I cannot help but imagine Jesus’s rage.
Though I no longer affiliate with the LDS Church or a particular Christian denomination, I still find resonance in Jesus’s ministry and teachings, resonance I believe many practicing and post- Mormons might share.
Marcus Borg, a New Testament scholar and theologian, identified “systemic injustice” as one of the most influential and consistent themes of Jesus’s ministry. Borg argues that systems of injustice are the “single greatest source of unnecessary human suffering,” including oppressive religious systems, which “became the overarching moral issue [for Jesus] because it involved the methodical but taken-for-granted mistreatment of God’s children.”
How is the LDS Church’s process for handling abuse not only unsupportive of, but also antithetical to Jesus’s ministry committed to fighting systems that exploit? And what can LDS members do about it?
John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar and historian of early Christianity, explained the concept of the Kingdom of God like a “well-run household” where the temporal and spiritual needs of each member are considered with questions like, “Do you have enough?” If not, Jesus would not approve of the household. And, Crossan argues, a household “where some members are exploited or some have far less than they need, while others have far more than they need, is a household that horrified the conscience of Jesus, destroyed the integrity of the household, and dishonored the householder.”
A system that hides and perpetuates abuse is a house that exploits the abused and is a house deemed dishonorable. The householder, the LDS First Presidency who created the protocol in 1995 and continues to sustain institutionally-loyal protocols, who has been reported to sit in on meetings about the help line and protocols, has acted dishonorably. Jesus had harsh words for those who did not alleviate suffering, and especially for those in positions of power who added to it:
They ‘crushed people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.’ They were ‘hypocrites . . . blind guides . . . fools . . . snakes . . . and sons of vipers.’”
To believe the LDS system for handling abuse is exempt from Jesus’s harsh judgment because it is endorsed by those deemed spiritually authoritative is a way of thinking that encourages abuse, and it is a way of thinking Jesus condemned. Unchallenged authority or power allows abuse of the vulnerable to thrive.
Jesus doesn’t have to condemn abuse or abusive institutions for them to be immoral. Abuse is immoral because it hijacks a person’s real and perceived sense of safety and freedom, and when anyone, including LDS officials and members, turn away from victims of abuse, when they ignore, when they stay silent, when they do not proactively act on behalf of victims in the interest of the victims, they often cause more trauma for victims, sometimes even worse than the original abuse because doing so makes a whole community feel unsafe in addition to the abuser. The Church’s helpline and protocol can and has in the case of MJ and her siblings encouraged leaders and abusers to do just this: turn away, stay silent. This leaves victims powerless, nestled in the hands of the abuser who can use an authoritative institution’s inaction as a type of justification for the abuse.
We do not honor the dignity of those abused if we pretend LDS victims do not deserve a life and community that is better than what current LDS systems are. We do not honor the dignity of abusers or institutions who enable abusive behavior by pretending they are not capable of accountability or restitution.
The LDS Church has been reported by some organizations to receive $7 billion annually in tithes, and to hold over $100 billion in stocks. Sources claim the Church gives less than 1% of its revenue to charity, less than it requires of its own members, which is 10% of their income. We do not know the exact finances of the Church because the Church does not make their finances public, but it is safe to assume that the LDS Church has the means to financially support victims like MJ, but chooses not to.
“We just don’t understand why they’re paying all these lawyers to fight this,” says Matthew Whitworth, a family member representing one of the children in the case. “Just change the policy.”
What if all of us practicing, post, ex, adjacent Mormons showed solidarity with LDS victims of abuse by donating this month’s tithing or charity funds to organizations committed to helping victims of sexual abuse rather than to the Church’s billion-dollar PR and legal team which has shown themselves to be capable of further traumatizing those abused? We can’t do much to change top-down LDS protocols, but we can voice our convictions with our money, which the Church continues to prioritize.
Act 1 in Solidarity with Victims of Abuse
Donate your tithes or charitable giving this month not to the LDS Church but to organizations that deliberately act on behalf of those abused. Here are some organizations in Utah and the U.S. where I live that have been recommended by mental health professionals, though you can find organizations closer or more meaningful to you. Consider donating to international organizations, especially if you live outside the U.S. (See below for insight into how to find and evaluate local charities in your area):
Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Utah Children’s Justice Center Program
Act 2 in Solidarity with Victims of Abuse
Then speak up online to honor victims of abuse who are often threatened into silence. Use the hashtag #tithes4victims and invite others to do the same. A collective act of solidarity says that these holy bodies matter to us more than illusions of a perfect household. Illusions are a guaranteed way to never achieve a healthy household, so help break an illusion.
And Lastly, Together
Rumi writes, “What is a real connection between people? When the same knowledge opens a door between them.” Let this news open a door between all of us who sense systemic injustice and work for healthy households and communities that not only properly handle abuse or work to prevent abuse, but also practice deliberate, self-extending love for the most vulnerable, like MJ. Her sister. Her unnamed sibling. Every precious victim. LDS officials and their defense attorneys may not do this, but we can.
If you or a loved one has been affected by sexual violence, the National Sexual Assault Hotline, operated by RAINN, is available at 800.656.HOPE or via live chat at https://www.rainn.org/. Communication is available 24/7, confidential and free of charge.
Tara T. Boyce is an ex-writing scholar and instructor turned writer committed to living a creative life. She has published poetry and creative essays in Segullah, Inscape, Euphemism, Criterion, Feminist Mormon Housewives, and Exponent Blog. Her substack newsletter Restoration: Writings on Discovering and Restoring an Authentic Self is set to release next month at thisismyrestoration.substack.com. You can follow her on IG @taratuulikki and Twitter @taradiddling.
 “Seven Years of Sex Abuse: How Mormon Officials Let it Happen,” by Michael Rezendes in AP News, August 4, 2022
 Rezendes, AP News; See also “1999 Protocol for Abuse Help Line,” Mormon Leaks, www.mormonleaks.com
 See, for example, A Thoughtful Faith Podcast, “Sexual Abuse Church Coverups,” www.athoughtfulfaith.org/tag/sexual-abuse-church-coverups/; “Sexual Abuse” in The Sunstone Education Foundation, www.sunstone.org/?s=sexual+abuse; Lavina Fielding Anderson’s published catalogues on sexual and ecclesiastical abuse, Sunstone Magazine, www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/092-65-79;
Mormon Stories Podcast, “Sexual Abuse.” mormonstories.org/episodes/sexual-abuse/;
 Marcus J. Borg, Jesus and the Christian Life
 John Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, 14, 45, 50, 78
 Rezendes, AP News
 Matt 23:4, 15-17, 33 NLT
 “Mormon Church Has Misled Members on $100 billion tax-exempt investment fund, whistleblower alleges,” by Jon Swaine, Douglas MacMIllan and Michell Boorstein, The Washington Post, December 17, 2019; “Mormons Inc: Church Accused of Multinational Tax Rort,” by Ben Schneiders, The Sydney Morning Herald, April 3, 2022
 To find more organizations in your area or country, consider exploring Guidestar, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, CharityWatch, or Charity Navigator. Look for orgs with at least 75 percent of income spent on programs or on the nonprofit’s mission. See also “How to Choose a Charity Wisely” by John F. Wasik, New York Times
“A system that hides and perpetuates abuse is a house that exploits the abused and is a house deemed dishonorable.” This seems to me the heart of the wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter if they out a fresh cost of paint on it, or buy new lawn furniture. As long as the people in charge of the inner vessel facilitate/hide/ignore abuse, the house itself is not a safe place to be.
“The Church cannot claim to be intolerant of abuse if victims are ever a second priority. The current system requires them to be.” Amen, Tara.
The system needs to change. And while concerned members and former members can’t make change happen, we can do what we can to support victims.
The women in my super-active LDS family got into a heated debate about this topic. The consensus (which I disagree with) is that our temple covenant to never speak evil of the Lord’s anointed is a prohibition against reporting abuse by said anointed brethren, therefore we stand with all the Lord’s anointed even when they are “less than perfect human beings” to use the apologist phrase. The scourges pledged on those who break temple covenants are so severe that almost an entire family of women would rather side with abusers. I am aghast. I hope that others do not interpret temple covenants the same way.
To never speak of ill of those with enough power to and have used that power to cover up abuse is how abuse flourishes. It’s time to speak up, Mormons.
Hasn’t she ever heard the phrase “Amen to the priesthood of that man.” They are no longer the Lord’s anointed when they behave like this.