The identify of the people involved in the following account have been omitted to protect the privacy of those involved. Those wishing to verify this submission may contact Sam, who can then release my contact info for further confidential discussion if needed. I will not share or discuss the details of this case with anyone who is not an authority figure tasked with altering current church policies to better protect LDS youth. Anyone requesting information will need to verify their identity, and sign confidentiality agreements before further information is shared.
I am a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I converted in college after having an incredibly strong spiritual experience during a class at church. I have been an active member now for over 20 years, was married in the temple, and raised children in the church. The church was my rock, my foundation, my community, my people, my life. As I did not grow up in the church, I looked to mentors and guide and teach me. This story is about one of my mentors. I want you to picture in your mind a strong Mormon family. The wife serves as the relief society president, the father is a counselor in the bishopric, the kids are the highest caliber kids – excelling in academia, serving in the children’s and YW organizations. This is the kind of family you look up to – that you want to model your own family from. We were very close to this family. We celebrated holidays together, vacationed together, had children who were the same age. They were a support and a strength for us after we moved to another state away from parents and grandparents.
Last summer, we received a shocking phone call. One of those phone calls where you must ask them to repeat themselves because you cannot believe what you are hearing. A phone call that turns you numb inside and stops your heart. It was a call informing us that the father in this exemplary family had been arrested for producing child pornography. Not in possession of – but producing it.
The next year was spent going through hundreds of files, detectives identifying children in those files, registering files, nightmares about what was circulating on the internet. Last month, after countless hours and many tears, he was sentenced to forty years in jail without parole under Jessica’s law. If he survives prison, he will be in his 90’s when released.
After the sentencing, I received a lengthy confession letter from him. The letter divulged that this had been going on much longer than 18 years. Natural bodily urges had taken over when he was very young – before he was accountable, before he was baptized, before his 8th birthday. It was something that ended his first temple marriage. He had been going to the church addiction recovery groups and fighting it unsuccessfully his entire life. I have forgiven him. I view it as a mental insanity, as a physical condition that was not correctly dealt with. Conservative religious communities have a hard time talking about sexual matters – problems are embarrassing for anyone to talk about, many believe prayer and fasting are all that is needed to correct situations. While the church sponsored volunteer support groups are wonderful for many individuals in the church they are not equipped with trained professionals who are able to correctly handle more serious situations and problems.
I used to believe the spirit was a protection. I used to believe church callings came from God, that church leaders would not be allowed to lead anyone astray. I used to think the church as a safe place to bring my children. I understand we are all human, and we all make mistakes – but this was a different caliber, and it was not just one child, and it was not just one instance or one situation. It was 18+ years. Year after year after year… child after child after child. No one in the church stopped it. He was turned in and arrested by his employer, not the church.
I stand with Sam. No one-on-one interviews. Ever. No sexually explicit questions by volunteers who are not properly trained to correctly handle those questions. Interviews are wonderful – they just need to have at least 3 people present in the room. Asking kids about chastity is fine – but this should be a simple “yes” or “no” question, with any further discussion left to professional groups when needed.
“Avoid, not only evil, but even the appearance of evil.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:22
I come before you, not with hysterical exaggerations, without extremist views, without angry accusing fingers. I know many of those who have been personally affected by bad situations in the church can come off as being very defensive and reactionary and I am trying not to do that or be that. I do not want to live as an angry person. Hopefully everyone can see past the emotional walls of anger and hurt, to the underlying issues that have started all of this. I have now deeply studied and personally experienced all sides of these issues and understand that many people have benefited from past interview policies. I believe it is possible to retain the benefits of priesthood interviews without any appearances of evil, and with minimal risk to all involved, by making the small simple changes that Sam has suggested. It is unfortunate that these changes were not able to be made in a more timely and confidential manner. It is unfortunate that it is requiring protests and news articles to bring to light the severity and magnitude of these issues. I am thankful for the changes the church has implemented – ensuring two deep policies within classrooms, and the option inclusion of an additional adult in interviews. I do believe that many children will not feel comfortable asking for another adult to be present though as one-on-one policies are the established cultural norm.
I am hoping that Sam will not be excommunicated this coming weekend. I am hoping that past weaknesses will become strengths, and the church will make the changes it needs to ensure both its reputation within the community and ensure the security of all its members.
I share my thoughts in the name of our loving savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.