I have to say it: I really wonder about the direction the Mormon Church is moving. It just feels the Church is regressing. Two red flags have been raised recently: One is the disheartening excommunication of Sam Young in his effort to change policy about one-on-one interviews and the sexually explicit questioning of our youth. That alone is enough but I see another connection to Sam Young’s movement to protect LDS Children, which brings me to concern number two: the Church’s withdrawal in the Scouting program (which had interesting timing—two weeks after the BSA announced they would no longer discriminate against women, the Church backed out.).
These two recent actions alarm me and let me explain why.
When the Church withdrew from the BSA program, they took a big step back in my eyes because the BSA required all the youth leaders (at least those working with the young men) to have background checks AND receive formal training—which is something the Church has NEVER required of its leaders outside of Scouting—and a direction Sam was pleading the Church to take. Yet by being connected to the BSA, by default, this helped keep the Young Men leaders in check. It insured that the Church was a safer place and thus helped defuse predators from LDS congregations.
But now without these policies in place and by excommunicating check-and-balancing voices like Sam Young, the Church is actually publicly encouraging predators to join our Church communities. Do we think they are not watching? Well, they are. Research confirms that offenders pay attention. They look for weak policies and practices. And the weaker they are, the more likely predators will seek out and find their way into these congregations. They know what they are doing. They know what they want and where to get it. And what better place than the trusting practices found in the LDS Church?
Further, it’s so easy for predators to make themselves comfortable in our ward communities. Let me explain how predators work. Once they get in, they being to watch the children and look for signs of neglect or abuse. Then the grooming begins. Grooming is a form of manipulation. It’s subtle and flattering. Gradual desensitization is often used through charm, encouraging children down a path that will eventually become abusive in nature. Predators will push boundaries with the child to see what the child will tolerate. It’s a slow process as the child is desensitized. They may expose the child to pornography and engage in progressively more invasive touch. If they are a leader, they may even use sexually explicit questions approved by the Church, all in an attempt to acclimate and test the child. They are very good at pretending to be “the good guy”!
We need to be concerned because the situation we have at hand now with the LDS Church is that we are not just increasing our appeal to sexual predators, but by the nature of our culture and doctrine, we are also simultaneously teaching our children to respect their Church leaders. We teach them that our leaders give us good advice and that they are to be honored and heeded because they have wisdom, experience, but more importantly, they speak and act for God. We tell them, “Respect the bishop.” Or “Do what your youth leaders tell you to do.” “If they say to do it, you need to obey them.” So often our children, almost without question, take the role and words of a leader very seriously.
Predators appreciate these teachings of obedience and submissiveness in the LDS Church. They expect it as well. They expect that the children will not challenge them. To help ensure this, predators (who cannot be identified by appearance or demeanor; please know that!) will also groom the parents of the child they are interested in. They pay close attention to the parents—don’t think for a second that they don’t! They will help the family as needed. They will seem so nice and trustworthy to even you, Parents! They love to be in your home and help you and will also make you feel special. They want and need you to be on their side as well. Pay attention to people who love your children more than you do! This is actually a warning sign—don’t be deceived!
Further, it is very rare for an offender to be someone that the family does not know well. They will work their way into your heart and home. Gifts and favors will be offered. Predators use attention and affection to help you break down safety rules for not just your child, but for you as well.
So where are we headed now as we increase our invitation to sexual predators, LDS Church? Are we focused on our children? Are we showing added awareness of our needs to respect their privacy, rights, and safety? Are we implementing better policies? OR are we continuing to remove barriers for sex offenders? Are we simply going to continue to get rid of loud voices like Sam’s that are crying for increased protection and better practices?
It’s your call, Church members! Use your voice. Let it be heard where you stand! Think and act for yourselves on these issues! And if you detect something is not quite right, IT IS OKAY to question the actions and directions of your leaders and religion! We all have ears, hearts, and voices for a reason. Let us first hear, think, consider, and then speak. If we want to effect change, we have to stand up and take action!
**Danna Hartline is the founder and creator of The Mormon Trauma Mama. She is actively involved in advocating for those suffering from church trauma and is currently getting her Master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling from California Southern University. She has spoken at many events on the very real issue of church trauma in the LDS Church including the ADAM Conference, Sunstone Symposium, and the When Church Hurts summit. She is also a guest speaker in the Hushed Ones Documentary. For more information on church trauma, find an overview on the MTM homepage which includes a presentation Danna did at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. You can follow Danna on her Facebook page The Mormon Trauma Mama.