Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Play is Forming in My Mind....

*Based on a true story, but don't ask me whose.

A happy Mormon family. Until a teenage daughter starts acting strangely. Parents constantly find her curled into a ball sobbing. Months of begging to know what's wrong. Eventually she cracks and her story comes out.

Her male seminary teacher took her out to lunch months before. He tells her that when he looks at her, he feels like he did when he first looked at his wife (who is currently still his wife) . He implies that someday they'll be married. He swears her to secrecy with a temple handshake. She believes she'll go to hell if she confides, so for months this burden weighs on her. She begins to feel trapped and scared. She wants to have boyfriends, wants to choose who she will marry. She is tormented for months with the belief she will have to be a second wife to this man.

Parents find out. Parents are furious. They tell the bishop. ST denies this until parents produce a love letter he wrote to the daughter. ST gets slap on the wrist discipline from the bishop. Parents are disillusioned with Church over this. Father begins to retreat from Church, but mom holds on faithfully.

10 years later: Parents are still disgusted with this man, who has been in their same ward this whole time. The daughter has left the Church. One day in Church a new bishop is called. It is the ST. The mother at this point is the RS president. She listens to this, rocks in her pew, covers her face with her hair, and rocks, rocks, rocks. She has to make a split second decision on whether or not to object to the sustaining of this man. She cannot sustain him, but she can't openly object either. She visit teaches his wife. His mother is in the ward. She can't publicly humiliate him in front of these women she loves and over whom she has stewardship.

Parents immediately make an appointment to see stake president. He is highly disturbed about this. Had no idea that this was in this man's past. He tells the parents to write out an account of exactly what happened, with as many details as they can remember. He talks with his area authorities about what to do. He tells them there's a good chance that they'll release him from being a bishop within the next couple of weeks. He acts as mediator between the man and the parents, gets the man to apologize. Parents think there's a good chance he won't remain bishop long.

A few weeks go by. The concerned stake president is released! A new stake president takes office. Parents talk to him about this problem, but he isn't very concerned. In fact, he is disturbed that the parents have written out an account of the incident. He warns them to not say anything to anyone about this. That it will go badly for them if they do.

Parents feel helpless. Father retreats more from Church, Mother continues to act as RS President, but cannot address him as "bishop." She can't stand working with him, can't stand looking at him. Tries to only have contact with him over email.

That's as far as I have. I don't know how the play will end, but I think it needs to end with some empowering act of the mother. Some way for her to gain the upper hand and feel in control of her life somehow. Still thinking about it...

39 Comments:

Blogger R. John said...

Wow. Quite a story. Now I'm dying to know if I know the person(s) involved.

6/08/2007 8:58 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

It is a heart breaking story. I (and she) was in tears as this woman was telling me this. You don't know her.

6/09/2007 6:43 AM  
Blogger john.white said...

That's horrific! What institutions exist in the warde and stake leadership which should prevent this? The swearing to secrecy involved at every step is quite troubling. Is that an institutional thing or a feature of the leadership of the specific ward and stake?

I always thought that leadership had strong reactions against even hints of polygamy.

I wonder if in your play, the RS President will have evolving feelings of responsibility for the other teen-aged daughters in the ward? Won't it occur to her that this probably wasn't an isolated incident?

6/09/2007 10:08 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

John, the only procedure that is in place for something like this is to go to your leader. Your bishop. If that doesn't work, your stake president. If your stake president doesn't support you, then you have no recourse, as it's virtually impossible to have contact with anyone else higher up.

The secrecy is one of the most disturbing parts of the story. I expect it from the perverted seminary teacher, but what's so frightening is the threat from the 2nd stake president. I think that kind of reaction is more individual that institutional. Hope so.

Yes, there generally is a very strong reaction against anything connected with polygamy in our modern LDS church. Kids from fundamentalist polygamous families who join the Church have to jump through a lot of hoops to go on a mission.

I like your ideas about the RS president perhaps talking to the girls about abuse like this, warning them against men who would do this. That would be a good way for her to gain the upper hand.

6/09/2007 2:16 PM  
Anonymous christi said...

Really creepy and bizarre, Caroline...about the whole secrecy thing, it seems to me the culture of the institution has been obsessed with keeping up appearances for way too long...like since Mountain Meadows Massacre (and before?). It needs to stop, on several different levels. I like to think we're headed in that direction, but it's obviously got a long way to go.

6/10/2007 9:44 PM  
Anonymous Mark IV said...

Caroline,

If I were a parent of a daughter in that situation, I would go not only to the SP but to the law as well. It is unlikely that a teacher who would do something like that has targeted only one young woman. There are probably dozens of others, and it has probably gone beyond the letter writing stage. I think a prosecutor would be very interested.

6/11/2007 1:51 PM  
Anonymous mark iv said...

Something else I just thought of. Seminary teachers have their own hierarchy, outside of bishops and stake presidents.

The mother should also make an appointment to see a seminary administrator. Those are paid, fulltime jobs, unlike bishop and SP, and maybe the CES zone administrator would be interested to know that he has a pederast on the payroll.

This story is disturbing on so many levels. I hope the woman is OK now.

6/11/2007 2:50 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Christi,
That's my feeling too. I think with time the Church will become more transparent about stuff like this.

Mark IV,
I hadn't considered going to the law because he never really touched her, but you're right, this behavior could definitely have been a pattern. Also a good idea to go to CES about this. I'm not sure if the parents did this or not, but that's definitely what I would do. You don't want someone like that to continue as ST.

I hope the woman's ok too. I think it's been immensely painful, as virtually her whole family has retreated from the church because of this. It breaks her heart. And she has to deal with this man on a constant basis. I'm in awe that she herself has had the strength to stay.

6/11/2007 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would be the resolution/moral of the story? It seems that this story would just be one bad turn after another for this family. What would make it right? Mass Purging of leadership people? ST's head on a stick? I see no good coming from this.

6/13/2007 4:09 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Anonymous,
The resolution is what I'm still trying to come up with. I think there are some very interesting possibilities that have nothing to do with mass purging. I'm going for realism here.

How about the mother has a moment of transcendental forgiveness?

How about the mother quietly uses her place, her position to warn the girls of the ward about predators like this? (John White came up with that one.)

The overall themes of the play would obviously be dealing with the problematic side of religious patriarchy, the modern day side effects of polygamy, which is still a part of Church doctrine, the ways women can try to counteract unrighteous uses of power within the church, etc.

6/13/2007 9:56 PM  
Blogger john.white said...

I'm unclear about the problems with mass purging of people who shield child predators.

6/13/2007 11:44 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

John, I too personally wouldn't mind a purging of such leaders, but I just don't think it's realistic in the Mormon world. Sadly.

6/14/2007 8:31 PM  
Blogger john.white said...

Anon commenter seemed to be of the opinion that no good could come of purging those who shield child predators, or from punishing the ST. Am I misunderstanding that position somehow? I'm unclear on how else to interpret the comment.

6/15/2007 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My original comment was meant to say that, though it is sad that this happens, putting in a public forum where only one side of the story gets told can lead to bad results. Yes, it is sad taht things like this happen. And yes, in a perfect world, wrong-doers would be punished. My concerns were two-fold.

If you stick to the actual facts of the story, it seems as though there is no positive resolution and that those hurt remain hurt without reparation.

If you do make a happy ending, then it's not true and does as much good as other works of fiction.

When only one side of a controversial story is told, it leads people to wrong conclusions. I am not saying that the ST should be protected. If there were a firing line, I would pull the trigger and sleep soundly that night. To publicize the experience without all aspects it where I say, no good can come from this.

6/15/2007 3:56 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Anonymous - I think we may have fundamentally different tastes in literature. I like exploring difficult issues and watching movies/plays that explore them. My husband hates that stuff. To each her own.

But just so you know, if I were to write this up, I would try to make the ST actually pretty sympathetic, a victim himself of a theology that is still pervasive in Mormonism today. (i.e. - the fact that polygamy has never been repudiated, that it still exists in temple marriages today, etc.) Someone who really throws himself into Mormonism wholeheartedly could conceivably get a bit confused about that polygamy stuff. I think taking that tack - rather than completely making him a villain - would be very interesting.

6/15/2007 9:00 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Oh, and i would also make the first stake president a very kind, thoughtful character, in order to show that there are two sides to the coin of Mormon hierarchy and leadership.

6/15/2007 9:01 PM  
Blogger Anna Maria Junus said...

I could see this actually happening. I discovered first hand the secrecy thing regarding leadership.

I had to go to the general authorities to get it resolved. Yet the leadership is still in the leadership and I never got an apology from him.

And still I'm told not to talk about it.

6/16/2007 1:26 AM  
Blogger amelia said...

"a victim himself of a theology that is still pervasive in Mormonism today. (i.e. - the fact that polygamy has never been repudiated, that it still exists in temple marriages today, etc.)"

i think that's a wee bit of an exaggeration. polygamy is not pervasive in mormonism today. it's hardly ever talked about. that may have its own ramifications, but it's the case. regardless of temple sealing practices.

6/18/2007 7:55 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Amy, I stand by my claim that polygamy is still pervasive in the church today. I'm not talking about it's practice (which of course does continue in the temples) but of the long tentacles of its doctrine that reach out to every young woman and make her wonder if her eternal destiny is to be a polygamous wife.

I can't tell you how many hours I cried, when I was first married, at the idea that I might have to be a plural wife up in heaven. It was absolutely agaonizing. I imagine that thousands of other Mormon women have likewise shed tears confronting that possibility.

6/18/2007 9:12 PM  
Anonymous R.J. said...

Caroline, could you provide some citations about the present day sanctioned practice of polygamy? Is this outside the fact that a widower can be sealed again without disrupting the first sealing? I am intruiged by this idea.

6/19/2007 8:47 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

R.J. that's exactly what I'm referring to - the fact that a living man can seal more than one wife to himself. This paves the way, of course, for him to be a polygamist up in heaven.

It's interesting that so many of our apostles have done this, since their first wives have died.

6/19/2007 9:06 AM  
Blogger amelia said...

i don't mean to suggest that polygamy doesn't color some people's experience in the church. nor that it doesn't harm some people in the church. but i disagree with your assessment. i never once pondered the question of whether i'll be a polygamous wife while growing up. and when i've thought about it as an adult, it's been a rather intellectual process not an emotional one. frankly, it doesn't really bother me. i honestly think that polygamy can be a viable form of marriage--one in which there is equality and honesty and love. the simple fact that it has not been such in our own society doesn't mean it's impossible for it to be such. so obviously not every young woman ponders her miserable fate as a polygamous wife--i never have. maybe that will change when i marry; i don't know. but i do know that polygamy has never shaped my thinking about the church.

while i am sure that in a church of 10+ million members, there are thousands of women who have had an experience similar to yours, i'm equally sure there are thousands who have had an experience similar to mine. i do believe that the vast majority of members never really stop and think about polygamy. precisely because it is not pervasive in the modern church. that could certainly be construed as a problem with its own potential for harm. but i believe it is the case. polygamy is never discussed other than historically. men being sealed to more than one woman isn't talked about in terms of polygamy. talking about celestial marriage never involves discussing the eternal principle of polygamy, in spite of the fact that this would be the logical place to continue teaching a doctrinal precept (if it is in fact a doctrinal precept).

it just is not prevalent in the church. i don't mean to downplay your own reaction. i know it's very real and very powerful. and i think that we should be aware that there are undoubtedlly other women (and men) in the church for whom polygamy is a spiritual problem. i still don't think that justifies calling it pervasive. that's a misrepresentation and as such will simply cause harm of its own.

6/19/2007 11:58 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Amy, i think you're in the vast minority of Mormon women who have never been bothered by polygamy. I have no stats to support this, just my personal experience. Every other mormon woman that I can think of that I have ever spoken to about this (and I often speak about this) is bothered by it.

So I fundamentally disagree. I still think it's pervasive, because this doctrine so often does touch our modern Mormon lives. I can't even number the times non-members have asked me about polygamy. I imagine this happens to most Mormons, so even if it's not preached from the pulpit, I think polygamy does color our modern day experience. It's one of those things that sets us Mormons apart and makes us different than all the other Chirstian churches. Yes, it is definitely a strong part of Mormon history and identity. IMO.

6/19/2007 12:38 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

i certainly agree that it colors our identity as mormons, though usually in a way that involves denying rather than affirming polygamy as a mormon practice.

it just seems to me that both your experience and my experience are significant minorities--my experience being not bothered by it and your experience being deeply bothered by it. while i believe you when you assert that most mormons would be bothered by it on some level when asked, it seems to me that most mormons don't really think about it very much and certainly not enough to let it pervade their experience in the church.

i've said a couple of times here that the fact that polygamy is not really talked about and, by extension, not really actively though about by most mormons brings with it its own problems. it seems to me that this is a tension worth discussing. what ramifications are there to the silence on the matter of polygamy? to the fact that (in my experience) most mormons don't think about men being sealed to multiple women as a form of polygamy? that most mormons (again in my experience) don't actively believe they will ever experience polygamy, even in the after life? there's a very real tension there that kind of gets obscured by either of our personal experiences. one that exists more on the level of a cultural subconscious (or is it cultural unconcsious?) than on the level of an issue that is regulary contemplated and dealt with.

6/19/2007 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fact is, polygamy is a part of the celestial kingdom. It is, in the eartly sense, used as a test of faith and a way to build a righteous seed. Thought the scriptures say that we will be the same person we are now in the eternities (personality wise), I think that once the judgement has passed and we are given our inheritences, whether or not so-and-so has multiple celestial companions (or, from the woman's perspective, whether or not I am one of many compaions to my husband) will be the least of our worries.

God sorts things out in the end. I firmly believe that, if polygamy is brought back as a commandment, only those who are ready to handle all the issues that come along with it will be called. IMO.

6/20/2007 11:40 AM  
Blogger Bored in Vernal said...

I agree with Caroline. I think most Mormon women find themselves in a position of having to deal with the doctrine. Many Seminary teachers and others who read Church history encounter statements by early Church leaders stating that one must live this principle in order to be exalted. I personally know a Seminary teacher who convinced his wife of this and then married two of his Seminary students. He was excommunicated and now lives in Moab with his polygamous family. The wives are still members of the Church.

Re the story Caroline told, I think all involved are dealing with the difficult issue of repentance and forgiveness. The ST insists that he has repented and the SP believes him. He says that it is the only instance that it has happened. I think the mother tries to believe that he has repented, and feels she has forgiven him. But if I were the mother, and the RS President, I know I would have a great compunction against trusting this man to be alone with young girls. He should not have been called as Bishop. His records should have been flagged in some way. This would have happened with any other form of abuse. The question is: Was the connection to polygamy the reason this was not taken as seriously as it should have been?

6/21/2007 6:37 AM  
Anonymous anonymous II said...

I'm going to be anonymous on this one to avoid any hint of the identity of these folks. The mom is truly a saint. She donated a kidney to a coworker a few years ago. It's absolutely heartbreaking for her because 3 of her 4 kids and her husband are inactive or totally out of the church, mostly because of this. She's a person who genuinely wants to be good and do right, and this situation has been horrible for her. It's still not really resolved for the daughter who has struggled with finding her way in life despite being a beautiful bright talented woman. I think the minimum that should have happened here is that his records should have been flagged years ago, when it happened, so that he never would be called to a position with power over the youth. And after it happened, he should have been released when the SP found out about it. It's too late to get any legal authorities involved, and I'm not sure they would have done anything anyway. It's not Utah, and the police would probably have a hard time even understanding what had gone on. I don't remember if they ever went to the CES authorities about it.

6/22/2007 4:17 PM  
Anonymous maddie said...

The man is sick. He's a pedophile and if he did this once he's done it lots of times. Most likely there are other women out there who were his victims and they're being quiet--wish you could find them and get this guy put away or at least out of any position of authority in or out of the Church.
If the Stake Pres. won't listen and act appropriately, then a trip to Church Headquarters to talk with a GA is appropriate--and you wait there until you see one. It's not impossible. I would think Pres. Hinckley would care to know about this type of thing going on.
If it were me and my family, I'd move out of the Stake to get some peace, healing and no constant reminders. And by all means, the police should know to watch this guy. He may be a predator or just beginning to be.

6/23/2007 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Curtis said...

I am going to take a position that bothers me more than a bit, since it could look like I am supporting or defending the ST. I am not and will not and am deeply disturbed by his actions, but after reading everything I feel that something needs to be said about the leaders and the charges of secrecy. On this issue, I know of whence I speak as it relates to issues of church discipline in general. So, here goes:

One of the worst things about this type of incident is not just its heinous nature but also its difficulty to prove. Particularly in a case like this one, it really is a "he said; she said" case. Nothing was done that could leave any physical evidence, and many courts of law would not even consider it legally abusive. (telling someone that you believe you will be married to her someday) Hopefully, everyone would agree that it is creepy and wrong, but illegal . . . not really.

So, what is a Bishop or SP to do? Apparently, there were no eye witnesses or collaborating witnesses - no other young woman who made a similar charge. If the ST denied the allegation, how could it be proven? If he admitted it and professed sincere regret and seemed truly repentant, how could he be disfellowshipped or excommunicated for expressing creepy sentiments - especially if it appeared that it was an isolated case? (I know that such behavior usually is not isolated, but I also know that it sometimes is.) We hear other creepy, weird and sometimes disgusting things said by ill-informed members all the time. Should each of them be disciplined for those statements? I think everyone would be up in arms if that happened just as much as we are up in arms about this case.

The only recourse, IMHO, would have been with his employer - CES. If he had admitted it and been fired, then the church leadership would have had justifiable cause to flag his membership record and keep him from any other position of authority over young women.

We have to remember in these cases that we can't discipline someone in an official manner over an allegation. My heart breaks for the young woman, but it also breaks for the Bishop and the Stake President. If I were in that situation, I might request a release so as to distance myself from the situation - knowing there is nothing that I can do to provide justice AND mercy to everyone involved.

Finally, the "secrecy" issue, in EVERY case in which I have participated, is not to "keep things hush-hush" in some conspiratorial way, but rather to keep parties on both sides from spreading only their version of events and minimize continued harm. It is an issue of confidentiality, not secrecy - and there is a HUGE difference. Juvenile courts often seal records for the exact same reason, so the Church should not be condemned for doing so, as well.

Church disciplinary courts are painful and difficult procedures (sometimes joyous, but mostly painful), and the kind of bitterness and inability to forgive or move forward that often occurs when confidentiality is breached sometimes is as devastating as the initial transgression or sin. My only plea is that we not judge the leaders who were involved in this case by a set of standards that are impossible for them to apply.

6/25/2007 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Curtis said...

I should add that I know the letter forces an admission of creepy sentiments, and I understand the implication that there was not an actual disciplinary council held, but I wanted to address only the overall issues of official discipline and secrecy vs. confidentiality.

6/25/2007 12:03 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Curtis,
Thanks for your well thought out comment. Like you said, I definitely think CES should have fired him over this, but it also seem to me that something more could have been done by the bishop. I'm talking about some mark on his record that says that this is a man who should not have a calling that involves the youth. It seems to me like that would have been the most prudent approach. (And the church tends to embrace prudent approaches - otherwise men could still serve solo in the primary.)

I personally feel like the letter was absolute proof that he had indeed done this (that and his admission of guilt), so the "he said" vs. "she said" aspect of this doesn't seem to me to apply to this case.

But I do appreciate your calling attention to the position of the leaders. I'm sure they were twisted up inside about this whole thing. I just wish those leaders that were in the know had quietly communicated to subsequent leaders a little more about this guy.

6/25/2007 2:18 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

i just have to ask: where does forgiveness come into play here? because it seems to me that if this man has truly repented of what he did and his leaders feel confident in extending a calling to him, then that's that. who are we to continue questioning his virtue ten+ years later?

i know all the platitudes about forgiving not meaning allowing someone the opportunity to hurt again. which is why i specifically framed my question as a question of forgiving a true repentant, not just forgiving an offender.

i'm disturbed by this whole scenario. but one of the things that disturbs me is that there seems to be no acknowledgement that the man in question could have truly changed and, as such, could be an excellent candidate to be a bishop.

6/27/2007 5:13 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Amy,
There are some offenses that I think should automatically disqualify someone from having future positions in the church that involve the youth - one for me would be someone making polygamous overtures to a 14 year old. But that's just me.

I'm perfectly fine with the idea that God could totally forgive him, but that doesn't mean someone with his record should be bishop - especially not when he's in the same ward as the family he so deeply hurt. IMO.

6/27/2007 6:53 PM  
Blogger john.white said...

Amy, that's an interesting point. Is redress at all a part of repentance?

I ask about that because of the echoing impacts upon the family that this type of action has.

6/28/2007 5:58 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

yes, john. redress is supposed to be part of repentance. and if this man has truly repented, part of that process would be expressing remorse to those he hurt and doing all he could to make reparations. obviously one of the problems with sin (or however you want to name violating another) is that it's impossible for the penitent to make complete restitution. restitution must be a joint effort in which the penitent and the people he/she hurt work together to re-establish peace.


caroline-- i understand your point. but this is such a subjective thing. there are some offenses that i think a majority of people would agree would preclude someone from holding a leadership position. any kind of sexual violation, whether rape or child sexual abuse, for instance. but this instance just seems far too subjective to me. both in the way people would respond to the question whether someone who had made "polygamous overtures to a 14 year old" should hold leadership. and in how the 14 year old would have responded. i know 14 year olds who would have just thought the guy was cooked and probably wouldn't have been deeply affected by it. that's no criticism of this particular girl or her family; obviously the experience was deeply traumatic for these particular people. but i don't think it always would be. which makes the question more complex.

anyway. i'm a firm believer in the power of the human spirit to change. there are very few situations in which i would lay down a hard and fast rule that if someone had done X, regardless of the fact that they repented of X, they should never hold leadership position.

6/28/2007 8:12 PM  
Blogger john.white said...

Amy, I'm really struggling with statement. When you write "restitution must be a joint effort..." I read an implication that if the victims aren't able to actively work towards "re-establishing peace," then it's no long a problem with the offender, but with the victims. Am I reading the intention of your statement correctly?

My problem is that all of the described behavior and impact on the family is, in my mind, a completely reasonable and typical response to a situation like this. Of course there's a spectrum of possible responses, but to state that some might not have been this extreme and that not actively working for peace is the block to redress...

It sounds like placing the blame on the victims and their response instead of on the offender and his actions.

I'm also unclear as to what would be enough of an offense to block someone from a leadership position (in your mind). Past history of abuse of authority position? Followed by lying about the offense until confronted by proof? Approaching minors about polygamous marriage? Not enough?

You say, "it seems to me that if this man has truly repented", but none of us have magic powers to look into someone's heart. From the outside, we can only judge by their actions. At some point, someone in a purely pragmatic decision needs to say, "I have no way of knowing whether this person is repentant, but I can't take the chance with the spiritual health of the congregation." What line needs to be crossed before that makes sense? How is this situation not in that category?

I'd be deeply disturbed if my faith group decided that someone with a history of making polygamous overtures to 14 year olds then lying to try to cover it up, was deemed fit for a leadership role, repentant or not. If they're screwing that kind of decision up. what else are they screwing up?

7/01/2007 11:33 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

but does one incident constitute "a history of making polygamous overtures to 14 year olds then lying to try to cover it up"? and remember that this incident happened ten years prior to the man being called as a bishop. what had grown to loom ever larger for the girl's family, may have become such an insignificant speck in the mind of the man that it seemed strange he was even asked about it after so long. should it have done? i don't know. but i think it's reasonable that someone could have dismissed it as relatively unimportant without ever realizing the true consequences it had in that girl's life. to what extent is he culpable for that?

i'm just trying to suggest that stories like this are always, always more complicated than they seem. i don't know the details of this situation and i'm not trying to say what i think should happen in this situation. i'm just trying to suggest that there is a possibility that someone could do something like this that is in fact much more innocent than commenters here have made it out to be. and in fact much more innocent than even the family of the victim makes it out to be.

that's not to say it wasn't damaging. significantly so. just that there may not have been the intent to damage that constitutes true maliciousness. it's entirely possible for the damage to arise out of the context, rather than purely as a result of the man's actions and intent. in which case, i think we need to acknowledge that the man deserves some leniency.

i'm not trying to defend him. what he did was wrong. but i adhere to a very contextual version of justice--one that considers all circumstances on all sides, rather than thinking in terms of absolutes. there are some inviolable absolutes--i named some in my last comment. but even with those, i think it's imperative that we consider mitigating circumstances and intention. in my mind this is what christ's atoning sacrifice is all about.

which is why i say that ultimately reparation or restitution must be a joint thing. not just the offender being sorry and trying to make amends, but those hurt trying to forgive. that doesn't mean that they have to embrace the person or become best friends with him. it does mean that they need to make some effort to see beyond that one action and try to see him in the way god does.

i don't blame the victims here. it's not a matter of me seeing fault in them. it's more just a conviction that peace can only truly be re-established when both parties reach out in love. i understand that doing so is incredibly difficult--i don't fault people who cannot do so, even though i maintain they need to do so. and that it takes many, many forms from actually serving someone who has done you harm to letting go of the hurt without ever establishing any relationship with the person who has done you harm. all i know is that holding onto having been hurt by someone is a sure way to canker the soul while forgiving is a sure way to peace.

as i'm writing this, i'm thinking in part of a story i heard on npr last week about the peace and reconciliation program in post-apartheid south africa. of a white american woman who had gone to south africa on a fellowship and had driven a couple of friends home to a black township (post-apartheid south africa remains very segregated; my brother served a mission there and spent about half his time in either townships or homelands). where she was dragged out of her car and brutally murdered. and how her parents flew all the way to south africa to speak on behalf of the murderers--to ask leniency for them. the murderers received punishment. but these parents recognized them as the troubled people they were--people with a history and a context that contributed to their actions--rather than monsters who should be locked out of sight.

you're right that at some point a purely pragmatic decision must be made that having done X merits someone being forever barred from leadership/authority position. i can't say whether or not this specific situation crossed the line. i don't know the details. i haven't talked to both parties. i couldn't possibly make that judgment call without doing so. how do you tell if someone is "truly repentant"? i don't know. not in the abstract. i could only make that call after personal conversation with the person.

and then there are other factors. like the fact that mormons believe their congregational leaders are called through inspiration from god. some, my father among them, take that to sometimes mean literal revelation of a specific person, even if other times it's just several possible candidates of whom any would be fine. so if the man appears to have repented and god has apparently inspired the stake president to call the man as bishop, well many mormons would take that as sufficient evidence that he's qualified.

whether or not you agree with that, it's a very real dynamic in the mormon church and one that i'm sure contributed to this situation.

again, i'm not defending this man's actions. they were wrong. i'm simply trying to acknowledge the complexities of the situation--including those that arise as a result of the passage of time and the possibility of true repentance and change (a possibility mormons absolutely must acknowledge if they purport to believe in the atoning sacrifice of jesus christ). when someone reads caroline's response and responds by saying: "The man is sick. He's a pedophile and if he did this once he's done it lots of times." well, that's much more likely a grossly prejudiced mis-taking of the man's character than an accurate description. and i find it as damaging as what the man did, if in radically different ways.

and now i've gone on and on. i tend to do that...especially when avoiding doing my real work. :)

7/02/2007 5:31 PM  
Blogger john.white said...

Having written and erased several responses, I think I just need to stop thinking about it.

I'm just glad that I have that luxury.

7/02/2007 8:37 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

but do you have that luxury?

i mean, you obviously have that luxury regarding the mormon peculiarities of this situation since you're not mormon. but these kinds of situations happen all the time in the world around us. being human is *messy*. there's rarely a clean answer to a problem. and it seems we all have to be willing to engage with that mess as comprehensively as we can.

not that you have to respond here. i just think it's important to recognize that the dynamics i'm pointing to are not all peculiarly mormon, even if some of them are.

7/03/2007 1:46 PM  

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