Wednesday, September 23, 2009

By what Authority.....with what Basis in Fact?

As a young Mormon, one thing that always left me scratching my head was the idea that a church calling was a calling from god. I was taught that through personal revelation the the stake president called the bishop. I began to question this on a very literal basis first when our first bishop in the American Fork East Stake 12th ward was so outwardly hostile to my parents because they were "Jack Mormons". It came into question again when I was a teen and our bishop was arrested for molesting the boys in the ward.

As an adult I find it concerning that these folks are put in a position of authority over others. They are, for the most part, lay people with no real training in either their religion or other social science issues. They are allowed to council others and to give advice on issues such as sexual abuse, divorce, marriage, sex, homosexuality, and depression among other things.

Several years ago I was writing a pre-sentence report on a young man, returned missionary, who had plead guilty to Enticing a Minor Over the Internet, a Third Degree Felony. According to the investigator's report he entered a chat room solicited an investigator who was posing as an underage 13 year-old female for sex. In the same chat room was an age appropriate girl who was interested in his proposal. He turned down her advances in favor of the 13 year-old.

During the interview I asked him if he was seeking sexual offender treatment. He said he was meeting weekly with his stake president. I asked if his stake president was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a State recognized specialty in Sexual Deviancy? He said he thought his stake president was a HVAC technician. I told him that his stake president was grossly unqualified to counsel him on this matter. I asked him if his bishop was better qualified. He said, "No. He happens to be my father."

Later his mother told me that because his stake president spoke highly of the young man; it should warrant leniency from the court. Additionally his father, the bishop, and his mother both engaged in a plot to conceal the offense from his fiance's parents even though the court would likely impose sentence that would keep the young man from joining his fiance on their honeymoon(which happened).

Not only were both men not qualified to provide real world counsel to his young man they assisted in keeping relevant information from the fiance and her family.

For me, this came in to focus again on Sunday while I was reading the Salt Lake Tribune. An article discussed a LDS General Authority's stance on whether homosexuality was genetic. According to the article, Elder Bruce C. Hafen, stated, same-sex attraction is "not in your DNA,". The article refutes this statement with cites to the APA and other research that indicates that homosexuality is normal and may have a genetic component.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen, a General Authority is not a geneticist, a psychiatrist, he is not an LCSW or a psychologist. He is a lawyer. He has the expertise to take an argument to its absurd conclusion but to represent that behavior and sexual orientation is not normal when science indicates it may well be is reckless and callous. It also flies in the face a recent studies published out of BYU.

In the above examples these men of god are in a position to inflict pain without accountability(they represent the broad view of their doctrine or their congregations). They are all put in positions of authority over others and in the statements, actions, and naivety have undue influence on the emotional well being of fellow humans. The LDS church does not have a professional clergy that interfaces with the congregations like other churches do. It puts men, most with a limited understanding of church doctrine, in a position to excommunicate or otherwise discipline or pass judgement their neighbors. In many cases it it their own prejudices disguised as authority from god that lead them to cause harm.


  1. Good stuff Kevin

    I would add that, more often than not, professional clergy do not fare a whole lot better. They probably get some counseling training in pastoral education, but it is by no means their specialty. I have often questioned why we think that because a pastor has a flare for speaking, somehow we think he is equally qualified as a counselor??

    I think where authority rests is a big question (I have also blogged about it). For myself, I think the final authority always has to rest with me. The minute you start relying on statements like "What my church teaches is...." then you have outsourced your discernment to someone else. I am responsible for my actions, so mine will be the final say.

    I think there will always be a need for an administrative authority in churches, but the assumption of spiritual authority has developed a population who's discernment has atrophied. They didn't need it.... the pastor/bishop/priest told them what to think.

    I am hopeful that the upcoming generation will be a little more savvy, but I know that there is a tendency to want to abdicate thought to someone with a little more celebrity status (I think this holds true in areas like politics, philosophy, etc. as well).

  2. Kevin, I think this is an excellent, well balanced blog post. It's been my experience that LDS Church authorities cause a great deal of harm through their unqualified and ill-informed advice.

  3. I'm with you 100%. Hafen was so out of his element -- and he obviously didn't even read the APA resolution instead relied on a misrepresentation in the WSJ. He should know better. But lying for the Lord is a time-honored tradition in Mormonism.