Petition for Reform of Sexual Misconduct Investigations within the LDS Church

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This Petition for Reform of Sexual Misconduct Investigations within the LDS Church (this “Petition”) is open to all individuals who have an interest (as further defined below) in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “LDS Church”) and its policies and practices with respect to how the LDS Church responds to accusations of sexual misconduct made against leaders of the LDS Church.

This Petition is organized into the following sections:

   I. The Appropriateness of Petitions to the LDS Church

   II. Who is Encouraged to Participate in this Petition

   III. The Problem

   IV. Requested Action

I. The Appropriateness of Petitions to the LDS Church

Contrary to the beliefs of many members and leaders of the LDS Church, it is not the doctrine of the LDS Church that the truth has been restored. It is the doctrine of the LDS Church that the truth is in the process of being restored. The appropriateness of public petitions to the LDS Church can be found in this distinction between a completed restoration church and a continuing restoration church.

Brigham Young, who is often viewed as one of the LDS Church’s more authoritarian leaders, said that members “weaken the influence they could give to their leaders” if they do not think independently regarding the doctrines and practices of the church. (Journal of Discourses, v. 3, p. 45.)

Elder Hugh B. Brown said that members of the church should be “unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress” and should also be “unafraid to dissent – if we are informed.” He continued, “[t]houghts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression.” (The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown, ed. Edwin B. Firmage (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 137-139.)

Elder Uchtdorf taught that the restoration is “an ongoing process” and that “the exciting developments of today are part of that long-foretold period of preparation that will culminate in the glorious Second Coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” He continued, “When our time in mortality is complete, what experiences will we be able to share about our own contribution to this significant period of our lives and to the furthering of the Lord’s work? Will we be able to say that we rolled up our sleeves and labored with all our heart, might, mind, and strength? Or will we have to admit that our role was mostly that of an observer?” (“Are You Sleeping through the Restoration,” General Conference, April 2014.)

II. Who is Encouraged to Participate in this Petition

This Petition is open to all individuals who are impacted by the policies and practices of the LDS Church. This includes current members, past members, and individuals of communities who, as neighbors to current and past members of the LDS Church, are substantially impacted by the policies and practices of the LDS Church.

III. The Problem

Background (Recent Events)

In 1987, a woman who had recently returned from serving as a sister missionary for the LDS Church met with her bishop in Utah County and told him that, during her time in the LDS Church’s Missionary Training Center (“MTC”), the MTC president had sexually assaulted her. Later, that bishop recalled in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune that he did not take action on what the woman had said because he felt the allegations were groundless. He reasoned that her story was very hard to believe because it takes a lot of vetting for a man to be approved for a position like MTC president. (“Former Missionary Training Center president admits to asking a young missionary to expose her breasts in the ‘80s, BYU police say,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 22, 2018.)

These allegations made by the woman were not groundless. On March 21, 2018, the Brigham Young University Police released a report in which the former MTC president, Joseph Bishop, admitted to having taken the woman to a small room and asking her to show him her breasts, which she did. (Id.). According to the woman, in a 2017 conversation between her and Bishop that she recorded, Bishop tore her blouse, pulled up her skirt, ripped the back of her skirt, and pulled down her pantyhose and garments. The woman reported to police that "sexual intercourse occurred without her consent describing brief penetration of about 2 inches but since his penis was somewhat limp, he didn't penetrate deeper." (Joseph Bishop Transcript; see also police report excerpt here.)

In 2018, when the recording was released to the public, the LDS Church released a statement explaining its actions on the matter. In that statement, the church said that in 2010, after the woman reported the assault again to the church, the local church leaders of Bishop met with him about the matter. Because Bishop denied the allegations, the church took no further action. The woman reported the matter to the church again in 2016, and then again in January 2018. By this point, the woman had retained an attorney. The church says that since the time the recording was made available to the church in December 2017, the church has been investigating the woman’s allegations, and that pending such investigation it will “act consistent with its long-standing policy of no tolerance for abuse.” (“Church Statement About Alleged Sexual Assault by Former Mission President,” LDS Church, March 20, 2018.)

Current Practices

The current practice of the LDS Church is to handle allegations of sexual misconduct against church leaders through its priesthood channels, predominantly by referring such matters to the respective local priesthood leaders.

The Problem

The LDS Church’s handling of this matter perfectly illustrates the problem with the LDS Church’s current system of responding to sexual misconduct allegations against LDS Church leaders.

Single women are expected to go before small and large groups of men to make allegations of sexual misconduct against LDS Church leaders. If the allegations are criminal in nature, church leaders are directed to refer the matter to local law enforcement officials. Nonetheless, church leaders have been further directed that “[i]f a member of a bishopric, stake presidency, or high council or a clerk has a legal duty because of his occupation (such as la law enforcement officer) to report to government authorities facts that are likely to be disclosed in a disciplinary council, he should not participate.” (Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops, Section 6.10.1.)

The priesthood men who adjudicate matters of sexual misconduct within the church (whether criminal in nature, such as assault; or non-criminal, such as fornication and adultery) are often the friends and neighbors of the accused. For matters that are not referred to local law enforcement officials, it becomes a matter of her word against his, as evidenced by the church’s recent statement on the allegations against Joseph Bishop.

This is a significant problem in the church. Women are unprotected and underrepresented in the church. The mentality dominant at the time the woman first reported the sexual misconduct in 1987 is still prevalent today; namely, that men who have climbed the ranks of the church are presumed to be vetted, and so allegations brought against them are easily susceptible to being presumed as groundless. This perpetuates abuse within the church, as predators are often charismatic in nature and, on the surface, stalwart members of the church. The higher the perpetrator ascends (from bishop, to stake president, to mission president, to MTC president, in the case of Joseph Bishop) the less likely it is anyone will believe a victim when she or he reports the matter to the church. As the bishop of the woman’s singles ward said, such an allegation was “so farfetched and not internally logical,” even though Joseph Bishop later admitted to portions of the allegations being true. (See “Former Missionary Training Center president admits to asking a young missionary to expose her breasts in the ‘80s, BYU police say,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 22, 2018.)

It is important for the church to take immediate action to ensure that individuals within and around the church are protected from church leaders at all levels who would abuse their power to commit sexual misconduct.

IV. Requested Action

The LDS Church needs to take immediate action to reform its current practices in handling sexual misconduct allegations against LDS Church leaders.

The LDS Church does not have an internal sexual misconduct investigations committee that is separate and apart from the standard priesthood channels and current church practices of referring matters to local priesthood leaders. If there is such a committee, such a committee is by no means functioning properly.

We petition the LDS Church to organize and implement an Internal Sexual Misconduct Investigations Committee, or similarly named committee, to be separate and apart from the standard hierarchical priesthood channels. Such a committee should report directly to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and should act independently of other departments of the church insofar as possible. The head of this committee should be a woman, and no less than half of the members of the committee and staff assigned to assist with the duties of the committee should be women.

We petition the church to enact a policy that any time a church leader is accused of sexual misconduct, the local church leaders shall have a duty to immediately report such accusations directly to the Internal Sexual Misconduct Investigations Committee. The committee shall then be tasked with opening and conducting an internal investigation into the reported accusations.

Such an internal investigation should be opened and conducted regardless of whether the accusations are criminal or non-criminal in nature, and regardless of whether such accusations are referred to local law enforcement officials.

Upon the conclusion of the committee’s investigation, the committee shall provide a complete copy of its findings and recommendations to the local church leaders and all members whom the committee deems to have a right to know of the committee's findings and recommendations, in all instances to include the alleged victim and/or reporting individual. The local church leaders may then act upon such findings and recommendations in the fulfilling of their ecclesiastical and disciplinary duties.  

Such internal investigations are standard procedure in organizations that are much smaller than the LDS Church. In light of common decency, basic morality and principles of fairness, church doctrine, the #metoo movement, and the recent release of Joseph Bishop’s confession to sexual misconduct and the church’s failure to immediately rectify that issue, it is time for the LDS Church to adopt such a practice of independent internal investigations.

We acknowledge that the organization and operation of such a committee will be expensive and time intensive, but we assert that there will be no money or time of the LDS Church better spent than in preventing and remedying the sexual misconduct of LDS Church leaders.

We do not petition the LDS Church to necessarily adopt these exact policies and practices, but rather to adopt either these exact policies and practices or other policies and practices that are objectively better than those suggested here.

 “When our time in mortality is complete, what experiences will we be able to share about our own contribution to this significant period of our lives and to the furthering of the Lord’s work? Will we be able to say that we rolled up our sleeves and labored with all our heart, might, mind, and strength? Or will we have to admit that our role was mostly that of an observer?” (“Are You Sleeping through the Restoration,” General Conference, April 2014.)

By filing this petition, we commit ourselves to doing our part in “rolling up our sleeves” (whether in or out of the church) to support and carry out the changes in policy requested herein. We respectfully requested that the LDS Church do the same in doing its part to bring about these changes.



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