The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was rocked last week by the release of a damaging recording of the former head of its Missionary Training Center admitting he had behaved inappropriately with a sister missionary and, potentially, other women under his watch.
A different former missionary surreptitiously recorded herself confronting Joseph L. Bishop, decades after the events, accusing him of attempting to rape her in his second office in the basement of the training center — something he disputed, although he acknowledged inappropriate behavior toward the other young woman. And he confessed to Brigham Young University police that he had, decades ago, asked the woman who recorded him to expose her breasts.
The recording, posted on the MormonLeaks site, raises serious questions about how church leaders responded to the woman’s allegations when they were reported in the 1980s and in 2010 and again recently, and why someone who, by Bishop’s admission, was dealing with issues of sexual addiction remained in a position of authority where he might continue to engage in predatory behavior.
But even as the church’s response to the alleged behavior has been lacking, its response to the latest in a string of embarrassing disclosures on the MormonLeaks site appears to have been much more forceful.
The church received a copy of the secret recording from the woman’s attorney in January. On Jan. 16, when the Salt Lake Chamber unveiled its top legislative priorities for the upcoming legislative session, one of them was outlawing recordings unless both parties consent.
Lane Beattie, the outgoing president of the Salt Lake Chamber, said a church representative mentioned in “a very casual conversation” that the church was interested in the proposal. It was an issue Beattie said he had been aware of for a few years and he knew a dozen other states had passed similar laws.
So it became a late addition to the Chamber’s policy priorities.
“When I talked to the church about it, I told them point blank I wasn’t interested in doing it for them,” Beattie said, reiterating he felt it was important for the business community.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, said not long after he agreed to sponsor the bill, Marty Stephens, the lobbyist for the LDS Church and a former Utah House speaker, called him. “He said they had strong interest in supporting it.”
Snow said he asked the Chamber for examples of why both parties needed to consent to a recording. He never got any.
I had a similar experience. I had also asked the Chamber to connect me with a business that could speak to the need to change the law. I was told to expect a call but never heard back. Beattie told me two businesses that supported the proposal couldn’t talk because of ongoing litigation.
Without business community input and in reaction to a crushing amount of criticism, not the least of which was due to the LDS Church’s involvement, Snow put the bill on hold and eventually abandoned it altogether.
“I was disappointed in the way it played out,” Snow said. “I took accusations I was running this in secret for the LDS Church, and that just wasn’t the case.”
But the timing of it all is hard to ignore.
And look, you can’t blame the church for wanting to outlaw this sort of thing.
The Chamber’s bill wouldn’t have actually prevented the latest scandal. The woman confronted Bishop in Arizona, so Utah law would not apply; the bill wouldn’t have been retroactive; and Snow’s bill had an exception if the recording revealed evidence of a crime, which could arguably apply in this case.
It could, however, prevent the next recording and the one after that and the one after that.
That makes things easier for church leaders, but it comes at the cost of accountability — and that’s not just for the church.
Think of what we’ve learned recently because of secret recordings, like Gov. Gary Herbert telling lobbyists he was “Available Jones” to meet with campaign donors and former Attorney General John Swallow discussing houseboats and burner phones and FBI investigations at a Krispy Kreme.
These types of recordings can be a powerful tool to shine a light on how things really work and in some instances can be a catalyst for much-needed changes.
Take the latest example of the Bishop recording. The woman who recorded her meeting had tried for years to get the church and police to take her seriously, to listen and to hold someone accountable.
Now, it turns out, we’re all listening.