Commentary: We call upon the LDS Church to repent of its sins

We do not believe you when you say you don’t tolerate abuse.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mormons walk around Temple Square before the afternoon session of the 186th LDS General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City Saturday April 2, 2016.

On March 19, an audio recording surfaced featuring a woman confronting a man, Joseph Bishop, about sexual abuse he committed while serving as mission president in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this recording, Bishop:

• Confirms molesting the interviewer at the Missionary Training Center.

• Admits to abusing other women and confessing to priesthood leaders.

• Indicates that priesthood leadership, despite his confessions, did not take disciplinary action against him.

During a separate meeting with Brigham Young University police, Bishop repeated his admission of sexual misconduct with this missionary.

In an official response, the church claims to have a “long-standing policy of no tolerance for abuse.”

The signers of this letter are Mormons. Many of us are active, many are not, and some have left the church altogether, but because of our upbringing, family ties, and/or decision to enter the waters of baptism, we are connected to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in ways that matter deeply to us. We say with a united voice:

To The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: We do not believe you when you say you don’t tolerate abuse.

If you placed a high priority on stopping or honestly addressing abuse, you wouldn’t ask minors to routinely discuss their sexual behavior (oftentimes privately) with their leaders. You’d make background checks customary for those called to positions of trust. Disciplinary proceedings for rape, sexual abuse and spousal abuse would be mandatory — not optional.

You’d implement a system to independently investigate whether leaders have been abusive or mishandled claims of others’ abusive actions, and members would be aware of procedures in these matters and have some recourse if those procedures weren’t followed.

Church members have no sanctioned way to report abuse or any other kind of unrighteous dominion (which the scriptures tell us is common) to upper levels of church authority. This insulates abusive behavior and protects the hierarchy rather than victims.

To the woman who made this recording and to others who’ve been abused: We believe you.

What happened to you was wrong. We respect your need to heal. Please do whatever is right for you. We trust your judgment and decisions in this regard, whether that means talking to counselors, contacting attorneys and/or law enforcement, involving media, seeking support from family and/or friends, or none of the above.

To the media: We urge you to investigate patterns of abuse in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This woman’s account is not isolated. Examples of church leaders committing or ignoring abuse are plentiful. The free press serves a crucial function, exposing vital information that would otherwise stay hidden. The issue of ecclesiastical abuse is one that desperately needs the cleansing power of light.

We reject excuses that this was the work of one flawed man, an aberration in the system. This disclosure reflects patterns of authority figures inflicting abuse on others and of church leaders failing to acknowledge wrongdoing, instead seeking to protect the reputation of the institution. We call on the LDS Church to repent of its sins and create transparent processes where abusers and the leaders who protect them are held accountable.

Sara Hanks

Sara Hanks is an editorial assistant and mother of two in Layton, Utah. Also contributing to this letter are Paula Baker, Mesa, Ariz.; Nancy Ross, St. George, Utah; Olivia Meikle, Lafayette, Colo.; and Jen Bracken-Hull, Albequerque, N.M. More than 1,500 Mormons read and signed this letter in support prior to its publication.