In an era when faith groups across the globe are grappling with an epidemic of abuse allegations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took a practical step toward prevention.
The Utah-based faith announced Friday it has launched a 30-minute online training course on preventing abuse for all adults who interact with children and youths in their religious assignments.
Anyone who works in one of the faith’s children or youth organizations will be required to take the training by logging on to the site ProtectingChildren.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, with his or her membership account “so completion of training can be recorded,” according to a news release.
Local lay leaders will be notified if the training is not completed.
“The training is designed to increase awareness, highlight policies and identify best practices for supervising and interacting with children and youth,” the release said. “It also helps leaders know how to prevent and respond to abuse.”
The “creation and evaluation of the training,” it said, was done in consultation with “leaders and specialists from child protection organizations, family therapists and other professionals.”
Such training will have to be renewed every three years, the release stated.
It will not take the place of current Boy Scouts of America’s youth protection training, which members involved in that program are required to undergo until the end of this year, when the church will drop its affiliation with BSA and replace it with its own worldwide youth and children’s initiative.
“Jesus blessed and prayed for children ‘one by one,’” Stephen W. Owen, the church’s Young Men general president, said in the release, quoting a passage from the faith’s foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon. “We, too, must do all in our power to bless and protect each child entrusted to our care. This online training is one important way we can help ensure our children have the loving parents and devoted leaders they deserve and need.”
The church got praise Friday from a longtime critic: former Latter-day Saint bishop Sam Young.
“I compliment The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for implementing this training and asking for it to be renewed every three years,” Young said from his home in Houston. “It’s a win for children.”
Young, who was excommunicated from the church after his push to end one-on-one interviews with lay leaders in which children sometimes are asked sexually explicit questions, recently joined forces with, among others, the Zero Abuse Project and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests in announcing an Oct. 5 national march in Salt Lake City against child sex abuse.
The activist has a few remaining concerns, he said, about the scope and depth of the LDS Church’s new anti-abuse program.
One is the question of transparency.
To access the training, a person must either have a church membership number, or create a login as an outsider. In addition, many church policies regarding abuse are detailed in the faith’s volume of rules, known as Handbook I, which is only given to Latter-day Saint leaders.
Everyone should know “what the policies are,” Young said.
His second concern is the length of the online program — 30 minutes.
“I went to a training on abuse called ‘Darkness to Light,’” he said. It included several sessions and the first one alone took “a little more than two hours.”
For its part, the LDS Church’s online prevention program mixes narration, illustrations, multiple-choice quizzes on what to do in certain situations, statements about how to recognize various types of abuse, and what should be done about them.
The training emphasizes that “two adult supervisors must be present at all church-sponsored activities attended by children, youth and young single adults” and that “two responsible adults should be present” when adults are teaching young people in church settings.
It deals with parties and camping (“You are allowed to stay in the same tent [with a nonfamily member] when there are at least two adults who are the same gender as the youth”), inappropriate touching, sexual grooming, bullying, harassment, abusive dating relationships — and even joking, which may seem innocent but can be hurtful.
It urges members to “take all reports of abuse and inappropriate behavior seriously.”
If a Latter-day Saint who is not a bishop learns about an abusive situation, he or she should “immediately contact legal authorities and a bishop for counsel and direction.”
Bishops and stake presidents (regional lay leaders), on the other hand, are instructed to call the church’s “hotline.”
“We take Jesus Christ’s teachings about children and youth very seriously,” President Joy D. Jones, who oversees the church’s children’s Primary program, said in the release. “He welcomed them into his presence and gave stern warnings against abusing, bullying or hurting them in any way. … His deep concern for children and youth must continue to be our deep concern.”
This program, Young said, is a “good start, but if [Latter-day Saint authorities] are serious about it, there’s much more to do.”