Latest from Mormon Land: Shocking abuse story still making waves; Dallin Oaks joins ‘club 90′

(Dario Lopez-Mills | AP) MJ and her adoptive mother sit for an interview with The Associated Press in Sierra Vista, Ariz., Oct. 27, 2021. State authorities placed MJ in foster care after learning that her father, the late Paul Adams, sexually assaulted her and posted video of the assaults on the internet. An Associated Press investigation showed how a help line set up by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints failed to protect the girl from the abuse. Latter-day Saint writers and observers have been commenting on the case.

The Mormon Land newsletter is The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Support us on Patreon and get exclusive access to Tribune subscriber-only religion content, extended newsletters, podcast transcripts and more.

Abuse story brings aftershocks

An Associated Press investigation of several horrific child sex abuse cases in which the church’s help line — in an apparent effort to preserve the sanctity of the confessional — failed to protect the victims drew responses of dismay, disgust and anger from insiders and outsiders alike.

The Utah-based faith issued a news release complaining that the “nature and the purpose of the church’s help line was seriously mischaracterized” and insisting that the “help line is instrumental in ensuring that all legal requirements for reporting are met.”

Here are some reactions from the so-called bloggernacle:

• “The church should use its lobbying power to push for making clergy mandated reporters [of abuse] in every state,” writes By Common Consent blogger Sam Brunson. “... It protects children. And that should be its first priority.”

• “To suggest the primary aim [of the help line] is to help avoid liability is a transparently cynical framing of the church trying to sincerely obey the law in the states and countries where they operate. By all honest measures, the church’s primary concern is helping victims of abuse,” states C.D. Cunningham, managing editor of Public Square Magazine. “To reiterate, the current guidelines state, ‘When abuse occurs, the first and immediate responsibility of church leaders is to help those who have been abused and to protect vulnerable persons from future abuse.’”

Exponent II blogger Bryn Brody counters by writing that “[C.D.] Cunningham seems to have become tangled up in the part of the [Arizona] law that reads ‘a member of the clergy…who has received a confidential communication or a confession in that person’s role as a member of the clergy…in the course of discipline enjoined by the church to which the member of the clergy…belongs may withhold reporting of the communication or confession if the member of the clergy…determines that it is reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion.’ May. They may withhold reporting. When? Only when it is both reasonable and necessary within the concepts (or doctrines/policies/theology) of the religion….I believe official doctrine would say that it is reasonable and necessary to protect God’s most vulnerable children. There seems to be a disconnect between official doctrine and what the policies actually do.”

By Common Consent blogger Michael Austin offers suggestions for what he wished the church’s release on the AP article had included, such as: “We have been saddened by the recent accusations about the way that the church’s help line might have contributed to ongoing abuse in Arizona” and “we will immediately undertake a thorough review of the help line to determine what might have gone wrong in this situation, and we will make whatever changes we need to make to ensure that it always accomplishes its most fundamental task of protecting those who suffer from abuse.”

Laura, another By Common Consent blogger, proffers, among other ministerial initiatives, a “survivor help line” that assists “victims, leaders and other support-structure members with evidence-based support, information and access to local resources at any time of day or night.” The blogger notes the National Domestic Violence Hotline already provides this service — so the church then could donate to and partner with this effort.

• “Last I checked, Jesus never said a damn word about protecting institutions or abusers or clergy from liability. What he did say is that ‘whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea,’” Wheat & Tares blogger Elisa writes. “This is not that hard. … Stop protecting abusers. Stop it.”

Oaks turns 90 this week

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, speaks at General Conference on Sunday, April 3, 2022. Oaks turns 90 on Aug. 12.

When Dallin Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency and next in line to lead the church, turns 90 on Friday, Aug. 12, he will become the third nonagenarian among the faith’s current apostles.

President Russell Nelson sits on top, of course, not only in leadership but also in age. In April, the 97-year-old surpassed the late Gordon Hinckley to become the church’s oldest-ever prophet-president. (In fact, the Church News reports that he has also become the longest-living Latter-day Saint apostle, passing the mark set by the late David B. Haight.) Nelson, the church’s 17th president, who has shown no signs of slowing down, turns 98 on Sept. 9.

Next in age comes M. Russell Ballard, the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who will turn 94 on Oct. 8.

The next apostle in line to join the 90-and-over set is Henry B. Eyring, Nelson’s second counselor, who will reach that age May 31.

Three other apostles are in their 80s — Quentin Cook, Dieter Uchtdorf and Jeffrey Holland.

From The Tribune

• Green-minded Latter-day Saints are teaming up with British conservationist Martin Palmer on a plan for a global fast to save the planet and raise money for the fight against climate change.

• Jenna Carson, the first Latter-day Saint to serve as a chaplain in the federal prison system breaks another barrier, becoming the first active-duty female military chaplain endorsed by church headquarters. The path, though, wasn’t easy.

• President Russell M. Nelson will rededicate the renovated Washington D.C. Temple on Sunday, Aug. 14.

Missouri history wins award

Religion historian Adam Jortner has lofty and laudable ambitions for his 2022 book, “No Place for Saints: Mobs and Mormons in Jacksonian America,” recent winner of a Mormon History Association best book award.

“I hope people will start to see that cruelty in our language can lead to cruelty in our actions,” the Auburn University religion professor says in a news release about the honor, noting that “in just three years after Mormonism was founded, the arguments about Mormons go from jokes about Mormonism to the need to shoot Mormons.”

Jortner’s acclaimed volume, the release adds, follows the faith from its birth through its Missouri exit in the mid-1830s and shows how the fledgling movement and the violence against it helped shape the nation’s religious landscape.

“This is the story of the early Mormons, presenting a whole bunch of different ideas about Christianity in the early U.S.,” the author explains, “and how some folks tried to stop them by preaching — and some folks tried to stop them by shooting.”

Jortner says “being able to contribute to how this country talks about religion, and push that in a direction of civility and peace — that’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted to do as a historian.”

Want more?

Subscribe here to get these and additional newsletter items free in your inbox each week.