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INFORMATION ABOUT THE MORMON ALLIANCE

GOALS OF THE MORMON ALLIANCE

The Mormon Alliance was organized on 4 July 1992 to counter spiritual and ecclesiastical abuse in the Church and to protect the Church against defamatory actions. During the next few months, the trustees established a broad range of supporting purposes: providing a comprehensive definition of spiritual abuse, working to reconcile leaders and members who were out of harmony, establishing a Membersí Bill of Rights, providing a forum for a reasonable and tempered discussion of governance in the Church, critiquing general conference, and identifying and documenting cases of spiritual and ecclesiastical abuse. Janice Merrill Allred and Lavina Fielding Anderson, two of the trustees, became co-chairs of the Case Reports Committee in the fall of 1992 and still serve in those positions.

The current activities of the Alliance including publishing a quarterly newsletter, publishing an annual Case Reports volume, of which this is the third, and sponsoring four quarterly meetings: in January, April, August, and October. The April and October meetings are scheduled for the first Monday after general conference and are devoted to a lively and far-ranging critique of the general conference just concluded. The August meeting is held in conjunction with Sunstone.

The purposes of the Alliance are currently defined as: to identify and document ecclesiastical/spiritual abuse, to promote healing and closure for its survivors, to build more sensitive leadership, to empower LDS members to participate with more authenticity in Mormonism, and to foster a healthier religious community.

 

ECCLESIASTICAL AND SPIRITUAL ABUSE: DEFINITIONS

Although the terms "ecclesiastical abuse" and "spiritual abuse" are used somewhat interchangeably, they have different emphases. Ecclesiastical abuse occurs when a Church officer, acting in his official capacity and using the weight of his (less frequently her) office, coerces compliance, imposes his personal opinions as Church doctrine or policy, or resorts to such power plays as threats, intimidation, and punishment to insure that his views prevail in a conflict of opinions. The suggestion is always that the member has weak faith, or inadequate testimony, and lacks commitment to the Church. Spiritual abuse occurs when a member, through the actions of another, is made to feel limited or lacking in free agency, diminished in value in the eyes of God, unworthy to pray, unworthy or incapable of receiving answers to prayer, outside the influence of Christís atonement, and excluded from the Saviorís love and grace.

Eight factors characterize most abusive encounters:

  1. A difference of opinion is not simply a difference of opinion but is treated as a revelation of moral inadequacy on the part of the member. If the difference of opinion stems from scholarship on the memberís part or the application of professional tools to an aspect of Mormon studies, the officer seldom has the technical expertise to discuss the point at issue. Frequently he shifts the grounds of the discussion to the dangers of promulgating any perspective but the traditional one and insists that there is something bad or wrong about holding alternative views.
  2. A request for help on the part of a member is seen as an invitation to judge the memberís worthiness on the part of the officer.
  3. No matter what the content of the initial issue, any issue can escalate with terrifying quickness into a power struggle in which the ecclesiastical officer demands compliance because of his office and accuses the member of not sustaining his or her leaders and/or of apostasy. These charges, in turn, lead to threats to confiscate temple recommends, to release the member from callings, and to conduct disciplinary councils, the results of which may result in no action, informal probation, formal probation, disfellowshipment, or excommunication.
  4. If the member protests such actions and refuses to yield to the officerís power, then the very act of protest or the expressed desire to continue the discussion is seen as evidence of the charges. The officer feels justified in refusing to explain the reasons for taking the action and unilaterally terminates the discussion by citing his authority. The member, rather than having a problem, has become the problem.
  5. If another ecclesiastical leader, such as a stake president or an area president becomes aware of and involved in the situation, the original leader almost always controls the flow of information to this second leader. The opportunities to present biased information, reframe the issue as one of disobedience, and portray the member as a trouble-maker are legion. The first leader seldom suggests a group discussion or meeting that involves a mediator or a referee; rather, he is usually able to use the weight of the second officerís office and power to reinforce his own in his effort to force the memberís capitulation.
  6. The member feels unjustly treated. Feelings of helplessness, betrayal, anger, and depression frequently follow. Expressions of "increased love" seldom if ever follow "rebukes" from abusive ecclesiastical officers, only additional warnings about conformity that increase the sense of unfairness and powerlessness.
  7. If the member in pain withdraws from church activity to protect himself, herself, and/or the family from this assault upon their spiritual well-being, the withdrawal is seen as evidence of the memberís lack of worthiness, not as a cry for help or as a symptom of abuse in the system.
  8. If the member alienated from the Church by abuse seeks a new spiritual home in another church or religious movement, explores alternative forms of spirituality, suffers personal, familial, or professional disruptionóor even, feeling a new sense of freedom, departs from what is considered traditional respectability in Mormonismó these facts, frequently distorted by rumor and gossip, are often used as ex post facto evidence that the member "was disobedient all along" and that "the Brethren knew what they were doing." In short, situations and problems subsequent to the abuse, perhaps caused by it, and almost always intensified by it, are interpreted as justification of the abuse.
  9. The Church, particularly on the ward level, works amazingly well most of the time as communities of compassion and belonging; but in the remaining fraction, where an ecclesiastical officer succumbs to an appetite for unrighteous dominion, the Church offers no structural safeguards against abuse and very seldom even any recognition that the memberís rights can be violated. In this way, the Churchís hierarchical structure, as manifested in the "priesthood pipeline," is systemically vulnerable to the temptation to inflict abuse, We hope, by documenting cases where benevolence fails, that we can strengthen members as they set about healing from ecclesiastical abuse and also encourage less absolutistic views of authority by both members and leaders.

    REPORTING ECCLESIASTICAL AND SPIRITUAL ABUSE

    We encourage those who feel that their situations can be defined as spiritual or ecclesiastical abuse to contact us. Our procedure in working on a case report consists of three steps: First, we want to listen and understand. Sometimes that alone meets the needs of those who feel unheard. Second, we want to document what happened, and when and whereónot only the factual reality but also the emotional reality of what it felt like and what it still feels like. We encourage respondents to write their own stories or, if itís easier, to talk through their experience with a committee member who will then work with the respondent on drafting the account. When both parties are satisfied with its accuracy, then it goes into the file as a case report. A third step is publication of selected cases. At that point, we return to the respondent, provide the context in which the account would appear, and ask for any updates that might be necessary. The respondent is free to withdraw at that point, to rework the account with whatever assistance is necessary, or to approve the case report as it stands. The respondent will sign an affidavit attesting to the truthfulness of the information contained in the case report, to the best of his or her knowledge, and giving permission to publish the report.

    Those writing their own experiences should be as complete, clear, and detailed as possible. We have found that we usually need to ask clarifying questions on the following points:

  10. Names (not just positions) of ecclesiastical officers.
  11. Names of wards and stakes.
  12. Chronology: the details of what happened when.
  13. Locale: What happened where (particularly if itís a "life" story and covers several locations).
  14. Names of family members so weíre not trying to sort out whether "my brother" is the same individual as "my older brother," mentioned earlier.
  15. Are there any documents that support this situation? Journal entries? Letters from you or to you? Did you talk about the situation with anyone elseóa member of your family, a friendówho might have made some kind of documentary record? Documentation is important, when itís available, in establishing that you didnít "make it up" and are not imposing current perceptions on a past situation. Even indirect records are sometimes helpful in establishing when an event occurred or in jogging your memory.
  16. Is there anyone else we should talk to, related to this case, or another case that you know about?

Privacy for oneself and family members is frequently an issue because speaking out in the current environment of the Church is fraught with a certain amount of risk. Although we cannot accept anonymous accounts as documented cases, we do offer a wide range of options when it comes to eventual publication, including total or partial masking of names, places, and other identifying information.

Contact the Mormon Alliance at 6337 Highland Drive, Box 215, Salt Lake City, UT 84121, or contact the co-chairs of the Case Reports Committee directly:

 

Lavina Fielding Anderson
1519 Roberta Street  
Salt Lake City, UT 84115    
(801) 467-1617   
email: Lavina@utw.com
Janice Merrill Allred
221 West 3700 North
Provo, UT 84604
(801) 225-4967