REPORT FROM A CASE REPORTER:
CHALLENGES AND CONSEQUENCES
Chris Rickett graduated from BYU in secondary education,
1969, received a J.D. from the University of Utah College of Law 1972, and a
B.S. in electrical engineering from BYU in 1979. He is currently a tariff
administrator for Utah Power and was a member of the Case Reports Committee from
1994 to 1997. A fourth-generation Mormon, he grew up in New Jersey, spending
many hours building its chapels in Short Hills and Caldwell. He served in the
South West British Mission, 1965-67. His wife, Sandra Burgoyne Rickett, also a
returned missionary, has a master’s degree in library science and is a
librarian at the Church’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City. They are
the parents of six children. Their oldest daughter served a mission in Brazil;
one son and one daughter are married in the temple. Chris’s callings have
included Gospel Doctrine teacher, counselor and president in the elders’
quorum presidency, and home teacher. An earlier version of this paper was
delivered in a session sponsored by the Mormon Alliance at the Sunstone
Symposium, August 1996, in Salt Lake City.
The disciplinary actions against the September Six were an emotional event
for me. I knew none of the victims personally at that time, but I knew of the
writings of some of them and greatly admired their work. I had been familiar
with Dialogue and Sunstone from their inceptions and read most of
each volume. I had read a lot of D. Michael Quinn’s writings and admired him.
Why was the Church excommunicating some of its most insightful contributors? I
was less familiar with Paul Toscano’s writings, but his "A Plea to the
Leadership of the Church: Choose Love Not Power" in the Spring 1993 Dialogue
rang a chord in my soul.1 Point by point I found myself saying,
"Bravo! Someone is finally saying the things I have thought about and
worried over." And Lavina Fielding Anderson. I had grieved over each step
taken by the Church suppressing the LDS intellectual community. And here in that
same issue of Dialogue, Lavina had put together a thorough chronology of
those events, refreshing my memory and intensifying my sense of oppression.
When the excommunications came, I asked, "Why does the Church that I
have loved so much feel that it is necessary to excommunicate these
people?" I do not understand. And since I admire these people so much and
agree with so much of what they have written, how secure is my membership in the
Church of my birth? When will it be my turn? What sacrifice of conscience will I
be compelled to make to maintain my membership? For me the excommunications
resulted in a constant sense of spiritual oppression and put a chill on my
religious expression and participation.
The excommunications were also deeply troubling to me on an emotional level.
I tried to understand then. In some ways, I’m still trying to. Why am I so
bothered by the excommunications? One reason commonly given for the
excommunications is that Church members would be confused and think that what
the excommunicants were saying was Church doctrine. This is a reason that makes
no sense. I do not speak for the Church. I am not in the First Presidency. I am
not an apostle. I am not a General Authority. Nor do I necessarily speak for the
Mormon Alliance. I speak for myself. I am not a psychologist or social worker. I
am a lifelong member of the Church and I consider the Mormon Church my church.
But I feel no constraints about what I "should" say simply because I
am a member of the Church. Nor should the Church feel that it has any
responsibility for what I say. I take full responsibility for what I say and do.
On the other hand, I feel that I have an interest in the Mormon Church because
of my lifelong association with it. Why is it any different for those singled
out for punishment?
Then I heard a label that captured my deep uneasiness with the
excommunications. As with all labels, it oversimplifies, but it was a beginning.
That label was "spiritual abuse." Subsequently I have come to realize
that, as a result of the excommunications, I felt spiritually abused and, in
fact, I was spiritually abused. And I was a little ashamed of my church.
My Church, the Church I thought I knew, was bigger than this. My Church was
magnanimous enough to not excommunicate these people. It was strong enough to
stand the perceived challenge, and it had enough charity to love these people in
spite of their differences. And I don’t consider excommunication an act of
love. Not only did it not feel like love, it felt like abuse.
I first came across the concept of "spiritual abuse" in that same
issue of Dialogue. In that issue was a book review by Fred Voros of a
book by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen called The Subtle Power of
Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing arid Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False
Spiritual Authority Within the Church. (Review reprinted in Case Reports of
the Mormon Alliance, Vol. 2, 1996, by permission of Dialogue and
Voros.) These authors are Christian ministers and their book is not about
Mormonism. But spiritual abuse was an idea whose time had come. After that I
read an article by Paul Toscano in the July 1993 Sunstone called
"Dealing with Spiritual Abuse: The Role of the Mormon Alliance." I
became interested in the Mormon Alliance.
The summer after the disciplining of the September Six was the first time I
attended the Sunstone Symposium. One session I attended was a presentation by
Lavina called "’Come Back’: The Conference Addresses of President
Howard W. Hunter, 1973-94." Afterwards I went up and asked her if there was
any way I could help the Mormon Alliance. I thought I would be able to
contribute some money to it. Little did I know I wouldn’t get off that easy.
Lavina invited me to participate on the Mormon Alliance Case Reports Committee.
And I attended my first meeting 18 September 1994.
On the Case Reports Committee, we have a three-step sequence. First, we
listen with the intent of really understanding what an abusive experience felt
like and what it did. Second, we document what happened. And third, we publish
selected reports. I am primarily involved in the first two steps. I did not work
on any of the child sexual abuse cases that are the subject of Case Reports
of the Mormon Alliance, 1995, Volume 1. As Lavina stated in the
introduction to Volume 1: "The case reports are a forum for abused members
to share their truth, including the emotional reality of how the experience
felt." I view myself as a facilitator to help bring these stories into the
light. I particularly reserve judgment on the issue of whether what I am hearing
is "really" spiritual/ecclesiastical abuse. In my experience with the
committee, the needs of the people whose stories we sought were of primary
importance. I view our motivations as positive both toward the people we talked
to and toward the Church. When any person declines our invitation to tell their
story, we accept that decision respectfully.
As I have participated with the Case Reports Committee I have persistently
had in mind the question: Just what is spiritual abuse? There are different
kinds of abuse. I recognize that in any group of human beings abuses are going
to occur. And I assume that Mormons as a group naturally have their fair share
of various kinds of abuses. It is possible that an abusive event can represent
more than one kind of abuse happening at the same time. For example, an event of
verbal abuse could occur singly, or verbal abuse could be coupled in any pairing
or combination with physical abuse, spiritual abuse, or ecclesiastical abuse. I
use "spiritual abuse" to mean both spiritual and ecclesiastical abuse,
but there is actually a difference in emphasis that is worth noting.
Ecclesiastical abuse is abuse by an ecclesiastical officer, usually a man, who
employs the authority of his Church position to coerce compliance from an
unwilling member or meet his own needs for power and recognition at the expense
of a member who may or may not be aware of what is happening and who may or may
not resist. (See Sam Marchant, "When Your Calling Gets in the Way of Your
Calling," pp. 19-23.) Spiritual abuse is damage to a person’s spirit,
relationship with God, and eternal nature as a result of the actions of another.
Leaders as well as members can have spiritual abuse inflicted on them.
We have to be very careful when two types of abuse occur in the same event
about how we think of the event as a whole. For example, when spiritual abuse
and child sexual abuse are both part of the same event, we have to be careful in
determining the relationship between the two kinds of abuse. I am concerned that
the more emotionally charged form of abuse (such as child sexual abuse) can be
so conspicuously flagrant that the spiritual abuse may be minimized or
exaggerated. In such cases, the work of healing may be retarded if the damage to
the child’s spirit does not receive the same concern and attention as the
damage to the child’s body, emotional development, and mental health.
Spiritual abuse occurs in a religious context. How much of spiritual abuse in
the Church is related to common experience shared with all other human beings in
religious systems of all types and how much relates to the particular social
subsystem of the Church? Certainly much of the abuse that occurs is common to
most structured religious systems. Within these systems and specifically within
Mormonism, three levels of abuse can occur. First, certain rules or practices
can, in themselves, be abusive, For example, prior to 8 June 1978 black males
were not permitted to hold the priesthood. After that time, all "worthy
male members … [were] ordained to the priesthood without regard to race or
color" (D&C Official Declaration—2). Currently, saving ordinances,
which can be administered only by those with authority, are given only to the
"worthy." This rule places one person’s salvation in the control of
one or more men. Therefore fallible, human, and imperfect men are put in the
position of judging and essentially controlling the salvation of other people.
Not only is this practice abusive in itself, but it also provides a basis for
the second level of abuse by fostering or creating a climate which is favorable
to abuse because "it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as
soon as they get a little authority ... they will
begin to exercise unrighteous dominion" (D&C 121:39). What more
authority could a man have than to be able to control the eternal salvation of
other people? And third, certain rules or practices can be used abusively by
abusive individuals, even though the rules themselves are no more conducive to
abuse than those of any other social subsystem. To minimize spiritual abuse in
the first two levels requires finding ways to change the system. To minimize
spiritual abuse in the third level requires helping people to change.
For example, child sexual abuse among Mormons is unquestionably a heinous
sin; rules in the Church strongly prohibit it. Thus, it is not first-level
abuse. But are there rules or practices that unintentionally foster child sexual
abuse in Mormonism? Is it possible that the strong emphasis on the authoritative
patriarchal system can do so? Does the emphasis on obedience to authority do so?
Does the idealization of Church authorities encourage it? Do others tend to
shift the blame from a perpetrator in a position of
authority to a victim who has little or less authority?
As another example, consider the disciplining of the September Six. Some,
myself included, saw these actions as spiritual abuse. But probably most members
easily believed that it was a case of the Church protecting itself in a
justified way against attacks by those with unworthy motives. Am I prepared to
say that in every case excommunication is abusive? Probably not. Excommunication
is not, in itself, abusive. But I feel that these excommunications qualified as
second-level abuse. Other rules and practices in the Church have created a
climate which has resulted in spiritual abuse. If we could "fix" these
rules and alter those accepted practices in the direction of greater tolerance
and acceptance, could the September Six still have happened? Yes, probably, but
in that case, I feel that the disciplinary actions would have resulted from our
third level of abuse—individuals who interpreted the rules in a certain way or
took advantage of the rules in a particular way. And, in such cases, a fair
review and means of impartial appeal would be possible, greatly reducing the
power of those willing to use the rules to be abusive. It is also my concern
that spiritual abuse and doctrinal interpretation are perplexingly intertwined
right now and that what one interprets quite sincerely as spiritual abuse,
another sees with equal sincerity as orthodox theology. My hope is that we can
reevaluate doctrinal interpretation in the light of the realization that
spiritual abuse does exist and can also be augmented or diminished as a result
of doctrinal interpretation and application.
Paul Toscano defined spiritual abuse in 1993 as "the persistent exercise
of power by spiritual or ecclesiastical leaders in a way that serves the demands
of the leaders to the detriment of the members."2 Although this definition
has the value of being intuitively corroborated, it is actually imprecise. Who
determines whether the demands are justified? Who determines if the member has
actually suffered detriment or merely thinks he or she has? However,
accompanying this short version is a much longer version, a lengthy paragraph
consisting of essentially one sentence, which could only have been drafted by an
attorney and appreciated by fellow attorneys:
The long version is more complex but necessary if spiritual
abuse is to be distinguished from mere insults, violence, or other forms of
hurt: Spiritual abuse is the persistent exploitation by spiritual or
ecclesiastical leaders in a religious system of an imbalance of power between
the leaders and the followers, whereby the leaders maintain control through
the exercise of their authority without adequate accountability by taking
actions, making definitions, creating rules, or rendering judgments that are
unfair, unequal, or nonreciprocal, while taking advantage of or promoting the
inexperience, ignorance, fear, confusion, weakness, or delusion of the
followers, in order to perpetuate the power imbalance and thereby gratify
temporarily the demands of the leaders or the perceived interests of the
ecclesiastical institution to the detriment and at the expense of the
spiritual needs, rights, entitlements, dignities, or empowerment of the
Toscano also provides some helpful illustrations in the following categories:
legalism or performance preoccupation, power posturing, shaming, secretiveness,
the demand for "peace and unity," unspoken rules, and the "can’t
Another definition set more in a Mormon context is found in the introduction
to the Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, Volume 1, 1995 by
Lavina Fielding Anderson:
Ecclesiastical abuse occurs when a Church officer, acting
in his official capacity and using the weight of his office, coerces
compliance, imposes his personal opinions as Church doctrine or policy, or
resorts to such power plays as threats, intimidation, and/or punishment to
insure that his views prevail in a conflict of opinions. The suggestion is
always that the member has weak faith, or an 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 Christ’s
atonement, and excluded from the Savior’s love and grace.4
Lavina then lists seven factors that characterize most abusive encounters. A
second definition, also found in Volume 1, is by Janice AlIred:
Because all people have equal value, whenever someone in a
relationship has more power than the other person, he or she should use that
power to benefit rather than to exploit or abuse the other person. When
ecclesiastical leaders use their power in arbitrary and coercive ways to serve
their own or the institution’s perceived interests at the expense of the
spiritual needs and rights of the members, they are involved in spiritual
But even with these excellent definitions, I still found and find myself
asking, "What is spiritual abuse?" Maybe it remains one of those
hard-to-define but intuitively perceived concepts like pornography, of which a
U.S. Supreme Court justice said, "I know it when I see it." Perhaps
people recognize it when they experience it. Or perhaps not. A significant
number of the individuals whom I interviewed were reluctant to call their
experiences spiritual abuse. They associated it with the physical and emotional
violence of spouse abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, and child sexual abuse.
These terms all call to mind rather horrific images. Certainly, spiritual abuse
can be horrific as shown by Case Reports, Volume 1. But I am convinced
that spiritual abuse happens very commonly—perhaps in much less horrific but
still very significant ways. Why is it significant? Because of how common it is,
how damaging it is, and how overlooked and accepted it is.
As a member of the Case Reports Committee, I have been hearing, "My
story is not significant. My story is not really spiritual abuse." My
feeling was that I really did not want to make that judgment early on. I wanted
to listen to the stories first. Maybe the words "spiritual abuse" are
too strong in that they call to mind the extremes. Most of us do not experience
the extremes. But it is the extremes that are obvious. It is also the extremes
that are more easily dealt with in the sense that they can be attributed to an
errant individual rather than to the system, or as an isolated case rather than
the system. Of course, all cases have to be dealt with by those who experience
them and all, though sadly many are not, should be dealt with by the
institutional church. But perhaps the general resignation expressed in the
common cases opens the door, in some ways, to the more extreme cases,
I think one reason why people may be reluctant to identify their experiences
as spiritual abuse is that identifying a bad experience as a personality
conflict or "just one of those things" means that the person does not
have to ask deeper questions about the nature of the religious institution to
which he or she has given his or her loyalty. For example, I can deal with an
elders’ quorum president who wants to compel me to have personal priesthood
interviews. I can deal with a dictatorial bishop. By "deal with," I
mean retaining some testimony by recognizing that they are merely fallible
people in the system—just as I am. But how do I retain a testimony when the
whole system is being operated in a way that suppresses my intelligence and
natural curiosity and need to seek after truth? This situation is much harder to
deal with; my spirit feels oppressed and abused. My testimony suffers. Yet these
feelings are very common.
Janice AlIred, in "How to Read Bad News," observed:
We believe that ... spiritual
abuse is systemic in the Church. It occurs because of widespread
misunderstanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and because of mistaken ideas
about what it means to be a leader in his Church. ...
Our purpose in sharing these stories is to call
attention to the problem of spiritual abuse in the Church so that the problem
can be understood and the remedy applied. ...
These stories are not about bad leaders deliberately
acting in abusive ways. They are about leaders who think they are doing the
right thing, who act according to their understanding of what their position
requires them to do. …
The remedy for spiritual abuse is the gospel of Jesus Christ.6
The Alliance has identified twelve principles as essential to a spiritually
- Love. Love should be the guiding principle in all Church governance.
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have
loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34). "Let all
things be done in charity" (1 Cor. 16:14).
- Truth. All Church leaders and members should "speak the truth in
soberness" (D&C 18:21) as they understand it. "I know
the words of truth are hard against all uncleanness; but the righteous fear
them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken" (2 Ne. 9:40).
- Equality. Every member is entitled to equal respect, dignity, and
credibility, regardless of Church calling. "Let every man esteem his
brother as himself" (D&C 38:24, 35). "He denieth none
that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he
remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and
Gentile" (2 Ne. 26:33).
- Common consent. Common consent is a vote, not a loyalty test. Church
leaders "are dependent upon the voice of the people for the continuance
of the authority, the rights and privileges they exercise" (Joseph F.
Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 158). "For all things must be
done in order, and by common consent in the Church, by the prayer of
faith" (D&C 28:13). "We desire that the brethren and sisters
will all feel the responsibility of expressing their feelings in relation to
the propositions that may be put before you. We do not want any man or woman
who is a member of the Church to violate their conscience. ... We would like
all to vote as they feel, whether for or against" (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel
Doctrine, p. 157).
- Scriptural governance. Church governance should comport with scriptural
canon. "Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have
been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my
Church" (D&C 45:59).
- Openness. Members should have access to all nonprivileged information in
the custody of the Church. Those acting or speaking on behalf of the Church
should do so openly, not in secret, subject, however, to the priest-penitent
privilege. "Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever
taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort;
and in secret have I said nothing" (John 18:29). "And this is the
condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness
rather light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19; see
also Brigham Young, October 1855, Journal of Discourses 3:45).
- Revelatory accountability. Because a prophet does not always speak as a
prophet, leaders should disclose what they believe to be the source of their
directives, interpretations, and instructions. Correspondingly, members have
a right and responsibility to obtain confirmatory revelation. "The
prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word,
let him speak my word faithfully" (Jer. 23:28; see also Brigham Young, Journal
of Discourses 6:100).
- Tolerance. Criticism and loyal dissent should not be trammeled. "Am I
therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" (Gal.
4:16). Church members should be allowed wide latitude for spiritual growth,
and leaders should not use their authority to compel conformity. Joseph
Smith’s words, uttered in defense of Pelatiah Brown, should be a guiding
I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he
erred in doctrine, it looks too much like Methodism and not Latter
day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked
out of their Church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels
so good not to be trammelled. It don’t prove that a man is not a
good man, because he errs in doctrine (The Words of Joseph Smith, 183-84).
- Righteous leadership. No priesthood leader should use the priesthood to
cover sins, gratify pride or ambition, or exercise control over members in
any degree of unrighteousness (D&C 121:37). Nor should any leader
attempt to maintain any power or influence by virtue of the priesthood,
except "by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love
unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge, without hypocrisy or guile."
Leaders should reprove only "when moved upon by the Holy Ghost,"
and then show forth afterwards "an increase of love" (D&C
121:41-44). Any act undertaken by a priesthood holder in violation of these
principles is void and the leader’s priesthood is forfeit (D&C
- Due process. Whenever Church disciplinary action is necessary, there
should be a consistent and even-handed application of principles of due
process and fairness, such as adequate notice, impartial hearing,
presumption of innocence, trial by witnesses, evidence examined in its true
light, opportunity for defense, and appellate review—all in "equality
and justice" as required by the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C
43:80-83; 102:12-27; 121:34-44; 107:32, 78-84; and 134:4, 10-22: Gospel
- Responsibility. Church leaders are responsible for their own actions and
not those of other members. Church members are responsible for their own
actions and cannot escape that responsibility by following Church leaders.
"I am responsible for the doctrine I teach; but I am not responsible
for the obedience of the people to that doctrine" (Brigham Young, Journal
of Discourses 13:1). Brigham Young also affirmed the principle of
responsibility in these words:
I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders
that they will not inquire themselves of God whether they are led by him. I
am fearful blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands
of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the
purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could
give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of
Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by
the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders
are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not (Brigham Young, Journal of
- Christlike qualities. Church leaders and members alike should serve in
their callings and exercise their spiritual gifts with meekness and
humility, ready to forgive and be forgiven of sin. "The decisions of
these quorums ... are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and
lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue,
and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and
charity" (D&C 107:30). "Forgive us our trespasses as we
forgive those who trespass against us" (Matt. 6:12).7
Another common response from people who have told me their stories is a
description of the level of fear they feel because they think their salvation
and their spirituality is being threatened. Yet survivors of spiritual abuse
also relate, usually with feelings of deep gratitude and joy, their realization
that their spiritual life or salvation was in their own control all along
because it lay in a personal relationship with God and the Savior. No one could
threaten it or take it away.
In closing, I have a few modest proposals on how to protect ourselves against
spiritual abuse in the Church.
First, evaluate any teaching or practice that places someone else in control
of your spiritual life or salvation. There should be "one mediator between
God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). No one should stand
between us and God. A way to protect against abuse is to stress theological
concepts that specifically counter the idea that one person’s salvation and
relationship to God can be under the control of another person. Such concepts
create opportunities for spiritual abuse for almost all of us because of our
natures and dispositions. Access to God and salvation is the most basic of
religious concepts. If we are trained to believe that others can control our
access to God—if we believe that someone else can control this most
fundamental principle of faith—then how can we avoid a carryover into other
aspects of our religion and life as well?
Second, because "it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as
soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately
begin to exercise unrighteous dominion" (D&C 121:39), we need to
evaluate Church practices and policies with a view of compensating for that
"nature and disposition" rather than augmenting it. One way would be
to eliminate, or at least to minimize, the situations in which one person
(usually a bishop or a stake president) judges another to determine whether that
person should be allowed to receive saving ordinances. As Janice Allred stated
above, abuse can arise in a relationship where one person has more power than
another. To a religious person, what greater power can exist than control over
another person’s salvation? In a religious context, what power could create
conditions more conducive to abuse than the belief that you have control over
another person’s salvation or that another person has control over your
Third, we should minimize situations in which people make decisions about the
worthiness of another to receive the ordinances of the Church. The Church claims
to be the only source for authoritative ordinances essential for salvation such
as baptism, endowment, and temple sealings. Why not give these ordinances and
blessings freely, without judgment, to the living who ask for them and desire
them? We already do this in our temples with respect to the dead. Why treat the
living differently? It seems to me that the claim of being the sole source of
God’s authority brings with it the responsibility of giving God’s gifts
freely, rather than standing guard over them and doling them out grudgingly.
Jesus disdained the scribes and the Pharisees: "But woe unto you, scribes
and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against
[people]: for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer ye them that are
entering to go in" (Man. 23:13). Jesus charged his apostles: "Heal the
sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have
received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8).
How is the Church shutting up the kingdom of heaven against people? Here are
The Word of Wisdom, a revelation that was given "not by commandment or
constraint" (D&C 89:2) is used to keep people from receiving the saving
ordinances of baptism, endowments, and temple marriage.
Significant financial donations are required or must be promised before a
person can receive the blessings and ordinances of the Church.
"Unworthy" members, nonmembers, and children are not allowed to
witness temple marriages. Why does an ordinance that unites families forever in
the hereafter divide them in this life?
Church emphasis on the Word of Wisdom has provided members with great health
benefits. Certainly I believe that obedience to the Word of Wisdom should be
encouraged. But such obedience should be given freely, not coerced by making it
the price tag to saving ordinances. Similarly tithing is a way to give to the
Church, the world, and to God. These are worthy goals. But if saving ordinances
are granted only on condition of paying tithing, then how is tithing different
from purchase or a bribe? We denounce the sale of "indulgences" before
the Protestant Reformation as a sign of corruption. Is mandatory tithing really
all that different? The concept of a marriage covenant that perpetuates family
bonds after death is unique and offers much comfort. But the beauty and comfort
are marred when family members and close friends are excluded from such
marriages by "worthiness" criteria that have nothing to do with their
love and concern for those marrying.
In short, I found that the ideas voiced by the Mormon Alliance were similar
to my own. I accepted Lavina’s invitation to be a case reporter because of my
hope that I could help the Mormon Alliance to change specific Church traditions,
practices, and procedures for the better. To change for the better we need to
know what is not working well. The responsible, public identification of parts
that are not working well is the first step toward helping us think about these
parts of our religious life, talk about them, and try to figure out how to do
better. We need to continue to share our stories, especially those stories which
would not otherwise be told. The Church has the loftiest goals of any
organization I know. I would like to see the Church achieve those goals. I
believe it can. Yet I feel that achieving those goals requires taking a
realistic look at ourselves and admitting some dark sides.
1See my review of
Paul J. Toscano, The Sanctity of Dissent (Salt Lake City: Signature
Books, 1994), forthcoming in Case Reports, Vol. 4, 1998.
2Paul J. Toscano, "Dealing with
Spiritual Abuse: The Role of the Mormon Alliance," Sunstone, July
4Lavina Fielding Anderson, Introduction, in
Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, 1995, Volume 1, edited by Lavina
Fielding Anderson and Janice Merrill AlIred (Salt Lake City: Mormon Alliance,
1996), 3. See pp. 3-8 this volume. The eighth characteristic was
added in Vol. 2, 1996.
5Janice Merrill Allred, "How to Read Bad
News," Vol. 1, 1995, 13.
7As quoted in
ibid., 16-18. These principles are contained in a letter from the Mormon
Alliance trustees to the First Presidency and President of the Quorum of the
Twelve, 20 May 1993, and printed in By Common Consent: The
Newsletter of the Mormon
Alliance 1, no. 1 (Fall 1993): 5-6.