The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons, made headlines recently with an attempted name change. While many media outlets made light of the story (myself included) it is worth taking the time to look more closely at the Mormon Church. While the Catholic Church's sex scandals have been covered extensively in the news lately, the Mormon Church has their own scandals, including sexual abuse and much more.
There are currently multiple efforts being taken to expose practices, cover-ups, abuses, and more within the Mormon Church. For the most part, these efforts are being led by former, and even current, members of the church.
First, a brief history lesson. Joseph Smith founded the Mormon Church in New York State in 1830. After Smith was murdered in 1844, Brigham Young led the Mormons to the territory of Utah, which they settled in 1847. Three years later, in 1850, the Mormons successfully petitioned the U.S. Congress to admit the territory of Utah into the Union (it would become the 45th state in 1896).
Want to guess who became the governor of the new territory? Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church, became Utah's first governor. This means that the leader of the church was also the leader of the local government in Utah at the moment of its inception.
Fast forward to today and we find individuals exposing some very disturbing practices within the church. Ryan McKnight, a former Mormon living in Las Vegas, has started MormonLeaks, a site which leaks Mormon documents online. In the spring of 2017, MormonLeaks was in the news for releasing an internal "enemies list" that the Mormon Church's leadership reviewed internally. The Mormon Church tried to have the document removed from the web, but ultimately failed to censor its distribution. Ironically, McKnight said that when he first posted the list it did not get much attention, it was only after the church tried to have it removed that it started to garner national attention. MormonLeaks has also published information on 13 companies tied to the Mormon Church, or owned by the church, that are valued at more than $32 billion. So now you know where your tithes are going.
Another person going up against the Mormon Church is Sam Young. He started ProtectLDSChildren.org which is working to stop sexually-focused interviews of children conducted by men in the Mormon clergy. Young's own daughter was subjected to these kinds of interviews from ages 12 to 17. Young's site has collected hundreds of stories of children being subjected to these interviews, some as young as 8-years-old. Young, a former LDS bishop himself and still a member of the church, recently carried out a hunger strike to bring attention to this crisis. Young's petition page summarizes the damage that has been done by these interviews: suicide and attempted suicide, childhood and adulthood self-loathing, sexual abuse against the children interviewed, and years or decades of recovery from childhood sexual shaming. The church has, for the most part, ignored Young and those working with him, aside from a single statement, and it is worth noting that Young refuted some of the claims made by the church in their statement.
In March of this year, the Mormon Church reached an undisclosed settlement in a civil suit with six families in Martinsburg, WV who had sued the local clergy and the Mormon Church as a whole, after it was revealed that church leaders protected Christopher Michael Jensen who in 2013 was sentenced to 35 to 75 years in prison for sexually abusing children as young as two-years-old.
Also in March, in McKinney, TX, Noel Anderson, a LDS primary instructor, was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child after he admitted to abusing four children between the ages of 2 and 6. Police suspected there were more victims and urged parents to speak with their children if they were under Anderson's care.
Just two weeks ago, a judge in another lawsuit against the Mormon Church stated the case could partly move forward despite the church trying to have the claims tossed out. McKenna Denson has accused Joseph L. Bishop of raping her in 1984. The church allowed Bishop to oversee young missionaries despite a history of committing sexual abuse. Denson secretly recorded a conversation with Bishop in 2017, where he apologizes to her after she confronts him. You can read a transcript of the conversation on MormonLeaks here. Denson claims that she repeatedly attempted to make church leaders aware of Bishop's behavior, but nothing was done. The church's response has been that Bishop denied the allegations, and the church could not confirm them. Oh really? You mean the guy who was raping women did not want to admit it? Shocking!
Unfortunately, most of Denson's claims were dismissed, including dismissing Bishop entirely. Denson's fraud claim against the church can move forward, however.
Taken by themselves, many of these stories are already terrible enough, but when taken together we see a repeated pattern of abuse, denial, and cover-up. The Mormon Church's ties to the power structure in Utah even show up in more subtle ways, like when a judge called a former Mormon bishop a "good man" despite that former bishop being on trial for rape in the judge's own court room.
Utah ranks highest in the United States for instances of sexual violence, according to this 2015 article. Considering that 55% of the adult population claims to be Mormon in Utah, and how central a role the religion plays in the lives of its laity, one wonders how much help the clergy are providing to mitigate this violence, or how much violence the clergy themselves are committing.
As more of these stories come to light, and younger demographics leave the church in record numbers, it looks more and more like the Mormon Church could be facing a future very different from anything they have seen before. We can only hope that eventually the Mormon Church will be relegated to historical memory and nothing more. Until then, the fight against their corruption continues.