“This is an insult, especially, to women who have gone
through something like that [sexual assault] and really have been hurt.”
—McKenna Denson’s ex-husband (Arizona Republic)
When accusations and denials of sexual assault are flying around in reporter’s stories, when sex and religion (especially Mormonism) are mentioned together, a media frenzy can result. The international “Me-too” movement has inadvertently created the perfect storm, offering an irresistible opening for various individuals with manipulative and unscrupulous motives, to take advantage of it and milk it for all it is worth.
It is during episodes like these that journalistic ethics are often bent or broken, and biases exposed. Items akin to genuine fake news (there’s an oxymoron), non-news, and yellow journalism are published by some media outlets and fill (very untrustworthy) social media. It has happened many times to the Mormons in the past, it is happening now, and it will again in the future. For this reason, I hope to provide some perspective; to pull back the veil and expose the adversary’s deceptions.
Some Historical Perspective
As I ponder various events from Mormon history in my mind, a number of instances occur to me that give me an improved over-all perspective from which to view recent events and current public clamor.
I think of the Prophet Joseph Smith, mighty prophet of God that he was, mistakenly calling John C. Bennett as a counselor. Bennett could have done marvelous things for infant Mormonism, but instead became a sexual predator and adulterer and was excommunicated. I think of President Brigham Young calling Albert Carrington as an apostle, a man who succumbed to temptation and became an adulterer, lying about it when the women he seduced came forward and told their tale; then exposed and excommunicated. I think of John Q. Cannon, a Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, who was excommunicated for adultery (also an alcoholic, gambler, embezzler, etc.). I think of Joseph F. Smith, sick at the time, calling Richard R. Lyman as an apostle. Lyman later committed adultery and was excommunicated. I think of George P. Lee, the first Native American general authority (now deceased) being excommunicated for apostasy, with it later being revealed that he also became a sexual abuser of girls.
More pondering: I think of a mission president serving in Polynesia in the 1890s, who was overcome by temptation in a weak moment and sexually abused one of the female native servants living in the mission home; he was excommunicated. I think of a mission president’s wife, in the 1970s, succumbing to temptation and having sexual relations with one of the young elders in their charge; another excommunication. I think of the recent excommunication of a general authority for reasons not announced. And presently, I think of Joseph Bishop, president of the MTC in the 1980s, admitting to asking a sister missionary to show him her chest, and her willingly doing so. Or, if true, as she claims, raping her. His ecclesiastical discipline seems imminent; she already was.
I think over these sad, tragic, serious, sinful failings of men and women from Mormon history, and I remember that mortality is a temptation-filled testing ground, that God has given His children their moral agency. I realize that while struggling in this second estate, some few of them—comparatively very few—fall into transgression and/or harm others. Such serious misbehavior represents a tiny minority among the latter-day saints, and especially among its leaders. President Harold B. Lee, in President Henry B. Eyring’s presence, stated that as the prophet he was the target of more temptation from the devil more than anyone else. Since 1850 only a handful of apostles have fallen for one reason or another, while a number approaching one hundred have remained true and faithful; many of them so worthy and faithful, in fact, that they have been blessed to behold the face of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For me, evaluating all of this history (up to current events) contextualizes the noise of the media and places such happenings in perspective. Although I wish it weren’t so, I realize that every year or so a few bishops, and even an occasional mission/temple/stake president, are released and/or disciplined for various forms of conduct unbecoming someone in their responsible and trusted positions.
The same is true for regular rank and file members. Some of them, comparatively very few, yield to temptation and commit terrible crimes/assaults/abuses against others, including children. They are usually, sooner or later, exposed and jailed and excommunicated. But some get away with it by lying or deflecting blame where it doesn’t belong. And as evil as their actions are, others seek to twist these tragic situations into a license to blame/accuse the church and its leaders of covering up the perpetrator’s secret abominable actions. Surely those false accusers that make such claims are not blameless themselves and will someday find themselves held accountable before God.
Having the benefit of this larger and sharper perspective, we can see through the smoke-screen and recognize that anti-Mormons and feminist activists are purposely and manipulatively using these recent events for their own harmful purposes of persuasion; trying to weaken member’s faith and alter church doctrine and policies. Their strategies need to be exposed.
I noted, with no surprise, mention of the makeup of those attending the press conference (publicity stunt) in which this woman McKenna Denson’s lawsuit was announced: “More than 50 people packed into a small conference room at the Hilton for the press conference, including television, radio and newspaper reporters, a number of LDS Church critics and more than a dozen members of the public.” It was simply too good of an opportunity for her and them to target the church. Thankfully their efforts go largely unrewarded.
This Woman’s Credibility
Some political/social/atheism activists would have us believe you can’t question the credibility of an accusation or accuser. They are unfortunately able to get away with demanding this because most accusations of abuse/assault are true. Likewise, the current social climate promotes public assertions of assault or harassment as courageous, which most of them are. The careers/status of many wealthy and powerful but corrupt men are crumbling. Yet sometimes we must pause, in the rush to judgement and to punish the perpetrators, for some accuser’s allegations may well be false or exaggerated. Some accuser’s claims are so suspect that they should be thoroughly investigated and proven before being believed or acted on.
I can’t help but wonder if McKenna Denson’s lack of credibility will eventually sabotage her and all who hitch their horse to her wagon. If her allegations remain unsubstantiated and as strikingly vulnerable as they now appear, her quest to use anti-Mormon sentiment and the “me-too” movement may backfire. She wants money but is not talking about that; instead it is about silencing “victim-shaming” (what she would accuse me of doing) and forcing the church to change certain policies. Her background suggests that her allies might be well advised to rethink their support. From the Arizona Republic newspaper:
He [Greg Bishop, Joseph’s son and attorney] also said the accuser's background is relevant because it includes multiple rape claims, false police reports and other manipulations.
As recently as February, the woman was arrested in New Mexico on suspicion of identity theft. According to a police report, she used an ex-boyfriend's name and Social Security number to obtain utility services and to lease an apartment. Detectives obtained a phone recording wherein the woman posed as the ex-boyfriend, using his name, according to the police report. That case is pending.
Another police report, from South Carolina, describes a 1999 case in which the woman claimed she was pistol-whipped and locked in the trunk of a car by two men outside a restaurant where she had worked. Detectives learned she had been fired shortly before the incident and had made inquiries about the restaurant's security liability. They concluded she was dishonest and her report "unfounded."
In separate interviews with The Republic, the woman's former husband and another family member also questioned her motives and credibility.
On at least two additional occasions, they said, the woman reported being raped — once while on her Mormon mission in Washington, D.C.
The ex-husband, who is not named in this report so as not to reveal the woman's identity, said, "This is an insult, especially, to women who have gone through something like that and really have been hurt."
Greg Bishop said . . . "I'm living a nightmare," he said. "This is the dark side of #MeToo, where somebody wants to manipulate the system, has a history of doing it, and has been successful."
I know nothing of the reputation of this Arizona newspaper (Joseph Bishop lives in Arizona); whether its stories are accurate and balanced or whether it is like the Salt Lake Tribune, biased and negative toward the church, often to the point of fiction. But I did see both sides accommodated. “The woman referred further questions to her attorney, Craig Vernon, who said trauma from sexual abuse led, in part, to his client's troubles. He would not address particular events except to acknowledge that she had fabricated the alleged rape in Washington, D.C.” Preliminary findings do seem to me to point to this woman’s allegations being at least partially fraudulent; it will be interesting to see what the future holds as her past track record is exposed.
Naturally, many people want to believe her; to believe and empathize with the tragic accounts from women (or youth/children) who have been victimized/harmed. Many women telling the truth have not been believed and so nothing was done to help them. Perhaps evidence to support true accusations has not been available, so there is nothing that can be done about an offender, either by the church or civil/criminal recourse.
One reason I believe D&C 76:103 lists liars among those inheriting the telestial kingdom for eternity is because lies are what people tell to cover up their crimes and sins. McKenna’s ex-husband might be lying; bitter exes often do. Joseph Bishop might be lying or be too old to really remember; we don’t know. Are there lies mixed with Denson’s claim of rape at the MTC in 1984? Her lawyer says she has already lied at least once about being raped—a very serious blow to her credibility. I can but surmise that her record will not strengthen her lawsuit, which appears to many to be a publicity-seeking, money-grubbing, nuisance suit. I don’t know what Joseph Bishop’s bank account looks like, but the church has deep pockets and her lawyers know it. That is why the church has its own legal department and keeps a good law firm on continual retainer.
Lawsuits Part of the anti-Mormon Arsenal
Since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith, one of the foremost tools used to persecute him and the church has been nuisance or malicious lawsuits and trumped up criminal charges. Brother Joseph was dragged into court over 200 times, averaging once a month during his ministry. My third great-grandmother kindly washed Joseph’s clothing and fed him lunch while he spent two days in court defending himself. Each church president since his day has also had to deal with legal obstruction and interference from enemies of the church. Critics know defending against their legal shenanigans diverts energy and resources from other (and far better) uses and often brings negative publicity to the church. Trump up some phony grievance and see what attention it can get—again, distracting ethics are not considered by them.
So, in one sense the general authorities are used to and prepared for this kind of attack, with courts becoming the battlefield. In another sense, they see this lawsuit for what it is, a stunt meant to generate publicity which the Tribune, various national outlets, and many on social media are eager to provide. (This is where the feminist activists come in—righteous outrage and indignation!) The more this woman and her lawyers are willing to drag things out in the courts, and they may be very willing to exploit the media attention, the longer they remain in the spotlight of sensationalism. The Tribune will not lack for fodder for criticism while this continues. Such is a main reason why the church often settles out of court when not in the wrong.
Some of the most rabid and obsessed anti-Mormons have even stopped pretending that their legal schemes have merit, and boldly announce that they will use negative public press attention to get their way. Ignore our illegal activities or suffer the wrath of the media!, they say. An atheist lawyer working with an atheist anti-Mormon group wrote the following, basically threatening the church if they were sued for copyright infringement: “Whatever it is you wish to keep a secret will now be not only disseminated on a few websites, but will become a matter of public record. Further, this document will become a far more important story than it was previously. In fact, those who found the story of minor interest will now find the attempt at censorship even more interesting.” This is open blackmail by threat of negative media publicity; the lack of ethics displayed here is astounding. The owners of this particular website are at the forefront of seeking to embarrass and harass the church by any means possible. Such behavior is to be expected in the latter-days, as things in the world get worse and worse.
Local Church Leaders’ Dilemma
Local bishops and stake presidents have been and will continue to conduct many (aggregate of millions) private interviews with Mormons. The vast majority are good, honest, latter-day saints, struggling to overcome the world, repent of their sins, and become better disciples of Christ. However, as with any large organization, there are some few who are scheming liars.
I have heard some men say they would not accept a calling to serve as a bishop because in today’s hypersensitive social climate, an angry or devious (for whatever reason) teenager, woman, or anyone who desired, could falsely accuse them of anything they want and ruin their lives and reputations. (In 2009 this happened to a bishop, when a teenage girl falsely accused him of touching her for sexual gratification; a trial was held, negative publicity ensued, the bishop was found not guilty, yet he still had to be released before the trial and his good name was ruined.)
The First Presidency’s new guidelines allowing a second adult to be present during an interview, if requested, may mitigate some of that fear, but occasions could still arise where a malicious person could ruin a righteous man doing his best to minister to his flock.
And what about the problem of crying wolf? There are people who lie and develop a reputation for dishonesty and manipulation, who might then actually be abused or assaulted, but having ruined their reputations they may not be believed and for good reason. These kinds of people would need more than their word to prove a serious allegation.
There are skeptics who insinuate that since bishops (and all church leaders) supposedly have the spirit of discernment that they should always know when someone is lying to them—yet they often don’t. Unbelievers can’t understand and haven’t read the scriptures—“you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous,” said the Lord, “therefore . . . hold your peace [be patient] until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter” (D&C 10:37). In other words, the spiritual gift of discernment is not an automated lie-detector test; it is not an all or nothing proposition.
Thirty-five years ago, critics were falsely charging senior church leaders for not detecting Mark Hofmann’s forgeries instantly, not understanding the doctrine then either. (Anti-Mormon activists aren’t very good at figuring out gospel doctrines). Yet we watched as the Lord made the truth of things known to the world in His own due time.
Many years ago a stake president told me of a temple recommend interview in which a man said “yes”—that he kept the law of chastity. The stake president said that the voice of the Lord came into his mind and said, “this man is an adulterer.” It took the stake president some patient effort to convince the man to stop lying and confess. While such revelation was occasionally given him, in other interviews it was not. Again, the gift is not automatic but according to God’s will and purposes as he works with the agency He gave His children.
These gospel principles cause me to wonder if the time will come when the Lord will make all things known to the world about McKenna Denson’s allegations. Anytime someone goes up against the Lord’s Church, while they may have success and public attention for a day or a season, in the end things tend to balance in the scales and the truth becomes known.
The Hazards of Popular Societal Movements
Some societal movements are a wonderful thing, like seeking to rid the world of racism, recognizing the health hazards of smoking, and the current effort of so many women to create a harassment/assault-free world. Other societal movements are deeply detrimental, like legalizing gay marriage/normalizing of homosexual relations, the cultural mainstreaming of pornography, alcoholism, legalizing drugs, abortion, gambling, and so on.
In this case we have a woman and her sympathizers who are using a convenient, largely-beneficial movement to legitimize and strengthen her own probable fraud. She is counting on intense societal pressure and the willing assistance of anti-Mormon feminist activists, etc., to ignore or whitewash her past record and augment her bank account.
Her allies include misled activists and apostates pushing to eliminate bishop’s worthiness interviews. These opportunists and dissenters have replaced the revelations of the Lord with destructive worldly ideas and the philosophies of men/women. The Tribune trots out selected “therapists” opinion’s that bishops interviews are unhealthy and invasive of personal privacy. The quoted therapists do not believe church teachings and scripture about confessing serious sins to bishops (common judges in Israel) in order to repent and be forgiven (see D&C 58:43 and 107:68, 72, 74). The true doctrine of repentance and forgiveness is of the utmost importance for all latter-day saints to thoroughly understand: forgiveness, becoming morally clean, after committing serious sin, sexual or otherwise, can only come after confessing the sin to the bishop. That is the revealed and active process by which the atonement of Jesus Christ becomes operative and sinners are cleansed.
If sometimes a few bishops royally mess up and sacrilege the confession and abuse the confessor and damn their souls, the Lord will make that up to the victim some way, in this life or the next. But God’s revealed method is the only way to free the soul from sin. The anti-Mormon activists railing against the revelations and influencing others to disregard them, are themselves in grave eternal peril. “Cursed are all those [members or not] that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them” (D&C 121:16-17). One certain anti-Mormon activist and her friends should be shaking in their shoes. “We call upon the LDS Church to repent of its sins” is her headline in the Tribune.
Another Tribune columnist wrote: “A much more hazardous message was laid down last week at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In what was seen as an official LDS nod to the rising #MeToo movement, apostle Quentin L. Cook said it was a good thing that more people were speaking out against what he called, ‘nonconsensual immorality,’ apparently a rather squeamish term for sexual harassment, abuse and rape.” He continued: “So, for a moment, he rightly placed the church on the side of victims who, increasingly, have the courage to speak out against such behavior. It is, he said, ‘against the laws of God and society.’ And then he had to go and spoil it all by adding, ‘However, those who understand God’s plan must also oppose consensual immorality, which is also a sin.’ Cook was rightly lambasted by advocates for the victims of sexual assault for describing it as mere ‘immorality,’ for seeming to equate stuff that everyone at least claims to be against — assault — with behavior that does not and should not be in the same category — normal sexual relations.”
Besides charging an apostle of the Lord foolishly, this columnist is one of many who believe the prevailing notions of our misled society that there is nothing wrong with fornication, adultery, and homosexual sex. We are pleased that he recognizes that sexual assault is wrong, but he lambasts Elder Cook for also declaring that any consensual sexual activity outside of marriage is also serious sin. Both kinds of unrepented sin will deprive one of entrance into the kingdom of God.
It is of messages of false information like unto these from Tribune reporters and columnists and commentators that President Nelson spoke in the recently concluded April (2018) General Conference: “If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation.”
Activists Using or Being the Media
Those members accusing the institutional church of covering up alleged sexual abuses are liars walking the road to apostasy themselves. Those who joined the publicity stunt “march” to the Church Office Building to falsely accuse the Brethren also figuratively marched away from spiritual safety and into mists of darkness. What did they do it for?—to accommodate the false philosophies of men. They are in the world and of the world and being pulled around by their nose by the world. They collected stories from emotionally troubled and resentful former and unbelieving members telling (alleged and suspect) tales of mass sexual abuse happening everywhere in the church. This is where much of the war for souls or the effort to persuade is fought: online social media. Sexual abuse exists in the world; it is not the fault of the church, but of the devil. Some people just can’t seem to figure out the simplest things.
The Church’s Position
I suppose that to be more accurate, the subheading should really say “The Lord’s Position,” for such it is. I do not speak for the Church, but I am familiar with its position and its teachings. I suggest others thoroughly familiarize themselves with its recent policy announcements and public statements on the issues and concerns reviewed herein in reaction to skewed reports and media activism.
I urge caution in allowing media outlets such as the Tribune, various national news websites, and social media to interpret or define these policies for you. The common technique is to quote a few sentences from the church and then quote someone else seeking to spin or undermine them. Most of those named as supposedly “Mormon” therapists that are quoted in news media (especially in the Tribune) are opposed to church teachings and policies and are seeking to pressure for the changes they desire. They want the church to act as does the world in these matters; a critical mistake that would lead the church into the same apostate and ignorant condition as these activists and therapists.
The First Presidency and the Twelve are leading the Church the way Jesus wants it led and are being guided by the Spirit of the Lord in their ministries. They recognize that the error of the world is overcoming many members and leading them astray. Therefore, they counsel us to follow them, and also to strive with all our might to be guided by the same Holy Spirit they are. Said President Nelson: “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” It is evident that many media and online voices have not spiritually survived. Let us not become ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ as they have, but instead follow the prophet and, as he counseled, “the guiding, directing, comforting and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” If someone says the Holy Ghost has guided them differently or in opposition to the course the First Presidency directs us to take, then we know they are deceived and are following a false spirit. There is the Spirit of God, which is with those who have the gift of the Holy Ghost, but there are also other influences that we must be wary of listening to: “That ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils” (D&C 46:7). The Tribune has usually been and remains guilty of seeking to seduce people with both the commandments of men and the doctrine of devils.
“You don’t have to wonder about what is true. You do not have to wonder whom you can safely trust. Through personal revelation, you can receive your own witness that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and that this is the Lord’s Church. Regardless of what others may say or do, no one can ever take away a witness borne to your heart and mind about what is true.” So taught the Prophet of the Lord. In speaking for Jesus, we are being told what Jesus tell us. President Nelson also quoted a favorite and well-known hymn in one of his messages, basically counselling us in how to view and respond to the loud and contentious voices that bombard us: “Fear not, though the enemy deride. . . . We will heed not what the wicked may say. . . .” Inspired counsel for all. In today’s societal climate, it may be harder to tune out the noise coming from the enemy, but we do not need to fear or heed them.
The amazing thing to me is that despite the contention and opposition and falsehoods created and spread by these loud people who strive so hard to oppose the Lord and His chosen and empowered prophet and apostles—President Nelson still loves them. He keeps the commandment to love his (and the church’s) enemies. He loves those apostates who have worked so hard to hurt the church that they have been excommunicated; he would hope and desire they would repent and return as some do, but he loves them either way.
In the press conference in which he was introduced to the world as the new president and prophet of the Church, President Nelson specifically stated that he loved one of the reporters asking questions; a woman who has done great harm to the church for many many years by writing numerous negative and misleading stories; a woman who, in her blind activism, strives to remake the church into a worldly organization filled with and guided by the philosophies of men/women instead of revelation to prophets. That kind of love, shown by God’s prophet, is remarkable and is the possession of a disciple further along in their path toward perfection than I am. What an example to all of us is this newly sustained prophet of God!